Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Gayest Ending of Them All

Those of you who have read and loved the Harry Potter series might have been let down by the final showdown between Harry and Voldemort in Book 7. Personally, that's one sequence I hope the Hollywood script writers change around when making The Deathly Hallows. However, that's not the gayest portion of the Harry Potter series.

Apparently, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore is gay. Easily one of the best written characters in literary history ended up batting for the other team. In fact, with friend/rival Gellert Grindelwald according to author, J.K. Rowling.

I liked Dumbledore's style. I liked how he was portrayed. I liked how such a kind and wise man was seen as a polarizing character, and even questioned after his death. There was an air of realism in that piece of writing.

I don't like this revelation by Rowling, not because I'm a homophobe, but because this kind of topic should be left far outside the realm of children's books. Rowling kept it pretty "G" rated with the kids' romantic relationships, but this couches the whole series in a queer light that is definitely mature subject matter.

The way the language and the dark and sinister magic unfolded in the series, despite growing with the children, really pushed that line of being categorized as a children's book. Now, we have an elderly, single academic serving as headmaster of a British boarding school. Some of the more obsessed fans will be speculating on a Catholic Priest-like undertone to a story that was as non-sexual as it gets.

Let's not forget that Dumbledore is a fictional character; he's not the new spokesperson for the Arcus Foundation. It doesn't need to turn into a political statement to those on the conservative right that hated Rowling's writing anyway. Having said that, those who loved this series and now find themselves souring on the whole story have the right to hold Rowling in contempt. She's got their money already, so I would imagine she doesn't care.

I think J.K. Rowling is probably the best writer of our time. Her elegant style, erudite content, and ability to transport the reader into her world and imagination is second to none, but I find her an unlikeable, disdainful, and mirthless person. I would imagine her admirers and legions of readers who made her a billionaire keep her ego far above my picayune criticisms.

The current film Dumbledore, Michael Gambon, once joked, that he "used to be gay but stopped because it made (his) eyes water." Maybe it was the same with ole' Albus.


Unsinkable Kristen said...

I've been mulling over my response for a few days and this is what I've come up with:

Rowling has handled this information much like she's handled the rest of the backstory from all seven books. She put in what she felt fit, and left out what didn't. Obviosly, Dumbledore being gay wouldn't have fit anywhere in the books. Sexual orientation was not a topic that Harry would have spent his time thinking on, therefore, it wasn't included as the books are written from his perspectice.

She has revealed a considerable amount of information after the release of book seven that just wouldn't fit anywhere. It is sometimes frustrating because we would have loved to "read" it as opposed to just hearing it, however, she is justified in thinking that it wouldn't have fit the flow. I think that this latest piece is just like the rest of that backstory. Like hearing that Neville becomes a teacher and marries Hannah Abbot, Dumbledore being gay really has nothing to do with the story that we read. It's something that is interesting, but that ultimately has no real value. The reasoning behind this is that this is Rowling's world. If his orientation had any relevant influence on his actions, then she would have included it in the books. After all, it is her story.

In that same vein, she has every right to think about her characters in a certain light. She is widely known to have written boxes upon boxes of backstory for her characters, it's likely that she has a long a detailed account of Dumbledore and all of his ins and outs that has been decided up and written down for years. This being true, I highly doubt that she just up and said this willy nilly. While I don't care for this direction of hers, I can't fault her for fleshing out her characters and at least she didn't put it in the book.

I suggest that those of us who are less than pleased with the information, though, simply pretend we never heard it. I mean, it's not like we have to read it. I personally, am doing the same thing with Fred's death (even though it is written). Just pretending it didn't happen and when I think of that world I picture it my way, it's much more pleasant.

Cameron said...

I think the fact that Rowling has written the back stories to every character is really the work of a genius, who must record what vivid details flow from their mind.

This is something J.R.R. Tolkien did as well. He wrote so much back story that the history of his two documented "ages of men" would rival the Royal Library's histories of the British Empire. Pure genius.

Again, Rowling is one of my favourite (a little British spelling for you) writers ever.

These are her characters, and she is absolutely free to do with them what she wishes. It's true that Dumbledore's sexuality has very little to do with the story line, and is never specifically mentioned in the books.

The problems lies outside the books, with the children who will read and love them. Somewhere in the first paragraph, maybe even first sentence, of his biography will be that he is gay.

Now, should someone be defined by their sexuality? Does that choice encompass their entire existence? Of course not. Nor should it.

