What Authors Know About Their Characters

In a New York Times piece on Dumbledore’s homosexuality, critic Edward Rothstein suggests that J.K. Rowling, Dumbledore’s creator, might not know what she’s talking about:

But it is possible that Ms. Rowling may be mistaken about her own character. She may have invented Hogwarts and all the wizards within it, she may have created the most influential fantasy books since J. R. R. Tolkien, and she may have woven her spell over thousands of pages and seven novels, but there seems to be no compelling reason within the books for her after-the-fact assertion. Of course it would not be inconsistent for Dumbledore to be gay, but the books’ accounts certainly don’t make it necessary. The question is distracting, which is why it never really emerges in the books themselves. Ms. Rowling may think of Dumbledore as gay, but there is no reason why anyone else should.

Sure there is: Because he is. Because the author made him that way. Whether or not anyone but the author knew about it up to last week simply doesn’t matter. The author, in her formulation of the character, has this as part of his background, and that background informs how the character was written. Rothstein is under the impression that because Dumbledore’s sexuality is not explicitly in the text it’s irrelevant or not necessary. But it’s not true; if Rowling had as part of Dumbledore’s background that he was straight, or entirely asexual, his character would be different and his actions and responses and backstory would be different. He would be different. He wouldn’t be the Dumbledore he is today (or was, because he’s dead, but even so).

Rothstein seems to be falling into the trap of assuming that everything that goes into a character shows up on the page. This is entirely wrong. What shows up on the page is the public life of the character, so to speak: The things about a character that a writer chooses to let you know about them. The private life of a character exists off the page, and takes place between the writer and the character. You don’t see that unless the author discusses it later, in interviews or commentary or whatever. Authors have privilege concerning our characters; we know more about them than the readers. Or as Neil Gaiman recently put it:

You always wind up knowing more about your characters than you can get onto the page. Pages are finite, and the story isn’t about giving you all the information about everyone in it any more than life is. Things the author knows about characters (or at least, strongly suspects — it’s never really real until it hits the page, because the process of writing is also a process of discovery) that don’t make it onto the page could include the characters’ backstory, what they like to eat, the toothpaste they use, what happens to them after the story is over or before it began, and what they do in bed. That something didn’t turn up in the books just means it didn’t make it onto the page or wasn’t relevant to the story.

Does the reader need to know Dumbledore is gay? Probably not. Does the reader have to care that he’s gay? That’s up to the reader. Do these facts mean that Dumbledore’s sexuality is unimportant to who the character is? Absolutely not. The moment Rowling said (or discovered, however you want to put it) that Dumbledore was gay, it made a difference in how she perceived him and how she wrote him. The only way Rowling’s statement of Dumbledore’s sexuality would be irrelevant or should be ignored by the reader (should they hear of the fact at all) is if there were proof that Rowling was tacking on the sexuality of Dumbledore after the fact of the writing, i.e., that Rowling had no conception of Dumbledore’s sexuality through all the books, and then is throwing the “dude, he’s gay” statement out there now just for kicks. Given how much people have been saying “well, now such-and-such scene makes perfect sense,” regarding the books, this doesn’t seem like it’s the case. She’s got backup in the work.

Which is not to say such after-the-fact author revisionism doesn’t happen. The reason that Ray Bradbury’s recent declaration that Fahrenheit 451 wasn’t about censorship but was instead about television destroying literature is looked upon with such utter skepticism is because for the last 50 years it has been about censorship (Bradbury himself has explicitly noted this); while Bradbury takes a poke at TV in the book, the core of the story — what’s in the text — is the effect of censorship on his primary character, who is himself a censor. Bradbury’s free to say what he wants, but his own words and his own text speak against him, and on balance I’m going with the text, because it doesn’t change its mind.

Now, if Rowling had lardered the Harry Potter books with tales of Dumbledore’s heterosexual relationships, and had done numerous interviews about how in his younger years he cut a swath through witches and mugglettes alike, leaving a trail of women raving about his wandwork, then we would have reason to discard a latter-day revelation of his gayness; it would be patent nonsense. She did neither. Rowling’s outing of Dumbledore might be surprising, but it’s not inconsistent with what we know of the text or the character.

Rowling is getting some whacks because she never explicitly stated Dumbledore’s sexuality within the books themselves, which is fair enough, although I think it’s a little silly. Authors are not obliged to outline every detail about a character, and from what I know of Dumbledore (I haven’t read the books themselves because the little I’ve read of Rowling’s prose style doesn’t set me aflame; I stick to the movies) it would be entirely in character for him to be circumspect about the topic of his sexuality, both in dealing with Harry and his pals, and in the clearly rather conservative world of magic. Rowling’s made it pretty obvious that in her Potterverse it’s hard to be “out” when you have an alternate lifestyle (cf. that Lupis dude), and there’s no indication that the world of magic is any more gay-friendly than it is werewolf-friendly. She built a world that has certain rules; characters in that world live by those rules. Those rules aren’t necessarily the same rules as our world lives by.

Going back to Rothstein, the best you can say for his argument is that it notes that Dumbledore doesn’t have to be gay for many of the influential events of his life to have had an effect on him. To which the correct response is to say, yes, well. And this would be different from the lives of actual gay people exactly how? We go through any number of events in our lives without our sexuality front and center — it would make sense an author would model a character similarly. But it doesn’t mean that at the end of the day that sexuality doesn’t matter to who the character is.

Dumbledore’s gay: He was written that way. As a reader, you may not need to know it, or may even feel it’s essential to what you see as his purpose, any more than in the real life you’d need to know if your mailman were gay, or your bank teller or your local librarian, or would see their sexuality as essential to how you relate to them even if you did. But what you know, and what these people know about themselves – and what an author knows about his or her characters, not to mention what the characters know about themselves — are separate things. And what they know matters to who they are.

So, no. Rowling’s not mistaken about Dumbledore. Rothstein, however, is.

127 thoughts on “What Authors Know About Their Characters

  1. I think this is a question of ownership: Who owns the character the writer or the reader?

    Personally, I feel that they both do. If the writer leaves out some of the character traits that she feels makes her character tick that’s her prerogative. But don’t go changing the Dumbledore that lives in my head. (Fortunately, Dumbledore doesn’t live in my head, so I could careless if he likes to what-what with the witches or woo-hoo with the warlocks.)

    If it’s not in the text, keep it to yourself. What I do with your character in my head is my business and what you do with your character is yours. Sorry if I stole your character, but I did pay $19.95 for the hardback.

  2. If Dumbledore’s actions can be explained equally as well without referencing his sexuality then for all intents and purposes it doesn’t matter. I understand that the author of the work knows more about the story then the reader does, but once I’m reading it I own it more than the author does. What I think of the character based on what I read is more important than what the author didn’t write about the character.

  3. Placeholder for first post..
    But seriously. This is a good post. As an avid reader I always kind of took the characters I was reading about at face value. But as a musician and song writer I should know better as the melodies in my head/heart are more intricate that what comes out in the music.

    Although I am not a HP fan. But honestly. J.K. proclaiming that this character is gay at this point seems odd. Is it possible that this was an afterthought for shock value?

  4. That was a very strange article by Rothstein. He seemed determined to make Dumbledore NOT gay that at times I felt I was reading a literate version of “NononononononononoNO.” It’s entertaining (well, sometimes) when my two year old does it….

  5. To me, the real identifying characteristics of characters are in what they do, not in what the author tells me about them. If an author tells me her character is smart, but everything I see him doing is dumb, and the apparent dumbness is not later revealed as a subterfuge for plot purposes, then I’m going to believe the character’s actions, not the author’s description. After all, it could be that the author is too dumb to know what effect her character’s actions are having on the reader.

    So Rowling can tell me that Dumbledore’s gay, but I don’t have to believe her in the absence of any conclusive character evidence, so to speak.

    There’s also the argument that Dumbledore does not, in any real sense, exist, being only an effect conjured in a reader’s head by the stimulus of the words Rowlings has rendered into symbols on paper. And since the contents of each reader’s head are different, and those contents help shape the effect of the words, does not the whole question then become moot? But then the argument conjures up the possibility that the characters of real people (assuming no argument about the meaning of “real,” or for that matter “people”), may also be largely determined by the impressions they create when their actions encounter the contents of other people’s heads. At which point, we’re beginning to wander well off the map.

    I should have worked in “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” but I couldn’t find an appropriate segue.

  6. Count me in the camp of, “if you don’t make a detail explicit enough for the readers to pick up on, the detail doesn’t exist.” The fact that she left this fact out of the books is testimony to its general irrelevance. The text is the text, and discussions of Dumbledore’s sexuality are just as pointless as speculations about what Mona Lisa is smiling at.

  7. This whole conversation just makes me laugh, because, y’know, anytime Rowling wants, she can write and publish a short story (even a tiny 100-word short) that establishes that Dumbledore is, in fact, gay. And then everyone will just have to suck it up and deal, because it’ll be there in the holy canonical text. :-)

    It’s fun being a writer.

  8. It’s always been my impression that Rowling basically makes this stuff up by the seat of her pants, given her internal consistency issues. I have no problem believing that when she got asked that question, she did a quick memory-check (“Did I have Dumbledore and McGonnagal going for it? Nope? Ok.”) and then just said it. She’s done with the series, and has claimed she’s not going to write it anymore, but it’s gotta be annoying to be “done” and not to be able to make up more stuff for the fans. So she’s just making up more stuff for the fans anyway.

    Then again, I’m also of the camp that thinks at least part of the plots of books 6 and 7 were designed just to mess with the fanfic writers.

  9. Kelsey:

    “But don’t go changing the Dumbledore that lives in my head.”

    Given the number of Dumbledores that exist in people’s heads — remember that some 300 million copies of the book have been sold — this would require Rowling never to speak of her characters again in order not to wreck some persons’ image of the character. Which is nonsense. Rowling quite clearly is under no obligation never to speak of her characters ever again; likewise, neither is any other fiction writer under any such obligation.

    You are under the impression that you jointly own the character with the author, but the author is neither obliged to agree with this formulation (not in the least because typically the author owns the copyright to the character — i.e., the actual legal ownership), nor is bound to be circumspect in discussing the characters because a reader assumes an ownership.

    If you want to suggest you have ownership in author’s world, allow me to suggest that the ownership is this: You own a plot of land on the shore, while the author owns the entire planet. When the author decides to create a tsunami, for reasons of his or her own, standing on the shore yelling “I didn’t agree to this!” won’t matter a bit when the wave comes crashing down.

  10. …leaving a trail of women raving about his wandwork…

    Seriously, Scalzi, you wrote this entire post just so you could use that line, didn’t you? Admit it.
    ——–

    This entire issue makes me laugh. I’m not a fan of the HP books, for the same reason you stated in the post, Rowling’s writing style does nothing for me – and style is as important to me and the story itself. However, that’s not a condemnation of Rowling, I’m not her target audience. That aside, the fact that a prominent person in the education field (in this case fictional, both the person and the field) doesn’t advertise his homosexual orientation is about as realistic as it gets. There are millions of examples of this same situation throughout history. Rowling is being beat up over including non-fantasy elements in a fantasy series, me thinks.

    The hoopla surrounding Dumbledore reminds me of the real world hoopla that surrounding Rock Hudson, it was only after his death that his sexual orientation became widely known (though Hollywood had been aware of it for years, and didn’t care). People were variously appalled, outraged, supportive, and (like me) largely indifferent. He was a great talent and a terrific actor, and that’s what mattered.

