« More on Edwards's Citizen Congress | Main | A Deep Challenge to the Law and Economics Movement: Could the Legal Literature Be Missing an Entire Standpoint? »

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Is Dumbledore gay simply because Rowling says he is?

J.K. Rowling recently announced that Albus Dumbledore, the head of the  Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft, is gay. Apparently she believes that Dumbledore's qualities are under her control. I disagree. True, she is the author of the books in which Dumbledore is a character. But at this point it is not fully under her control what qualities Dumbledore has. She could say (or even publish a book in which) Dumbledore was actually a robot controlled by the CIA. But it would remain false that Dumbledore is  a robot controlled by the CIA.

Dumbledore can be gay only if this is narratively compatible with what Rowling has said about Dumbledore in the past. [In my original post I claimed that there was no narrative compatibility here, but I've been convinced otherwise. Why the mistake? Was it heterocentrism? Maybe. Was it that I haven't read book 7? Definitely. But am I the only one who finds Rowling's apparent view - that she can simply announce who's gay or who marries whom - problematic?]

Posted by Michael S. Green on October 20, 2007 at 09:27 AM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
https://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c6a7953ef00e54efb24668833

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Is Dumbledore gay simply because Rowling says he is?:

Comments

I really enjoy all these blogs. The greatest thing is that people are overcoming their obstacles that keep them from living life to their full capability. If I can help in any way with my experiences through my own addictions here on this page let me know. I'd be glad to share. Thanks again for this list of bloggers.

Posted by: Ryan Sirois | Jun 13, 2018 9:38:49 AM

Oh, and also, I agree with you kc. I have no arguments left now on the argument that HP really isn't that bad and is a symbol of good verses evil to my christian friends. I will never see Dumbledore the same even though I still will like him. I don't think I'll ever be able to picture him as gay.

Posted by: Patsy | Nov 4, 2007 8:33:20 PM

I think that even if Dumbledore was gay JKR shouldn't have told us because it ruins the way a lot of people looked at Dumbledore. She should have just left well enough alone. Dumbledore still remains awesome gay or not!

Posted by: Patsy | Nov 4, 2007 8:24:31 PM

This revelation was actually previewed in this video.

Dumbledore is in there- Can you find him?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAeT4Il7V2U

Posted by: W. Mushkin | Nov 3, 2007 6:08:55 PM

I did enjoy the HP series but am going to have a hard time rereading them knowing I am going to look for clues that Dumbledore is gay. I defended the series regarding its use of witches/wizards/magic as fantastical fairytale magic and not true spiritual witchcraft to some of my Christian acquaintances' criticisims because I strongly believe that to be true. But I am going to have nothing to stand on with the homosexuality issue introduced after the story was so successfully told. I must say I do not find anything in Dumbledore's written character, actions or speech to suggest his gayness. It just doesn't fit. I will have next to no chance of defending this to my Christian friends now.

Posted by: kc | Nov 2, 2007 1:14:08 AM

In response to googlegirl: I think the only reason Rowling sys he is gay is so she could get more publicity. Since she isnt making any more bokks not that many people are talking agout the Harry Potter books anymore.Right????

That's absolutely absurd! She said he is gay because a fan asked her a question and she answered it honestly. To think that the richest author in the entire world wants or needs more publicity is, quite frankly, ridiculous. The women never has to pick up a pen again in her life if she doesn't wish to and what does she care if people stop paying attention to her? She drives a mini-van, lives in a very modest home in the highlands and essentially has a normal life outside of the fact that she's a billionaire.

Also, there's no point in wondering why she's "assigned" a sexual preference to him as EVERYONE has a sexual preference. He's her character and I believe that just as Harry has been heterosexual throughout the entire series in her mind, Dumbledore has been homosexual throughout the entire series as far as she was concerned.

It may come as a surprise to some people but an Authors first perception of a character is not always what they turn out to be. After a while characters tend to form their own personalities and preferences the more the author writes them. I know this first hand. She may make the executive decisions in the end but the small bits, and I consider Dumbledore's sexuality to be a very small bit, create themselves.

Posted by: Pygmee | Oct 31, 2007 12:07:50 PM

So----post script the author decides a character is gay. I think that there is more to this than a person that does not exist being gay in a world that does not exist. Next we will learn that Mickey Mouse is gay and Minnie had a sex change surgery. What about professor McGonagall,professor Sprout or Peeves. What is their sexual preference? Now in real life, Michael Gambon(Dumbledore of screen) is rumored to be gay. So then, does this make Gandalf gay? What does homophobia mean? Does this have roots in Latin or Greek and if so, then two different meanings. Just about as confusing as making a statement about a character after the final book has been penned. So there, just another opinion and confused thoughts.

Posted by: Sunshine | Oct 30, 2007 10:51:24 PM

This video previewed the revelation.

Play find the Dumbledore:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAeT4Il7V2U


The more obvious answer:
http://www.vimeo.com/339941

Posted by: W. Mushkin | Oct 27, 2007 6:43:46 PM

It's strange when people write something as you've done and you innocently think that you're not being prejudiced. Leonardo da Vinci was gay and so was Michelangelo. Do they have to exhibit "gayness" 24x7 for you to feel that they're being consistent with their own personal sexual orientation?

Posted by: Michael Blankenship | Oct 27, 2007 3:23:57 PM

Who cares its a kids book. i cant believe you arguing about this ITS NOT REAL you sad people

Posted by: Knives | Oct 27, 2007 6:08:47 AM

I think the only reason Rowling sys he is gay is so she could get more publicity. Since she isnt making any more bokks not that many people are talking agout the Harry Potter books anymore.Right????

