“I always thought of Dumbledore as gay.” [ovation.]

Ms. Rowling’s Carnegie Hall revelation and what it tells us  about the Headmaster and the limits of auctorial interpretation

I had had a wonderful week the week before Ms. Rowling announced to a Carnegie Hall audience of fans that she always “thought of Dumbledore as gay.” I had visited my oldest daughter at her VMI barracks during Parents Weekend and found her thriving. I had given a talk at Washington & Lee University that was received with enthusiasm and a good friend had traveled from Lynchburg, VA, to share a wonderful dinner prepared by my hosts.

And, as if that weren’t enough to cause my cup to runneth over, Ms. Rowling had acknowledged the Christian content of her work during her Open Book Tour.[i] With confirmation from the author about the “Christian parallels” and “obvious” religious meaning of her books, and seeing my daughter happy in a very difficult school situation, I couldn’t remember a fall week I enjoyed more. That’s saying something coming from a former Cross Country runner who has never had a bad autumn.

I came home after a six hour drive from the Shenandoah to the Lehigh Valley to find my email inbox filled with questions about the “gay” comment Ms. Rowling had made after a reading at Carnegie Hall. The AP newspaper headline was “Dumbledore is Gay,” which I think one NYC paper served up as “Rowling Outs Dumbledore.” Having read (1) the full response Ms. Rowling made to the question Friday night posted at The Leaky Cauldron, (2) Dr. Amy Sturgis’ eyewitness report on the Carnegie Hall event at her website,[ii] and (3) the remarkable outpouring in the comment boxes at Sword of Gryffindor,[iii] I went to bed with a peaceful heart and still very happy about the week. Ms. Rowling’s comment didn’t rock my boat or fill me with angst as a Christian, as someone who enjoys reading and talking about the Harry Potter novels or one who argues the books are as popular as they are because of their spiritual value and timeliness.

Why didn’t learning “Dumbledore is gay” upset me?

The short answer is because this not-very-surprising “revelation” confirms the importance of one of the Five Keys I’ve argued is crucial in understanding the Harry Potter novels. The spiritual “undertones” and Christian content of the books serve a religious function in a secularized culture, which is the argument I make in How Harry Cast His Spell via Eliade’s thesis about modern entertainments.

But this content alone doesn’t explain Pottermania. If it did, Pilgrim’s Progress, Paradise Lost, and Dante’s Comedia would still be on the bestseller lists. As I explain in Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader, it is the combination of her postmodern themes with her Christian artistry that explains the popularity of Ms. Rowling’s stories. As a writer of her times writing for a postmodern audience, the themes, symbols, and meaning drawn from Ms. Rowling’s faith would fall flat except for her using them to answer the questions and concerns that consume our historical period.

Ms. Rowling’s answer to a question from a 19 year old woman at Carnegie Hall about Dumbledore and his love-life is, frankly, just what I would have expected her to say. The media presentation and reaction of some Christians, unfortunately, was also predictable from previous experience; remember “Pope Condemns Harry Potter” in 2005 and the fallout then? I do.[iv]

Let’s look at what she said and at what one scholar, Christian and thoughtful reader present at the event made of the answer Ms. Rowling gave. Context is important in these things and I think it won’t be a waste of time to explore the event’s contexts, the specific question asked and the meaning of the word “gay” to Ms. Rowling, the reporters present, and Americans on both sides of our “Culture War.”

From The Leaky Cauldron’s rushed transcript of event’s Q&A portion at Carnegie Hall posted the very next day:

Did Dumbledore, who believed in the prevailing power of love, ever fall in love himself?

My truthful answer to you… I always thought of Dumbledore as gay. [ovation.] … Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald, and that that [sic] added to his horror when Grindelwald showed himself to be what he was. To an extent, do we say it excused Dumbledore a little more because falling in love can blind us to an extend [sic], but he met someone as brilliant as he was, and rather like Bellatrix he was very drawn to this brilliant person, and horribly, terribly let down by him. Yeah, that’s how i [sic] always saw Dumbledore. In fact, recently I was in a script read through for the sixth film, and they had Dumbledore saying a line to Harry early in the script saying I knew a girl once, whose hair… [laughter]. I had to write a little note in the margin and slide it along to the scriptwriter, “Dumbledore’s gay!” [laughter] If I’d known it would make you so happy, I would have announced it years ago!

Dr. Amy Sturgis, a scholar and Christian who has taught at Vanderbilt and Belmont Universities, by some happy providence, was in Carnegie Hall the night Ms. Rowling revealed this. (Full disclosure: Dr. Sturgis is a friend of mine and we correspond frequently about Harry Potter and other subjects.) She had won one of the Open Book Tour Sweepstakes set of tickets to the event and attended with Dr. Kathryn McDaniels of Marietta College (whose “The Elfin Mystique: Fantasy and Feminism in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series” in Past Watchful Dragons: Fantasy and Faith in the World of C.S. Lewis I admire very much and discussed at length in Unlocking Harry Potter).

Unlike what you may have read in the papers, Ms. Rowling was not speaking to an audience of 1600 children as she was in LA and New Orleans. Many other adults were also there, having won one of the 1,000 prize ticket pairs. Dr. Sturgis posted her report of the event on her Tolkien and fantasy website, Redecorating Middle-Earth in Early Lovecraft.[v] How does she remember the “Dumbledore is gay” exchange?

Question: The next question was asked by a teenager who prefaced her question with thanks to Rowling for inspiring her to have ambitions, and to care, and to be herself against overwhelming odds. She did not go into details, but it was clear she had faced a difficult personal struggle, and the books had been a source of strength for her. It was a very poignant and serious comment, and both the questioner and Rowling seemed very moved. Then she asked if Dumbledore ever had the chance to fall in love.

Answer: Rowling replied by saying that the young lady who asked the question deserved an honest answer. Rowling always thought of Dumbledore as gay. Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald, and that added to his horror when Grindelwald showed himself to be what he was. It excused Dumbledore a little more because falling in love can blind us to an extent, but he met someone as brilliant as he was, and rather like Bellatrix with Voldemort, he was drawn to this brilliant person, and horribly, terribly let down by him. That’s how she saw Dumbledore. Recently she read the script for the sixth film, and the writers had Dumbledore saying to Harry, “I knew a girl once, whose hair….” She had to write a little note in the margin and slide it along to the scriptwriter, saying “Dumbledore’s gay!” When the audience laughed and applauded, she said, “The fanfiction, eh?” She also joked that she would have mentioned this earlier if she’d known the audience would react so positively. (emphasis mine)

Dr. Sturgis wrote a further note about her experience at Carnegie Hall and the fallout from the news reports of it at my weblog, Hogwarts Professor.com:[vi]

To be honest, I’m quite appalled by the reporting of and reaction to the news.

Just to clarify, for those who did not read my report: Ms. Rowling didn’t come on stage with the purpose of making this announcement. She said she was willing to answer any question, and many of the questions dealt with the characters’ lives that we did not see described in full in the text, including the love lives of three different characters: she was asked specifically about Neville’s, Hagrid’s, and Dumbledore’s loves (or lack thereof). She explained about Dumbledore’s love of Grindelwald, and compared it to the tragic love of Bellatrix to Voldemort, only in response to one person’s question about whether or not Dumbledore had ever been in love. The individual who asked the question prefaced her query with a very poignant comment, and Ms. Rowling responded, as I understood it, very honestly, with what I thought was tremendous generosity.

I think she was completely serious, but this point, like many others she was asked about, did not require inclusion in the books (although there are allusions to it, for those who look – I found it to be quite fitting and unsurprising, as well). That was the entire point of the Q&A: people didn’t ask about things she had already spelled out completely in her fiction. They were asking her to fill in the gaps, as it were. It was very clear throughout her answers that she knew her characters – their back stories, their future lives, their symbolic meanings – in great detail. To be honest, I also thought her comments about Molly Weasley, and perhaps even Draco Malfoy, were at least as provocative and thought-provoking as the one about Dumbledore.

From what I can see, her point was taken out of context, and furthermore, stripped of its larger meanings (how Dumbledore could be blinded to Grindelwald’s evil plans by his love – something that is a recurring theme about Dumbledore; how Dumbeldore’s love paralleled Bellatrix’s; how powerful Dumbledore’s ultimate faith in love must have been, considering his own early, bitter experience), by the way the press has reported it. As [elmTree01] said, “she didn’t preach, one way or the other… she just wrote the character.”

So, the first context of this answer, absent from the AP report and The Leaky Cauldron transcript, is the emotionally charged atmosphere created by a young woman asking a question of an author she says inspired her “to have ambitions, and to care, and to be herself against overwhelming odds” after a difficult struggle. Dr. Sturgis reports the questioner’s preface was “somber” and “poignant” and that she and Ms. Rowling (and the audience, too, of course) were “very moved.”

Ms. Rowling’s first sentence in response, that this young lady “deserved an honest answer,” suggests Dr. Sturgis is right in her description; Ms. Rowling seems to have been jarred from her script of ‘things to say’ and ‘things not to say.’ We know from her story about her writing the Hollywood writer a note rather than speaking aloud, that revealing Dumbledore’s sexual orientation was not on her ‘to do’ list, at Carnegie Hall or elsewhere. Bloggers who have suggested this was a publicity stunt on a promotional tour are, I guess, obliged to believe Ms. Rowling has Machiavellian and expert handlers who plan her every move (including the embarrassing ones?[vii]). From what Dr. Sturgis describes, this answer was spontaneous, heart-felt, and a surprise even to Ms. Rowling.

One news report said the audience was silent on first hearing “Dumbledore is gay,” one said there were audible gasps, and every report notes there was then a prolonged “ovation.” The working assumption among the reporters and the readers who read their articles seems to have been that the Carnegie Hall audience was delighted, even ecstatic, to learn that Albus Dumbledore, the greatest wizard of the age and the leader of the Order of the Phoenix, was gay.

I don’t doubt that many people there were happy to learn Ms. Rowling’s gang of heroes included a gay man. At the Prophecy 2007 conference in Toronto, one of my more interesting discussions was with a leader of the group that sponsors these conventions. She expressed her disappointment that Ms. Rowling had not delivered on several of the LGBT story-lines that were “evident” in the books (Lupin is most often mentioned by serious readers as the “obviously homosexual” character in the Potter storyline[viii]). This woman, I think, is representative of much of Harry Potter fandom and, as this group made up a large part of the Sweepstakes winners at the event, it would have been remarkable if this “honest answer” had not been greeted with great applause.

But I don’t think this was what caused the ovation.

Dr. Sturgis said the young woman speaking to Ms. Rowling and Ms. Rowling herself were “very moved” by their exchange. Ms. Rowling in response said something she hadn’t planned on saying, something unexpected and shocking to the people there (you don’t gasp if you’re not surprised and shocked, right?). The applause had two other likely causes, then, in addition to the satisfaction of those who wanted to hear Dumbledore (or any character) was gay.

The first is just the crowd dynamics of an event like this. Believe me, the Open Book Tour Sweepstakes was something like the contest in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Every Harry Potter fan who won two tickets to the Carnegie Hall reading and question and answer session had to have felt like they were touched by an angel. I know I would have! And, like attending a championship series baseball game, folks in the audience had to have been hoping for a dramatic and heroic event to take place Friday night that would justify their excitement and expenditure to be there. The Carnegie Hall crowd was primed for a happening or revelation from Ms. Rowling they could tell their friends about, that would make the newspapers or change their understanding of Harry Potter in a flash.

The second reason for the ovation is that the crowd thought Ms. Rowling delivered on their expectation of a “wow” via this Dumbledore comment. The poignancy of her exchange, the evident personal connection between author and reader, and Ms. Rowling’s preamble that this woman “deserved an honest answer,” cued the crowd that the moment they’d hoped for was at hand. The revelation itself I think was secondary or tertiary to their relief that Ms. Rowling had said or done something more newsworthy and memorable than her public reading of ‘The Silver Doe,’ the chapter I have claimed is probably the best single chapter in the series.

Ms. Rowling’s comment that she would have revealed Dumbledore’s orientation long ago if she’d known she would have received such a “positive reaction” suggests she misunderstood the ovation as a ‘hurrah for homosexuality’ or tolerance or for the closeted Dumbledore. Her misunderstanding and seeming delight with the audience response subsequently confirmed in reporters’ and their readers’ minds that Ms. Rowling, too, was advocating same sex relationships as a lifestyle and preference.

If Ms. Rowling has a “gay agenda,” however, I’d be very surprised. I doubt she has a homophobic cell in her body, but I doubt advancing the causes of LGBT people everywhere is one of her priorities.

I worked for four years at Whole Foods Market in Houston, Texas. My friends there liked to tease me that I was the “token breeder,” the married, white, male, heteronormative Christian with seven children and a stay-at-home wife that Whole Foods kept on staff just to say they had one. Most of the team members and leadership at this store, one of the biggest and most profitable in their national chain, were “bi” or gay.