  11. While I sympathize with the view that readers “own” the character as much if not more than the author does, it just isn’t so. What if Rowling had chosen, in book 7, to reveal that Dumbledore had spent his life atoning for a misplaced crush on Valdemort? She didn’t, but if she had chosen to do so, it would have been entirely her choice, and we readers would have been forced to revise any preconceived notions we had.

    That she didn’t choose to put any of this in writing, in no way diminishes what effect it had on how she wrote Dumbledore. I haven’t really followed the “controversy”, but if I’m not mistaken, she “outed” him in response to a direct question. She didn’t just decide to reveal this to make us all go back and reread (rebuy?) the series to look for clues. I doubt she spends a great deal of time worrying that she’ll starve if she doesn’t sell three more copies.

    On the other hand, if Dumbledore’s sexuality offends you, feel free to delude yourself; you’re right, it was your $19.95. (On the other, other hand, I find it difficult to read while holding my hands over my ears, chanting “Nah, Nah, Nah, I can’t hear you.”) But that’s just me.

  12. But what you know, and what these people know about themselves – and what an author knows about his or her characters, not to mention what the characters know about themselves — are separate things. And what they know matters to who they are.

    Nonsense. Unlike actual gay people, Dumbledore is fictional. That his backstory was intended by Rowling as a gay man’s backstory only matters to us to the extent we, the readers, can see it. Any interpretation of his motives based on what evidence exists in print is valid. And, because so much of Dumbledore’s story is deliberately hidden from us by the author, other interpretations are more likely to find justification, as people use their imaginations to fill the gaps.

    Rowling by definition can’t be wrong about her characters, so in that sense Rothstein wrong. But Rowling’s failure to make explicit this aspect of one of her characters means that Rothstein’s conclusion exactly correct. Without sufficient information about Dumbledore’s actions and motives, there’s no reason a reader should draw “gay” as a conclusion about the character. If that’s a flaw, it’s one completely on the hands of Rowling, whose series wasn’t exactly word-shy.

  13. You realize that the literary criticism folks are pissed cause they didn’t get to write archaic tomes on this first right?

    Sorry the whole debate reminds me of literary criticism in college

    AKA: Bullshit 101

    On the subject it self…doesn’t detract from the story at all.

  14. S Andrew Swann: Speculation about what Mona Lisa is smiling at is not at all pointless. Speculation about what Da Vinci thought she’s smiling at would be pointless. Actually, that would be very interesting to know, but it would be a trivial footnote to ongoing speculation.

  15. Gerrymander:

    “Unlike actual gay people, Dumbledore is fictional. That his backstory was intended by Rowling as a gay man’s backstory only matters to us to the extent we, the readers, can see it.”

    Well, every reader is able to keep his or her counsel as to the extent a character’s backstory matters to them, to be sure. It doesn’t change the fact, however, that Dumbledore is gay, because the author chose to make the character so, and wrote from with that data point in her head. If you wish to discard Dumbledore’s gayness because he is fictional, why should you fundamentally be any less free to discard his maleness, or his sesquicentennialism?

    The argument I’m seeing here and in other comments is simply “it’s not in the text, so I don’t have to believe it,” which is actually false. The author is telling you a character is gay; there is nothing in the text with contradicts this and (apparently) quite a bit in the text that would support it. What you’re complaining about is that Rowling did not address his sexuality specifically in the text, but you know, so what? I imagine there are any number of things about Dumbledore that Rowling knew but did not address in her text; it doesn’t make them any less “true” as regards Dumbledore simply because you as the reader don’t know them.

    Likewise, just because a reader doesn’t come away from the Potter books going, “man, that Dumbledore is so gay” doesn’t mean it’s not part of his character as Rowling wrote it. If it’s not explicit enough for you, well, too bad. It doesn’t change the fact.

  16. Character background detail is like discarded construction material. It’s important in the creation of a story, the story wouldn’t work without it, but it has no meaning once the story is complete. The story is the creation, the discarded parts have meaning only to the author.

  17. I wish this whole topic would go away so that we can go back to arguing if Ridley Scott thinks that Deckard is a replicant. Or if Phillip K. Dick thought he was. Or Harrison Ford…

  18. “Likewise, just because a reader doesn’t come away from the Potter books going, “man, that Dumbledore is so gay” doesn’t mean it’s not part of his character as Rowling wrote it. If it’s not explicit enough for you, well, too bad. It doesn’t change the fact.”

    But was it part of his character as Rowling was writing it? It may have been, if she’s the kind of writer who details her characters in mini-biographies, leaving out some of the information when she writes the scenes in which the characters appear.

    But what if she’s the kind of writer whose characters emerge from the back of her head while she’s making the story happen? Then it could be quite possible that she never knew Dumbledore’s sexual orientation because it had never come up, so to speak.

    The recognition that he was gay may have come post facto. In which case, was he gay before she recognized it, or can literary sexual orientation be retroactively applied? If so, many others characters await their outings.

  19. “What if Rowling had chosen, in book 7, to reveal that Dumbledore had spent his life atoning for a misplaced crush on Valdemort?”

    Not Voldemort, no.

  20. If I typed and thought faster, my comment wouldn’t follow by 10 minutes John’s message disagreeing with it.

    If Rowling writes a story which takes place in the Harry Potter universe and says Dumbledore is gay, that makes it so. Her saying so in a press conference is not the same thing.

  21. You know, it occurs to me that this is same conversation as the “default race” conversation we were having here not so long ago.

    Rothstein: Of course it would not be inconsistent for Dumbledore to be gay, but the books’ accounts certainly don’t make it necessary. The question is distracting, which is why it never really emerges in the books themselves. Ms. Rowling may think of Dumbledore as gay, but there is no reason why anyone else should.

    He got that part exactly right, even if that’s not how he intended it. In real life I’m fairly certain that one of my son’s teachers is gay, he doesn’t advertise it but he doesn’t hide it either. In other words, he lives his life and his sexual orientation is irrelevant to anyone but himself, questions about it distract from the fact that he is a brilliant and gifted teacher – and that’s what matters.

    As Rothstein said, there is no reason for anybody to think “Dumbledore as gay,” HOWEVER there’s no reason why they shouldn’t either. Just as in real life, sexual orientation, and race, is irrelevant unless the situational context makes it so. In the context of the story, Dumbledore’s sexual orientation, and his race for that matter, are irrelevant. However, Rowling was asked a direct question outside the context of the story, and in that situation his orientation was relevant, because Dumbledore is a creation of her mind and he lives there. How she see him, is relevant in that context.

  22. DPWally:

    “The story is the creation, the discarded parts have meaning only to the author.”

    Well, no. Background detail is likely to have meaning to the reader if the reader knows about it and if the author supports it as being factual in relation to the character. In this particular case, Rowling has explicitly stated that Dumbledore is gay; it’s now “canonical” and any useful commentary on the character (and by relation the Potterverse) incorporates this fact.

    So at this point one can argue that Dumbledore’s homosexuality is irrelevant to his actions in the books, if one chooses, but not that he himself is not gay.

    NB, incidentally, that Rowling has suggested that at some point she is going to write an encyclopedia of the Potterverse, including biographical and historical information about the characters. If she does, and makes a notation of Dumbledore’s sexuality, it would be difficult to argue at that point that Dumbledore’s sexuality is not then “in the text.”

    Matt Hughes:

    “The recognition that he was gay may have come post facto. In which case, was he gay before she recognized it, or can literary sexual orientation be retroactively applied? If so, many others characters await their outings.”

    Aside from what I noted in the article itself regarding the subtle stuff that now apparently “makes sense” with the “Dumbledore is gay” information, there’s also some indication that Rowling let other people know about his sexuality before she mentioned it publicly; she noted that she had to give script notes to one of the Potter movies because a screenwriter had Dumbledore talking about a girl he had a crush on when he was younger. It does seem she’s known he was gay for some time. Did she know before she started writing him? I have no idea. But I’ve learned things about my characters as I was writing them; I wouldn’t be surprised if she did too.

  23. How can Rowling be wrong about her own character? She invented him. I read that she had to set the record straight for the filmmakers because they wanted to add a female love interest for him. That leads me to believe that her announcement wasn’t something she did on a whim and without forethought.

    Congratulations, Rothstein. You made an absurd claim and got people to read your silly little article.

    (Also, one of my favorite sayings is “It’s not the size of the wand, it’s the skill of the wizard.”)

  24. This Dumbledore thing seems to have gotten under people’s skin. There’s also a column in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune by Stephan Benzkofer entitled “Potter fans get the last say, not Rowling,” in which he asserts that “JK Rowling declaring Dumbledore is gay doesn’t make it so.” He feels that after the last book hit the press, Rowling lost the right to define her characters. It sounds much like the argument Rothstein makes in the Times.

    It got under my skin bigtime.

    One theory of criticism that I learned in undergrad was that the writer was the person least able to discern/define the meaning of their own work. They were, from what I could ascertain, a mindless conduit spewing forth text that could only be interpreted by critics. At the time, I saw this as a way for critics to justify their existence while at the same time backhanding writers for actually having the temerity to believe that they did anything worthy of note. Revenge for the saying “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, administrate. Those who can’t administrate, criticize.”

    A writer provides a character’s backstory. Some of it is written, and some, if not most of it, is not. But it’s there, coloring the character and shaping their development throughout the story. To deny that it exists, to deny its right to exist, then to deny the fact that you, the reader, may have missed a few things along the way and can therefore discard them as never having existed in the first place, requires what is to me a truly bracing brand of arrogance.

    I think it boils down to the fact that they don’t want a Rowling character to be gay, which I’m sure someone already said upstream.

  25. I’m curious about all this commotion. What if Rowling had said that Dumbledore was black? I don’t remember if she ever mentions his skin color anywhere in the books but let’s assume she hadn’t. Would that matter? Would people be saying, ‘she never mentioned it in the text so I’m going to keep him as an old, British white dude.’

    Our mental images of characters get revised all the time. Whenever we reread a book or see the movie version of that book how we see the character changes. It’s interesting to know how the author sees the character because how he or she saw them informs them of how to write them. Now, one may say Rowling would have wrote Dumbledore the exact same way whether he was straight or gay. Perhaps. I just don’t see why this revelation matters in the ‘well now I’m going to see this guy differently’ sense.

    Yes, you are. In the same way that you saw him differently when book 7 came out and revealed all sorts of things we hadn’t known before about Dumbledore’s character and past. As someone else mentioned, all Rowling has to do is write a short story with this trait or include this fact in an HP encyclopedia to all of this arguing moot. Does the author’s knowledge magically become more real once it’s in writing?

  26. Very nice article, Scalzi, I think you nailed it.

    Personally, I think J.K. went about this in a very valid way and not really for shock value. She didn’t send out a press release. She made an appearance and was answering questions, and a little girl asked if Dumbledore ever had a love life.

    Then she replied, “Well, I always thought of Dumbledore as being gay” at which point she went on to explain how this fit into the story. Which, actually was kinda neat due to the fact that the story was completely relevant. Much more relevant than say…if she were to invent a completely new female(or even male) character and following love story. As well, she approached the question as if there were a serperate objectivity to the character…beyond her and beyond the reader, which after dealing with characters for so long, makes alot of sense.

    Seems like thats just the answer to the question for her. And thats the answer of the question for you…if you had wanted to ask it.

  27. Given some of the silly faux-literati things Rowling has said about her own work, like that it’s not Fantasy, at all… I tend to think she probably came up with the Dumbledore is Gay factoid in an attempt to give herself literary cred.

    Even if that’s the case though, after pondering it a bit, I think Dumbledore being Gay is kind of cool. He’s a very noble and upstanding example of a Gay man whether you’re conservative christian or at the extreme other end of the spectrum.