Posted by: christina | Oct 26, 2007 9:53:21 PM

I can't really see Dumbledore as gay. I mean he's been nice throughout all of the books but Rowling can't just go and say " Oh yeah by the way I forgot to mention the Dumbledore's gay"! If she really wanted it to be made known then she could have put it in the books!!!!!! It's retarded though 'cause even though Dumbledore never got married who was he gay to? Like what guy caught is interest? Please make this know!!!!
-googlegirl

Posted by: googlegirl | Oct 25, 2007 8:02:56 PM

Dumbledore has been gay since we first meet him in the first novel, to shed some light on the subject read this (written a year ago): http://petsaur.blogspot.com/2006/12/gender-in-harry-potter.html

Posted by: Victor Benitez | Oct 25, 2007 1:47:27 PM

To "Legallyaretard", thanks for that bit of truth in choosing your name.

It doesn't matter to me whether Dumbledore is gay or not - his sexuality was not part of the story. What bothers me is the dishonesty of the writer. If, for some reason, you WANT a character to be gay - that is fine, create and show him that way. She went through a lot of effort to plan ahead with her twists, but she was unable to reveal, through her writings, what she felt was an important trait?? There will always be the conspiracy theorists that will claim that they knew (or suspected) all along, but the vast majority of the readers will probably say they had no idea about his sexuality - therefore, she did not portray (or chose to hide) his sexuality. Again, why?? It is the author's responsibility to CREATE his/her characters, it is pretty pathetic to assign attributes outside of the writings. Did she hide his sexuality because she feared a loss in sales? Is she outing him now because of some agenda? Either way, sad. Very sad.
BTW, I have read quotes from GAY people who are very upset that, if it was her vision for him to be gay, she didn't create or portray him that way. I guess they are "haters" also.
I am not a professional author, but I am pretty positive that somewhere in 5,000 pages I could reveal someone's sexuality if it was necessary for background or character development.

Oh today, in a news conference she revealed that Snapes was really Harry Potters dad. It seems his father slept with another woman after drinking too much, so his mother had an affair to get back at him. Snapes was always angry, because Harry loved his worthless father instead of him (Snapes).

Posted by: Mike | Oct 25, 2007 6:51:07 AM

This discussion puts me in mind of an interview with Ian McKellen not long after he came out. He referred to a woman who expressed her disappointment at the revelation because it ruined her fantasies of him. Evidently she didn't feel that her powers of fantasy were strong enough to overcome this stated truth about him. He told her that she could continue to fantasize about him anyway. Now, of course, Sir Ian is a real person, but this woman's chance of hooking up with an even straight Ian McKellen surely approached the realm of fiction. It's the same reason that people don't want contemporary gay actors to come out of the closet, or to find out that beloved actors of yesteryear were actually gay. It wreaks havoc with a fantasy life.
As I said in an earlier post, folks are mad because Rowling, the creator of these characters, will be accepted as an authority, and their personal way of experiencing them(like the woman who had a crush on McKellen) won't be able to withstand her honest statement. It's just astonishing: why should an author refrain from answering a question about how she conceived these characters in order to preserve someone's private fantasy? Plus, it's interesting to see how important it appears to be to make the case that we don't HAVE to believe he's gay, as if that brings some sort of relief.


Posted by: vox | Oct 24, 2007 3:22:01 PM

Uh, I think that a person who CREATES a character has a right to determine what that character's traits are...I mean, really. It's like telling me that I described my nightmare wrong. Also, there is apparently evidence that Rowling had stated he was gay previously. When she was reviewing a screenplay for one of the Potter movies she crossed out dialogue where Dumbeldore talks about his great loves and writes in big letters "HE'S GAY" across the page.

I'd just like to add that only people uncomfortable with homosexuality in general are uncomfortable with this revelation. Own up to it, haters.

Posted by: LegallyaRetard | Oct 24, 2007 12:59:55 PM

The text need not tell us that Dumbledore is straight. That is the default position (akin to not telling us that Dumbledore has 10 toes, which is never mentioned). This is true based on what is normal in a statistical (not a normative) sense. 98% of people are straight, which makes straightness the statistical default. If she wants us to think Dumbledore is gay, she must do more in the story than make him friends with another guy who shares his political views at the time. If that was the clear indicator of who was gay, then any character with friends of the same sex could be viewed as gay.

Posted by: Dumblewhore | Oct 24, 2007 11:25:32 AM

The many eclectic, and catholic (small c) responses are impotent and obliviate the obvious. Furthermore the philosophic meanderings and literary criticisms are mindless Freudian wishlists (and to the extent they are not, they most truly are, from the unbconscious): Dumbledore's sexuality isn't part of the plot. His hero worship of the "Bad Boy" is merely a post hoc political gesture of frustration on the part of Rowling. The known events around Dumbledore and Grindwald do not require the types of character involvement that romantic interests add for the story to hang true. Rowling is truly master of her universe!

With JK Rowling's promise of a later book that expounds upon the reality and history of her world that she didn't fit into the HP series, we can all (I mean all HP fans) can again freak out over the release of another book. And negative critics can again be put in their place as misplacing their view, for the author's. Good luck with that naysayers.

Posted by: Lord Les | Oct 24, 2007 3:22:17 AM

Breaking news: Coinciding with George Lucas's latest decision to update the Star Wars franchise, George Lucas revealed today before a crowd of internet bloggers that Yoda is in fact a registered sex-offender. The latest DVD set, now in HD, will feature an interactive website warning younglings to stay away from Yoda. In response to a question by an inquisitive blogger asking for further proof of Yoda's seedy past, Lucas responded, "Come on, have you ever checked a sex-offender website for your area and not seen a hermit listed as being convicted of CSC 3? I only decided to cut this part of the story from Empire Strikes Back right before filming."
Outside the local Star Wars convention, the mood was somber. One disenchanted fan, outfitted in Boba Fett costume and sporting a red lightsaber, gasped "I am so afraid that the son of Tolkien will reveal that Gandalf secretly lusted over goblins," before he was consoled by a giant man wearing Princess Leia's "Jabba servant" costume.
In other news today, over a million people had to be evacuated when . . .