In this environment, a little different than my years in the Marine Corps, one learned quickly that “homosexual” orientation meant different things to different people. After years of friendly conversations with LGBT co-workers there, it was clear that “homosexuality” had several meanings to them, all of which, unfortunately and with inevitable confusion, were described most often by the one word “gay.”

The three broad distinctions were “SSA,” “homosexual,” and “gay.” SSA or “same sex attraction” meant the person was attracted to people of the same sex and either acted on this attraction covertly, chose not to act on it from conscious decision or from fear or was bisexual. “Homosexual” meant the person was convinced their sexual orientation was toward the same sex, wasn’t regrettable or changeable and was only one aspect, not the most important, of their lives. They had same sex relationships, often lasting many years, but didn’t think of themselves as primarily, exclusively and/or politically defined by their sexuality.

Others, those I thought of as “gay,” were those to whom their same-sex orientation was the single most important part of their lives and was always the subject or periphery of their conversation. Most of the LGBT team members I knew at Whole Foods were “SSA” or “homosexual” in the way I’ve defined here and relatively few were “gay.”

As with ‘straight’ people, the LGBT people I worked with were embarrassed by and uncomfortable around men and women who trumpet their sexual preference everywhere and anywhere as a raison d’etre. Apparently, this distinction is a commonplace in the writing of Fr. Neuhaus of First Things. I hope he explains it better than I have; my apologies in advance if I’ve offended anyone with these broad-brush statements.

These are distinctions – not rigid categories, of course – but they are useful in understanding this tempest about Ms. Rowling saying she “always thought of Dumbledore as gay.” The word “gay,” because it is used to describe the entire spectrum of sexual life from “SSA and abstinent” to “NAMBLA and sexually hyperactive,” has triggered a response not unlike what the word “Sorcerer” did in the first U.S. Harry Potter title when Arthur Levine of Scholastic, Inc., changed it from “Philosopher’s Stone” to “Sorcerer’s Stone.”

“Gay” to Americans consumed or just concerned about LGBT issues in the public square, means the “gay agenda” in general and, specifically, advocacy of the position that love between people of the same sex is natural, blessed, and equivalent to ‘straight’ love, a position contrary to Christian scripture and American moral conventions. Saying that she “always thought of Dumbledore as gay,” consequently pushed the buttons of many of her readers whose inclusive understanding of “gay” causes them to think Ms. Rowling is making substantial contributions to Gay Marriage advocacy PACs.

I guess this sort of thing is inevitable in an election year, but her comments, understood in context of the exchange with her questioner, of the event, and the Culture War, don’t support that interpretation. Certainly the Skeeter-esque story headlines and write-ups make an ugly sort of sense. Ms. Rowling has been their hero/martyr media darling, in the never-ending battle to expose the theologically lunatic fringe’s secret plot to return America to the Puritan era of Harry Potter-free libraries.

Could the fourth estate have been embarrassed by Ms. Rowling’s comments in LA that her books were Christian in content and meaning? Embarrassed or not, they certainly lunged at the first opportunity to alienate Ms. Rowling’s Christian fans and reclaim her as an icon of “liberal humanism” at war with the Church. Harry Haters, as well-served by this nonsense in rallying their congregations as are media mavens and academic atheists, played their part in painting Ms. Rowling, via Dumbledore, as “the gateway to sexual perversion,” as she was formerly “the gateway to the occult.”

But as readers at HogwartsProfessor[ix] and Sword of Gryffindor[x] pointed out during the media-generated tempest, Dumbledore is hardly the poster child for same sex love. On the spectrum of meanings given the word “gay,” he obviously is at the “SSA and abstinent” end. Albus fell in love with a brilliant young man, a love that was unrequited and which ended in the tragic death of his younger sister. If his sexual preference is evident in the books, it is only between-the-lines and perhaps initiated his understanding of and compassion for those different and excluded. Whatever SSA he feels, he has not shared these feelings with others that we know of. And, if it had been even the subject of speculation among witches and wizards, it would have been in Rita Skeeter’s expose, The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore.

This is part of Ms. Rowling’s Headmaster backstory and, is consistent with the back-stories of Harry Potter characters we know (”all heroes must be ‘other’ with respect to the metanarrative”) and illuminating regarding Dumbledore’s agony over Grindelwald and the death of his sister. That he loved another person of the same sex once, without acting on this SSA, hardly makes him a bathhouse pedophile, martyr to political and social exclusion or gay-agenda shining light we’ll see on a float in next year’s Mardi Gras orgy/parade. (Or whatever mental picture the word “gay” brings to mind for those immersed in either side of the Culture War).

Ms. Rowling confirmed this was the case in a 2008 interview in Scotland.[xi]

From one controversy to the next, it seemed inevitable that the topic of Dumbledore’s sexuality would crop up. How did Rowling deal with the fallout? “It was funny, mostly!” she exclaims. “I had always seen Dumbledore as gay, but in a sense that’s not a big deal. The book wasn’t about Dumbledore being gay. It was just that from the outset obviously I knew that he had this big, hidden secret and that he flirted with the idea of exactly what Voldemort goes on to do, he flirted with the idea of racial domination, that he was going to subjugate Muggles. So that was Dumbledore’s big secret.

“So why did he flirt with that?” she asks. “He’s an innately good man, what would make him do that? I didn’t even think it through that way, it just seemed to come to me, I thought, ‘I know why he did it. He fell in love.’ And whether they physically consummated this infatuation or not is not the issue. The issue is love. It’s not about sex. So that’s what I knew about Dumbledore. And it’s relevant only in so much as he fell in love and was made an utter fool of by love. He lost his moral compass completely when he fell in love and I think subsequently became very mistrusting of his own judgment in those matters.

There were people who thought, well why haven’t we seen Dumbledore’s angst about being gay?” Rowling is clearly amused by this, and rightly so. “Where was that going to come in? And then the other thing was – and I had letters saying this – that, as a gay man, he would never be safe to teach in a school.”

An air of incredulity descends on the room, as if Rowling herself still cannot believe this statement. She continues: “He’s a very old single man. You have to ask: why is it so interesting? People have to examine their own attitudes. It’s a shade in a character. Is it the most important thing about him? No. It’s Dumbledore, for God’s sake. There are 20 things that are relevant to the story before his sexuality.” Bottom line, then: he isn’t a gay character; he’s a character that just happens to be gay. Rowling concurs wholeheartedly.

Again, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Ms. Rowling supported gay marriage, abortion rights, and the aggressively ethical treatment of animals. If she were a Greenpeace, NOW, and PETA hardliner and bankroller, or a Bush Republican wanting to cut down every tree before the Parousia, however, it wouldn’t make a difference to me. The questions I have been after in everything I’ve written about her books for publication in books or online have been “Why are these books so popular?” and “Whence Potter-mania?” Ms. Rowling’s private beliefs, even her specific religious beliefs — except as they bleed into and show themselves substantively in her novels — can’t help answer those questions. As her readers don’t and cannot know what she believes, her unstated or unimplied beliefs can’t be what is driving the countercultural popularity of these books about the purity of soul and the power of love over death.

What does help explain Pottermania world-wide is the postmodern quality of Ms. Rowling’s works. Like all movies and stories of our times, they advocate skepticism about the Grand Myth or “metanarrative” defining “good/evil” and “those who belong/those who don’t” (the “others”). All the good guys in Ms. Rowling’s books are “other;” Harry grew up among Muggles, Hermione was Muggle-born, Ron was poor, Sirius was a blood traitor and Azkaban prisoner, Lupin was a werewolf, Neville was considered an inferior klutz, Luna was a freak, Hagrid was a Half-giant, Snape had a broken heart, etc.

In our Historical Period, minority perspective is considered as important or more important than majority opinion because it sees more of the whole from the periphery than what those in the center can understand. Ms. Rowling, in step with the beliefs of our Age, celebrates a rainbow coalition of the disaffected against those claiming special privilege and power as their birthright.

We love these stories in large part because they reflect and resonate with the “Rights and Justice” questions and concerns of our times. The special resonance of these novels with women, despite their being largely a “boy’s story,” speaks to this postmodern quality.

We now know that Dumbledore loved Grindelwald and regretted the consequences of this unrequited love his entire life. The Headmaster’s SSA as a young man and his remorse set him apart as much as his talents did and completes Ms. Rowling’s Hall of Heroes, in which Dumbledore had been the “odd man out” for not being a “freak” in the eyes of our world. I suspect one more cause of the Carnegie Hall ovation was the relief and delight of that audience that this great man was also “one of us” in being different, “imperfect,” as the metanarrative defines perfection, and in having a secret.

The first literary key I discuss at every talk I give about Deathly Hallows, though, is not postmodernism or Christian symbolism; it’s “narrative misdirection.” The big twist of the last book, due to Ms. Rowling’s plotting and Harry’s restricted vision, was about Dumbledore’s identity. He wasn’t the “god” Harry and others had imagined him to be and his Machiavellian character and failings with regard to the use of power made Harry a better man than his mentor. This was a stunning revelation, as R. H. Trexler has written[xii] and as Ms. Rowling has confirmed in interviews like the one above, it is these failings Ms. Rowling has offered in her story for our reflection and discussion, not his adolescent SSA.

That the reporters at the New York event overlooked other revelations and equally large ovations[xiii] noted by Dr. Sturgis that were more meaningful to focus on this comment and score culture war points is no surprise. That some Christians have become both worked up and downcast by also is no surprise (aren’t we all Daily Prophet subscribers and believers at times?). Because of this media flare of little substance, I hope more serious readers will understand that the popularity of Ms. Rowling’s novels is due to their postmodern themes and Christian artistry.

The headline “Dumbledore is Gay” obscured for most the fact that 1,000 sweepstakes winners from all over America flew to New York with a friend, at considerable expense, to hear an author read a book chapter portion  and answer a few questions.

The big story reporters missed was what drew readers to the event–the amazing ability of these books to so thoroughly engage hearts and minds. The one-liner that became ”the story” is merely important as a pointer to the magical power Ms. Rowling has instilled in her Harry Potter novels. The Dumbledore story will fade. The larger story will not.

My conclusions about the “Dumbledore is gay” media circus and Fandom tempest are:

(1) The meaning of Ms. Rowling’s words are best understood in context: her “connection” with the questioner and crowd dynamics that night.

(2) The media’s unexamined interpretation–Ms. Rowling’s endorses same sex love and an anti-faith agenda — was straight from Rita Skeeter’s notebook and part of their endless campaign to convince the public that Ms. Rowling is the enemy of their enemy, namely, the traditional Christian Church and all believers.

(3) The anguished and disappointed response of many Christian readers to these reports was also according to Culture War formula and in keeping with a hyperextended understanding of the word “gay.”

(4) “Dumbledore is gay” no more makes the books an invitation to same sex orientation or contrary to orthodox Christian belief[xiv] than “Sorcerer’s Stone” made them a “gateway to the occult;” and

(5) If you want to understand the ten qualities of postmodern storytelling and how Ms. Rowling weaves her engaging stories using all ten, read the Postmodernism chapters of Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader. (I’d blush about this shameless plug, except it’s the only thing I know in print or online covering this subject.)

 “Taking Stories More Seriously than the Author”

There is a more interesting issue, though. Ms. Rowling said in Carnegie Hall that she “always thought of Dumbledore as gay.” But she didn’t put this information in any of the books.

So, is the Headmaster gay?

Soon after the revelation, Prof. John Mark Reynolds at Biola University wrote an article for Scriptorium Daily called “Taking Stories More Seriously Than The Author.”[xv] Not only an important contribution to the discussion of Ms. Rowling’s comment at Carnegie Hall, the article also challenged us to consider how we read a book and understand its meaning. Prof. Reynold’s startling, sure-to-be-misunderstood, sound-bite assertion that “Dumbledore is not gay” will likely be what most readers remember.

Prof. Reynolds, head of Biola/Torrey’s Great Books program, however, is saying much more. Knowing how to read a book at depth, he spends his days in colloquia with some of the brightest young people in the country, discussing how to read and engage texts while reading the best books of the Western Canon. He argues here that there are limits on the control an author has on a text and its meaning — and that limit is reached when the book is published.

I urge you to read the whole article online but here is a brief excerpt:

Is authorial intent the only thing that matters in reading a book?

Authorial intent is important, but not the only important thing.

If the author has hidden her intention so well that only her opining after the fact reveals it to us, then she has missed her chance.

Rowling chose to hide her “opinion” of Dumbledore’s sexuality until the story arc was done, Dumbledore dead, and his life written. Now her opinions no longer matter, just her text. If she could point to anything in that text that suggests something greater than friendship, mentoring, or a professional relationship, then that would matter. She has not and cannot. She carefully hid the “fact” and now it is too late to introduce it.

Lest one think that I say this only because homosexuality bothers me, then let me compare it to another situation. Suppose that Rowling now claimed that Dumbledore and Mcgonigal [sic?] had a passionate relationship. Since there is no reason in the text to know this is true, or to find it relevant to the story arc as we have it, Rowling’s opinions of the headmaster’s heterosexual affairs matter very little in terms of understanding the books as they are. There is as much evidence of this (after all) as of Dumbledore’s homosexuality.