    If you’re a conservative christian you can look at the books, notice that he spent the majority of his life resisting his immoral urges, (or at least not acting on them) and be impressed at his personal moral strength.

    If you’re the opposite of a conservative christian you can look at the books and, whether you mentally fill in the blanks with gay sexual episodes or not, you can be impressed that he kept his sexuality firmly out of the lives and minds of his students. Something most of us can agree is a good and necessary thing for a teacher to do.

  28. I think knowing that Dumbledore is gay makes the text richer.

    MINOR SPOILER

    In the last book, we learn that Dumbledore’s friendship with Grindelwald almost led Dumbledore into evil and caused Dumbledore to at least temporarily reject family and friends in favor of Grindelwald. This dynamic makes more sense to me if Dumbledore were in love with Grindelwald. It also gives more weight to the fact that Dumbledore ends up rejecting Grindelwald in favor of good. I’m sure knowledge of Dumbledore’s gayness affected how J.K. Rowling wrote that bit of history.

  29. I find that I have two meta-reactions to this:

    1. Why is the “if it’s not explicitly in the books, I don’t have to pay attention to it” kerfuffle coming now with the “Dumbledore is gay” revelation? JK Rowling has been telling us all sorts of things which aren’t in the books for years now.

    2. I hope that the “if it’s not explicitly in the books…” people didn’t mistakenly go around thinking that Dumbledore is straight. That’s not explicitly in the books, and worse, it doesn’t even have the imprimatur of JK Rowling’s post-facto assertion. i.e., if one is going to go the strict constructionist route, one should do it with some rigor and eschew default assumptions.

  30. I surprised that she outed the character at all (not that I give a damn personally).

    Potter books often come under fire from the righties and the bible thumpers for containing “witchcraft”. Now they can scream even louder about the subliminal reach arounds and salad tossing.

    “Please think of the children”

  31. It strikes me as pretty arrogant for anyone to disagree with the creator of a character about that character’s story. Dumbledore and all other fictional characters belong to their creators. Readers are just lucky enough to be invited in to share a glimpse of the full story that exists in the author’s imagination.

  32. John, with all due respect, you’re wrong. Sort of.

    Your copyright entitles you to publication rights, but you don’t own the imaginations of your readership. If you want to own everything you write, don’t share it with anyone else. But once you choose to publish it–whether or not you retain your copyrights–you create an interaction with your reader. The story and characters “exist” in some middle place between you and your audience.

    That’s what it means, really, to share a story.

    What goes on from your side of it, as an author, is relevant and vital. But unless it’s nothing more than creative masturbation, what goes on in the reader’s head is just as vital. Different, maybe, but just as significant. And while you certainly may retain your rights when it comes to distributing copies of your work, or licensing reproductions in the form of movies, toys, t-shirts, posters, video games and McDonald’s glasses, you’ve given up another kind of “ownership.”

    If a writer wants some essential point to exist within the shared imagination, the place between himself and his audience, it needs to be a part of the work itself in some sense. If it’s not there, then (in a manner of speaking), it doesn’t exist.

    It can be hard to determine where in the work: a good bit of the shared project between J.R.R. Tolkien and his audience comes in appendices and later notes. But, even then, I suppose a reader who hasn’t read all of that extra material, who has only read LOTR may say that in his mind, those things don’t exist. Is he wrong? No. He has a different relationship with the author, is all.

    Finally, I’d also note that authors certainly can be wrong about a work: sometimes a creation takes on a life on its own even before it has been shared. The author’s mind speaks to the page (or the guitar, or the stage, or the camera) on several levels, and some of those might not be immediately recognized. I doubt that Dumbledore’s sexual orientation falls into that category, but it’s simply not true to say that an author always knows what a character is doing. Even with notes, a character might strike off on his own while the author watches. In my own limited experience, that’s part of the joy of creation.

    To that extent, I guess, an artistic work is like a child: you made it, but it isn’t yours and sometimes it does what it wants without asking. I’ve been a creative type, but not a parent, so maybe I’m wrong about that last bit, but it seems to make sense.

  33. When I first heard about Dumbledore’s ‘outing’ and his relationship with Grrundewald (sp?), I thought it made some sense — there is a lot of mopery around that broken relationship that make it seem more than just the dissolution of the grand plans of young adults.

    But I don’t see it anywhere prior to Deathly Hallows, and in fact I can’t help but believe she would have structured things a little differently, just because of the fears some have of pedophilia, with Dumbledore spending so much time locked in his office with a young boy. End result? The book will be banned in a few more places when it really shouldn’t.

  34. John,

    “If you wish to discard Dumbledore’s gayness because he is fictional, why should you fundamentally be any less free to discard his maleness, or his sesquicentennialism?”

    You should be less free because Dumbledore’s gender and age were referrenced repeatedly throughout the series, and are therefore part of the easily identified common factors of the book. If you go around asking “who was that young woman wizard in the Harry Potter novels,” no one will reply “Dumbledore.”

    Dumbledore’s sexual preference, however, was not made explicit despite Rowling having many means of doing so, both from within the world she created (the pensive, or old prophesies) and without (a description, or ). Obviously, if Rowling wants to correct that, she can (and equally obviously, has)– Dumbledore is her creation. None of that makes your complaint above any more valid. When an artwork fails to bring an intended aspect to light for the audience, the fault lies with artist. Rowling owns the copyrights to the character, but she doesn’t own rights to the audience’s thoughts. If the audience up to this point thought “Dumbledore is straight” despite her intent… well, that’s an impression she had years to correct prior to the revelatory interview.

  35. Oh, come on. Of course the writer “owns” the character, and is the final arbiter of what and who that character is. Why else is canon, canon?

    Now, this being a free universe, and readers being therefore free to conceptualize, fanwank, and fanfic their way through any number of AUs – if you really, really dislike the idea of Dumbledore being gay, just imagine yourself an HP universe where he isn’t. No worries, eh? (As long as you don’t try to actually sell it, OK?)

    But you can’t say your own private Dumbledore is the One True Dumbledore. Sorry, no: that is now and forever Rowlings’ privilege.

  36. I think some people forgetting that Rowling didn’t go out of her way to reveal this. She answered a question. So all this wringing of hands about how Rowling is creating controversy and giving anti-HP groups more reason to ban the books makes no sense unless you believe that she should have lied. Yes, she could have refused to answer the question but that would presume that there’s something wrong with being gay such that even talking about it is bad.

  37. I actually think he’s a more interesting character if he’s _not_ gay.

    I mean, the whole Grindelwald / “sometimes love blinds you” thing — well, sure it does, but hell, sometimes just plain _friendship_ blinds you. And to say that it could do so to the extent to which it blinds Dumbledore (and it can, for sure) is a much more troubling thing (and no less honest) that to say the same thing of love.

    I also think that, while an author certainly knows what they intend, they neither can nor ought to pretend they can have final say over how it’s materialized in the reader’s mind. The reader might be getting it wrong. Or they could be filling in parts of the drawing that you left blank, with the best tools available to them. Given what they know, they have no reason to suppose they’re not right.

    In the end, the story does not exist apart from people’s re-interpretation of it. It’s not some Platonic form stuck up in heaven, much as one might like to feel otherwise. Sure, you have to pretend that (or something like that) is true while you work on it, but once you’re done — it’s out there, and people will make of it what they will.

  38. I find it more interesting that Rowling revealed her character’s sexual preference after the series was over. Would she have had the same success among younger readers (and their parents) if she had made it known within the story or outside of the story when the first novel had come out? I think not.

    The way I see it, she revealed it after the series was over, because that’s when it would do the least harm to her sales.

  39. I don’t always agree with an author’s interpretation of their books or characters. I even sometimes strongly disagree with their choices of pairings, character choices, plausibility of plot happenings, how the story ends, etc. I even write fanfiction that flatly contradict the author’s assertion of X because I think Y makes more sense.

    But I fully acknowledge that my preferences are non-canonical and that the author’s views control. To some extent Rowling’s view of Dumbledore is non-canonical because it’s not in the books. But her view should still be given more weight simply because she’s the creator. Why do people pay so much attention to author interviews if they didn’t implicitly believe that what they say matters for that fictional world?

    A book is a representation of an author’s imagination. Every reader will take something different out of it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s the author’s world in the first place.

  40. I’m trying to decide if I should flip-flop on the issue of readers owning the characters, thereby freeing me up to reveal that James Bond is, in fact, a closeted gay man who is merely overcompensating by sleeping with all those women, or if I should take up CaseyL’s challenge, declare my Dumbledore THE ONE TRUE DUMBLEDORE and declare Jihad on all your asses.

    I’ll get back to you when I decide.

  41. Well. There is no reifiable, external Dumbledore. Dumbledore’s not really anything on account of not existing.

    That said, yeah, I have no problem with the exercise of authorial intent.

  42. An Eric:

    “But once you choose to publish it–whether or not you retain your copyrights–you create an interaction with your reader. The story and characters ‘exist’ in some middle place between you and your audience.”

    Even if we accept this as true, the barycenter of this relationship is far closer to the writer than to the reader. The fact of the matter is that the person who gets to dictate what “actually happens” to the characters and the universe is the writer; it’s not a shared responsibility. It’s why if I write or say something about John Perry, it “actually happens” to John Perry, whereas if someone else writes or says something about John Perry, it’s fan fiction or speculation.

    Airy statements of creating a mutual universe are fine, and Lord knows I personally leave a lot of stuff undetermined because I like having people speculate about what my universes are really like. But at the end of the day, things that happen in my universe are the way they are because I decide they are. Likewise with Rowling; she says Dumbledore is gay, and there’s nothing in the text that actively contradicts this, so you know what? He’s gay. Deal.

    Gerrymander:

    “When an artwork fails to bring an intended aspect to light for the audience, the fault lies with artist. Rowling owns the copyrights to the character, but she doesn’t own rights to the audience’s thoughts.”

    To begin, there’s no evidence that the work “failed” to do anything; it’s entirely possible that Rowling never had the intent to explicitly introduce the subject of Dumbledore’s sexuality. This is like saying the Mona Lisa “fails” because you don’t know what she’s smiling at. Nevertheless, Da Vinci had reason to put a smile on her lips; Rowling had reason to imagine Dumbledore as gay.

    As for the issue of her not having the rights to the readers thoughts, I don’t disagree; on the other hand it doesn’t change the fact that Rowling made the character gay. If people who know this choose not to acknowledge it, this is fine, but they also have to admit they’ve just created their own private Potterverse that features a not insignificant break with that of its creator, and that their private Potterverse is factually incorrect, relative to the frame of reference of the generally accepted Potterverse.

  43. The discussion seems to be opening unforeseen gaps between what we know is “real” and what we believe is “unreal” — and in the realm of fiction, no less. To take it off on a tangent, I recently heard (via a tv documentary) that one of my favorite old actors, Jimmy Stewart, allegedly didn’t like black people and made a fuss about a movie scene in which a black character gave orders to a white one. Does that mean that George Bailey, the character he played in It’s a Wonderful Life, was a racist? And if I want to see George Bailey as a racist, even though he doesn’t do anything racially contentious in the movie, is it my right as a viewer to do so?

  44. Matt Hughes:

    Well, I’m not sure that actors and writers are equivalent; actors are rarely the creators of their characters. Michael Gambon (who currently plays Dumbledore) is by all accounts straight, as was Richard Harris (who played him first). Doesn’t change the fact that the character they play is not.