Posted by: Nick | Oct 24, 2007 12:48:08 AM

When I saw the earlier HP movies, I realized how differently I had interpreted parts of the books than the people who turned those books into movies.
What I'm wondering is, how will Dumbledore's outing affect the next two movies (aside from nixing the female love interest)? Will the Dumbledore-Grindewald backstory be too controversial to include in the seventh film? Lots of background from the earlier books never made it into the corresponding movies. But if that story does make the movie, will JKR's revelation be interpreted into the scenes of young Dumbledore? I know that when I read the book, I didn't perceive any underlying tension . . .
Normally when a book becomes a movie, people who read the book swear by the book version (with some exceptions). But this is an odd twist where the author revealed some information not in the book, after the book was released. So now the movie version, I guess, could either run with JKR's interpretation and make Dumbledore swoon over Grindewald, or it could placate some disappointed fans who wish they never heard about Dumbledore's past. That will be interesting to watch.

Posted by: Nick | Oct 24, 2007 12:23:32 AM

http://www.cnn.com/2007/SHOWBIZ/books/10/20/harry.potter.ap/index.html

This is a website that somewhat explains why she says that Dumbledore is gay. She says that in the script for the sixth movie, there's reference of a girl that once an interest to Dumbledore and she told the director the truth about the Dumbledore character.
What I'm curious about is what does it matter that he's gay? Why should some people automatically say that it's adult sexuality? What? Kids aren't gay? News to me.
It's Rowling's characters and books, why shouldn't she say if a character is gay or not? If someone wants to kill off a huge character, who are we to argue and complain? I remember when the Goblet of Fire came out, alot of complaints were made because of the death of Cedric at the end.
I believe that Rowling can say whatever she wants to about her characters. They belong to her. She created them. I do believe that she should write a book strictly on Dumbledore now that she opened our curiousity about the truth of him. JMO.

Posted by: Adam | Oct 23, 2007 11:40:21 PM

Years ago there was a popular TV series called Dallas. It 'jumped the shark' when there was a season (second to last??) where one of the main characters had died. If memory serves, it was pretty much for the entire season. Evidently the actor was a hunk and there was much anger by the fans that he had been killed, so they created an episode where it was all a dream. In this comment by Rowling, she has shown herself to be an inadequate author (in that she created an incomplete major character) or she has chosen to 'jump the shark' to try to generate extra buzz about her books.
As a parent that read every book prior to letting my children read them, I find her decision to announce a sexual preference, any sexual preference, to be pathetic and in service of an agenda. If she had chosen to show him as a 'gay' character throughout, then that would have allowed the readers to make their own decisions regarding whether to continue the series (or to share them with their children) and that would have been honest. IF she always considered him to be 'gay', why did she hide it so thoroughly?? Was it something for him to be ashamed of? If his sexuality isn't important, why bring it up now??
In my opinion, she has taken a wonderful story about children that loved and trusted each other, and ruined it by adding in any adult sexuality.

Next week, Dr. Suess will explain what the Cat in the Hat was really up to.
Charlie's Angels weren't trying to solve crimes, they were out turning tricks.
King Kong didn't love Faye Wray, he was just saving her for dessert.
Jaws wasn't really about a killer great white shark. It was a crazed dolphin, but they couldn't find it so they killed the innocent great white shark instead (Quinn was eaten in self defense).

Posted by: Mike | Oct 23, 2007 10:56:57 PM

At the end of the third paragraph, I meant to say 'alteration' rather than 'addition,' as the statement clearly did add something not in the original work.

Posted by: Tedric | Oct 23, 2007 8:40:40 PM

"...there are restraints upon the qualities that an author can add to a character even in subsequent works of fiction. I called these restraints narrative consistency. The author can of course write a work in which those constraints are violated, but the result will be the failure to write a book about the character in the previous fictional works."

South Park killed Kenny over and over again only to have him inexplicably alive in the next episode, and Family Guy and the Simpsons routinely portray events that *should* have lasting consequences but never do. Would you argue that each episode is about a 'different' set of extremely similar characters? I think that's a nonsensical interpretation.

The Book of Genesis tells two wildly different creation stories, but they are clearly about the same God creating the same universe. There are (more than) four versions of the Gospel, all of which are taken to be the literal and God-given truth; but I don't think you would say Christians are bound to believe in four different Jesuses. Granted, only fundamentalist Christians believe the scripture to be factually, historically true, and as a consequence they end up with some pretty ridiculous and inconsistent beliefs. But it seems to me that you've taken a similarly literal fundamentalist approach and applied it to all works of fiction, which forces you to draw similarly ridiculous conclusions.

As for the particular case at hand: in what sense would an extra sentence in the text of the Harry Potter books have been any less of an "announcement" of Dumbledore's sexuality than a statement made in a public forum about those books? Furthermore, the fact that his sexuality has absolutely no bearing on a reader's experience of the plot or interpretation of Dumbledore's character (all of his statements and actions are fully and consistently motivated without any explicit, and at best very little implicit reference to his sexuality occuring it the text) makes it hard for me to see how Rowling's statement is a 'revision' or 'addition' to the novels in any significant sense.