Nevertheless, from the time these kids begin reading these incredibly wonderful books (1st-3rd grade), the topic of homosexuality will be discussed at an age where they should not even have a clue about sex at all.

Rowling is forcing the conversation much earlier. This is probably her plan to increase tolerance. Fine. It might even accomplish that goal.

It just moves back my time line for reading this story to Ainsley. I'm trying to be a responsible parent to my daughter, and I don't want to lay this subject on her until she is old enough to carry it.

Less tolerant readers of the series will be gathering soon to burn their copies of the books and sign petitions to have the series removed from school library shelves.

Their response will be the argument for Rowling writing and revealing that kind of character. I just felt the lesson was unnecessary for those of us who can handle that information responsibly, but want to continue the responsibility on to our parenting and must now move up the subject level from children's to adolescent or higher.

That's all.

Where are Tiffany and Nikki in the discussion anyway? I know they have thoughts on this one.

Nicole McIntyre said...

Kristen, as always, seems to have put my thoughts down "beyuwtafully."

I guess once I got over the shock, I had to look at it the way I prepared myself for book 7. There were all those cooks out there saying that they didn't want JKR to mess up the story. It was her's to begin with and we were priveledged to be a part of it. And becuase of that I adored book 7. I was along for the journey, not trying to lead it.

Yes, I agree that this will open up the door of some strange relationship between Harry and Dumbledore. I also think that some of the Harry Hater extreme church crew is going to use this as another excuse to tell me why I'm going to hell because of my not so secret crush on Harry Potter.

I will always love the character of Albus Dumbledore because he is/was fantastic. He has many admirable traits and is an amazing literary character. I will always love the role he plays in the Harry Potter series; without him we would not love the story as we do.

JKR has always been honest about her characters and what she has in mind for them. She is an amazing writer who truly paints a picture for all of us because of her detail. This is no different.

Or so I keep telling myself this, but it was still a big dissapointment. And it's part of the reason I'm moving to Australia. See my blog for full details ;)

Tiffany said...

(This is really unnecessarily long, but once I got started, I couldn’t stop typing. I’m going to break it down into two or three posts, so I don’t overload the comment board. And also, please forgive the fact that it says probably way more than it needs to. It’s not that I love the sounds of my own…typing…but I am typing through a lot of emotion, and I just want to create a full a picture as possible, so the words just keep coming. Feel free to scan. I’m really not that interesting.)

So as I texted you today, Cameron, your text alert hit me while I was driving through downtown D.C. with some of my childhood friends during our reunion weekend and I felt myself consciously putting the issue on the backburner of my mind. And yet, I couldn’t, because where we were headed was just a few blocks from DuPont Circle, which has become one of the centers for the gay community in the D.C. area, and it reminded me of a specific story from my high school years that is very apropos. (Just go with me on this – it all is building to something, I promise.)

The drama teacher at my high school (we’ll just call him Mr. F) was a wonderful, brilliant, mid-50s man who also happened to be gay. He never spoke about it, was never open with it, but in small southern towns such as mine was, these things are just known. I’d known him for years, and he’d been the one who helped me to develop my love for not only performance, but he written word of playscripts. He’d encouraged me as an actress, as a writer, as a scholar, and as a thinker. And what’s most important of all, perhaps, he understood what I was experiencing as I watched my father suffer through two bouts of cancer.

Mr. F was married long ago and had lost a wife to the disease, and while I never spoke about my father’s illness, it was the single most defining element of my high school experience, and possibly my life. It dominated every though, every decision, every move. The cancer and all it meant was always there on my mind in the middle of class or a game or just walking down the hall. The other teachers were very supportive and encouraging, trying to get me to open up and talk if I needed to, but they all seemed to speak in generalities and since I never alluded to my dad’s illness, they seemed to just forget about it with time. Mr. F was different. He asked specific questions – and refrained from asking when he could tell I wasn’t ready to talk. He would take me aside and tell me to leave practice – to go home and help out my mom or drive down the hospital to see my dad. Because my parents were encouraging me to live a normal life and do normal high school things even while we were being told Dad’s cancer was terminal, I was trying to keep busy and stay active, but it was hard to do that without feeling extremely guilty.

This may not sound like anything remarkable, but Mr. F recognized the pain I was experiencing and let me know it was okay. And beyond just that, he recognized that even in my world of cheerleading and student government and plays and everything else that goes along with high school, I didn’t fit in. Not really. Not deep-down. I knew it and my friends knew it and Mr. F knew it – and he went out of his way to foster in me a love for serious academic and craft study because he sense a different kind of maturity than the way in which most of my peers were mature.