  45. What’s interesting to me here in Rowling acknowledging that Dumbledore was gay was that she’s (perhaps unintentionally) commenting on closeting, and how it still goes on, even in fantasy worlds.

    Out of all the senior teachers, non really had sex lives or children, but Snape was known to have been in love with a woman. Other characters were married, or fall in love during the books, and most of them go off and get married.

    There are no out gay characters in Rowling’s books. The one character who she says was gay never really had a public relationship. All other same sex couples either don’t exist, or are presumably closeted.

    So, in telling us that Dumbledore was gay, and providing an explanation in which she overrode a scriptwriter in one of the movies because of it, Rowling indicates that closeting was part of her universe, and part of her writing – she kept Dumbledore in the closet. Why? because a gay character would have hurt sales? Because he as a character would have been closeted? Both reasons?

    That’s the interesting question to me. Not that he was gay, but why she kept it hidden. There are presumably other gay wizards, none of which make it into the books.

    Now think about this – how many kids, from the start of Harry’s age to the end, can go through life without one mention of gay people? Think about it. If this was a realistic portrayal of a society, you’d think somewhere in there, a queer person would show up. But no, they don’t. The author not putting them in is in it’s own way making them noticeable, but only to folks like me, who have to think about the issues.

    It’s like race. People who don’t have to think about race don’t notice that it’s missing in some fiction. But Rowling did address race. She could have left it out much in the way she left out gay people.

  46. Scalzi,

    You seem to assume that Rowling knew about Dumbledore’s sexuality as part of a backstory that she had in her head while writing the books.

    However, do we know that this is the case? I see your point about public vs private lives for characters and that authors may know things about their characters that the rest of us don’t. If, for example, JKR decided early on that Dumbledore was gay and let that inform her writing, then fine. But if she finished all of the novels, then decided this it seems less like a backstory and more like a trick.

    Creating a backstory that you use to shape your fiction as it’s being written seems like a good idea and details about characters that exist in the backstory but not the fiction can be characterized as the ‘private life’ of your characters. I’d imagine that most authors do this at some level, detailed or not. However, making up a backstory after 7 novels have been published is unconvincing, if even if one is the author. I can’t see the author’s right to control their fiction extending to ad hoc revision of one’s works after they’ve been published.

    Of course, how we can know the difference is a practical issue – dated notebooks, discussions with others, etc are all obvious methods. See Tolkien (to keep it in the genre) for example.

    This isn’t a resolvable debate unless JKR has documentation that she started of thinking of Dumbledore as gay during the writing of the series. She can claim she did (and I can’t see any reason to disbelieve her), but there will always be people who claim she made this up after the fact.

  47. I see a certain irony on this topic on two levels:

    1. People insisting that what they read (i.e., experience) is the final determination of what is. These people are shocked–shocked, I tell you–when their next door neighbor is arrested for being a serial killer.

    2. Author Q&A sessions exist for one reason: TO FIND OUT MORE THAN THE AUTHOR PUT IN THE BOOK.

    um..sorry for the caps. I couldn’t help it.

  48. Rick Gregory:

    Well, as noted a number of times previously in the thread, there is at least on instance of Rowling communicating to others working on the Potter movies that Dumbledore was gay, and doing so before his public outing of a week ago. If she did not know he was gay from the very moment she created him, she appears to have known for a while.

    And again, inasmuch as there’s apparently nothing textually that contradicts this statement, and apparently some stuff that would thematically support the statement, it’s not unreasonable to assume that she wasn’t just pulling the statement out of her ass at the spur of the moment.

    This is particularly the case if one goes back and reads the actual response she gave to the question that prompted the statement — it lays out in a rather systematic fashion how Dumbledore had found himself blinded by love for that Girm-whateverhisnameis dude, which led to tragedy and so forth. Now, maybe Rowling is fairly fast on her feet and able to extemporize reasonable fabulations about characters at the drop of the hat that are also internally consistent with her world, but the rather simpler explanation is that she’s known for some time and this was just the first time she spoke about it in a public forum.

  49. Rick Gregory said: “This isn’t a resolvable debate unless JKR has documentation that she started of thinking of Dumbledore as gay during the writing of the series…”

    On some prime-time magazine show a couple years ago, I learned that Rowling had filled banker’s boxes full of notes for the series for five years before Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone was published. I believe it’s a good bet she had this one covered. Maybe we’ll learn for sure some day. It’s up to her.

    Also: “I can’t see the author’s right to control their fiction extending to ad hoc revision of one’s works after they’ve been published.”

    One word: midichlorians.

  50. I would agree with rick gregory that what an author makes up after the fact rather than during the development process about a character should carry little weight. But I have no reason to believe that Rowling just wrote up one day a few weeks ago and decided that it would be cool to make Dumbledore gay.

    If Scalzi one day says that he always imagined John Perry being lefthanded (assuming nothing in the books contradicts that and is silent on that point), I would give him the benefit of the doubt that he thought of that early on but didn’t feel like putting it in his books. To say that it was a ‘trick’ to stir up the news not only insults the author but the author’s respect for her own work.

  51. Nathan said:

    (On the other, other hand, I find it difficult to read while holding my hands over my ears, chanting “Nah, Nah, Nah, I can’t hear you.”) But that’s just me.

    Really? Sometimes that the only way I can drown out people asking me to stop reading and do something for them. ;)

    As far as Dumbledore’s sexuality.
    1) Unless they were married or have children, we don’t know the sexuality of any of the adults in the Potter books. So they ALL could be gay (except Snape, who was in love with Lily). So we could just as easily be complaining that we KNEW McGonnogal was gay, and HOW could JK Rowling after the fact say she was straight. Except, of course, we all know that won’t happen.

    2) The fact Dumbledore was gay has nothing to do with his being a teacher. Homosexuality is unrelated to pedophilia. (And in fact I believe that pedophoiles tend to be married men.)

    3) A reader can believe what they want about a character, but their belief doesn’t override the character as they were created by the author. They don’t have to like it, but they can’t change the facts.

    SPOILER:

    For instance, if Snape had turned out to be evil I would have been VERY mad at JK Rowling. But it was her right to make him the way she did, and if I didn’t agree, too bad for me. I could complain all I wanted, but that wouldn’t change the fact that his nature was as JK Rowling had described it.

    END SPOLIER

    Does it matter that this fact didn’t come out earlier? No. But I’m glad it didn’t, because I don’t think the sexuality of the adult characters was something the children who read the series need to consider. Adults are adults to kids, and (in case you’ve forgotten) for the most part kids don’t want to think about the sex lives of their adults in their lives. i.e how often did you speculate about the sexuality of your middle school teachers? It didn’t belong in the story and she was right to keep it out, but she was also right to answer truthfully in response to a direction question about any character’s backstory.

  52. If the audience up to this point thought “Dumbledore is straight” despite her intent… well, that’s an impression she had years to correct prior to the revelatory interview.

    The question I have to points like this one is “WHY did the audience think he was straight up to this point?” JKR didn’t explicitly state in writing that Dumbledore was gay, but she also didn’t explicitly state that he was straight. The fact that EVERYONE IN THE EARTHIVERSE thought of him as straight isn’t her fault, right?

    Also, the forum in which she expounded on this point seems relevant to the conversation. She was asked if Dumbledore had ever found true love, or something to that effect. If she’d replied “No,” or “Yes but the witch left him for his brother and was later killed,” would anyone be in an uproar right now because they had assumed he had a “thing” for McGonagal? Would anyone be questioning her and asking for dated notes to prove without a doubt that she had intended this from the onset of her writing? I just don’t see the big deal…

  53. Also, I second Random Michelle K:

    Homosexuality is unrelated to pedophilia.

    I get irritated at the comments about how that made his mentoring Harry “creepier.”

  54. As a reader, I’m not the passive recepient of the author’s direct or indirect intentions — I interpret the text. If the text does not support what Rowling claims, then I can disagree with it. She can say whatever she wants, but the pages are where the evidence exists or does not exist.

  55. cut a swath through witches and mugglettes alike, leaving a trail of women raving about his wandwork

    Pretty fancy word wielding.

    I agree with you. But as Vonnegut showed in Breakfast of Champions, it’s not what the author knows about the character, it’s what the character knows (or doesn’t know) about the author that is critical.

    “Our awareness is all that is alive and maybe sacred in any of us. Everything else about us is dead machinery.”

    Now that’s Truth

  56. Vincent:

    “If Scalzi one day says that he always imagined John Perry being lefthanded (assuming nothing in the books contradicts that and is silent on that point), I would give him the benefit of the doubt that he thought of that early on but didn’t feel like putting it in his books. To say that it was a ‘trick’ to stir up the news not only insults the author but the author’s respect for her own work.”

    Heh. Well, you should see the next entry.

    Also, I never really thought about Perry’s handedness until just the moment. I’d have to say I suspect he’s right-handed. But honestly. I just don’t know.

  57. What confuses me about those who claim “Rowling wrote it, we now own it” is whether they felt that way after book one? Book two? If the fans were in control back then, Harry/Draco would be canon by now.

    And if after Books one and two, Rowling was still in control, why not now?

    JK Rowling is alive. And relatively young. She may have no interest in writing a book eight now…but look how long Asimov went between writing Book Three of the Foundation Trilogy and Book Four. And she has for a couple years been threatening an “Encyclopedia”. If she put it in the “Encyclopedia” would that count?

    And what about all the notes JRR Tolkein wrote for his universe? Are they canon? He didn’t publish them — his son did. Just because he didn’t put the backstory in his novels, does that mean they didn’t happen in his universe? He wrote them down, in notes. If JK Rowling produces notes where she wrote this down, will that make the naysayers happy?

    Because if the argument that Rowling didn’t publish it, it’s not necessarily true actually holds water….***nothing*** that was published of Tolkein’s universe after Tolkein died is canon.

    What if Rowling has written — several years ago — a short story with Dumbledore’s sexuality in it — and it remains unpublished because she hasn’t sent it anywhere. Is it real then? If so…what’s the difference between putting it in a story, and writing it down in notes, or saying it at Carnegie Hall?

  58. Heh, I should have picked up on this earlier but this is apparently an argument between pure textualism and looking beyond the text to bring in legislative, uh, I mean, authorial intent.

    And I agree with kevboy. Where in the text does it say that Dumbledore is straight? From a purely textual standpoint, he’s asexual. He could even be a virgin for all I know.

    I suppose some readers want to make that choice for themselves. I can sympathize with that sentiment, but to act like the author’s view is just an opinion like that of any fanfic writer is just plain weird to me.

    Quite frankly, I don’t even see why it makes a difference which may be why I’m happy to go along with whatever JKR says. When I read about Dumbledore I read about a kind man trying to make hard choices and do the best he can. Who’s he boinking doesn’t even enter my mind.

  59. Unless they were married or have children, we don’t know the sexuality of any of the adults in the Potter books. So they ALL could be gay (except Snape, who was in love with Lily).

    1) Snape could easily be bi, and we really don’t know that his interest in Lily was of a sexual nature.

    2) Marriage and children don’t prove someone is hetero. Men, just as women, can ‘fake’ it, and get married and have children as a ‘cover’ or because they think they ‘should’.

    So we don’t know at all, unless we are told explicitly.

  60. “I get irritated at the comments about how that made his mentoring Harry “creepier.””

    Oh come on, old teachers hankerin’ after under age students is creepy whether it’s heterosexual or homosexual.

    Unless, of course, you’re saying that a sexual relationship between a 60 year old man and a 14 year old boy would not be creepy.