By reading her books, we as readers implicitly agree to experience the characters inside as Rowling imagines them. The very joy of reading fiction is the sensation of relinquishing control, of experiencing a world of someone else's invention. If Rowling says Dumbledore's gay, most readers will accept that unquestioningly - as I did myself when I first heard. Those who have not read the books are clearly not interested in the contents of her imagination, hence their opinions do not matter. So for all intents and purposes, Rowling can in fact give Dumbledore any qualities she chooses.

This is not to say that readers are "bound" to joyfully accept just any old nonsense she decides to throw at them. Your CIA Robot example, for instance, would infuriate me to the point where I would probably lose all interest in the series. The same thing happened with Star Wars, when The Phantom Menace was released and I realized that Lucas was simply ignoring all the history that had been established by three decades of licensed, canonical fiction set in the Star Wars universe. But although I now hate George Lucas for ruining the defining obsession of my childhood, this hatred would not be possible if I did not have a lingering respect for an author's right to define his own creations. Rowling should be afforded the same consideration.

Posted by: Tedric | Oct 23, 2007 8:30:09 PM

I'll add that Neil Gaiman has some interesting comments on this from the point of view of a fiction writer:

http://www.neilgaiman.com/journal/2007/10/flowers-of-romance.html

Posted by: KatieM | Oct 23, 2007 1:49:50 PM

James, I agree that the average Harry Potter reader in, say, 300 years will probably not definitively know that Dumbledore is gay and that's fine - if she wanted that she would have explicitly included it in the books. But look how many people here picked up subtext while they were reading it; I certainly don't think the possibility won't occur to anyone.

And for people who are really interested in seeking out what the author said? Well, they probably will and they can make their own conclusions from there. Just as people now who really like Jane Austen spend ungodly amounts of time reading the collected volume of her letters. It doesn't change the books themselves, but it can add to and supplement them for those who choose to seek that information out and can change the reading experience for those who would like it to.

Posted by: KatieM | Oct 23, 2007 11:28:24 AM

If J.K. Rowling wanted Dumbledore to be gay, either she needed to make it more apparent via more info in the story line (building it into his characterization) or, she should have shown the world how great of a writer she is…that is theatre of the mind. What separates a great writer from the rest is leading the your audience into believing what you want without straight-up telling them; make them believe it was their own revelation. This is not to say that Dumbledore would not have been allowed to be gay, however, it is hard to see what she is saying. The few potential links to the alleged sexual preference are weak at best, a mere grasping at straws if you will.

In Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis uses the character of Aslan as a portrayal of the Christians Savior, Jesus Christ. Lewis did not go on tour and at the end say, “Oh by the way, Aslan is Jesus and he will take you to eternal joy!” Whether Rowling wants Dumbledore or not, it was up to her to have portrayed this to the reader throughout the whole series, or even as a bomb-shell in the books, but the time for this has passed. If in another millennia archeologist unearthed her books, would they know for certain, or at all, this new life style of Dumbledore. For Rowling to make this claim now would be about as hard as saying Harry Potter is a female. The evidence is not there to support this claim, plus, validity for Rowling has been lost on the single grounds that she had to inform the world to this new claim.
The sub-theme is not valid, as is not present in the books, and it sure as hell is not valid just because she “always saw Dumbledore as gay.” (Rowling, 2007. Interview) We had to see him as gay as well for it to be true literary quality.

Please, all of you crazed Harry Potter fans, do not attempt to kill me for my condemning words for J.K. Rowling. I do understand your views as I am one of you. I still love and adore this series and do still hold Rowling in the deepest respect as a writer. I see her as pure genius in the writing of Harry Potter and thank her for sharing this world of excitement and magical adventure with us all.

Thanks to everyone who has posted in a clean and professional manner; to you I write.

Posted by: Jmaes Cummins | Oct 23, 2007 5:13:00 AM

About Dumbledore being gay, I think it's interesting. I haven't read the seventh book yet, still have to finish the sixth. But with what I read in the series, the book takes place making Harry Potter the main character. Every page pretty much is about Harry 100%. How would it be mentioned that Dumbledore is gay if he was never alone? How would anyone bring it up in a conversation when (so far with book 6 for me) he hasn't been alone with any other man but Harry? Just my opinion. Take it for what it's worth.

Posted by: Adam Kenecki | Oct 22, 2007 11:16:44 PM

Alright, I've been to several of these forums and I've seen the same thing over and over... 'why did she bring it up after the series' and whether she 'had the right to'. If you all were as smart as you sound, you would have read the transcript. She didn't bring the topic up herself--she was asked.

The question was: Did Dumbledore, who believed in the prevailing power of love, ever fall in love himself?

JKR: My truthful answer to you... I always thought of Dumbledore as gay. [ovation.] ... Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald, and that 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 extent? 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 always saw Dumbledore.


Similarly, the reason she brought up who married who--she was asked. If someone didn't want to know they wouldn't have brought it up. If it hadn't been brought up, likely we'd still be in the dark concerning it. But someone did, and now we know. She doesn't need the world's permission to speak her mind concerning *her* work. She's had her say, now the world can either accept it, or ignore it (as generally happens in most fanfiction). Better to ask forgiveness than permission.

Posted by: Anon | Oct 22, 2007 5:09:00 PM

Prof Boyden - I am merely saying that the comments in the initial post were uninformed and reflected ignorance on a subject that has generated a lot of discussion, and that (1) anyone with some common sense would have recognized that the original post was confused (no need for specialized training, just some sustained thought), and (2) anyone familiar with the relevant research would have a more refined understanding of the issues, and would clarify, to a confused person who doesn't see that he's confused, that he in fact was confused.