If I utterly hide a fact (as an author), then I cannot suddenly introduce it by opining outside of my book about my book.

Author’s revelations about her intent might be interesting to the scholar in studying the directions Rowling did not go with her novel. They might inspire learned papers on why she hid Dumbledore’s love life (homophobia?), but they no longer can impact the text. The text is fixed and if she did not reveal it there, then it is not anywhere. Of course, the reader, like Rowling, is free to invent her own private meanings and expand the stories in new ways, but Rowling cannot force us to do so.

This is not different than the way I treat any book.

He goes on to discuss Plato and Tolkien in this regard and makes a respectable case that “what we have is what we have” and Ms. Rowling needs to move on to her next book.

I hear someone asking, “So we don’t need to learn more about Dumbledore to understand Harry Potter and Pottermania?” I’d go further than that and say learning more than what we have in text prevents us from understanding the books.

We don’t need the backstory, for example, of Dumbledore’s encounter with the Bible and his understanding of the passages he chose for the Godric’s Hollow headstones, as interesting as that might be. (It’s revealed as the only Muggle text ever read by a wizard; even Muggle-born witches and wizards are strangely illiterate. There is more textual evidence that Dumbledore is a Christian of some kind than that he is straight, gay, or asexual in the novels — but would we be served to learn now about his catechism, dark nights of the soul, and confessions? I don’t see how it would add anything to the story, and, like the revelation in Carnegie Hall, it would certainly distract from the meaning and diminish the story’s artistry and effect on readers.

Massimo Introvigne, in one of the first Christian endorsements of Harry Potter as edifying reading (“Harry Potter: A Christian Hero?” ) discussed intentio auctoris in November, 1999:[xvi]

I don’t know whether Rowling considers herself religious (I have read that she is divorced and a former Labour activist, but nothing about religion). This does not really matter. As the old textbooks of rhetoric stated, the “intentio auctoris”, the intention of the author, may in the end be different from the “intentio operis”, the objective intention or direction of the work. Giacomo Cardinal Biffi wrote a fascinating book about finding Christian values in “Pinocchio”, whose author was a non religious secular humanist. Rowling writes in a recognizable British tradition including such Christian storytellers as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and the influence is apparent, no matter what Rowling’s personal position.

So what is Ms. Rowling’s stated intention for Harry Potter? The BBC report of the Carnegie Hall event,[xvii] after quoting two gay activists’ reactions to the “news” about Dumbledore (one thrilled and one disappointed it was not an important part of the story line) reported a la the Daily Prophet that “she regarded her novels as a ‘prolonged argument for tolerance’ and urged her fans to ‘question authority.’”

Ms. Rowling’s “question authority” advice to her readers was about not trusting the press to tell the truth. If we take the Rita Skeeter version of Ms. Rowling’s remarks as accurate, we’re left with the author telling us that the books are “a prolonged argument for tolerance”

The old rhetoric books were right, at least in this case, if this is what she thinks the books are about. “The objective direction or intention” of Harry Potter, their intentio operis, is actually and evidently quite far from a story driving home the centrality of John Locke’s Doctrine of Tolerance, or even the importance of politically correct “non-judgmentalism” to a full human life and peaceful community.

Ms. Rowling wept after writing “Into the Forest Again,” Chapter 34 of Deathly Hallows, because she had at last made her point about tolerance? The life-sacrifices made by Lily, Dobby and Harry are best understood in light of the culture war with the racist, sexist, colonial establishment and the evils of prejudice? These novels have postmodern themes that are essential to understanding their popularity; they are not, however, the answers to the human questions she raises and explores, questions greater than the political correctness concerns of our times.

Prof. Reynold’s point about the limits of auctorial control, then, is important. What has been made of Ms. Rowling’s revelation by the media and by what Ms. Rowling bemoans as “the lunatic fringe of my own religion” has much less to do with its importance in understanding the author’s intention or work than it does with longtime cultural trench lines.

I would love to sit down with Ms. Rowling and ask her a host of questions about the influences of her work (has she read Frances Yates? Titus Burckhardt? Charles Williams?). What about the choices she made in creating this magical sub-universe (were the “underground adventures” in each book more foreshadowing of Deathly Hallows than monomyth formula?). I hope, though, I’d avoid asking her what her stories meant. George MacDonald said,[xviii] when asked why he wouldn’t explain his fairy tales, that the question presupposed he knew all of what they meant and that he was such a poor artist his admirers and readers couldn’t understand his work.

“But a man may then imagine in your work what he pleases, what you never meant!”

Not what he pleases, but what he can. If he be not a true man, he will draw evil out of the best; we need not mind how he treats any work of art! If he be a true man, he will imagine true things; what matter whether I meant them or not? They are there none the less that I cannot claim putting them there! One difference between God’s work and man’s is, that, while God’s work cannot mean more than he meant, man’s must mean more than he meant. For in everything that God has made, there is a layer upon layer of ascending significance; also he expresses the same thought in higher and higher kinds of that thought: it is God’s things, his embodied thoughts, which alone a man has to use, modified and adapted to his own purposes, for the expression of his thoughts; therefore he cannot help his words and figures falling into such combinations in the mind of another as he had himself not foreseen, so many are the thoughts allied to every other thought, so many are the relations involved in every figure, so many the facts hinted in every symbol. A man may well himself discover truth in what he wrote; for he was dealing all the time things that came from thoughts beyond his own.

“But surely you would explain your idea to one who asked you?”

I say again, if I cannot draw a horse, I will not write THIS IS A HORSE under what I foolishly meant for one. Any key to a work of imagination would be nearly, if not quite, as absurd. The tale is there not to hide, but to show: if it show nothing at your window, do not open your door to it; leave it out in the cold. To ask me to explain, is to say, “Roses! Boil them, or we won’t have them!” My tales may not be roses but I will not boil them.

So long as I think my dog can bark, I will not sit up to bark for him.

If a writer’s aim be logical conviction, he must spare no logical pains, not merely to be understood, but to escape being misunderstood; where his object is to move by suggestion, to cause to imagine, then let him assail the soul of his reader as the wind assails an aeolian harp. If there be music in my reader, I would gladly wake it. Let fairytale of mine go for a firefly that now flashes, now is dark, but may flash again. Caught in a hand which does not love its kind, it will turn to an insignificant ugly thing, that can neither flash nor fly.

In other words, asking Ms. Rowling what she meant in her stories is insulting. If what she meant is not discernible to a serious reader, I am demonstrating, not implying, that she’s a poor writer.

Worse, by restricting the work’s meaning to merely the author’s intention and understanding of it, one assumes there are no muses. That she, as author, is a god, fully conscious of her influences, prejudices, and meanings for every reader, and of every valence and meaning of her story’s symbols. That would diminish her accomplishment or suggest she’s something more than human. Two of the series’ meanings are 1) that we respect people for who they are, and 2) that we struggle to come to terms with the limits of individual understanding.

Prof. Reynolds is right. Let’s work with the text we have.

Why Ms. Rowling Won’t Shut Up – And Why That is a Good Thing

Having said that, I’d add only that there might be one “upside” to more information from the author about her Harry Potter stories and their composition.

I imagined back in July, during the last and ‘transition’ week of the two-year Interlibrum, that Deathly Hallows would be followed by a month or two of frenetic interpretation and internet chatter about the last book and then a long dry spell before the next movie appeared. This desert of Potter news, broken only by HPEF conventions and end of year awards news items, was something I actually looked forward to: some ‘down time’ to write and take stock of the series as a whole.

The ‘time-off’ I expected hasn’t happened.

Things have cooled down since the madness of the nearly simultaneous movie opening and finale publication in July 2007, of course, but it has been a rare week in which there hasn’t been an event of some kind, often of some significance, in the Potter-mania story. There was the Open Book Tour with its revelations about Ms. Rowling’s Christian intentions and thoughts on Dumbledore’s sexuality. And the hullaballoo about the Harry Potter Lexicon seeking publication as a text with a three day trial and media-fest in New York. And The Tales of Beedle the Bard. And an interview with Fandom’s biggest site, The Leaky Cauldron, the week that The Order of the Phoenix DVD was released.

Because my website and email inbox receive the most traffic when a Potter-mania event is in the headlines, I suppose I should welcome this continued media attention on Ms. Rowling, her books, and attendant phenomena. HogwartsProfessor.com had it greatest number of visitors in the weeks before and after the release of Deathly Hallows, a peak only approached during the post Carnegie Hall blitz about Dumbledore. These visitors aren’t here to read about Dante and Beatrice’s green eyed reflection of the Griffin at Paradise’s gates, but readers are readers, right?

Various internet mavens have written, though — and I have thought the same myself — that if Ms. Rowling would just shut up, that would be more than okay.

So many of her readers seem to be in withdrawal from 2007’s canon-shot overload that every new scrap she tells us about who wound up with whom (et cetera) overshadows the meaning of the books and those things she chose to include in the story itself. It is inevitable that learning what was left out, because in the news cycle this information is a ‘revelation’ of some kind, seems more important than the contents and artistry of the actual novels. Ms. Rowling’s continued stream of information and interpretation distracts from the fun and joy to be found by serious readers in the Postlibrum in re-reading and digesting the seven book set.

It also adds to the illusion that she is the sole source of understanding of the books, a Delphic Oracle to which Fandom must remain something like a thrall. This is not a healthy relationship author-to-reader (or anyone-to-anybody, for that matter).

I have come to the conclusion that this continuing “feed” of “new data,” however, is both inevitable and, at least potentially, a good thing. That represents something of a change in my posture to the ever rolling revelations so I will explain what brought me to this conclusion.

I think it was reading about the Theme Park that made the inevitability of Ms. Rowling remaining in the news for several years (at least until the release of the Deathly Hallows movie) come home to me. There are millions and millions of dollars in this franchise and thousands of people (!) whose lives are now in some way dependent on the continued notoriety of Harry Potter and celebrity of Ms. Rowling. If this was not enough to guarantee her continued working of the Fandom and MSM pumps, there is something more. Ms. Rowling’s ability to act as a lightning rod and fund raiser for her favorite charities must diminish in direct proportion with her celebrity.

Continued news stories and “revelations” are inevitable because Ms. Rowling has responsibilities to investors, to working people and their families, and to the children and causes she serves through her charity work. Her responsibility is to maintain a visible profile and to continue to keep Harry Potter in the news. It wouldn’t be humility or satiety to say “I’ve got enough money” and walk away from the Potter Pecuniary Production unit to begin work on a new set of books or a stand-alone novel. That would be an uncharitable and selfish act — and no small failing – were it possible for her (and, after her testimony at the RDR trial, I don’t think it is). Like it or not, she is the engine that now drives an industry, capitalist and charitable, and a lot of people count on her to keep the pistons moving.

Don’t look for it to stop soon. Re-read the review of her The Wizard and the Hopping Pot[xix] if you want to read a postmodern tale of noblesse oblige. If she has become something like a queen with obligations to her subjects, Ms. Rowling will play the part.

But is this a good thing?

On one count, at least, no, it isn’t. As I wrote above, Ms. Rowling’s continued shadow over the shoulder of all her readers distracts them from what we are getting from her books. Her presence and input has a dissipating or adulterating effect, I think, however counter-intuitive that may seem. Just as a crutch or wheel chair can become an obstacle to healthy walking if over-used, an author’s input is probably only valuable and necessary until the point of publication. At some point, the painter has to put the palette down and the composer has to stop adding movements or even notes.

I think, though, that Ms. Rowling has a better case for publishing her Potter-Silmarillion, the ironically named Scottish Book,[xx] than most authors, a better case than the Tolkien Estate had, I’d say, because he’d already included his helpful appendices at The Lord of the Rings’ finish.

Why? Because of her use of narrative misdirection via Harry’s limited perspective.

A painting analogy may help here.

Imagine yourself in the Art Institute of Chicago. You’ve been locked in at night, the place is pitch dark, and you have a small flashlight. There is a special Raphael exhibit, though, and you decide to visit it to pass the time before daybreak (and your inevitable arrest).

You find yourself before Raphael’s last great painting, The Transfiguration,[xxi] on loan from the Vatican Museums. It’s huge. As best as you can tell in the dark by running your flashlight beam along the edge, the thing must be 12 feet by 9 feet — and it’s incredibly detailed. You sit down on the bench the Art Institute has put in front of the painting at the perfect distance and you are still there several hours later studying it as best you can (really glad you brought all those batteries with you on the field trip).

You’re arrested, of course, when the guards turn the lights on, both by the police and by your realization on seeing the painting — all at once, in the light — that you could never have understood the painting with your narrow flash light beam. You have to see the city in the background, the healing being botched by the Apostles, and the figures in the Transfiguration event itself taken all together to “get” what Raphael was after in his political, social, and theological masterpiece. Your night with the flashlight wasn’t wasted time; it was invaluable for gaining an appreciation of the detail and nuance of each part of the painting. But without seeing it all together, you miss what Raphael wanted you to have.