  61. I don’t particularly care whether Dumbledore is gay or not: I think I said that the last time this subject came up. If you’d asked me, I would have said, “I don’t know, why?” And I do think Dumbledore’s relationship with Grindelwald would have been more interesting without a romantic interest–probably because one of the things I bring to the table is a passing interest in the intellectual movements of the 20th century, and the ways in which some radical leftists evolved from the 1930s into the architects of Korea and Vietnam in the 50s and 60s. But if he’s gay, whatever. I’d be more impressed if it had been in the text, but whatever.

    What I’m more interested in is this notion that authors control their work–and I mean “authors” in the broadest sense of “creator.”

    It’s easy to see why a writer feels like he has a special claim to a piece of work. What’s less easy to see is why anyone else would buy into that claim, or why it would be an enjoyable experience to read if the writer’s claim was true. I’m not a professional writer: I am someone who tries to write regularly and thinks about what he writes, and I feel I have to accept that publication (sharing with friends, posting online, whatever) means relinquishing control of my work at some basic level.

    If I were a professional writer, and able to license my work to movie producers or whatnot, this relinquishing of control would take on a new dimension. Stephen King said years ago, when asked how he felt about movie adaptations, that licensing his work was like a painter selling a painting: if the buyer wants to hang it in the bathroom over his toilet, well, he paid for it. I think it’s the right attitude.

    I think, too, that John’s views assume a very priviliged role for a writer that few “derivative” artists would agree with. The actor does not merely recite what is on the page: he creates a character in collaboration with the writer and director, bringing his own experience to the role. If Richard Harris’ Dumbledore is straight (I have no idea, I can barely watch those movies), then Dumbledore is straight in that movie, no matter what Rowling feels about it, just as James Bond is a Scot in the movie Dr. No regardless of how upset Ian Fleming was when that casting decision was made.

    (It is possible, in the collaborative world of a movie, for participants to differ on this kind of thing: Harrison Ford played Rick Deckard as a human, Ridley Scott wrote and shot Deckard as an android, and audiences–the third leg of that tripod–have argued about it ever since.)

    The autocratic writer is a masturbator. It’s only art when there’s an audience. My own humble opinion is that a creator should be happy when the audience sees or hears something he didn’t think was there.

    Oh, and canon is for wikipedians. But hey, my opinion and $3.50 will get you a short latte at Starbucks… or have those gone up in price since I was last in one?

  62. Unless, of course, you’re saying that a sexual relationship between a 60 year old man and a 14 year old boy would not be creepy.

    You’re right, that would be creepy. However, JKR never explicitly stated that they had a sexual relationship, or that Dumbledore even had the physical ability to consummate such a relationship, and therefore I know it to be absolutely true that nothing to that effect ever happened, or could have happened. Even if she was to say it now, I’d know it was just to boost sales. To perverts.

    Seriously, though, all I’m saying is that in my mind, it was an interesting relationship between an old man who saw the situation in a particularly clear light, and a young man who was totally at the heart of the situation even though he didn’t understand most of it. I just get annoyed when people throw out the idea that because one was old and single and the other was young that it is somehow creepy. Guess what? I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with my grandpa when I was young, and it was creepy at all. Harry didn’t have grandparents (WTF is up with that, BTW? Is that discussed in the books? Their fate seems a whole lot more interesting than D’s orientation, but I digress…) and JKR created a sort of grandfather-grandson dynamic in there.

    I know that’s my view – I’m sure there are others who view the relationship as creepy, and that’s fine. My only point is that I get irritated when people refer to it being somehow creepier know that they know he’s gay, because I think it infers something about homosexuality that isn’t true. Again, just my view.

  63. It’s easy to see why a writer feels like he has a special claim to a piece of work. What’s less easy to see is why anyone else would buy into that claim, or why it would be an enjoyable experience to read if the writer’s claim was true.

    … This makes no sense to me. In fact, a lot of the ideas that the author loses control of their stories once they’re released into the wild makes no sense to me. And I say this as a fanfiction writer who writes whole heaps of stories that would never happen in the canon of the series I’m writing for.

    I can well understand it when people don’t like parts of canon and choose to ignore them, but that’s a deliberate choice. They’re choosing to not acknowledge or use a part of what is out there. (Heck, I’ve done the “it’s not in the books/movie/TV show/kumquat, it doesn’t matter”, but I acknowledge that what I’m doing is picking and choosing my canon.)

    There’s also a difference between reading in something the author doesn’t consciously think is there but is still actually present in the story and saying that the author is completely wrong for noting something about a character that does not contradict the books.

  64. Skar:

    “Unless, of course, you’re saying that a sexual relationship between a 60 year old man and a 14 year old boy would not be creepy.”

    Pretty sure there’s no indication either from the text or from Rowling that Dumbledore had a mind to boink any of the students.

    An Eric:

    “I think, too, that John’s views assume a very priviliged role for a writer that few ‘derivative’ artists would agree with.”

    Of course they wouldn’t, the whiners.

    More seriously: Look, someone’s going to have to drive the bus. As it happens, in Hollywood (and in moviemaking in general) it’s generally not the writer who has the final word; it’s the director or producer and sometimes the actor, if he’s an A-lister. Stephen King’s ability to let go of his work is nice, because he’s of sufficiently high caliber to be able to dictate terms; most writers aren’t. If I decided to option my work to movies, it’s almost certain I’d have no say what happens to the characters; they wouldn’t let me have it. That said, I can simply say “no” and not option out the work at all. What this means is that, in fact, I do have the right to control my work. There will be no Old Man’s War movie or Android’s Dream movie unless I say yes. This seems simple enough.

    Now, as it happens, with the Potter movies, I do believe Rowling has an extraordinary amount of approval right — which is why, in fact, she was able to direct the screenwriter to take out the snippet about Dumbledore having a girl crush. Make no mistake that Rowling’s Dumbledore is the Dumbledore you see in the movies. So Dumbledore is consistently gay across all media.

    “My own humble opinion is that a creator should be happy when the audience sees or hears something he didn’t think was there.”

    So if someone sees Old Man’s War as a parable for, say, pedophilia, I should be glad? Hmmm, yeah, don’t think so.

  65. Oh come on, old teachers hankerin’ after under age students is creepy whether it’s heterosexual or homosexual.

    That’s exactly the point. No one was creeped out about Dumbledore’s mentoring of Hermione before the announcement — or of McGonagall’s mentoring of Harry.

    But there is this bigoted (and wrong) assumption that homosexual men have a ‘natural’ attraction towards young boys so the second that Dumbledore is declared gay, some find his mentorship of Harry ‘creepy’. Why? What is sexual about mentorship? Nothing. Nothing at all. So why assume a creepiness that doesn’t exist?

  66. Oh, come on, Chuk. Been dead for more than a book. The spoiler statute of limitations has well and truly run out.

  67. Just occurred to me.

    Everything in The Sermon on the Mount. Not canon.
    Jesus spoke it. He didn’t write it down.
    So everyone is free to ignore it.
    Come to think of it…did Jesus write anything down?
    The entire NT is hearsay.

  68. As for myself, I find this almost as amusing as the internet hoopla over Harry not winding up with Hermione, the fans screaming “You’re doing it wrong! You’re just the author! What do you know!?!” is priceless.

  69. First off, neither Hermione and Dumbledore nor Harry and McGonagall had anywhere near the depth of relationship that Harry and Dumbledore had, so that’s apples and oranges.

    But I see your point. If you assume there are no sexual intentions on the part of the mentor, no creepy. I happen to be in this camp.

    However, if Dumbledore kept arranging for he and *Hermione* to be alone and giving her special little visits, treats and privilege, it could also have been seen, probably by the same people, as a little creepy too.

    My point is that an old fart paying special mind to a young kid of the gender to which he is sexually attracted could be seen as creepy, whether we’re talking same gender attraction or not. There need be no homophobia or anti-homosexual sentiment for creep to be seen.

    Or, of course those who see creepiness could simply have their minds in the gutter.

  70. I agree with pretty much the first five posts.

    I like all your analysis and logic, John, but I just have to say, “Dumbledore’s gay: He was written that way,” doesn’t fly with me – because I’ve read the books, and I never went ‘oh, he’s gay, that’s why he acts like X’.

    Now that I think about it, it doesn’t make sense; as one of the recent digg stories went, you can explain his sexuality equal as being asexual, as having an intense heterosexual relationship when he was younger that ended terribly, or him being gay. On the whole, there’s no proof that he is more gay than he isn’t – and at that point, I see Rowling’s comment as revisionist.

    At the same time, however, I don’t think that makes Dumbledore NOT gay, if that makes sense – characters are as their authors intend them to be, as you, Rowling, Gaiman, and all the other authors obviously know. I can find it certainly conceivable that Dumbledore was written as gay – it’s just that nothing I read made that the only possibility. As a book, I believe it’s more effective if people can connect to it as much as possible, which to me translates to imagining as much of the backstory that is not explicitly stated as they want. Some readers might prefer it if Dumbledore was just one of those asexuals, and Rowling’s statement, given no evidence to support or deny her statement, does nothing for the book itself, I think.

  71. Also, just a random thought about John’s comment “I haven’t read the books themselves because the little I’ve read of Rowling’s prose style doesn’t set me aflame; I stick to the movies.”

    While I can’t argue that her style might be hard to swallow, having read all of the books and watched 4 of the movies, they really aren’t the same experience. In fact, I thought the movies made the story seem plain stupid because in the interest of time (and scenes with CGI) they often seemed to go from point A to D and skipped points B and C entirely. I listened to book 4 on tape right before watching the movie and I almost couldn’t sit through it.

  72. Sundry replies to various people:

    1) You mean Old Man’s War isn’t about pedophilia?

    No, but seriously: I think you understand what I meant and decided to be a little silly about it. But if not, I suppose it proves my point that if I intend something and it’s not in the text I produce, then I’ve relinquished some control of the interpretation to the reader.

    2) John (Scalzi–there are several Johns posting now): you’re confusing your limited right to legally control derivative works with a general or absolute right. If someone wants to make a movie from your books after your copyright expires, you’ll have no say in it whatsoever.

    You might be thinking, “Of course not, I’ll be dead.” Yes, copyrights have been greatly extended–but it wasn’t always the case that an author had to be dead before his work entered public domain.

    I have no idea whether Bram Stoker, Arthur Conan Doyle, William Shakespeare, or H.P. Lovecraft would be happy with derivatives of their work, but it doesn’t really matter if they would. Those subsequent interpretations (literary, musical, cinematic, staged) have lives of their own and create worlds of their own.

    Write a story about Harry Potter meeting Dwight Eisenhower, and it’s fanfic. Write a story about Sherlock Holmes meeting Sigmund Freud, and it might be a bestseller.

    3) Even a b-list actor has his part of the craft on screen or stage. Yes, a director (or, in some cases, a producer) might see evidence of the actor’s process that he dislikes and tries to change (“less angry,” “more thoughtful,” “not that upset”), but the point I was making is that the actor creates a character on stage or screen. It’s a collaborative process between the actor, the writer, the director, and the audience, but the writer is only one cog.

    (A good f’r’instance: in the bonus features for The Usual Suspects, Kevin Pollak makes the excellent point that part of the brilliance of Kevin Spacey’s performance is the way in which the audience projects itself onto what an actor does. The first time you watch the movie, Spacey is nervous and shifty. The second time, he’s conniving and observant. The physicality of his performance doesn’t change–what changes is what the audience brings to bear.)

    4) Yes, the New Testament is hearsay. That would be why some of us don’t take it quite as seriously as others seem to, at least as a historic report. (It does contain some nice advice on how to live a decent life with other people.)