I don't say that you have to "read a bunch of obscure books," but I do say that confused comments on a subject that has generated a lot of discussion (perhaps among scholars whom the original poster does not normally read) may provoke criticism from those who are familiar with the scholarship. I see nothing "odd" about that observation, and would have thought it completely unexceptionable in the context of a discussion that includes scholars.

Moreover, if you review my earlier response, you will find nothing on a par with suggesting that "the Matrix" is incomprehensible to those who don't specialize in Leibniz. All I suggested was greater specification of the bases of the asserted claim, with some suggestions about where to look. And I offered a perfectly plausible analogy, in the case of the Crawford novel, which requires no specialized background to understand.

Posted by: ataflat | Oct 22, 2007 2:16:47 PM

Ataflat, are you saying that in order to carry on an intelligent discussion about when and how an author can expand on a character (on a blog no less), we all have to go out and read a bunch of obscure books on philosophy? That strikes me as an odd claim, something like saying only Leibniz scholars are qualified to discuss whether "The Matrix" was a good movie or not.

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Oct 22, 2007 12:33:49 PM

I am annoyed that JKR didn't see fit to leave well enough alone. The series is done, the last book has been published. I don't want to know any more, whether it's about Dumbledore or Neville or anyone else.

Posted by: katie | Oct 22, 2007 11:13:31 AM

Oh - and in response to Rob, I quite agree with your observation that the post shows little understanding not only of the workings of fiction, but also of the nature of sexuality (or homosexuality) - and for exactly the reasons that you give.

Posted by: ataflat | Oct 22, 2007 10:09:02 AM

Prof Green -- I have already criticized your position on the merits.

You speak of "constraints upon the qualities that author can add to a character even in subsequent works"; you say that further revelations "must be revelations about that character"; and that "more than mere logical consistency" is required. You suggest no reason for differentiating between qualities added at a later point in one novel, and qualities added in another novel. You say the new information must be "about that character" but you give no basis for explaining when the information is *not* "about that character" - which is to say, you evidently think that Rowling's revelation can't properly be said to have been about the same character, but you don't explain why (except to revert again to the claim that "more than mere logical consistency" is required - though what the "more" is goes unspecified). The example from Gascoyne (which I notice you do not engage with) is relevant because nothing that you have said so far differentiates your position from that of the reader who says, in response to Crawford's revelation, "No, that just ain't so." Crawford gives no "clues" that the character is black, does nothing to "prepare" the reader for that revelation - and I think is deliberately playing on his white readers' bland assumption that any unmarked character must be white.

Again, I fear that this is an example of someone "without any acquaintance with these writers [on fictionality]" blandly assuming that he has "[got] things spot on," and feeling free to make that assumption precisely because he hasn't asked himself any very difficult questions about what a character is and what kinds of demands fiction places on our imagination. No one would contend that in the case of a contemporary mainstream novel set implicitly in Everytown, USA, the novelist could expect readers to be "bound" by the assertion that it all happened on Mars, but there is nothing in Rowling's assertion to suggest that she was engaging in this sort of revision.

So I see no reason to conclude, on the basis of Rowling's statement, that she thinks she can make just any old assertion she likes and expect readers to be bound by it. And when you say that writers can't "announce ... who marries whom" as a parallel example of what writers cannot do, then one must wonder whether you have read any Restoration drama (to name just example in which multiple implausible marriages often bring about closure).

Posted by: ataflat | Oct 22, 2007 10:03:59 AM

I think the question is whether JKR considered Dumbledore gay before the book was finished. If so, then I think she has the right to tell us so, even if it wasn't explicit in the book. The artist's conception almost always comes out in some small ways. (I certainly questioned Dumbledore's sexuality when reading Book 7.)

I would object to her making this decision after the book is finished.

Posted by: Chris Bell | Oct 22, 2007 9:45:49 AM

**But her attitude appears to be that Dumbledore is simply whatever she says he is.**

It's worth noting that if you look at the transcript, what Rowling said was "I always thought of Dumbledore as gay," so you might not differ with her as much as you think.

Generally, I agree. Nothing can bind a reader to an author's particular interpretation. Of course, where the author is doing a good job, often knowing the author's interpretation will add more nuance to the reader's. But not always, certainly.

Posted by: KatieM | Oct 22, 2007 9:16:27 AM

There were two points that I was attempting to bring up in my post (which, as is common in blogging, was put in a compressed and somewhat hyperbolic form).

My first point was that there are restraints upon the qualities that an author can add to a character even in subsequent works of fiction. I called these restraints narrative consistency. The author can of course write a work in which those constraints are violated, but the result will be the failure to write a book about the character in the previous fictional works. I did not mean that the restraints of narrative consistency preclude surprising revelations, but they must be revelations about that character.

The scope of narrative consistency is an interesting question, but it requires more than mere logical consistency (that was my CIA robot point). I also think that it is not narratively consistent that a character is gay simply because the character has not been said to be straight. But perhaps there is some heterocentrism at work here…

My next point was that Rowling, by announcing the qualities of her character, was apparently exemplifying an attitude contrary to the principle expressed above. True, Dumbledore’s gayness is narratively consistent with the previous books (I’ve been convinced of that), and she would be able to write a novel about Dumbledore in which it was revealed that he was gay. But her attitude appears to be that Dumbledore is simply whatever she says he is. And that, I think, is false.

Now Ataflat, you can think what I have said is all wrong and criticize it on the merits. But the matter, like mathematics or ethics, is one concerning which every rational human being has the same level of acquaintance. The only use of other writers on the topic is that they have done a better job of describing these matters. Someone without any acquaintance with these writers can get things spot on. If I have failed to do so, tell me why. By all means make use of useful distinctions drawn from Hans Vaihinger, although I’d prefer to hear them in your own words. But there are no authorities in philosophy.

