Cheers for J. K. Rowling!
The author of the wonderful Harry Potter series has shown courage in her choices before, particularly when assailed by some extreme members of the religious right who burned copies of her novels (shudder) for their supposedly evil influence on our children. No doubt the book-burnings will begin anew now that the author has revealed that one of the major characters, Hogwarts’ headmaster Albus Dumbledore, is gay.
Dumbledore’s sexual orientation was not made explicit in the novels (certainly I never noticed it). But readers are already probing the text for hints and allusions, and some have apparently suspected for some time that Dumbledore would turn out to be gay. According to Rowling, speaking during a book tour in the U.S., the author has always thought of the character as gay. Certainly the headmaster’s complex backstory, which was not revealed until the final novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, makes a good deal more sense now that we know that Dumbledore was in love with the wizard who became his dark-side adversary, Grindelwald.
However, Rowling’s revelation raises interesting questions regarding the interpretation of the novels, since, strictly speaking, the author’s comments about the text are not actually part of the text. There will be readers who are disappointed that Rowling was not more clear and forthright about the matter in actual prose. But I suspect that Rowling knew exactly what she was doing, since subtlety is often more powerful than straightforwardness in fiction.
When readers have had the chance to re-examine the text, I suspect we will find that while there may be nothing that absolutely proves that Dumbledore is gay, neither will there be anything that suggests that he has ever pursued a sexual relationship with a woman. Indeed, according to the Washington Post article cited above, Rowling corrected a note in a script for one of the Harry Potter movies when one of the scriptwriters suggested that Dumbledore had once been attracted to a female.
Some readers might question whether the sexual orientation of characters in a series written for children is worth discussing at all. Such matters usually went unexplored in the books we read as children a generation or two ago. But with this blog I’ve chosen to explore “The Way We Live Now” (stolen from the Anthony Trollope novel bearing that title), and adult sexuality is no longer a subject of which children are blissfully unaware. Divorce is common among families, and new parental partners are introduced to children all the time. Anyway, kids always know more about sex than parents want to believe they know (this, I suspect, has been true in every generation).
Although the plots of the individual novels and the overarching storyline of the entire series allowed little room for excursions into romantic subplots, Rowling was careful to give sexual passion its due as Harry, Hermione, Ron, and their friends moved through puberty into young adulthood. And in the larger sense, love is the great force for good in the novel, just as frustrated and/or unrequited love is the source of at least some of the tragedy. The sexual orientation of Harry’s parents and of Snape (who loved Harry’s mother) is crucial to the plot, yet there would be no international headlines if Rowling were to confirm that Snape, Lily, and James Potter were straight.
A world that accepts Dumbledore’s sexual orientation as easily as it accepts that of Harry’s parents is a world that I hope to live in, even if we’re not quite there yet.
This article was written by Linda
The Hogwarts school motto is Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus which happens to be Latin for “Never Tickle a Sleeping Dragon.”