We read Harry Potter’s epic adventure and alchemical transfiguration from misshapen lead to transcendent Dumbledore-man gold in the flashlight-like perspective of a mini-cam just above Harry’s head. This is done intentionally; the narratological perspective is a large part of what drives the mystery in each book along and of Ms. Rowling’s epistemological meaning (”you don’t know what you think you know”). But it means that we never see the whole canvas or even a significant part of the canvas on which this story is painted. Reading Harry Potter is a little like searching the skies with a spotlight for airplanes. Even if you happen to catch a plane in the pencil beam of your light, you know what you’ve missed by having to focus on that one object and because of the darkness is much, much greater than what you’ve seen.

Wouldn’t it be a treat to turn the lights on or search the skies when the sun is up and learn what we’ve had to miss because of our intentionally restricted vision? Ms. Rowling has been working from the whole canvas this whole time and it’s evident that, even after all the revelations of Deathly Hallows, we still haven’t seen much of the painting from her view.

As I was revising Unlocking Harry Potter after Deathly Hallows, the first step was to cut out the speculation I used to illustrate literature points. What’s bizarre is that quite a few of the character and plot questions I tried to answer with conjecture are still possible, especially the events in Hogwarts Castle the night of Dumbledore’s death. Deathly Hallows was over-loaded as it was and re-visiting those events “with the lights on” would have diminished the pacing towards and the impact of the finale’s climax.

Revealing the back-story now, however, could heighten rather than diminish our appreciation of Ms. Rowling’s writing, especially of what she chose to leave in, leave out, and how she chose to tell the tale. Seeing the whole sweep of the story from the perspective of eternity or the end-of-time would illumine her decisions as story-teller, and, in this, throw no small light on her intentions and meaning.

I look forward to reading the Potter-Silmarillion, consequently, as an important event in “Potter studies” and I am resigned to the persistent, distracting drip of revelations from Ms. Rowling’s faucet until she writes that book (and after). It would be uncharitable for her to fix the drip and diminish her celebrity — and, if it leads to our gaining at long last the “author’s eye-view” on her sub-creation, even this attention place-holding drip must be considered a good thing.

[i] http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1572107/20071017/index.jhtml

[ii] http://eldritchhobbit.livejournal.com/175955.html

[iii] http://thehogshead.org/2007/10/19/rowling-dumbledore-was-gay/

[iv] https://hogwartsprofessor.com/?p=26

[v] http://eldritchhobbit.livejournal.com/175955.html

[vi] https://hogwartsprofessor.com/?p=197#comment-17260

[vii] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-487806/The-moment-JK-Rowling-revealed-little-intended.html

[viii] http://thehogshead.org/2007/10/19/rowling-dumbledore-was-gay/#comment-243272

[ix] https://hogwartsprofessor.com/?p=197#comment-17226

[x] http://thehogshead.org/2007/10/19/rowling-dumbledore-was-gay/#comment-243547

[xi] http://www.adeelamini.com/JKR/ESTE012C_adeelaminicom_JKR.pdf

[xii] https://hogwartsprofessor.com/?p=197#comment-17268

[xiii] https://hogwartsprofessor.com/?p=198#comment-17310

[xiv] http://thehogshead.org/2007/10/19/rowling-dumbledore-was-gay/#comment-243473

[xv] http://www.scriptoriumdaily.com/2007/10/23/dumbledore-is-not-gay-taking-stories-more-seriously-than-the-author/

[xvi] http://www.cesnur.org/recens/potter_mi_eng.htm

[xvii] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/7053982.stm

[xviii] http://home.earthlink.net/~johnrpenner/Articles/fantasticImagination.html

[xix] http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=amb_link_6057542_1?ie=UTF8&docId=1000180871&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=1CBRC59BNEN9M2FQJ2HT&pf_rd_t=1401&pf_rd_p=341699901&pf_rd_i=1000179911#review1

[xx] http://pottercast.the-leaky-cauldron.org/jkrowling

[xxi] http://mv.vatican.va/3_EN/pages/x-Schede/PINs/PINs_Sala08_05_035.html, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transfiguration_%28Raphael%29


  1. John,

    My response to the revelation was:

    Hmmm, I missed the boat on that one. Of course, I had not spent much time contemplating Dumbledore’s love life or lack thereof. The most was an inchoate idea that perhaps he and Minerva McGonagall had a covert relationship. I considered that they might be secretly married and for appearances sake, they kept it under wraps. Or they could have just been a couple but without marital ties. Guess I was wrong on that score.

    Dumbledore was gay and had been in love with Gellert Grindelwald. That will stire up a lot of plot bunnies and I am sure that within a month Fiction Alley will be filled with fanfic dedicated to Dumbledore/Grindlewald scenes from their younger years as well as their infamous duel. Whether or not they were lovers at one time was not specifically stated by Rowling.

    I am sure that relationship will be explored in a myriad of ways. It also adds another layer of meaning to the lines in book 7 in the Daily Prophet interview with Rita Skeeter (p. 26, Scholastic hardcover edition):

    “Very dirty business indeed. All I’ll say is don’t be so sure that there really was the spectacular duel of legend. After they’ve read my book, people may be foreced to conclude that Grindelwald simply conjured a white handkerchief from the end of his wand and came quietly!”

    I predict that there will also be Dumbledore/Doge fanfic soon flooding the internet.

    Honestly, there were only three characters that I really considered as showing outwardly gay characteristics in the series.

    First was Gilderoy Lockhart with his shocking pink robes, penchant for using peacock quills, and a stated fondness for the color lilac. Then again, possibly Lockhart only had eyes for himself. Ye old Lockhart/Lockhart ship.

    Second was Professor Grubbly-Plank. With her pipe smoking ways and her brush cut, it seemed to be waving a rainbow colored flag to say, “she’s a lesbian.”

    Third was Rita Skeeter. Although I cannot say exactly what her sexuality was – because the idea of Skeeter engaged in any sexual activity is not something I wish to consider at all. However, with her “thick fingers” “heavy-jawed face,” “surprisingly strong grip”(all from page 303 Scholastic paperback edition) and “large mannish hands” (p. 307) I was led to believe “That’s a man, baby!”


  2. Excellent commentary, John.
    I went back and re-read Dr. Amy’s report on the event and realized that the media once again missed the jab at them when JKR said: “…In the end, the message to readers is this: “Question authority. You shouldn’t assume the regime or the press is telling you all of the truth.” ”
    The press, what a bunch of idiots.


  3. Perelandra says

    Beautiful post, John!

    One more little thing. . . Notice Rowling’s exactly words: “I always thought he was gay.” She doesn’t say “I wrote him as gay” or “I intended him as gay.” Writers of fiction–and I speak from experience–often discover that characters take on a life of their own and do/become things beyond the author’s conscious intent. Perhaps Dumbledore’s sexual orientation is something that emerged from the role that Rowling wanted him to play in her story rather than a feature she had mapped out for him in a character list. It could have happened either way.

    Given the historic prevalence of homosexuality in British boarding schools and academe, it shows restraint on Rowlings’ part not to have shown more of that element.

    Given that Dumbledore seems to have been chaste all his long adult life, what’s the problem? Surely we all have run across or heard of Christians in that situation? Some people have reacted as if this means Dumbledore is routinely frolicking in leather bars or whatever.

    Rita Skeeter a trannie? Now that’s an interesting angle.

  4. Seven of Diamonds says

    Thank you for not dissapointing or offending me with your response to this news. I think you’re kind of wonderful and I love everything you write.

  5. Now that the initial surprise of the thing has had the chance to leech away, I’m not nearly so frustrated by this as I had assumed I’d be, and, in fact, am almost and unaccountably pleased by it.

    John’s post is an excellent summation of the matter, and it hits upon some of the things I’d probably say about it myself if asked. As many have said, this revelation is not entirely unexpected, or, more accurately, not entirely unsupported by the books themselves. Adding it as a sort of afterthought like this is not really all that problematic, at least for the casual reader. It’s going to be a bombshell in the academy, though, particularly in the tension it will create between those who work in Queer Theory and those who have been trying for so many years to eradicate authorial intent, especially as they’re very often the same people.

    Still, the statement has likely launched a thousand articles, and many a relieved grad student will now be able to finally put his or her grant to good use.

    More seriously, however, this revelation has done some wonderful things (yes, really) for the story itself, although they aren’t especially happy things. The duel with Grindelwald in ’45, already an epic and heartbreaking affair (whatever Ms. Skeeter might say) takes on an almost unbearable pathos, now, and I’m grateful for that. Why, exactly, I am again uncertain, but there it is.

    Anyway, inasmuch as we can look upon this as at worst a neutral thing and at best a guarded positive one, there will be, as the mainstream media no doubt hopes and intends, a great many Christian critics who will fall upon this utterance with particular zeal. I’ll be interested to see what the most notable anti-Potter voices do with it.

  6. We had a marvelous time. I asked a bunch of folks outside the theatre and answers were uniformly enthusiastic and postive. Also, I’ve got to tell you, other groups at the school (we have a big $$ group that just brings in speakers all the time), I’ve not heard folks have such a fun time, even at bigger crowds. And you were a hell of a lot more interesting and a better speaker (in my opinion) than Gen. Wesley Clark last spring (brought in for the opening of our Mock Convention). Everyone really loved it, I was impressed with the smaller group that stayed the extra two hours, and it was a total pleasure, the highlight of my week, certainly, and, even as an ‘organiser’, a breath of fresh air in a week that was otherwise quite busy and difficult. Thank you so much.

    after much thought, going back and forth, etc., I think I have come to a few reasonable conclusions. despite my wish that sexuality be always treated with the greatest discretion, that is out and there’s nothing for it.

    1. The fact that Rowling considers Dumbledore gay, and that it, and all other sexual information, was absent (except for Bellatrix’s fawning and that Voldemort obviously thinks of sex in terms of lust (his comment re: Snape’s love of Lily)) means that the value of the books remains intact. That is, while I would the information remain tacet, the books don’t even hint at it– if movie people had to be told, I think it’s fair to say it’s far from obvious (and I hate when people read into things based on stereotypes– straight men can knit, too– and are probably more likely in the wizarding world, given that the can have needles do it for the). The books aren’t about homosexuality; they’re about the battle between good and evil, about sacrificial love (far beyond typical romantic love), and have powerful lessons about faith, the nature of sin, and the obligation not merely not to aid evil, but to actively resist it.

    2. I think Rowling has many great ideas and believe her to genuinely be a person of faith. I don’t have to agree with her on everything, and realistically, I probably don’t, whether that includes homosexuality or not. None of this, again, affects the quality of her work. Tennessee Williams was himself a homosexual, and while his plays are not among my favorites, I recognise his talent and skill. Ultimately, we have the responsibility to speak the truth as well as the obligation to act in love towards everyone, especially those we disagree with, or whom we believe to support or engage in acts of grave sin. I have never seen a shouting match do anything other than hurt people– it rarely convinces them. As a Roman Catholic, I have a firm stance on sexual morality (and not just for homosexuals, either)– but I consider it part of my mission to demonstrate that opposition to some sins is not a facet of religious extremism, and that people who oppose those actions aren’t all shouters, picketers, cruel, etc.

    3. We have I believe two possibilities for interpreting Rowling’s statement(s):

    a. she supports a homosexual agenda or atleast does not oppose it; Dumbledore may have been chosen specifically as gay such that she could have a character folks know and love already and then turns out to be attracted to persons of the same gender– basically, to personalise homosexuality– or it could simply be he rather evolved that way. Either way, apply Occam’s razor: the simplest answer is the most likely to be true– Jo Rowling has no objections to homosexuality.

    b. ZoeRose has done a marvelous job of putting the comment in context– and even if it is option a, Dumbledore is not a poster-child for homosexuality. I shall attempt to briefly sum up how I also saw it in the same light. Rowling responds to a question about ‘true love’ basically in the negative. It was unrequited, it was for a bad person, it was connected with powerlust and selfishness– Dumbledore himself seems to feel that he was a very selfish person, particularly at that time. He forswears everything else from that time in his life, with brief interludes (examining James’ invisibility cloak, putting on the resurrection stone); I do not think it unreasonable he would forswear romantic love of any sort entirely. Moreover, it was ‘unrequited’ and a great ‘tragedy.’ While option a is certainly possible, it is well-supported by the text of the interview also that Rowling may not believe homosexual sexual activity is acceptable (note the distinction: being attracted to a person of the same sex is not sinful). An additional note is that of her surprise at the support for the comment (admittedly, she could’ve been expecting a frosty reception, but it may just be as likely that she believes it to be a disordered attraction and thus was surprised at the support).