(For the record, I am probably one of the few philosophers of law who have actually read Hans Vaihinger. In fact, I mentioned him on this very blog a few weeks ago: http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2007/10/why-should-we-r.html .)

Posted by: Michael Steven Green | Oct 22, 2007 8:32:30 AM

Ataflat--I agree with you that "someone who would raise that objection [i.e., the particular one you describe, which presumes that anything that flouts the expectations arising from a piece of fiction must be ruled out by the fiction] [probably] doesn't understand how fiction works in the first place." Part of what I was hoping to add to the discussion is that, if someone were to raise that objection with specific reference to a fictional character's being gay, that person probably wouldn't be displaying a very rich understanding of how sexuality (or at least homosexuality) works either.

I suppose the only remaining question, then, is whether it is true, or only a fiction, that Michael meant to raise that particular objection. I tend to read him a bit more charitably than you, but I agree that he didn't assume or make reference to anything as developed as Walton's work. A closer look at Walton's work would--in my view--nevertheless help clarify what the real issues are here.

Thanks for your helpful comments.

Posted by: Rob Kar | Oct 21, 2007 11:43:04 PM

Rob, I don't take Walton to be asserting that there aren't any constraints on the game. The very fact of its being a game means that it is rule-governed. But Prof Green seemed to have no understanding whatsoever of that account of fictionality in the first place, and seemed merely to be invoking a claim along the lines of "I wasn't properly prepared for this assertion, so it must be false." That, to anyone who has thought seriously about fictionality and narrative, must appear essentially misguided and uninformed.

As a related example: very late in Stanley Crawford's novel Gascoyne (which I highly recommend) it is revealed that Gascoyne (who is white) has as his right-hand a guy who is black. Gascoyne was unaware of this (having only ever talked with him on the phone). On Prof Green's account, it would be approriate for the reader who doesn't feel prepared for this relevation to object to it as false. Someone who would raise that objection doesn't understand how fiction works in the first place.

Posted by: ataflat | Oct 21, 2007 11:12:39 PM

I'm outraged that Rowling would even inject the subject of homosexuality into the series. It was totally unnecessary to the storyline and demeans an otherwise good piece of writing. The Potter books have made Rowling very famous and very wealthy, but as Snape once said, "...celebrity isn't everything." Stay at home, keep your mouth shut, and enjoy your millions, J.K.. You've lost a once-loyal fan.

Posted by: Shooter | Oct 21, 2007 10:51:15 PM

Ataflat--This probably isn't the place to try to go into any super-in depth exegesis of Walton's work, but, for what it's worth, I'm not sure we are in any real disagreement here.

I certainly did not mean to suggest that Walton's views allow for the idea that authors can make assertions about their own fictional worlds that might be literally "true" or "false." What I said was that authors can make representations that are either "true or false of the fictional world" they have created; or, as I seem to remember Walton saying on a number of occasions when I studied with him, as "true or false in the fiction." This follows, I would have thought, from Walton's imagining/entertaining distinction: i.e., from the fact that we cannot consistently *imagine* both A and not-A to be true within in a single game of make-believe, even though we can entertain both A and not-A being true. But all of this is still consistent with the possibility that when we imagine A to be true--or when an author makes an assertion, or writes a novel, that prompts such an imagining--the only sense of "true" in question fictional rather than literal.

So I think I agree with you that our judgments about what is fictional, and what not, can be literally true or false, on Walton's account, in a way that an author's representations about a character cannot. I'm not sure if you meant to suggest something more than this. Did you, for example, mean to suggest that Walton's work is consistent with the view that there are *no* constraints on what an author can prompt us to imagine as true within a given fiction that s/he has created, once that game of make-believe has been started? If so, then perhaps there really is a substantive disagreement here.

Posted by: Rob Kar | Oct 21, 2007 10:33:26 PM

blade, I think you may have a lower threshold for being convinced than many people.

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Oct 21, 2007 9:31:27 PM

Rob, I appreciate your turn to Walton's Mimesis as Make-Believe, but I'm unaware of any argument Walton makes to support the idea that authors can make aasertions about their own fictional worlds that can be regarded as "false." Walton says that our *judgments* about what is fictional, and what is not, can be true or false, but that is a different matter. And of course under Walton's account the game of make-believe can fail -- that is, fail as that kind of game -- by including internal contradictions or conditions that would-be participants do not assent to. But I am in agreement with Matias: the assertion in the original post is simply premised on a misunderstanding about what fiction is and how it works.

Posted by: ataflat | Oct 21, 2007 9:25:01 PM

Rowling wouldn't need kids to sell a prequel that featured Dumbledore as a gay character. There are millions of adult fans. She surely doesn't need the money. As for hurting the franchise, we have no guarantee that parents, even in the near future, will have the same attitude about gays that many parents have had in the past or even today. My kids and their friends have grown up with a completely different message about homosexuality. They are far more accepting. As long as Rowling followed the convention of no sex scenes, gay or straight, it could be kept appropriate for young kids.

Posted by: vox | Oct 21, 2007 8:58:54 PM

"Nothing in the film that definitively settles the question"?!? You must be joking -- One of the replicants jumps on Deckerd and attempts to break hiss neck. She twists it nearly 270 degrees without cracking it, and then he battles her and her partner to a standstill. At the end of the film, he is nearly broken in two by Rutger Hauer's character, bare-handed, but still manages to chase down Hauer and live afterwards. I won't even get into the narrative unity of a Deckerd, a replicant who doesn't know his expiration date, falling in love with another, whom he knows has none -- meaning that she may well be immortal, a goddess of their race. Plus, of course, it's quite clear from Philip Dick's story that Deckerd is not human, if we have to get textual.