    5) A good example of the limits of canon can be found over in George Lucas’ sandbox. The Star Wars fans have at least three kinds of canon that seem to depend on whether Lucas directly supervised it, whether someone else wrote it, and whether Lucas was later embarrassed by it or changed his mind.

    The point being that “canon” is a flexible, bendy kind of thing.

    Is it useless or immaterial? No: for the purposes of criticism or friendly conversation, canon can be a consensual reality between various participants. Consensual realities foster communication, and are good. But they’re not set in hard materials, like the parking lot behind my building.

    Sorry I’m so long-winded about all this.

  73. You know, JKR also never explicitly mentions showers or baths, except for some students in Goblet of Fire taking a bath. She does mention a private toilet in Dumbledoor’s apartment, but not a bath or shower nor his prediliction for either, nor if he was a morning or evening washer. And except for his hands (I think) she never says he washed (I haven’t read 7, yet, so it might be there). I bet that old man stunk to high heaven because it was never in the text.

  74. An Eric:

    “John (Scalzi–there are several Johns posting now): you’re confusing your limited right to legally control derivative works with a general or absolute right.”

    More accurately, you’re making this assumption, which is wildly incorrect. I know very well what my rights are under copyright and when they expire; I find attempts to explain these things to me amusing, to say the least. As a practical matter, however, nobody is going to be able to do anything with any of my work until and unless I give a say so, or until my heirs do, for at least a generation after my death. So for the purposes of the discussion we’re having, we should stick to the realities of the current situation.

    As it happens, I have no real problem with my work slipping into the public domain after a time; my major beef with copyright at the moment is I think it takes too long before work gets into the public domain. That said, again, as a practical matter, I and my assigns have quite a lot of control over the work and will for some time.

    With that legal control also comes creative control; your point about Lucas and what is canon in the Star War universe misses the point that Lucas indulges fan involvement with his canon; he has both the means and the legal right to be rather more stringent with it if he so chose. He’s be stupid to, which he knows, but that’s neither here nor there. And at the end of the day, what is canon is what Lucas (and more generally LucasFilm) says it is. He and they have final say.

    As for actors, I think you’re overstating their ability to transform the text. It doesn’t matter how any actor performs Henry V; he’s still King of England. Peter Jackson could have gotten his original pick for Gandalf (Sean Connery), and the character would have to say the same lines. He could have been better or worse than Ian McKellen (I suspect worse), but the outlines of who the character was, defined by the writing, is the same.

    By this same token, Dumbledore has been played in the movies by two actors; part of the reason no one has noticed much is because the character is substantially the same from film to film, because is defined by the writing, not the actor playing the part.

    I am not saying that actors, directors, producers, set designers, etc are not contributors to an overall work when it comes to cinema, and as you recall I note in that medium writers are usually not the drivers. That said, again, in this particular case, Rowling’s vision is indeed the prevailing one, and I suspect that any actor who tried to buck her vision of what her characters should be would find themselves out of a gig pretty quickly.

  75. *The* John wrote:

    >>And what about all the notes JRR Tolkein wrote for his universe? Are they canon? He didn’t publish them — his son did.

    It’s an argument for readers to make. “Aragorn is really a leprechaun” “But that’s not in LOTR” “But oh it’s in this notebook published later” “But it’s still not in LOTR.” Readers get to decide for themselves. There is no official Canon Court, where judgments are handed down and must be abided by.

    >>What if Rowling has written — several years ago — a short story with Dumbledore’s sexuality in it — and it remains unpublished because she hasn’t sent it anywhere. Is it real then?<<

    If it’s not published, then readers can’t interpret it. If readers can’t interpret it, it’s a moot point. Once she publishes it, readers can change their interpretations (or not: nothing she does can change the original published text.)

    She can stand on top of the Empire State Building and yell out that Harry is a transvestite, that Hermione likes bdsm, that Hogwarts has walls made of cotton candy, but unless it’s in the text, it’s nothing a reader can interact with.

  76. Michelle, and then John said:

    Unless they were married or have children, we don’t know the sexuality of any of the adults in the Potter books. So they ALL could be gay (except Snape, who was in love with Lily).

    1) Snape could easily be bi, and we really don’t know that his interest in Lily was of a sexual nature.

    No. Snape’s love for Lily was so pure and deep that he had no room in his heart to ever love again, so since his only love was Lily, and losing the love of his life he vowed to remain a virgin, he’s obviously straight, since his only love was Lily.

    I realize that taking what I said to its limits, what you said is true, but since this was (at least initially) a children’s story, I figured the relationships would be straightforward at least in the manner of sexuality, and that being a fantasy world, we didn’t have any Larry Craigs sneaking around the public restrooms.

  77. Not an HP fan, but …

    Skar @ 73 says: “However, if Dumbledore kept arranging for he and *Hermione* to be alone and giving her special little visits, treats and privilege, it could also have been seen, probably by the same people, as a little creepy too.”

    Given that Harry is an orphan, it’s hardly surprising and entirely appropriate that Dumbledore takes on a somewhat parental role. It’s not relevant whether or not he’s a left-handed, gay replicant who’s allegeric to blueberries.

    —–sharks

  78. re: the “creepiness” of Dumbledore and Harry, there’s a little gay-baiting in the books by the wizarding gutter press– Rita Skeeter refers to them as having an “unnatural relationship.”

  79. Well, John, if I was making that assumption, it’s because you weren’t clear with what you wrote, much as I apparently wasn’t clear in an earlier comment. You didn’t say, “No one will be making a movie while I’m alive and control my copyrights.” Instead, you made a rather absolute statement: “What this means is that, in fact, I do have the right to control my work. There will be no Old Man’s War movie or Android’s Dream movie unless I say yes.”

    That simply isn’t true. Your rights under copyright are limited rights, and they’re supposed to be. That we currently live under a regime where Disney’s lobbyists have distorted copyright law to the point that it’s an indefinite right is possibly a historic aberration–at the very least, it’s a relatively recent development. Do I even need to add that your rights are also limited by fair use doctrine should anyone want to do a critique or satire of your work?

    You also missed my point about canon: the point was that canon changes, and is arguably of limited utility. The utility of canon is that it allows fans to communicate re: a common experience or world. But there’s nothing to keep Lucas from re-releasing his original movies and declaring that Han actually did shoot first or Rowling from declaring that she changed her mind, Dumbledore was straight, or bi, or a furry on Wednesdays.

    But while canon may enhance the post-reading social experience of talking to your friends about a book (or blogging about it), it isn’t the final word in the more-solitary experience of a reader interacting with the writer’s words.

    As for actors, I’m not sure there’s any actor who would agree with you. And there’s a reason we talk about “Olivier’s Hamlet” or “Branagh’s Hamlet,” to name but two: either one may be Prince Of Denmark, but each brings different nuance and focus to the role. Interpreting those lines of dialogue you focus on so much is like interpreting a song–the notes and words may remain the same, but performances are distinct and varied.

    I can’t say much about the Dumbledores in the Potter movies: I’ve never seen one the whole way through. But–and maybe it’s the residual drama geek from high school twenty years ago writing this–I’d be utterly shocked if there’s not a noticeable difference. As to whether your claim about what people in general perceive, I don’t know if it even matters if it’s true. People apparently fail to perceive a lot of things, sometimes because they just don’t know any better.

    @Neil W: I’m glad someone caught the Nicholas Meyer reference. I thought about dropping a reference to Chabon’s The Final Solution instead, but couldn’t think of a good one.

  80. It amazes me how many people here think they “know better” than an author does about their characters. Absolutely amazing!

    Now, if she said Dumbledore was Jewish, and everybody screamed about it and insisted he wasn’t, that would be obvious prejudice and would be denounced as such. But when she says he is gay, assumedly intellegent people insist that he can’t be. Still prejudice. She said he’s gay, he is gay, live with it.

  81. An Eric:

    “Instead, you made a rather absolute statement: ‘What this means is that, in fact, I do have the right to control my work. There will be no Old Man’s War movie or Android’s Dream movie unless I say yes.’ That simply isn’t true.”

    Eh. It’s true enough. Barring a revision in current copyright lengths (good luck with that) the earliest the work will be in the public domain will be 2077, and rather more likely, given the average male lifespan in the US, not until well into the 22nd century. By which time there’ll be plenty of other things to make movies out of. Also, putting on my 15-years-as-a-film-critic hat, I can tell you pretty definitively that, excepting the perennial hits of folks like Dumas, Wells and Wollenstonecraft (and, er, Shakespeare), the public domain is not a huge source of material for the film industry. Film producers want works audiences recognize (which skews options toward current authors and bestsellers), and they want to lock up rights; the vast majority of public domain material is obscure and the rights are not securable (i.e., anyone could bang out an audience-stealing cheapie in half the time).

    Basically, if my work makes it into the public domain without someone already having made a movie out of it (i.e., getting my or my heirs’ say-so), the likelihood of it ever being made into a movie — or whatever the then-current iteration of movies is — pretty much approaches zero. It could be done; it’s not at all likely.

    So, really, I’m pretty comfortable saying that there will be no Old Man’s War or Android’s Dream movie unless I say yes. In any event, by the time I’d be proven wrong by this, both you and I will be long dead, and it won’t matter to us anyway.

    “You also missed my point about canon”

    No, I got it; I just think you’re wrong. Canon in fact doesn’t change except to the extent that the authors allow it to. Again, at the end of the day, canon is ultimately determined by the author (or rights holder, in any event). Now, certainly an individual reader can choose to disregard what the author has chosen to be the reality of that particular universe; they just do so by breaking from the common experience of that universe that others share. Mazol tov to them. But ultimately canon matters because I suspect readers by and large want the creators of the universe to further define the space.

    “As for actors, I’m not sure there’s any actor who would agree with you.”

    Well, and speaking as someone who has done more than his fair share of acting over the years, am I supposed to surprised by this? They’re all egomaniacs by definition (as opposed to authors, who are of course entirely ego-less and humble). But without taking away from the considerable talents they bring to the work, they’d be wrong. The only reason we speak of “Oliver’s Hamlet” or “Branagh’s Hamlet” is because everyone already knows that Hamlet is Shakespeare’s creation. We watch and enjoy the actor’s variations precisely because they’re changes off the theme provided them by the author.

    Nothing you’ve said about what actors bring to the table contradicts anything I’ve said about the fact it’s the author who lays the foundation of the work. The actor’s job is to be brilliant within the boundaries the author sets — to fully explore the space the author provides. If the actor goes too far from what the author establishes, the role breaks, the performance fails, and the works as a whole goes in the crapper. An actor is not there to transform a text, he’s there to realize it to its fullest.

  82. I think the writer of the article took an interesting position and one which I have to disagree with. I think for the reader, what makes it onto the page DOES define the character. If the backstory doesn’t influence the character enough to even nuance his behavior and thoughts in SOME way, then it may as well as not even have existed. Sure, JK may have had some idea that she wanted Dumbledoor to be gay and created that as part of his back story, however, if the chara as written has no shadings at all that are reflective of that backstory than it doesn’t matter at all. In fact, I would say that reflects in a bad way on the skills of the writer.She obviously lacked the craft skills necessary to handle such subtleties.

  83. Ok, here’s why I disagree with Scalzi that there’s some extra-textual reality connected to any piece of fiction that comprises “true” information that is not derived from within the text itself:

    Consider the all too plausible scenario:

    On her deathbed, Rowling dictates book eight to some young no-name author, it is published posthumously and is a bestseller but reviled for any number of reasons, but does explicitly outs Dumbledore as gay in the text.