    4. Homosexual persons can be great models of faith. Being attracted to someone of the same sex doesn’t turn someone into an animal, destroy their self-control, etc. God calls all of us, of all sexualities and vocations, to chastity. Oddly enough, my interpretation is that Dumbledore is similar to a Michael O’Brien character, Pawel of Sofia House— a disordered sexual experience (albeit very different ones), and a life of self-denial. We already know Dumbledore denied his basest desires for power, etc., for, what, a century? O’Brien dedicated his book to those whose ‘sacrifices are known only to God’– to those who deny their basest desires to honor God, and, in the context of the novel, specifically to people of same-sex attraction who live chastely.

    regardless, again, HP has a lot to offer, and isn’t, as others have said, a gateway to witchcraft or homosexuality. I wish it hadn’t come up (leaving everything to the individual’s interpretation, whatever that may be), but it’s not.. devastating.. it’s also not clear at all where Rowling is on it, or what she’s saying with Dumbledore’s character.


  7. I would like to ask the HogPros to read afresh the truth and confession of Albus Dumbledore in the DH King’s Cross chapter, from the end of(Scholastic) pg. 712, beginning with the paragraph “The Deathly Hallows…”
    to mid-page 720.

    On page 713 we learn from Dumbledore that “I have no secrets from you [Harry] anymore…

    On page 714 that …looking for the Hallows is the one thing, above all, that drew us together [Dumbledore and Grindelwald]

    On page 715 Dumbledore confesses love for parents, brother and sister, but I [Dumbledore] was selfish…felt trapped with Ariana after his mother’s death.

    Then he [Grindelwald] came…how his ideas caught me…muggles forced into subservience…glorious leaders of the revolution.

    Did I know in my heart of hearts what Grindelwald was? I think I did, but I closed my eyes…at the heart of our schemes the Deathly Hallows!

    Invincible, Masters of death….Grindelwald and Dumbledore (p.717)
    TWO MONTHS of insanity, of cruel dreams and neglect of the only two members of my family left to me…

    Reality returned in the form of my rough, unlettered brother. I did not want to hear the truth shoutedatme…thatI couldnot setforth to seek Hallows with a fragle and unstable sister in tow…

    The argument became a fight…Grindelwald lost control. That which I had always sensed in him, though I pretended not to, now sprung into being….Ariana…dead on the floor….

    Grindelwald fled…vanished…he ran while I was left to bury my sister,,,,(and after the infamous duel)…They say he showed remorse in later years, alone in his cell at Nurmengard. I hope that is true. I would like to think he did feel the horror and shame of what he had done…(pg.719)

    I find NO reference here to any gay relationship when reading the entire text in context. Where is it? And for two months?? It just doesn’t fit.

  8. John, thanks for this very thoughtful analysis. It helps enormously. I had two reactions of frustration upon first hearing the news. The first synopsis I read (I can’t recall which newspaper account) really did make it sound as though Rowling was dropping this news as a kind of bombshell. So it seemed like a bit of a publicity stunt. That didn’t sound like her (though we’re all human and the hunger for and delight in publicity on some level is probably just a fact for all of us) and I am very glad to have the context explained further. I was also helped by going over to the Leaky Cauldron last night and reading the full transcript (at least as they had hastily transcribed it thus far). Although Ms. Sturgis’ additional insights about the evening add even more, even just reading the whole transcript versus the bits that had been excerpted in the initial news releases gave the discussion more nuance. You’d think we’d HP readers would be more savvy about the tendency of the media to whip out those quick quill quotes…my initial naivete feels a bit embarrassing in retrospect!

    My second reaction, upon pondering it further, was frustration that this was going to sidetrack potential readers. Because the issue of homosexuality is such a flashpoint in the “culture wars” right now, news of this nature about a beloved character in a very popular series might serve to take away a bit from the rich complexity that Rowling had brought to bear on his character. In other words, people would hear the laden word “gay” and, depending on which side of the issue one falls, try to turn Dumbledore into a mere symbol or token, either to celebrate or decry.

    That would be a real shame. My husband and I have spent a good bit of time, since reading DH, discussing just how rich Dumbledore’s back story turned out to be…I think it was one of the most surprising aspects of the book. Rowling really “humanized” a character who could all too easily have fallen into a stereotype: the wise old mentor wizard (Merlin, Gandalf, Obi Wan…). Dumbledore is that, but his frailties and failings help him transcend the stereotype too, which makes him more interesting. It’s also fascinating to consider how his own struggles shaped his decisions in what to share and what to reveal to Harry as he tried to help prepare him to answer his calling and fulfill his destiny.

    I felt more peaceful last evening after another long talk my husband and I had about similar sorts of observations brought up here today about the painfully obsessive nature of Dumbledore’s young relationship with Grindelwald: what remains important is that the love and admiration he felt for Grindelwald was crippling and unhealthy and bordered on the idolatrous. It makes Dumbledore’s fleeing the temptation to power (an overtly stated struggle in the book) even more interesting when one considers now that he was also likely fleeing other temptations as well.

    I could write more, but this has gotten too long as it is. I’ll look forward to revisiting the board and hearing more thoughts from others.

  9. I must admit the first news of this had taken me aback somewhat. However, to view this revelation as confirmation of Ms. Rowling having some sort of agenda seems far-fetched at best. Considering all of the other relationships portrayed, there was nothing in the series that indicated she promoted anything but a traditional family structure. There were no homosexual couples portrayed, no unwed mothers, and no common-law relationships. If she thought of Dumbledore as homosexual, she certainly did not use him in any way to promote the “gay agenda.” If anyone could have dug up this kind of dirt on him Rita Skeeter certainly could and would have, but she didn’t. In the absence of any evidence of homosexual activity by Dumbledore in the text, we can assume he lead a chaste life. As such, he represents a shining example to any Christian with a same sex attraction. The Roman Catholic Church, to which I belong, as do the Harry-critics I most correspond with, says that homosexuals and lesbians are welcomed in the Church as members of the Body of Christ. However each of us are called to chastity according to our station in life, therefore people with same sex attractions would be forbidden to physically act on them (much like heterosexuals outside of marriage). Barring any follow-up revelations by Ms. Rowling that she imagined Dumbledore to be the type to have frequent romps in gay bars and bath houses, Dumbledore further demonstrates her apparent commitment to Christian values and shows her willingness to explore complexities in character that would be rare among secular writers. What secular writer would bother to include a gay character that was chaste?

  10. Wonderful post John. I just wish more posters over at Sword of Gryffindor took this view point. I totally agree with everything you have said. Well done, and keep up the fantastic work. A sincere fan, Michael.

  11. John, thank you for another excellent post. I particularly wanted to say that I think you’re spot on about the ovation. It was a very honest moment, and the fact that Ms. Rowling would explain in so much detail the background of her character-building and world-building project was immensely touching. For me, several “loose ends” slid into place, and I felt I knew Albus Dumbledore in all of his three-dimensional, fictional incarnation better, and I was extremely grateful for that.

    That said, the media failed to report that an equally loud and prolonged ovation followed her comment about the fact she chose Molly Weasley to be the one to defeat Bellatrix, in part because being a woman who chose to devote her life to her family didn’t mean she wasn’t a particularly powerful and talented witch (quite the contrary). I certainly haven’t seen any members of the press assume that this ovation meant that the audience members were wildly in support of women who choose to stay home in traditional roles as homemakers and mothers! Ah, selective hearing kicks in once again.

    Incidentally, this was not one of the events solely for school children, like her readings in Los Angeles and New Orleans, and her earlier reading that day in New York City. There was a minimum age requirement at this event; I had to sign a legal document about my age and have it notarized, and there were clear rules about minors requiring permission from and being accompanied by adults. I’m in my thirties; the winner sitting to my left was in her fifties or sixties. You can see the complete list of winners and their ages here at the Scholastic Books site.

    She didn’t have to tell us anything; she could have signed books and left, and everyone still would have been happy. But she made herself open to the moment and available to readers. I just regret that her honesty has made her the center of so much controversy.

  12. Thank you, Amy, for sharing the information you have about what really happened at Carnegie Hall last Friday. From who was there to what was said and what the crowd applauded, we would be relatively clueless and left only with the Rita Skeeter reports of the MSM except for your notes on your blog and at HogPro. It was a happy providence for Fandom that you were among the Sweepstakes winners!

    Grateful John

  13. It seems somewhat amazing to me that most of the posters here take such a cheerful view of homosexuality, as if there is nothing wrong with casting such an important character as Dumbledore who is in such an important children’s book series as a homosexual. I’m trying to think of a way to not sound offensive here, but the question that comes to mind is–do you folks own a Bible? Do you understand that homosexuality never appears in a positive light, and homosexuals are not our role models? I have given Rowling a lot of latitude just because her work is fantasy, but this revelation about Dumbledore strikes me as being in the worst liberal Christian framework, and we are no longer talking about symbols and fantasy magic, but about real world connotations. Do you want your child’s role model to be a homosexual? Do you think that we can set aside the very serious scriptural warnings, and I’m talking the New Testament here, about homosexuality? And before you give the “do not judge” speech, do you remember the Christ said: go and sin no more ?

  14. I own a Bible. I can’t speak for the others here but they seem a pretty well read and thoughtful bunch. My bet is they own Bibles, too.

    My post above, however, was not about the right and wrong of homosexuality, about which, incidentally, no one comes to Hogwarts Professor to learn or ponder. The post concerned Ms. Rowling’s Albus Dumbledore comment Friday night. The responses, none of which I found took the “cheerful view” you claim most of them do, are also about this comment and how readers of Ms. Rowling’s novels should understand it.

    I am confident there are internet sites on which you can discuss at length your understanding of scriptural prohibitions, which, I rush to assure you, many HogPro All-Pros have read and take seriously. This is a forum, however, restricted to the discussion of Harry Potter as literature and cultural phenomenon.

    I am sorry that you believe I am “soft” on homosexuality and that I am unaware of scriptural references to it. You don’t know me very well and I am sure you have the best of intentions in writing what you have. In the future, though, please restrict your posts here to the subject of Harry Potter and send to my private email (the address can be found in every one of my books) any spiritual guidance you think I need.

  15. to quote Beth from above:

    “what remains important is that the love and admiration he felt for Grindelwald was crippling and unhealthy and bordered on the idolatrous. It makes Dumbledore’s fleeing the temptation to power (an overtly stated struggle in the book) even more interesting when one considers now that he was also likely fleeing other temptations as well.”

    especially since it was Dumbledore who put Christian scriptures on the gravestones of his family members.

  16. John – I can’t tell you how relieved I am to read you post today.

    I only recently discovered you/your book (5 keys) / and this web site. I bought your book after finishing DH and was left wanting more. I was raised in a typical large Catholic family (youngest of 8 children, went to Catholic school). I’ve strayed from my faith in my adulthood and was really taken with how you’ve unlocked the Christianity in these books. It’s awaken an interest in my faith and religion. I smile as you and some of the people you quote on this site make it so clear why I love these books.

    So I was anxious to see your reaction to the Dumbledore “outing” and was happy to see an intelligent, non bigoted, response. It’s driven me to register with this site and post my gratitude. Thank you! I will continue to enjoy your site and dig even deeper JKR’s materpieces.

  17. Response to Skald:

    1) The distinction in John’s post above between (a) «same-sex-attraction», (b) «homosexual» and (c) «gay» is very important.
    2) The question was whether Dumbledore ever «fell in love», and the answer was that: Yes, he «fell in love» with same-sex-youngster Mr. Grindelwald. Which is probably best understood as describing: (a) «same-sex-attraction», that is, emotions rather than acts.
    3) More important than owning a Bible is to read it. What is expressly forbidden in the Bible is same-sex-intercourse. (Then there is also the prohibition against «burning with lust» for the same.) The phrase «fall in same-sex-love» may, or may not, cover this forbidden area, as John writes.
    4) On the other hand, there is no prohibition whatsoever in the Bible against living a long life «being a homosexual». The sin is in the act, in the doing, or in the lustful desire for it. But not in the «orientation».
    5) Dumbledore obviously is the Bible student behind the two Scripture quotations on the gravestones. To live a life believing in the Resurrection in Christ (according to those two Scripture Quotations) he had to confess his sins to the Lord. Including possible homosexual sins. Confessing them is having them eternally and totally forgiven by the Lord.
    6) Ergo: Dumbledore was all through the period of the seven books a man with forgiven sins. I (for one) have no objection at all to allow my children to have a Headmaster with that sort of a past and with all his sins forgiven.
    7) Since I happen to be Norwegian, I also happen to know what the Skald in the Old Norse Mythology used to do. He was the one to compose and say forth the celebration poem. What about a poem celebrating the graceful forgiveness of all the sins of Professor Dumbledore, Mr. Skald?

    Yours: Odd Sverre Hove
    Bergen, Norway

  18. Just one short addition for Mr Skald:

    I think 1 Cor 6:11 seems to prove that some of the Corinthians to whom St Paul wrote had a past as homosexuals or gay people before they had their sins forgiven …

    Yours: Odd Sverre Hove
    Bergen, Norway

  19. Wouldn’t it have been odder if Dumbledore was a person who had never felt the emotion of romantic love for another person? –which is, I take it, the question Rowling was answering. Book Seven is the one in which Harry truly discovers Dumbledore in all his aspects; when he reads the obituary, it occurs to him how much he didn’t really know about the man. It does help explain just why he was so taken in by Grindelwald, though I would think his sister being killed and feeling responsible for it would be enough to make any man remorseful. In other words, Dumbledore was human.

