Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling took the time, while speaking at Carnegie Hall in New York, to bring wizard Albus Dumbledore out of the closet. Dumbledore, for the half-dozen of you who don’t know him, is to Harry Potter what Yoda is to Luke Skywalker: a mentor and friend. For those that have read the stories or seen the movies, Dumbledore was arguably the most powerful wizard in the series and also served as head of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
When Rowling revealed her concept of the headmaster’s sexuality, the crowd eventually cheered. I was shocked when told the news, and at first thought it was a joke. As an avid fan I felt that I might have missed something critical in the books I gave up sleep to read. I was disappointed, not by what Rowling had to say about Dumbledore, but that she neglected to include the fact within the books.
Many gay rights groups applauded Rowling’s decision to make the statement, and Rowling said she viewed her books as “an argument for tolerance.” But other than making the book-burning pyres that much higher, what did Rowling really do for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights? Not much at all.
I fully understand how a character as beloved as Dumbledore being gay could serve as an inspiration or comfort for young readers who are beginning to find their feelings at odds with the rest of society. It is just unfortunate for many that Rowling didn’t take the time or have the nerve to include this fact within the actual work of the series. It is unlikely that there wasn’t space for this bit of information, or that it was something that didn’t make the cut.
With the books in the series exceeding 4,000 pages, it’s arguable that there wasn’t much editing being done in the final books of the series, in terms of space. Of the countless details she did keep, why would she have excluded something so seemingly crucial toward her argument for tolerance?
In addition, the news was not made in the most effective manner. Other than reading about her statements on a news Web site, everything I saw on television covering the remark was delivered with gay-wizard jokes or a heavy dependence on gay stereotypes.
I can understand the worry she may have had about including Dumbledore’s sexual preference in the books. She had most likely heard the stories and seen the videos of the copies of her book being burned for ‘promoting witchcraft.’ It would be a shame if she had backed off due to a fear of financial backlash. She also said that had she known it would have been so well received she would have said this earlier. By not sharing her true feelings within her creative work, she let herself down, as well as the fans who have appreciated the story she had been telling for the past decade.
What will ultimately remain important – and this is the case with all books – is what one can find within the work. Many children who begin the series years from now will most likely not have read the Wikipedia entry on Dumbledore, and therefore will be left to decide for themselves. Of course, Dumbledore’s sexuality – or any character’s for that matter – doesn’t really alter the story she told, so why bring it up at all?
In literature, there is a separation between the artist and the artist’s work. To fully appreciate the characters’ lives and actions, this is necessary. When the Canterbury Tales are read, many people try to figure out what Chaucer is saying through the Wife of Bath, but ultimately the reader is left with only the character. Of course, future anthologies or editions of Harry Potter may note the author’s feelings about Dumbledore. However, the story has already been written and sealed with the publishing of the final book, and no matter how many times someone might read it, it remains unfortunate that Dumbledore never spoke for himself on the subject.
Curtiss Gibson is a senior majoring in English literature.