The point is, if one is reading with an open, there can really be no question that Rowling tips this hand, and that MSG's post and response ring a little shrill. Maybe this is another example of the Kelsen flap Leiter pointed out on his blog.

Posted by: blade | Oct 21, 2007 8:41:58 PM

Would be funny writing a book that a whole bunch of parents won't let their kids read.
Honestly I've never been able to read the fanfics that pair Harry with Ron or Malfoy or Snape... I don't think I could read a novel about a gay hero(although the idea of reading a novel where the hero is known to be gay is strangely less annoying than a case where existing characters are having their natures perverted)

Posted by: JS | Oct 21, 2007 7:58:33 PM

Would be funny writing a book that a whole bunch of parents won't let their kids read.
Honestly I've never been able to read the fanfics that pair Harry with Ron or Malfoy or Snape... I don't think I could read a novel about a gay hero(although the idea of reading a novel where the hero is known to be gay is strangely less annoying than a case where existing characters are having their natures perverted)

Posted by: JS | Oct 21, 2007 7:58:29 PM

Would be funny writing a book that a whole bunch of parents won't let their kids read.
Honestly I've never been able to read the fanfics that pair Harry with Ron or Malfoy or Snape... I don't think I could read a novel about a gay hero(although the idea of reading a novel where the hero is known to be gay is strangely less annoying than a case where existing characters are having their natures perverted)

Posted by: JS | Oct 21, 2007 7:58:19 PM

Now, I suppose, Rowling has set the stage for a "prequel", in which she tells the story of the younger, gay Dumbledore-- in which case he will be unequivocally gay for the entire series. It's hard to imagine she will leave this totally behind forever. That would be a great addition.

Posted by: vox | Oct 21, 2007 7:47:52 PM

I agree with Rob. There's a deep and interesting question here not only about *who* can authorize an addition to a fictional narrative, but *how*. Rebecca Tushnet has often noted how one reason fan fiction does not substitute for an original series of books (e.g., the Harry Potter novels) is because the fan fiction stories are not part of the canon. That's the who. But here we have a question about whether the author can even do it, if it's outside of a published book.

The example of this that's long troubled me is Ridley Scott's declaration that Deckard in "Blade Runner" is definitely an android. (I haven't read the book on which it's based -- don't spoil it for me!) That may be *consistent* with the film -- it ends by pointing out that if memories can be faked, there's no way anyone can be sure they're *not* an android. But there's nothing in the film that definitively settles the question one way or the other. Ridley Scott's announcement is an interesting interpretation, but he can't make Deckard an android if that's not in the film.

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Oct 21, 2007 5:09:39 PM

I'm trying to figure out why there has been a charge of homophobia here. I am gay myself, but Michael's comments never appeared to me to be anything other that what he says they were: an attempt to question the scope of the power that an author has to arbitrarily make decisions about the qualities and/or character traits of a fictional character, once that character has been developed in some detail.

Ken Walton's work on "fictionalism" (see his book "Mimesis as Make Believe"), and his account of how things can be true or false "in a fictional world," would appear to be highly relevant here. This work has been highly influential not only in aesthetics but also in metaphysics and some areas of the philosophy of language. Based on ideas like these, I think I agree with Michael that an author can sometimes make assertions about a fictional world that s/he has created, but which nevertheless end up being clearly false of that fictional world. That general point has very little to do with sexuality, and a lot more to do with how precisely fiction works, and what exactly it is. (A fiction is, after all, a fictional *truth*.)

There may, however, be a way that Michael's comments unwittingly touch on something that relates more specifically to sexuality, and to how fictionalism might apply to this particular phenomenon. As we all know, homosexuality *can* show itself in behavior--which, in this case, would mean in facts about a fictional world. But homosexuality can also remain hidden, with little or nothing revealed in the fictional world (or, analogously, in the real world). Hence, all (or at least most) fictional decriptions of characters may end up being systematically ambiguous between whether the character is "really" gay or straight "in the fiction." Does this mean things should be left to the imagination, or does the author have sole authority to make these decisions? That would seem to present an interesting--and potentially difficult--question for those who believe in the objectivity of fiction.

I do not mean to suggest, of course, that closeting one's homosexuality does not lead to unfortunate facts that can be described--to things like unhappiness, neurosis, an alienated sense of self, strained relationships, and the like. But the way in which this phenomenon shows itself may be in ways that are often overlooked, and hence not described, in many pieces of fiction. Maybe that is, in the end, part of what makes fiction *unreal*...

Posted by: Rob Kar | Oct 21, 2007 4:55:28 PM

This debate is, for the most part, absurd because of the claims in the original post and in some of the responses about what JKR has a "right" to do, what readers have a "right" to do, and the binding power of any of those assertions of rights. Of course, authors have the "right" -- within their novels, and in commenting on them -- to say whatever they like about their creations. And of course readers have the "right" to be persuaded or not by those statements, and to enjoy the fiction or not, accordingly. To say that an author is "wrong" about a factual detail regarding a character, or has a made a "false" claim about that character, completely misunderstands the nature of fictional imagining and readerly engagement (except in the case of purportedly accurate historical fiction that errs in factual detail). In fact, such claims about falsity or wrongness reflect such a basic misunderstanding of fictional imagining and creation as to discredit the person who makes those claims, and ought to suggest to anyone with even a tiny bit of common sense that this is someone who simply doesn't understand how fiction works in the first place.