    I was pleased that her “gay” character wasn’t one of the ones often assumed in fanfiction because of stereotypes. For example, that Neville is gay because he is gentle, with the undertone that he is a “sissy” (not after Book Seven), Lupin is gay because he’s a werewolf ( I never really followed the logic there.) Dumbledore doesn’t really fit any stereotypes except for the “confirmed bachelor,” and since we never learn about any romantic relationships of Hogwarts professors, that’s not much of an issue, either.

    I teach *Harry Potter* at the college level and I will have to think about how I will handle this. Since I teach future teachers, I probably ought to mention the controversy without giving any personal opinions; it seems only fair to assist teachers who are deciding what and what not to teach. Perhaps I will wait to see if any students mention it first; if not, I probably won’t mention it at all until *after* students have read the entire book. It’s not actually *in* the book; I don’t know that it’s even subtext, simply one of the facts Rowling “knows” about her myriads of characters. I’m concerned that the book might be read as “about” Dumbledore’s sexuality, which it most certainly is not, and overwhelm other issues such as construction and literary allusion.

    I would love to know what other teachers on the college level think of this or are preparing to do.


  20. Friend from Norway, I agree with your post – forgiveness and redemption is what it is all about…along with the found piece of Lily Potter’s torn handwritten letter that spoke about Bathilda’s revelations on Dumbledore’s exploits and whether Lily believed them all since her mind’s going….”I cannot believe that Dumbledore could ever have been friends with Gellert Grindelwald.”

  21. John –

    Thank you for prefacing your response to the media’s reporting of JKR’s Carnegie Hall revelation by sharing your weekend events. Talk about a “narrative misdirection!” I’ve been eagerly awaiting your insights; as I began reading your account I thought you were setting us up to share in your disappointment over Rowling’s Dumbledore statement. Thank you for proving me wrong and dispelling the angst that has plagued me since Saturday morning! Your informed, academic overview (and reminder) of Rowling’s work presented in today’s post is a blessing. I am ashamed to say that I’ve still not read *Unlocking Harry Potter…*, but be assured it will be on my Christmas list this year!!!

    Not to discount the contributions of other All-Pros; I am truly honored to be able to access other’s thoughts and thereby am richer for the experience. In fact, today on our regional 50,000-watt midwest radio station the morning talkshow host wanted listeners to respond to the “Dumbledore is Gay” headline…and being the invested fan that I am, I called and got through! Yes, I said that I was saddened to have heard the news (I didn’t elaborate why as not to distract from what I really wanted to say). My intention was to encourage interested listeners to search out internet sites such as The Leaky Cauldron (this was for you, AHS), Mugglenet, and HogWartsProfessor.com to read the discussions and become informed readers as well. So that’s what I did…gave a shout-out to all of you who provide reasoned, supported discourse for those of us less academically inclined. If I can begin to see the intertwining of Rowling’s Christian themes with postmodern storytelling because I take the time to follow HogPro posts…then others should be told so they can learn, too!

  22. Personally I’m no longer comfortable about being a fan of Potter. At least until I know more specific details about intentions, what was he like in his later years, etc. I totally understand imperfection in characters however. It bothers me in some novels when they are perfect. (I.e. you average modern Christian novel.) I say some novels, because Tolkien’s Elves are pretty perfect and it doesn’t bother me at all that they are. It’s strictly personal conviction that’s all, but I do intend to keep my mind open to new information about Potter. I don’t wish to give the impression I’ve necessarily become a Harry-Hater as a result. 😀

  23. I’m trying to think of a way to not sound offensive here, but the question that comes to mind is–do you folks own a Bible? Do you understand that homosexuality never appears in a positive light, and homosexuals are not our role models?

    I certainly agree that homosexual behavior is disordered and sinful. But that doesn’t mean homosexuals cannot be role models. As a Catholic, I am happy to point to Courage as a group of persons with same sex attraction who are incredible role models of faith– what can be a better model than such a struggle against temptation within the fiber of one’s identity? These folks prove that all things are opportunities for virtue, especially when working against such an intrinsic part of their own make-up (whether one believes it to be biological or environmental is immaterial at that point). Dumbledore seems to model chastity among his vast exercise of self-denial for so many years.

    I hope Rowling doesn’t support a gay rights agenda, but regardless, we can and should appreciate her efforts as an author, and be able to judge Dumbledore’s merits as a character (as well as his flaws). The FBI had tapes of ML King, Jr., having affairs– but look at the good he accomplished for African Americans. One doesn’t excuse the other, but “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” – Romans 3:23– we can recognise virtues and vices within the same person. Abhor the sin, love the sinner. “Love means loving the unlovable, or it’s no virtue at all.” G.K. Chesterton.

    anyway, I’m a bit incoherent after long days and night shifts, so I’ll close off for now.


  24. IMournForTonks says

    This may be another topic for another day (although moonyprof alludes to this idea above): Why should we accept as “canon” any particular fact that a writer did not see fit to put into the pages of his or her books? The books stand alone on their own. Would someone reading the HP series 150 years from now (and I hope they will) ever get more than the slightest hint about Dumbledore’s private life just by reading the books? Yes, I know all about “author’s intent”, but if the Muses didn’t inspire her to put it in the books…maybe it doesn’t belong there.

    Before DH, the HBP was my favorite book in the series, primarily because of the close relationship shared between Harry and Dumbledore. This latest “post-canon” revelation doesn’t spoil that for me, since I never got the slightest hint of anything unwholesome in the way that Dumbledore acted towards Harry.

  25. Shane,

    To use a well-worn phrase, *Don’t toss the baby out with the bathwater!*

    Your reasoning to “know more specific details about intentions, what was he like in his later years, etc” is reminiscent of a conversation I had with my mother many years ago when discussing Scripture. At the time she was of the opinion that The Bible was incomplete because the Canon did not include the years between Jesus’ trip to the Temple and the beginning of his public ministry. Not until she was faced with her own imminent death did she decide that Christ’s backstory, while intriguing in its silence, was not as important as the story of the Cross. What she needed to know was already provided from Genesis to Revelation…and her curiosity would be appeased in due season.

    I encourage you to re-read John’s thoughts and his 5-point conclusion above and examine all new information that comes down the Potter news-pike in light of what you know to be true from the HP books themselves. Don’t despair!!!!

  26. Rose Zeller says

    Might this be an apropos time to consider why celibacy is either required or very strongly encouraged for all Hogwarts professors?
    Everyone we know about who has chosen a life devoted to teaching at Hogwarts is unable or unwilling to commit to heterosexual marriage. No Hogwarts faculty member even “dates” or seems to have any social life at all away from school. In the case of professor Snape, life-transforming heartbreak determined the path. Sibyll Trelawney is temperamentally unsuited for partnership, and sadly, there’s really no one out there for Hagrid.
    I think the books provide hints that many of the remaining professors are gay or SSA. I always thought Harry interrupts what appears to be a private moment between professors McGonagal and Grubbly-Plank when Hedwig is injured in Order of the Phoenix. And while we learn nothing about the personal lives of Madame Hooch and professors Sprout, Slughorn, and Flitwick, all are “gender outlaws,” people who live outside conventional gender-roles, whatever their orientation.

  27. JohnABaptist says


    (So do I by the way…mourn for Tonks.)

    I think you have hit the main point that we HogPro’s should be focusing on: Why did Lady Joanne “feel” that she could only fit this character into the total warp and woof of the Harry Potter tapestry if she visualized him as being an homosexual? The exact quote was: “…I always *thought* of him as being gay.”

    I believe it was because she had to use him symbolically as one character in a four-way byplay which is intended to cause us to examine similar byplays that occurred in the religion, history and literature of Interbellum Europe. I am thinking in particular of:

    1) The Nazi Party [Gellert] in relationship with the Lutheran Church [Dumbledore] while Martin Niemoller [Aberforth] cries out “for shame” and the good German Lutheran people [Ariana], worshipers in a denomination founded by Martin Luther on the very principle of questioning authority, marched into a period of spiritual death never questioning the Church’s authority. [Spiritual byplay]

    2) The Nazi Party [Gellert] in cozy, mutually beneficial relationship with the British Aristocracy [Dumbledore] while Churchill [Aberforth] futilely cried “foul”, until the good English people [Ariana] had to launch rowboats and rafts to pull their dying sons off the beach at Dunkirk, never previously having questioned the Aristocracy’s authority. [Historic byplay]

    3) Friedrich Nietzsche’s [Dumbledore] relationship with Wagner[Gellert], which he ended in horror when he saw where Wagnerian ideas were leading Germany…Only to become a paralyzed and then dead Dumbledore leaving his sister Elizabeth Forster-Nietzsche [doppelganger of Aberforth] to warp his philosophies via selective editing until they seemed to support the very thing he opposed. While the entirety of the European (and American) literati never questioned the authority of her presentation despite having drafts and earlier publications that clearly contradicted the official Nazi printings. [Literary/Philosophical byplay]

    In each of the above byplays, we have relationships of an highly unnatural sort involving people or groups of people that in most other circumstances should seemingly have known better; but who for a tragic interlude, fell into something evil and deluded. Small wonder if Lady Rowling could only force herself into writing Dumbledore into the Potter Saga equivalent by supposing him to be gay and blinded by an unnatural love.

    And I do believe that whatever else is going on in Lady Rowling’s brain, she must be having internal hissy-fits because nobody is asking the question: “Is Ariana then guiltless in this? Was she really such a fragile reed? Or did the family Dumbledore–Father, Mother and Brothers-both–force her into a self-fulfilling martyr’s role?” I’m not saying they did, but should not someone be asking the question?

  28. I came to this website a few hours after I got phone calls and emails from friends reporting the “news” and forwarding the news articles. At that point, John had not entered his essay and no one had posted any comments. I was upset and confused, and disappointed. But now, that I’ve had some more time to think, process, and learn from you all, just some added reflections…
    *I reacted in haste to the “Did you hear??” reports. I took what the press said at face value and allowed their take on things to define my initial reaction. Shame on me. I should have known better. Thank you Dr. Amy, John, et. al. for more context.
    *I felt safe expressing even my knee-jerk reactions in this forum. As a group, the people who contribute to this website are among the sharpest, most thoughtful, and most gracious people I’ve come across. Thanks for teaching.
    *John – I knew you’d be there to help. Thanks.
    *Beth – all I can say is “Me, too.” Your post beautifully expresses my thoughts as well. So many of you others also brought in SO many excellent points, and you have helped me a great deal. I’m glad, not only for myself, but also for the fact that lots of my friends pitch their HP questions and comments in my direction. What a relief.

  29. Two links to this thread came in today from other web sites, one of which was edifying and challenging (if you stay clear of the catty com-boxes), the other one so bent-over-backward to mock us — I think! — that it is nigh on incoherent. You guess which is which:



    Thank you, Perelandra, HogPro All-Pro of special distinction, for your kind comments in the ever combative Catholic blogosphere! I confess to some relief that the CAEI warriors didn’t take your advice and join us for a spell.

    Beth Priest wrote me with this link to a newspaper follow-up to the Dumbledore is gay story, in which the writer quotes Rita Skeeter as if she is Joanne Rowling. Check out paragraph 8:


    Truly we live in an age beyond satire. The press is quoting Skeeter to make their point that Ms. Rowling’s Friday night comment advances the “gay agenda.” Did Christ’s parables have the intent or the effect of advancing the Samaritan agenda? Why did he tell stories that had Samaritans in them? Bob Trexler’s point here is worth a second visit:


  30. The author’s intent is certainly key in understanding any writing. Even so, not everything in a story need be attributed to forethought and intention. The creative process is such that sometimes the elements of a work take on a life of their own…

    1 – Dumbledore is the most powerful wizard of his generation. Why is he teaching at Hogwarts instead of running the MoM?

    2 – Dumbledore is a Machiavellian figure. Although he cares about Harry and anguishes over his fate, he is willing to sacrifice Harry “for the greater good” and manipulates events to that end.

    3 – Dumbledore possesses the legendary Elder Wand. Where did he get it and why doesn’t he use its power against Voldemort?

    4 – Dumbledore believes in inclusiveness of all and fights against prejudicial attitudes.

    I think it would be difficult to sell Dumbledore to the reader as a “family man” – a doting grandfather of numerous grandchildren who is willing to sacrifice someone else’s kid doesn’t work very well. Certainly, the Weasly’s would have been appalled if they knew what Dumbledore had in mind. Even Snape was taken back by it.