Tiffany said...

So one morning during Christmas break of my senior year, he called me at home and wanted to know if it was okay with my parents if he took me up to Washington D.C. for the afternoon to check out a new art exhibit he’d just read about. It was at an experimental gallery, and he thought I might be interested. I was a little surprised but very flattered that he thought of me. My parents thought it was a wonderful opportunity, so he picked me up and we drove the hour north, spending the afternoon talking and looking at the exhibit (which was amazing), and then walking around DuPont Circle as he pointed out some of the famous sites – both historical and as part of the gay subculture. He challenged me to think about certain plays through various theoretical and critical lenses. We talked about symbolism and directing choices in other works. In short, it was a seminal day in steering my future course of study, because I was able to see that there really were people who cared about the deeper analysis and it made me crave more study because I was finding that I was not the only one who understood literature and performance differently. I felt primed for college in a way I had never imagined.

Later, when I was in college and interning at a professional theater in Massachusetts for the summer and Mr. F was working with a festival in New York, he drove three hours over to my theatre just to surprise me and say hello. I was so touched that he would take the time to do that for an old student, when he had his own work to do and productions to manage. Mr. F knew all about my religious feelings and respected them – he never tried to persuade me or change my mind. That wasn’t his place and he knew it. It didn’t matter to me that he was gay and it didn’t matter to him that I didn’t approve of the lifestyle. What he did do, though, was show me some compassion and empathy and friendship at a time in my life when I desperately needed them.

I had dinner with another (now retired) high school teacher when I drove through Wilmington this past spring. She was the one other most significant teacher in my high school career, and she told me that she had called Mr. F as soon as she’d head from me and he’d sent a special hello (he’s retired now, too). We talked a bit about him and she told me that he’d turned down professional job opportunities to stay at the high school because he felt it was his calling. He recognized that he had a gift for recognizing the needs of his students, and he was constantly working behind-the-scenes to reach out to ones who were hurting or lost or going down a wrong path, and was seeking to draw them in through the various outlets he could offer. Once she told me about this – and said that there were even more than she could count, from watching him for over 25 years – I started to recognize the patterns, and saw his quiet efforts in the lives of certain other of my classmates. Never once was there ever even a hint of impropriety, no matter the gender, no matter the situation. But the efforts he made to reach these students almost always resulted in a dramatic (no pun intended) change for the better – often changing their entire path or direction.

Tiffany said...

So what’s my point with all of this? Yes, I am disappointed that Dumbledore is gay. Yes, I wish that Rowling had never announced that fact. However, I know that I benefited greatly from the compassion and care of a teacher who also just happened to be gay. It was basic human compassion that Mr. F exhibited, and it is the same, I believe, with Harry and Dumbledore. Of course it obviously nothing weird because of my gender and his inclination but, again, as I thought over his years of work with students, I realized that the sexuality was never an issue with any student Mr. F tried to reach. It was about helping a person to develop, never an attempt to gratify a sexual urge.

Cameron, I understand what you are saying about how this kind of has overtones of the deplorable situation with abusive priests. I think, though, that it comes down to the very simple fact that there are evil, corrupt priests and there are good ones; there are evil, corrupt teachers and there good ones; there are evil, corrupt men and there are good ones. Dumbledore’s sexuality does not change into which category we file him in terms of being a mentor, leader, and father-figure for Harry. The fact that we are all so shocked by the news now indicates that Dumbledore’s sexuality was never an important part in the story, as you all have pointed out. And even though I still do not approve of the homosexual lifestyle, I can deal with this “bombshell” because I, like Harry, owe a great deal to a special teacher who is like Dumbledore in more ways than one. It doesn’t change the status of the person but instead – in my own opinion – reminds us that we all have our struggles, are all flawed, are all battling sin, and so forth. Rowling didn’t need to “make” Dumbledore gay, but if we stop loving him as a character, despite everything that he represents and all of the lessons that he provides, then it says a lot more about us than it does about him.

That’s just my two (and a few more) cents.

Jared Gable said...

What's a Dumbeldore?

Unsinkable Kristen said...

Exceptionally well put, Tiffany. I do love the way you write.

Cameron said...

Jared: Bend over, and he'll show you.

Tiffany said...

Kristen, a compliment from you one writing is like -- well, to use Cameron's similes above -- hearing a "nice swing!" from Bonds. Thanks!