    A year or two later, Rowling’s heirs publish a book compiled from notes Rowling wrote during the Potter series, it is a prequel and gives extensive back-story on a number of characters, including Dumbledore, who is portrayed as having a romantic relationship with someone of the opposite gender.

    Later on, Rowlingcorp (TM) the largest publishing conglomerate on earth and owner of the Potterverse (TM) issues a press release that officially removes both books from the “cannon” and officially makes Dumbledore an elderly gent of no specific sexuality.

    Does any of these events change a thing in the first seven books?
    Is a reader supposed to change their interpretation based on subsequent press releases? Either the guy is gay in the text, or he isn’t, he doesn’t become gay, or stop being gay, because of things that happen after the book is finished.

    I haven’t read up to the last book, but based on what others have said, I’ll probably accept that Dumbledore is gay. But this is because there seems some consensus that there are clues (albeit subtle ones) in the text, not because Rowling said so in a press conference.

  84. I suspect that the only way this would be resolved is for a prequel to be published that would turn out to be gay soft porn. Since that hardly fits into the Harry Potter pantheon, it’s not going to happen.

    Edward Rothstein is likely suffering from having identified strongly with Dumbledore, only to find out that he was identifying with someone whose sexuality differed from his own. This goes to the core question of: Who Out There Is Like Me?

    I have this discussion with people frequently, because it informs their biases. People tend to be attracted to, or repulsed by, people like them. So what makes someone else like or not-like you? For instance, a young man will tell me that a young girl is not like him. I ask, why not? Well, she’s a girl. Yes, but that’s about they only difference: You’re both the same age, you live in the same town, have the same teacher, read the same books, watch the same TV shows … all that’s different is that you have a Y chromosome and she doesn’t. But that’s enough to be Not-Like.

    I suspect that Rothstein had though that Dumbledore was Like Him. And he is! They just happen to have different sexual preferences. Is that enough to make him different? I don’t think so, but apparently Rothstein does. Rothstein is now trying to reconcile the reality that he could personally identify with someone who is gay, even if just a fictional character. He is getting to the same place as the US Military: As long as he doesn’t do it in front of me, I can pretend he’s not like he is.

    It’s sad, isn’t it. Rothstein should be focusing on the similarities, not the differences.

  85. Eh, the sad thing about this is that everyone seems to assume heterosexuality is the default and that, unless otherwise mentioned, a character is heterosexual.

    Let’s assume that some 10% of the population is homosexual (yes, highly disputed stat, but what the hell)… then, it stands, that unless specified otherwise, any character has a 10% chance of being queer.

    So, one in every ten characters whose sexuality is not specified is queer. Multiply that by the number of characters in Harry Potter and the Dumbledore=gay thing isn’t at all surprising.

  86. What seems most amusing about this discussion to me is that the main thrust of the series as a whole is that becoming an adult means learning more about the world and everyone’s place in it.

    In Book 1, Dumbledore is a charming enigma. A friendly fortune cookie, dispensing wisdom and wrapping things up.

    By Book 4, we realize that Dumbledore isn’t infallible. He apologizes to Harry for keeping him in the dark, for underestimating him and for endangering him by trying too hard to protect him. More importantly, perhaps, we find out that Harry’s father (practically a saint in his Harry’s imagination) was something of a bullying jerk as a kid. Harry is shocked and angered to learn that his father was the cool kid picking on the nerd…something he can relate to, but the shock is that the nerd used to be Snape, not his father.

    Again in Book 5, Dumbledore makes some critical mistakes that nearly get Harry killed…and he and others realize it. The mistakes are well-meaning, but the ensuing shouting match that emerges reflects Harry’s dawning realization that Dumbledore doesn’t know it all and that he’s merely human and prone to mistakes.

    By Book 6, we realize that Dumbledore, while a clever planner, has made a critical mistake…eventually we’ll find out that it was an ultimately fatal one. Moreover, he we learn the history of the boy who becomes Voldemort, and we find the child piteous. Voldemort, as evil as his and as frightening as he is, was once just an orphaned boy crying in the dark.

    Book 7, of course, brings everything home. A large part of the book focuses on how little Harry (and the audience) actually knows about Dumbledore. Harry is stunned to even consider that Dumbledore was once a child like him, once a young man with a family and a future. He realizes that he really doesn’t know all that much about a man he cares so much for (and in some ways feels betrayed by). He realizes that he didn’t really know or understand Snape, either. Each revelation fleshes out Dumbledore as a person, so that by the end of the series, we see a number of characters go from one-dimensional notes to three-dimensional players.

    Dumbledore being gay tracks exceptionally well, I think, over the course of the books. As children, we constantly learn things about our parents and elders that we never understood until we reach adulthood. Why should Dumbledore be any different?

  87. Readers won’t be “owning” the Harry Potter characters until the author J.K. Rowling’s copyright expires…

    … and by that time, those who now so desperately want to “own” them will probably have moved on to other interests.

  88. A.R. Yngve:

    “… and by that time, those who now so desperately want to ‘own’ them will probably have moved on to other interests.”

    Like decomposing, most likely.

  89. I have to say, my impression of those arguing that the reader owns the character is that they are caring readers who wish to feel that they have a “special relationship” with the text, to feel that when they are reading they are creating as fully as the original author.

    Unfortunately, this is incorrect. Every reader has an equal relationship with the text, which means every one of the alternate Dumbledores is equally valid in this sense. However, that relationship is still greatly subordinate to the relationship the writer has to the text. Without the writer, the characters wouldn’t exist at all for the reader to fantasize about. The writer’s creation is lasting and universal, the reader’s, personal and ephemeral. As such, the reader’s fantasy about details of the characters takes a clear second place in creating the “true Dumbledore.”

    (Nathan – I think that would be a Dumble-had instead of a jihad… ^_^)

  90. Fascinating, all. And an excellent post, Scalzi.

    I think what strikes me most is that, while we grown-ups are having it out over extra-textual revelations and whether or not it’s canon and what have you, when Jo actually spoke the words, her audience — most of them children and adolescents — needed only a beat to let the revelation sink in, and then applauded long and loud.

    Maybe we could learn a lesson or two about acceptance, tolerance and grace from our children.

  91. Very interesting conversation.

    As I understand it, Michael Jackson owns the works of the Beatles. Does that mean I need to listen to his interpretation of “I want to hold your hand?”

    What if I wrote an episode of Gilligan’s Island where I, as the author, had the unstated opinion that the driving force of the episode was that Gilligan and the Skipper had finally succombed to their long isolation and shared a hammock for the evening? Clearly I don’t own the “rights” to the story, but I was the author involved in the act of creation and it informed my story writing. Would my take on that particular episode be the Canon.

    For the record, I concur with the notion that the if Rowling says Dumbledore is gay then he is gay.

    But, I wonder what are the limits of this line of reasoning and why I am willing to accept it in the case of Rowling stating this after the fact, but not in my examples above. Or, why am I willing to accept it in the case of Rowling’s after the fact statement but not in Lucas’s revising the original films ( because Han did shoot first).

  92. I have to say, my impression of those arguing that the reader owns the character is that they are caring readers who wish to feel that they have a “special relationship” with the text, to feel that when they are reading they are creating as fully as the original author.

    I hope that’s not the impression I’m leaving, although I can see how it might be.

    I like to consider myself a creative guy. It’s not much of a professional resume, and much of it’s old news anyway, but I care about the creative process. My education and day job went in a completely different direction from the things I wanted to do, but that’s another story; the main thing is, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand things from the point of view of trying to make those things. I don’t imagine I’m particularly special in that regard around here.

    And I’m not particularly concerned with Dumbledore’s sexuality as a thing in and of itself. We could be talking about his shoe size and my thoughts would be the same: the only interesting issue here is the dynamic between creator, (interpreter) and audience. (I put “interpreter’ in parenthesis because we could as easily be talking about dance, theater, or music and I think the basic issue would be the same. I disagree with what our host has said about interpreters–specifically, actors like Branagh or Olivier perfroming Shakespeare, but, in my view, we could just as easily substitute Sinatra or Bono singng Porter, say.)

    I’m not in the exalted ranks of published writers–my opinion may carry no weight for that reason, so be it. But I believe that if I publish a piece–posting it online, loaning it to a friend, or maybe even selling it someday–I relinquish a certain degree of control over that piece. That isn’t to say that I (and my assigns) don’t keep certain legal rights in Berne convention nations that are enforceable against third parties; that’s never really been the issue I’ve been trying in my feeble way to address. Instead, it is to say that I have created a relationship between myself and my audience in which my audience is entitled to interpret my work and project themselves onto it as it sees fit without being “wrong,” even if they see something I didn’t intend. (Yes, John, including pedophilia, which might horrify and disappoint me, but that’s really out of my hands.) I believe that there’s a kind of exchange going on–and while my audience’s reaction might not be binding on me, my reaction isn’t binding on the audience, either.

    One other question occurs to me. If one of Rowling’s readers finishes the series but never hears her further pronouncements–the reader finished book 7 on his deathbed, lives in a remote country, or finds the books in his grandparents’ attic a century from now–is Dumbledore still gay (or whatever)?

    I wonder if that question even mean anything–after all, I think it’s possible there are multiple Dumbledores, Rowling’s, the readers’, the films’, and the “canonical”.

  93. “As I understand it, Michael Jackson owns the works of the Beatles.”

    You understand incorrectly. Specifically, Jackson used to own the Publishing Rights to the Beatles Northern Songs catalog, which contains many, but not all, of their songs recorded prior to 1968. Jackson shares ownership of the Northern catalog with Sony music, and Jackson later took out some large loans against it.

    That said, he’s already done a cover of a Beatles tune (“Come Together”) on one of his albums. Further, he didn’t need the publishing rights to do a cover version of a song. The ‘mechanical license’ pretty much gaurantees that anyone who wants to can cover someone else’s song, as long as they give proper notification and follow some basic legal rules.

    As for the TV show, that’s another issue entirely, since it’s not the work of a sole creator…and as Scalzi mentioned, in Hollywood the author generally is NOT considered the final word on the work. Usually the director’s interpretation is considered the final word, though obviously there have been some famous disagreements on that score in both movies and television. Unless we’re talking a BBC show like Jekyll, where a single writer creates and guides it..and even then, it’s a collaboration. A writer is generally the sole force (save perhaps his editor) with his hands on his work.

  94. I can’t believe people are really claiming that Rowling can’t suddenly reveal a heretofore unknown fact about her characters. Hell, that’s her stock-in-trade. Why do people who had no problem swallowing “Snape was a good guy” balk at “Dumbledore was gay”?

  95. I’m rather curious if there is a pattern in the comments.
    How many here are writers only, readers only, both and how many have English degrees? I suspect there is a generation culture gap too.

  96. Mary Ann Mohanraj says, “Anytime Rowling wants, she can write and publish a short story that establishes that Dumbledore is, in fact, gay.”

    Won’t wash. For the simple reason that the fans won’t buy it. Anymore than they’ll buy that Tony Stark named his famous suit after the song, since every fan over forty knows the suit came before the song.

    Writers can try to retconn. Readers won’t always buy it.

    Dumbledore’s character makes sense (to me) thinking about him as a gay elderly man. But he doesn’t have to be gay for the character to be consistent, and that’s what a lot of these “He’s not gay” writers seem to be holding onto.

  97. I’m a lesbian in her sixties who has spent much of her life reading.

    In my younger days, I was quite skilled at spotting hidden lesbians in books. Women whose “hair fit like a cap.” Pairs of women, one older and gruff, the younger pretty and timid–lots of those in Agatha Christie! All this kerfuffle about Dumbledore is making me nostalgic.