    Something has to be put into Dumbledore’s past that explains why he is what he is. Hence, the story of Dumbledore and Grindewald and their quest for power. At a time when he is frustrated and bitter, Dumbledore finally meets someone who is his equal, becomes close to that person, but with tragic results. However, if Dumbledore is so smart why can’t he see Grindewald’s flaws? If Dumbledore was “blinded by love” it makes sense. In our current cultural context, that raises the question: maybe he’s gay?

    Having once been blinded by love, Dumbledore’s conflicting attitudes towards Harry make sense also. He doesn’t want to see Harry hurt, but doesn’t want to let his own emotions blind him to the best strategy to rid the world of Voldemort.

    Also, a flawed Dumbledore works into the plot and themes very well. Harry’s discovery that maybe Dumbledore wasn’t an all-knowing, wise and compassionate benefactor after all leads to a crisis of confidence. Harry must choose for himself. It was Dumbledore that told Harry death was the beginning of the next great adventure. Realizing that Dumbledore might have been wrong leads to an “act of faith” to continue with the plan. Consequently, his self-sacrifice becomes a voluntary act of love with uncertain results, and not the inevitable end result of Dumbledore’s manipulation.

    So, I don’t see any agenda in Rowling’s remarks, just a working out of the internal logic of the character. Granted, there could have been other solutions, but the one Rowling chose works pretty well.

  31. Rose Zeller said: “Might this be an apropos time to consider why celibacy is either required or very strongly encouraged for all Hogwarts professors?”

    I’m not aware of any text evidence to support this. Maintaining a relationship would be difficult in most cases for Hogwarts staff, as the school is relatively isolated. Unless both members were on staff, or one lived nearby, they wouldn’t get to spend much time together. But we’ve got a counter-example: we know from the last chapter of _Deathly Hallows_ that Neville will be a professor there, and from Rowling’s talk that he’ll be married to Hannah Abbott, who’ll be running the Leaky Cauldron pub in Hogsmeade.

    Shane — Dumbledore loved Grindlewald when he was a young man. We have no indication that he had *any* kind of relationship at any other time in the rest of his life. Harry’s first contact with him at school was about ninety years later and there’s no hint of anything improper in their interaction. What about Harry’s future life do you now think is in question?

  32. ProfJackson says

    My response to Ms. Rowling’s announcement was extreme disappointment, to the point of tears, frankly. Not because I care that Dumbledore is gay–it immediately occurred to me that this simply humanized his character more (and there was a lot of humanizing in the seventh book) and that it added to the tremendous flaws, temptations, and sins that he had to work to overcome. It was a backstory to the character that, I’m sure, added to the pathos Rowling sensed as she wrote about Dumbledore. I get it, from a literary sense, and, as an adult, I’m not bothered by one of the principal characters being homosexual.

    But adults are not the only fans. Nor are teens.

    My problem was that I have shared these stories (with great enthusiam, I might add) with my two young children. From the very beginning, we have used the stories to explore elements of literature (plot, characterization, etc.), to discuss important issues of morality and social life (racism, politics, media, etc.), and, of course, we discussed our Christian faith and how it is reflected (in imperfect or incomplete ways, perhaps) in Rowling’s books. On top of all this….our entire family has laughed and cried together over these books. They are an important part of our family memories of the last few years.

    But now the author of these fine works has added an element to them that she did not choose to actually place explicitly in the art itself. I have been prepared to deal with so many issues as my kidsread these books…I read the books before they did and girded myself for their questions about so many things… But nothing in the books suggested that I needed to be prepared for this issue. Nothing that my kids would pick up on…

    Ah…but now I do need to be prepared, and I feel betrayed by the artist. Why add an element to the art which was not there on its own? –particularly one which is handled by families in different ways at different ages.

    We in our family are careful about this because I never want to be forced to be simplistic–some discussions are nuanced enough (Is Snape a hero?) that they need to wait until children are discerning enough to gain something from the conversation. So….my youngest boy has not yet read the sixth or seventh book, and my oldest did so chapter-by-chapter while discussing his reactions and thoughts with me.

    But now I’ll to have a conversation that wasn’t planned. It’s not as if my boys won’t hear it now…it is all over the news. So what shall I say when they ask?

    This is what I’ve decided–this is a chance to speak of Dumbledore as a flawed character who contended with a tremendous burden of temptation–parallel, perhaps, to the adultery of David, the faithlessness of Peter, and the “thorn in the side” of Peter. I’ll have to speak of what it is to live with such a temptation to sin and what God’s grace can impart to such a person (and I’ll point out that such a person is “me, and Daddy, and you”–we all will live only by God’s grace). I think this can be effective…but I’d love your feedback. What will you say/have you said to your children?

    Now if only Ms. Rowling would stop talking…I love her work, no question, but I feel betrayed by her apparent inability to allow families to think about her literature as it stands, in the context of their own faith and family dynamics. I was going to have a conversation with my children about homosexuality at some point…but it wasn’t going to be yet and there was nothing in Rowling’s work to suggest that it needed to be.

  33. (I posted over at SwordofGryffindor, but don’t know if my comment went through.)

    ProfJackson really put into words what I’ve been thinking. I’m not a parent (I’m 17), but I feel exactly the same way. I really put a lot of faith in these books, and quite frankly, looked up to Ms. Rowling as a role model in writing. However, I think I’ve lost a lot of respect for her because of this irrelevant piece of information she threw in our face. The news blind-sided me, and upset my entire weekend.

    I want to thank John for his insightful posts on this tough issue (and every other brilliant person who comments here). You all really helped me to come into terms with this, and though I’m still a little bit upset by it, I’ve accepted that I alone can interpret these books how I would like to without the words of the author influencing how I see Dumbledore. But it’s going to be a great deal harder to debate the issue with my Harry-hating friends…

    I found ZoeRose’s post (on the previous thread) to be especially interesting, and it struck me, as well. I was wondering if John could elaborate on what he thinks about this too. Is Ms. Rowling necessarily presenting homosexuality as a positive thing? Considering the nature and context of Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s relationship (as ZoeRose effectively described for us), is Ms. Rowling presenting it as “destructive”? One of the main points of Deathly Hallows (at least to me) was the fact that Harry was forced to lose faith and respect in someone he trusted and looked up to, because of the “surfacing” of Dumbledore’s faults and sins. Is his homosexuality in line with the rest of his sins: We find out he was a lying, power-hungry, almost-Nazi (all of which I believe he repented of) …and a homosexual (at one point?)? What do you think about this, John?

  34. To Professor Jackson: you seem to have a very clear idea of what you want to share with your children about homosexuality and a life of faith and a time and place to share if these news reports raise this question. It would be way out of line for me on this Harry Potter as literature forum to say much more than that.

    To Morgan: I have tried to address your question about how to figure if Ms. Rowling is thumbs up or thumbs down on ASA/Homosexual/gay behaviors in the post above this one. Short answer: don’t bother. As Professor Reynolds at Biola/Torrey wrote in the Scriptorium Daily, the writer doesn’t keep writing the work; the text is as it is, not as amended endlessly in interviews and encyclopedias and Silmarillions. Homosexuality appears nowhere in the books. That’s how important Ms. Rowling thinks it was for her story to work: not at all.

    Ms. Rowling said today the characters are hers and she can do what she wants with them. Not really. Harry may be an alchemical hermaphrodite but she cannot tell us tomorrow he was transsexual in books three to five. Back story by definition is not even secondary text; it’s scholastic curiosity, “stuff the author chose not to share in the story told.” She can do what she wants with these characters in her sandbox at home but she cannot affix new meaning or change the reader’s focus in considering characters without violating our trust that writers tell us what they want us to know between the covers of their books.

    Let’s return to ‘the story told,’ shall we?

  35. Rose Zeller says

    Bunsen points out that news of Neville’s future marriage to Hannah Abbot is evidence that Hogwarts faculty are now free to marry. Perhaps in the post-Dumbledore era the restrictions (or de facto customs) have been somewhat relaxed. It occurs to me that perhaps it was Dumbledore’s own experience that influenced his decision to discourage, if not forbid, personal attachments for teachers.

    Or maybe Neville will resign from Hogwarts before marrying. He’s a great herbologist, but his talents suit him more to research than teaching. I know he showed great courage at the Battle of Hogwarts, but it takes another kind of courage to face a class full of teenagers; a courage even greater than that required to decapitate a giant serpent.

    Am I exaggerating, John?

  36. In Richard Abanes’s extremely immature (aka typical) response to the “Dumbledore is Gay” story, he was quoted as saying:

    “Good luck John, and all you ‘Christian’ Harry Potter worshipers — you’ll need it.”

    It’s funny how all of us on this board aren’t Christians, but merely “Christians.” Supposedly Rowling isn’t a Christian either. Gay people aren’t either, as made obvious by Abanes’s most recent blog. I’m beginning to wonder if Abanes is the only true Christian he knows.

    I feel really blessed to have John here to help us sort this kind of stuff out. Never get discouraged by the immaturity of others, John. I truly believe you are doing God’s work, and are a blessing to Christians everywhere. Thank you so much.

    Also, for anyone who feels upset about this revelation about Dumbledore, and about Rowling’s possible beliefs about homosexuality, I suggest you visit the link below, which may give you a better idea where Rowling (and many other Christians) is coming from.


  37. John, you write, “Ms. Rowling said today the characters are hers and she can do what she wants with them. Not really. Harry may be an alchemical hermaphrodite but she cannot tell us tomorrow he was transsexual in books three to five. Back story by definition is not even secondary text; it’s scholastic curiosity, “stuff the author chose not to share in the story told.” She can do what she wants with these characters in her sandbox at home but she cannot affix new meaning or change the reader’s focus in considering characters without violating our trust that writers tell us what they want us to know between the covers of their books.”

    I hope that you address the issue of *backstory as secondary text vs. scholastic curiosity* in your book(s) revisions. I believe this is a very key element in helping the novice reader become a more serious reader in light of the Skeeter-media moments plaguing HP at this time.

    …Especially for HP fans who are toying with the idea of setting the books aside to avoid the controversies altogether. We all need to be informed and empowered.

  38. Prof. Jackson, you captured my feelings exactly. As the father of three girls ages 7, 4 and 2 I have loved sharing the first 4 books with my oldest and look forward to sharing them with the two younger ones. But I do feel betrayed by the artist’s decision to add an element that isn’t in the work itself, an element that will to some extent be part of my children’s understanding of the books now, whether I want it to be or not. She has made the decision for tens of thousands of parents that now is the time and this is the context for them to have (or begin) that discussion with their children, whether they would have chosen it to be so or not. With the way kids talk among their peers, many of whom have older siblings, there is no way this news won’t reach the ears of most of even the youngest HP fans, whether they have ever heard of the term “gay” or not. Saying “well the gathering at which she made the revelation was not a gathering of children, and the questioner was an adult” is a cop-out. Sure, in the moment that was better than if she dropped the news to a roomfull of first graders. But Rowling understands the media well enough to know that her answer to that question would be worldwide news the next morning, and that kids were as much a part of the “audience” who would hear that answer as the original questioner.

  39. Arabella Figg says

    In answer to Skald above, and not denigrating you, brother, yes I do own and know my Bible–a long story of man in which Abraham handed off his wife to Pharoah twice because he was afraid for himself, righteous people committed murder and genocide and David, after getting his lover pregnant, murders her husband by proxy, yet is still seen by God as “a man after God’s own heart.”

    As a young Christian in the 70s I was friends with several homosexuals (and thanks, John, for teasing out terms). These young people were almost all from intact, healthy Christian and missionary familes. Their pain and suffering over their desires and conflict with Biblical mandates–I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. One attempted suicide by slashing his wrists. And their suffering and anxiety over their condition within the church body and trying to “pass” was agony.

    One beloved friend, Barbara from my Jesus Movement days in So. CA, was a beacon of role modeling. She gave up her lover and persevered to live righteously, suffering much in the process. She longed, futilely, to have her desires taken away. What an example she was of faithfulness.

    I’ve come to believe that most homosexuals are born that way. I’ve only known one that did it for kicks (a la Romans 1). What really swayed me to this veiw was what I observed and heard, and also contemplation about hermaphrodites.

    Nevertheless, we are all born fallen and flawed. Including Mr. Abanes. I read a couple of his books around Y2K; I saw he apparently has arrogance issues. Since I also struggle with this, I cast no stones. Perhaps, in good fellowship, Mr. Abanes would like to drop his, too.

    And, I’d like to point out that in the various “lists” of the Bible of those not fit to enter the kingdom, homosexuality never tops the list. Nor is it in the OT passage (loosely translated), “These six things the Lord hates, seven are an abomination to him: arrogance, lying, murder, chasing after evil, an evil heart, slander and troublemaking among believers.” Also, throughout much of the NT condemning believers’ sinning, the verb tense is ongoing and habitual.

    As my husband says, we all desire perfect role models. We’re bound to be disappointed as the only one we have is Jesus. And we all want perfect daddies and daddy figures. Well, a good deal of us don’t get them either.

