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The Closet is Not a Room of Requirement

“In a novel you have to resist the urge to tell everything,” said J.K. Rowling in a July interview with Meredith Viera on the Today show. I would have preferred that she had said even less in Deathly Hallows than she did, but she’s the Author, and Authors get to make their own Important Decisions About Plots. Rowling has been a curious sort of Author, however, because her resistance to telling everything has weakened like a New Orleans levy the more time has passed. Indeed, ever since the receipts from the first weekend’s sales were totaled, Rowling has bestowed revelation after revelation (some of them contradictory) about her characters. Last week, during the Q&A session at a reading in Carnegie Hall, her resistance broke again:

Dumbledore is gay?!

Dumbledore’s outing, Ginny’s career as a Quidditch player, Ron’s life as a either an auror or shopowner (pick one): now that the novel’s finished, Rowling can’t resist saying anything, a fact that is causing no small about of hermeneutic trouble. The troublesomeness Rowling’s extra-textual characterization causes all sorts of consternation. For example, there are still people who believe that an author’s interpretation of her own work is authoritative, so they condemn Rowling for irrevocably tainting the series; Jeffrey Weiss of the Dallas Morning News is tired of Rowling’s attempts to wrest ownership of the characters from him. Or take Patrick Ross’s claim in CNN’s story for example: “(But) a gay character in the most popular series in the world is a big step for Jo Rowling and for gay rights.” On the one hand, it’s probably overstating the case to say that a single gay character represents a “big step” for anything, no matter how popular something is; on the other hand, even if it were the case that it would be a big step, there’s still the small issue that, in the novels, Dumbledore isn’t gay. Nor is he straight, of course: his sexual orientation is part of no identity that he espouses; moreover, no other character interacts with him as a sexual creature. Indeed, throughout the series he’s rather sexless. And Rowling’s treatment of his gayness—if you can say he has any—is salacious. The queer reading of Deathly Hollows that seems to have sprung from nowhere, which interprets Dumbledore’s and Grindelwald’s relationship as a love affair, conveniently forgets the fact that Rita Skeeter’s book functions early in the novel like a tabloid smear campaign meant to out the good professor. The entirety of the book is Harry’s attempt to reconcile the Dumbledore Skeeter outs with the Dumbledore he knows; worse, the novel’s resolution comes when Dumbledore assures Harry that his tryst with Grindelwald was a mistake from which he had suffered all of his life. To the novels, Dumbledore’s homosexuality exists in one place only: the closet. That’s a problem of the books Rowling wrote, and her efforts to write them anew after the fact only makes the problem that much more apparent.

 

Comments

i think that both her revelation and her not writing a gay dumbledore evidence her two biggest flaws as an author… first and foremost, the inability to let her characters live on in their death. she just has to keep adding superfluous and titillating, if you can call this one that, epilogues, whether in book or in post-book press-conferences. secondly, and really their they're (damn english language!) not ranked one or two in any particular order, it’s her desire to give the readers what she thinks they want, which leads her, if indeed dumbledore is gay, to betray those closest to her... by not writing him as such in the first place and then outing him post hoc.

non sequitor

none of the good hogwarts professors have romantic lives, except hagrid, and his ends in disaster. all hogwarts professors are, with the exception of the smoldering snape, but even his is only a platonic lusting after a dead mother, unsexed beings. and, largely, this is the way these sorts of schools are set up. spinsters and bachelors are the lot of them.

This sentimental Salon article relies too much on nostalgia as a critical tool, but it makes essentially your point, BG:

It’s precisely the fans’ feverish speculation about what happens to Rowling’s characters, and what she might have meant by X or Y, that makes her behavior so surprising. Rowling’s books were great in part because of their insistence on an ambiguity that was more sophisticated than her younger readers were used to (Severus Snape: good or bad? Albus Dumbledore: wise or gullible? Petunia Dursley: wizard hater or wizard lover?) and which readers have argued over for years. Why would she choose now to quash further imaginative and critical speculation by administering massive doses of Authorial Intent?

I suppose it’s nice to know that in Rowling’s mind, Harry is a successful auror. But in my mind, based on the seven books I devoured, Harry, whose greatest gifts were as a teacher, is the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor and eventually the Hogwarts headmaster. I suppose in the minds of other readers, Harry might manage a Quidditch team, or work for his uncle Vernon at Grunnings or something. I’d love to have that conversation with those other readers; I’d also love to have it with Rowling, in a Tolkien-style exchange. But when Rowling declares to an international audience what Harry’s adult job is, then the possibility for such an exchange is over. Speculation over what Rowling might have wanted us to surmise about her hero’s future is over. Bully for Harry, boo for the notion that fictional characters take on lives of their own in their readers’ minds.

Rowling is a brilliant lady, one of the people whose work and intentions appear nearly pristine. She created a world in which many readers happily dwelt for more than a decade. In fact, perhaps the root of my frustration with her soothsaying is my sadness that she’s running around talking about the books rather than writing us another one! I, like so many others, miss these people, and part of me can’t help but wish that if she had so much more to say about them, she’d put her thoughts in writing. But I also understand that that is one of those wishes probably better left unfulfilled. One of Rowling’s greatest authorial virtues is that she knew when to quit.

If only she would remember that now, because as she herself clearly understands, leaving us mysteries to unravel is such a critical part of the fun. At the same Carnegie Hall event at which she outed Albus, Rowling told the crowd, “I went onto a fan site … [and] I was so heartened to see that people on the message boards were still arguing about Snape. The book was out, and they were still arguing whether Snape was a good guy. That was really wonderful to me, because there’s a question here: Was Snape a good guy or not?”