Of course readers are not "bound" by authorial assertions, but that is because bindingness is the wrong concept to invoke when talking about fictional coherence, consistency, and believability. It is one thing to say that an author has deliberately introduced details that the reader is meant to question - so as to suggest that the narrator is unreliable or the author is being ironic. But from the hamfisted nature of the original post and the addendum supplied to it, it appears that the concepts of narrative unreliability or irony are very far beyond the critical sophistication of Professor Green. I would suggest that he take a first course in fiction by reading EM Forster's Aspects of the Novel.

(One might kindly suppose that Professor Green himself was being ironic in registering his original complaint, and that everyone else has simply fallen into the trap of taking his assertions seriously, but his own responses would seem to militate against that view.)

Posted by: matias | Oct 21, 2007 2:15:39 PM

WHO CARES IF "HES GAY BECAUSE ROWLING SAYS HE IS"
She made up the charecter for Gods sake, so she should be the one to state whether he is gay or not.

Posted by: botbot | Oct 21, 2007 2:07:28 PM

Rowling retains the right to speak about the characters she invented if asked about them, just as the reader has the right to continue to imagine. The insoluble "problem", and what seems to anger some people,is that because she got there first, and actually created these characters, her status as the author will invariably trump a reader's preferred imaginations-- in the eyes of the public and, maybe, the individual reader's own eyes. That can't be helped. I'll bet the many people out there who pegged Dumbledore as gay even before her "revelation" (and apparently there were many) aren't upset at all, because Rowling has confirmed the substance of their own imaginative play with the character. Because some people say "Don't spoil it for me by saying something I don't like" does not create a duty in Rowling, or other authors, to keep silent about their construction of their characters. It does raise the more important question, "Why don't you like it?" How does a gay Dumbledore wreak havoc with what she has written? It actually seems to fit very well. The thing is, Rowling is alive and can tell us what she was thinking, while other deceased authors have legions of literary critics and students who try to divine that by interpreting the "true" stories of given characters.

Posted by: vox | Oct 21, 2007 9:04:52 AM

Narrative consistency can be expected from only a writer who has demonstrated the same throughout the series. I am afraid, JKR has not demonstrated any such consistancy. While children will like the series, the same cannot stand a serious adult scrutiny in terms of plots and loopholes. I believe her bomshell was to divert the audience from asking her serious and uncomfortable questions on the actual plot holes for which she may have no answer at the meeting.

That said, I agree with the post. A writer should stop at what has been told in the books, the rest can be left to the readers imagination. Rowling seems to believe that she has the copyright to any extended imagination on the part of the readers!

Posted by: Frodo Baggins | Oct 21, 2007 3:25:48 AM

This is an interesting conversation. I think a person who spends the time to create characters and elaborate plot lines-- and does that so effectively that millions of people take them to heart-- would easily get so involved in the characters that she would, in fact, create elaborate back stories for them that don't necessarily make it into the book, play, or whatever type of work it is. If an intense fan asks a question that bears on that back story, the author would naturally answer in light of it.
So, Rowling's comments make sense in the context of what was asked about Dumbledore and love. She created this character, and gave him a history that she says was central to the way she saw him as she was writing. She also mentioned that when a scriptwriter for one of the movies tried to insert a back story for Dumbledore that included a lost love for"a girl", she corrected him by writing on the script, "Dumbledore is gay". The scriptwriter's intervention is interesting in light of the conversation about this taking place on the web. He or she did not think twice about creating a Dumbledore suffering because of his long ago loss of a girl-- a thing that was not in the book, but probably wouldn't have raised an eyebrow. But making the lost love male, supposedly transforms the story in an illegitimate way or in a way that has to be justified or that others would resist believing. I'm having trouble figuring out, beyond broad stereotypes, what he would be doing that would make his gayness more or less "compatible" with the story than it is. I would bet she has other visualizations and back stories about characters that were not put in the book.

Posted by: Vox | Oct 21, 2007 12:46:23 AM

By the way, I'm also disadvantaged by the fact that I have not yet read Book 7. And please don't disseminate these comments beyond this blog. They're classified.

Posted by: The same anonymous source | Oct 20, 2007 6:56:42 PM

It's Rowling herself who is the robot controlled by the CIA. (There was a huge dispute within the agency about whether to order her to make Harry die and about the legal implications of having Bellatrix Lestrange use certain interrogration techniques).

But re: the main point of the original post, it seems to me it's the rather uncontroversial point that if a reader wants to disagree with Rowling about the best way to fill out the unstated details of her story, that's just fine. For example, there'd be noting wrong with somebody writing fan fiction in which Harry learns (after the events in Book 7) that Dumbledore has discovered that he was actually hetersexual after the end of his friendship with Grindelwald and went on to have a passionate love affair with a female teacher at Beauxbatons. This, of course, happens not long before the fan fiction Harry and Ron discover their sexual attraction for each other. Not that this is likely to be as good as a sequel by Rowling herself. But it's quite possible the readers could prefer a fan fiction elaboration of the Potter story to one by created by Rowling herself -- especially if it's written by a robot with more advanced circuitry than that which the CIA used in Rowling's own electronic processing center.

Posted by: An anonymous source | Oct 20, 2007 6:53:42 PM

By the way, Hermione's mom is a huge NASCAR fan.

Posted by: Sam Heldman | Oct 20, 2007 6:09:11 PM

I don't know Michael so I have no knowledge about his level of homophobia. Nor is it really important to me to find out. I just think it's pretty odd for anyone - whatever his reasons - to feel strongly that JKR could possibly be called "wrong" about some particular fact in the HP world. The fact that we are talking about sexuality, in this instance, means that homophobia is a very plausible, but admittedly not the one and only, explanation as to why somebody would feel like asserting that the author is "wrong."

Posted by: Sam Heldman | Oct 20, 2007 6:04:35 PM

Post a comment