    Once outside a grocery store, a heavy woman walked by me. The woman behind her, thin as a wisp, asided to me as she passed, “I’ll never eat another candy bar again.” I was so appalled I could say nothing, coldly walking past her, but if I’d had my wits about me, I’d have said back, “I’d rather be fat than have such a mean and wizened heart.”

    There are many homosexuals who just wish to lead quiet lives. They aren’t out marching in the gay pride parades and flaunting themselves. They’re working alongside you. They’re in your church, hiding their pain, suffering diatribes as the cost of faithfully being in Christian fellowship. At least, you should be hoping they’re in your church. The conservative church has been literally throwing homosexuals away for years, not heeding Jesus’ warning about “the least of these.”

    Kitties, of course, would never consider themselves least of anything…

  40. I have just learned that Zossima Press is re-issuing their book, “Who Killed Albus Dumbledore?,” with the new sub-title, “And Was it a Hate Crime?”

  41. Arabella Figg says

    John, you’re a hoot. Thanks for the great laugh!

    Even the kitties are giggling…

  42. I may be missing the point of this blog, because it seems very clinical and almost detached from popular culture. It reminds me of discussions about Gansta rap and the “N-word.” Most artists who start out don’t think they work will have an impact, but it does. I do not believe the majority of Harry Potter readers are going to be astute academics who will read and research Rowlings intentions beyond what the popular media has to say. To my knowledge it is the first gay character in a children’s book and I think it should be seen as a serious cultural and moral landmark in our country’s history, just as “Gone With the Wind” was. Not every child who reads these books are in a home where identity issues and answers about the occult or homosexuality can be properly dealt with. What this book does is force parents to be even more vigilant. As a parent who loves these books, it is absolutely irritating that I can’t simply enjoy something with my kids without wondering am I exposing them to sin. Has it also been considered how this book will be taught in public schools ? I believe they are in a catch 22. If they don’t mention Dumbledore’s sexuality that is being intolerant ? If they do discuss Dumbledore’s sexuality it raises a lot of questions. This book was not written in a vacuum. A part of Satan’s effectiveness is that he does use half truths. When he tempted Jesus, he used scripture. Likewise just because Rowlings throws a bunch of scriptures in her book, it doesn’t make it any less of a potent weapon for Satan.

  43. JohnABaptist says


    You indeed raise a very cogent point here: “A part of Satan’s effectiveness is that he does use half truths. When he tempted Jesus, he used scripture. Likewise just because Rowlings throws a bunch of scriptures in her book, it doesn’t make it any less of a potent weapon for Satan.”

    Throughout time, Satan has never found a writing of man to be as useful to his purposes as the Holy Scriptures have been. So how should we look on those Writings? Are they too dangerous for children to be exposed to?

    Or should we be diligent to follow up on what our children read there and give our counsel and guidance as they encounter the many hard, scary and potentially misleading places that abound within the arc of Genesis to Revelation?

    I chose the latter route, but I never felt that I was adequate to the task, or that my children were old enough to be ready to deal with the issues they found there. Somehow, my children turned out alright despite my inadequacies, or the dangerous Book I let them read.

  44. Arabella Figg says

    DrWahoo, I don’t believe Dumbledore is the first gay character in children’s fiction. There have been gay characters for a couple decades in youth lit; and don’t forget the controversial 1990 young children’s book “Heather Has Two Mommies,” promoting understanding and tolerance of gay-relationship parenting. There has been a huge push to promote homosexual awareness and acceptablity among children.

    What I find so surprising from fellow commenters on this site is how many have children who don’t know what “gay” is. I’m not a parent and haven’t had to deal with it. I think it’s wonderful, really, that so many kids still have innocence about sexuality, especially darker sexual matters and may they keep it as long as possible. Kudos to the parents for being able to protect them thus far. I sympathize with their upset feelings about having to now explain things they feel aren’t age appropriate and had hoped to put off.

    You’re right that most Potter readers won’t be academically inclined in their reading of the series. But at HogPro, we really do care about these things–the deeper meanings, the structure and symbolism, the literary influences. John has opened up for us a wonderful conversation about such things and, through this blog and his books, has added immensely to our appreciation of Rowling’s work. There has to be some place for us eggheads to go and we’ve found a home here.

    Please stay with us. Just because we minutely study and dissect a frog, its habits and environment, doesn’t mean we don’t also enjoy and aren’t moved by the same frog in a pond leaping around, ribbeting into the moonlit night.

    Little Flako tried scooping out a tadpole and fell in the pond; a drenched kitty–pathetic and hilarious…

  45. Hi John!
    I absolutely agree with your No.1 conclusion. About No.2: i think that just like you, I’m appalled by the media reaction, but for different reasons. Personally, I’m quite disappointed to see news anchors and reporters acting like kids when presenting this ‘news’ (for example, the guy who interviewed Emerson Spartz from mugglenet to discuss this subject), and it’s sad to see even 15-year olds in hp forums respond and discuss this subject more maturely.
    “The anguished and disappointed response of many Christian readers to these reports was also according to Culture War formula and in keeping with a hyperextended understanding of the word “gay;”
    In my very modest opinion, and from the anguished and disappointed answers I’ve seen, they were caused just by what “gay”, literally, means: someone who is mostly attracted to people from his/her same sex. I agree with you that the fact that ‘gay’ to some people means that the person makes his sexual orientation the most important part of their lives makes them even more repelled to the news of Dumbledore’s sexuality, but i disagree about pointing this the main cause of such reactions, or as the most problematic aspect of this news to some readers.
    On No.4, i think you’re spot on 🙂
    on this..
    “Whatever SSA he feels, he has not shared these feelings with others that we know of, and, if it had been even the subject of speculation among witches and wizards, it would have been in Rita Skeeter’s expose, The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore”
    About others knowing about albus’ orientation: there’s probably no way of knowing that, given that the books are almost entirely written from Harry’s perspective. And quoting a blogger: “Frankly? If Harry, being so incredibly clue-challenged, actually could have figured it out on his own, it would have skeeved me, because that would have meant Dumbledore was probably (note: I said probably) acting in an inappropriate way. Explicit expressions of sexuality — straight and gay — are inappropriate in a school setting, IMO. So. The only place it could possibly have fit into canon, again IMO, is in Rita’s Skeeter’s book, and Harry and Hermione only read one chapter of it. Who’s to say it wouldn’t have been mentioned elsewhere?”
    More about Rita’s book: keep in mind that jkrowling knew about Dumbledore’s orientation when writing this and read this paragraph
    ““Oh yes,” says Skeeter, nodding briskly, “I devote an entire chapter to the whole Potter-Dumbledore relationship. It’s been called unhealthy, even sinister. Again, your readers will have to buy my book for the whole story, but there is no question that Dumbledore took an unnatural interest in Potter from the word go. Whether that was really in the boy’s best interests—well, we’ll see. It’s certainly an open secret that Potter has had a most troubled adolescence.””
    That strikes me as exactly something that a person like Skeeter would say if knowing about Dumbledore’s orientation

    One last thing: “As of last Friday night’s revelations, we now know that Dumbledore loved Grindelwald and regretted the consequences of this unrequited love his entire life”
    From reading the book, i hardly think that’s the case. What i got was that Dumbledore regretted his irrational ambition, xenophobia, and what he did to his family.
    “The Headmaster’s SSA as a young man and his remorse set him apart as much as his talents did and completes Ms. Rowling’s Hall of Heroes, in which Dumbledore had been the “odd man out” for not being a “freak” in the eyes of the world.”
    Again in my opinion, this had already been done in the Deathly Hallows book itself, and DD’s remorse wasn’t because he loved a man, but because of the mistakes listed above. But well, i suppose it’s a matter of interpretation?
    Sorry for the very long comment, but i found your post really interesting and was really looking forward to your thoughts on this matter 😀

    ps: i saw you are posting articles and opinions about what’s on books and what’s not, authors intentions, etc: here (http://www.neilgaiman.com/journal/2007/10/flowers-of-romance.html) are author Neil Gaiman’s opinions on these matters (he was specifically asked about the Dumbledore’s case)

  46. John,
    My concern is not so much for Christian children in well parented homes, but for the least of these. I believe in cooperate and individual punishment by God. Are we as Christians responding to the changes in our culture in manner that is consistent with standing in the gap for our nation ? Are we being the watchmen God has called us to be ? This is a threshold moment, just like prayer in schools in the 60s. I’m sure you have heard the story about the frog in the pot. As long as you gradually turn up the heat, the frog will happily fry itself. Are we as a nation being fried up ? I think so.

    We can sit back and say oh my kids are fine, but I believe the world we are sending them out into is becoming increasingly dangerous. There were a lot of Christian kids killed in Columbine and at Virginia Tech.

    Finally viewing homosexuality its self. Yes sin is sin, but no other group of sinners are trying to receive special status in our legal system and in our culture. Other sins are not fervently trying to gain a mainstream acceptance and promote themselves to young children. Even the Bible is clear that all sin is unrighteous but not all have the same consequences (See 1 John 5:15-17).

  47. Chrysanthemum says

    ZoeRoses comment about looking carefully at this gift, is interesting because I was sent the following http://elphaba-of-oz.livejournal.com/329705.html from a homosexual blogger who is not pleased with this news. Interesting read, it confirms everything ZoeRose said.

  48. Chrysanthemum, the link you were sent is kind of echoed in the Time piece recommending that Dumbledore go back in the closet: http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1674550-1,00.html

    What I thought particularly eye-catching were these quotes:

    “His [Dumbledore’s] silence suggests a lack of personal integrity that is completely out of character. ” and

    “But as far as we know, Dumbledore had not a single fully realized romance in 115 years of life. That’s pathetic, and a little creepy.”

    Talk about applying current cultural standards retroactively! When Dumbledore was growing up as a young wizard, it would have been the standards of late-Victorian muggle culture that would have been seen as dangerously modern and racy. And the idea of announcing one’s sexuality, of whatever variety, to one’s coworkers and to children under one’s care would have been seen as anything but exemplary of integrity.

    And the idea that never actually having sexual relations is “pathetic” and “creepy” is scarcely one that is valid for all times and places either.

    This, IMHO, is the big problem with JKR’s having “outed” Dumbledore, with nary a hint in the books: the idea of principled celibacy is so utterly foreign to most of the voices that manage to get themselves heard in popular culture. Instead of being seen as a deeply difficult but honorable choice, it’s seen as highly improbable and a sign of sickness.

    I’m beginning to see HP as one of those cases where the book is not only to be taken more seriously than the author, but also, in an odd way, as one of those cases where the work, in some regards, is wiser than the author. We’ve all read of cases where an author complains because his or her characters, once created, refused to do what he or she wanted them to do… well, once JKR started building her story, and her characters, around an alchemical framework, it may be that they settled themselves into a pattern of greater traditional wisdom than she herself consciously espouses.

    A “say it loud, I’m out and proud” sort of Dumbledore would not only never have fit with a Dumbledore born while Victoria was queen, it would never, ever have fit with Dumbledore the alchemist. If, as John has been saying all along, the traditional alchemist saw his manipulations of mercury, sulfur, etc., as both metaphor and means for fostering his own spiritual growth, then it seems to me very likely that Dumbledore came to see his experience with Grindelwald and Ariana as his own personal Nigredo. By the time we meet him, not only his name but his character and his life experience have made him emblematic of the Albedo, of purification and of male and female elements held in harmony within himself.

    By the way, I think the same thing holds true of Snape, although I don’t know that we have any evidence suggesting he was a student of alchemy. He was not only a Nigredo figure in Harry’s life, he was living through his own personal Nigredo as well. Over the course of seven books, he lost everything– his chance for an Order of Merlin, his love, his mentor and his position and respect in the wizarding world (such as it was). He even lost his chosen work of atonement as protector of Harry for Lily’s sake, when he found out, as he believed, that Voldemort’s defeat would require Harry’s death. Lastly, he lost his own chance for a death that was something other than ignominious. Rowling emphasizes what a nasty person he was… but if Harry had died during OOTP, wouldn’t he have seemed very nearly as unappealing, with his rages and his sulks?

  49. Arabella Figg says

    Helen, I love what you wrote (I most often do!). You’re absolutely correct about applying current cultural standards to earlier times.

    In the ’80s I read three or four biographies of Louisa May Alcott. One was written with a definite feminist slant, criticizing Alcott for not being more agressive, etc. What a disgrace. Alcott was a trailblazer in her day; she could not have possibly conformed to today’s (or should I say “80’s”) feminist standards. How anachronistic. If she had done so, she would have been locked up in one of her potboiler mental institutions.

    I agree with you about DD’s negrido, also Snape’s. Other losses Snape experienced were within his family–the losses caused by abuse, neglect and lack of love. He also lost his chance for glory and recognition for his many and great sacrifices on behalf of WizWorld in his lifetime, dying (as you say) an ignominious death. It’s tragic that Snape was never able to pass beyond his negrido stage–although perhaps for a moment in passing on to Harry so many key memories at his death.

    Thanks for these eloquent points.

    As for glory, kitties would rather have a good treat…

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