  98. Wizarddru,

    1. Thanks for the clarification on Jackson/Beatles. I suppose it does not matter, however, to the point I was attempting to make. I think appeals to the law are misplaced. That someone owns the legal rights to certain materials may give them the legal ability to muck around with the “Canon.” But, does that mean that their statements as to interpretive questions or issues not originally addressed should possess any additional weight. If so, should they be given more weight than the original author. For instance, A. Mr. Scalzi sells his rights to “old man’s war” without retention any creative control, including the right to make movies, serialize the novels, write preludes etc. that take his characters in directions that he never intended in his private conception of the world he created, B. Mr. Scalzi takes objection to a subsequent characterization of one of his characters which impacts the perception of that character in the original Old Man’s War. C. Mr. Scalzi makes known his private thoughts with regard to that character as originally conceived. In that scenario, whose interpreinterpretation controls, the legal owner or the original author? Is it a question of legality or author’s perogative. Or must both vest in a single person order for canonical interpretive control to exist?

    As to the television show, why would it matter if the show was a collaboration if I wrote the script. I know what I had in mind when I wrote the script. I am telling you what the backstory I created in my mind behind the script is. Do I have no say in my own creation in that scenario simply because it builds upon the works of people who have gone before me? How about the authors of all those fringe star wars books. If their book gets approved and published, do they have no say in the unspoken motivations of the characters they have drawn, simply because the world they have been drawn is owned by someone else? If they said that in writing their book, they envisioned Luke as gay, should be given any weight? And, if so, how much?

  99. Well, John, I couldn’t disagree with you more. So I blogged about it. Ain’t the Web great?

    Rowling can say all she wants about her intents and what was in her head when she was writing, but as far as I’m concerned, if it didn’t make it into the text, then her points are of only academic interest, and have no bearing on the stories and characters as published. At least, no more bearing than points made by any other reader of the stories.

  100. [i]By this same token, Dumbledore has been played in the movies by two actors; part of the reason no one has noticed much is because the character is substantially the same from film to film, because is defined by the writing, not the actor playing the part.[/i]

    Are you watching the same movies I am? There is a huge difference in the way the character has been played from the third movie onward. The replacement actor’s portrayal is so wrong from the books I have a hard time watching the movies. Nothing can redeem the disaster that was the fourth film. The fifth was a bit better. We’ll have to see if the trend continues.

    As far as the writing, whoever is adapting them to screenplays has clearly changed from the early movies to the later movies. Unlike the book where there is a consistent source, with the movies there is too many possible sources for change.

  101. Daniel,

    Not to state the obvious, but movies are different from books. Movies are a collaborative effort involving hundreds of people. Most books are written by one person (sometimes two), and then some editors get to put their two cents in.

    Practically everyone working on a movie leaves their fingerprints on the thing. You may think the Producer or Director has the final say on everything, but that’s only partially true. As a Location Manager, I have a lot to do with what the movie will look like. Granted, I’m presenting options for places to shoot and then the Director, Production Designer, the D.P. and sometimes the Producer will decide which option is going into the movie. The flip side of that is that there are options I’ll never show them…so those don’t even get a chance to get into the movie. (Sometimes I’m holding locations back because there are production problems involved in trying to shoot there; sometimes its because I don’t have the budget for that location; sometimes its just because I think the person I’ll have to deal with to shoot that location is a pain in the ass, and I don’t want to bother.)

    At any rate, I’ve (mostly) enjoyed all the books while I’m not impressed at all by the movies. I thought the visuals were semi-cheesy compared to what I visualized when I read the books and I think Daniel Radcliffe is painfully the worst actor in the cast…and he’s only playing the title character. I went to the first one in a theater; since then I wait for them to show up on TV.

  102. Some canon questions left as exercises for the reader.

    * Did Han shoot first?

    * What color are Dorothy’s shoes in Oz?

    * How does Judas die?

    * Is Archie a born-again Christian?

    * Does Linus Van Pelt really care about life insurance companies?

  103. Bradbury’s claim about Fahrenheit 451 is obvious bullshit. Faber explicitly states that it isn’t the medium of TV that’s the problem so much as what’s put on it:
    “You’re a hopeless romantic,” said Faber. “It would be funny if it were not serious. It’s not books you need, it’s some of the things that once were in books. The same things could be in the ‘parlor families’ today. The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios and televisors but are not. No, no, it’s not books at all you’re looking for! Take it where you can find it, in old phonograph records, old motion pictures, and in old friends; look for it in nature and look for it in yourself. Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.”

  104. Some canon questions left as exercises for the reader.

    * Did Han shoot first?

    This is an interesting question: What does it mean when an author revises their work and makes significant changes incompatible with the original version (as opposed to simply expanding the work or making some obvious corrections)? I think it essentially means that they’ve made two different works, and each can be judged on its own merits.

    Consider, for instance, the bullshit that the Klingons in the original Star Trek TV series were always intended to look like they do in the films and more recent series. That’s complete horse-hockey which I reject utterly. The reason the two sets of Klingons look (and act) completely differently is never explained, they just look different. Many explanations have been suggested, of course, but we don’t really know.

    (I mostly try to ignore all Star Trek after the third film, but that’s another debate entirely.)

    * What color are Dorothy’s shoes in Oz?

    Which Dorothy, in which Oz?

    * How does Judas die?

    * Is Archie a born-again Christian?

    I’m not familiar enough with either of these works to be able to answer.

    * Does Linus Van Pelt really care about life insurance companies?

    It’s really quite easy to see the characters in the Peanuts comic strip as separate and different from their equivalent in other media. I always assume that Peanuts in other media don’t have any real bearing on the characters in the comic strip.

  105. Consider, for instance, the bullshit that the Klingons in the original Star Trek TV series were always intended to look like they do in the films and more recent series. That’s complete horse-hockey which I reject utterly. The reason the two sets of Klingons look (and act) completely differently is never explained, they just look different. Many explanations have been suggested, of course, but we don’t really know.

    In Trials and Tribble-ations (DS9), Worf seems to suggest that something happened in a period in their history that Klingons “do not discuss with outworlders.” :)

  106. Re: Klingons….

    Yeah, but the best explanation, the one from the Star Fleet Battles game, was that “Klingons” were really multiple races from various planets, united as slaves under the Klingon Empire. Which explained everything, but was “non-canonical” because SFB was licensed from Franz Joseph (an artist and writer commissioned to create starship and uniform designs) and not Gene Roddenberry. (Joseph, was “de-canonized” when interest in Star Wars catapulted the “New Star Trek series gestating at Paramount into expensive-feature-film status.)

    All of which is sorta why I dismissed canon as “for wikipedians.” Canon is water, it fills up a space but it all leaks out when someone punches a hole in the side of the container; it changes its shape constantly; you can hold it in your hand but you can’t really make much out of it.

    file me with those who think that Rowling has accidentally validated the “the author is dead; screw authorial intent; long live the text” school.

  107. My question is why is he gay. She created him, she created everything about him and his personality. Why did she feel it necessary to creat this character as being gay when he inhabits a series of books in which this particular aspect of a character is not neccesary for the readers to know. And if she felt it neccesary to his character why was it left out for seven books. The last four of which were quite long.

    I think it’s worth noting that most people who read these books came away assuming that Dumbledore was straight. I certainly did.
    And saying that my interpretation is just tough luck because it does not mesh with the authors vision is nonsense.

    When an author publishes a book he/she puts it out to the public and hopes they like it. when they do that the story and characters do in part become the readers characters. Our interpretation of them is important because we are the ones the authors create them for.
    The fact that most people came away assumiong Dumbledore was straight is important and is significant and should not simply be shrugged off by Rowling otr any one else.
    If for no other reason than we made her a millionare, but more important than that, we gave her creation a life it would not have had if her books had flopped.

  108. Being a writer myself (you probably won’t know my book, it’s not famous yet and even if it was, it hasn’t been tranlated into english yet) I have to clarify something: The Essence of every fictional Character, or any other work of Art for that matter, is a small portion of the authors thoughts, sometimes even of his very soul. But because thoughts can’t exist outside our head, just like words can’t exist without a Paper to be written on, they need to be wrapped in a physical shape to reach other people, just as words need to be made into sound by being spoken out to be heard.
    In one way or another, the Art will allways reflect its maker, even if it is unintentional, because the ideas used it come from or are processed by his or her brain.
    So how on earth could any other person possibly own a part of my soul?
    A character belongs to the author only!
    (As far as I know, Mrs. Roling said something similar in an interview, and she’s so damn right!)
    Then why publish it?
    Well, I don’t know about Mrs. Roling, but I myself just wanted the world to see my thoughts. Maybe someone will like it or be impressed of it? And, there’s another thing:
    Humans are not gods. They can’t become immortal as a whole. But their bodies can live on in their offspring, their souls in the memories of those they loved, and their minds in their work, be it scientific, politic or artistic.
    Just because you bought the book, that doesn’t mean the thoughts in it are yours, too.
    Books cost money because prodoucing them costs money and because writers have to eat, too. You can’t own another person’s story.
    Or could any of you write something as popular as Harry Potter? And even if it WAS as popular, you couldn’t write exactly the same story.It would be popular because of other reasons.
    No one can tell a story like this except Mrs. Roling, for it is influenced by her beliefs, thoughts and experiences. Every human life is different, and so are the products of their minds.
    And besides… an important aspect of a character is how much you reveal about their inner workings. It is essential to let your readers gaze into the head of a depressed anti-Hero, or a shy female Protagonist. But certainly not the misterious Rival or the Mad Sciencist… Or the Mentor, for that matter.
    These Mentor Characters like Dumbledore, they need to be intransparent for them to exhibit authority – expecially if your protagonist doesn’t know some key facts and therefore can’t understand them fully.
    So you won’t get to use all the little Details you thought up, even if you still have them in the back of your mind.
    Then of course, when you’re finished with everything, there’s no reason left not to reveal those Details, for otherwise, they would end up unused in some corner of your heads.

  109. I’m afraid the reader’s interpretation does not override the actual character as the author created him, so sorry folks, he’s gay, that’s that. It seems to be a very common fandom opinion that Snape is attractive, to the general public anyway, and it’s one that is supported by the casting choice of Alan Rickman. However, this does not change the fact that canonically, Snape is ugly. He is explicitly called twice as ugly as a gargoyle.
    I don’t understand why people are so obsessed with having their ideas be validated. If you’re going to stick your fingers in your ears and say that to you, Dumbledore will always be straight because you like him better that way, whatever. Have at it. Lord knows I’ve done it enough times. But when you claim that you aren’t deviating from canon by saying this, we have a problem.
    If you go so far as to claim she doesn’t actually believe this and this was just a publicity stunt, you clearly don’t know Jo all that well. She has no craving for attention and claiming that she would deliberately warp and/or lie about her characters for some is right out.
    Plus you can’t just claim that this is out of left field–it wasn’t just the people wearing slash goggles that were giggling over Dumbledore gushing over music in the very first book, wearing bright purple robes, expressing his enthusiasm for knitting patterns, or any of his other innumerable quirks. Do those things necessarily mean he’s gay? Of course not! Would they support an argument that he is gay? They would fit well enough to be used.
    Besides, other than these little hints, the fact that Dumbledore is gay actually has bearing on the plot, so you have in essence created a plot hole by rejecting it. Dumbledore was very irrational in comparison to his normal self when Grindelwald rose. I haven’t seen a reasonable explanation for that besides the canonical ‘he had a major crush’. Dumbledore was overly lenient and turned a blind eye to all the horrible things he did. He made no move to dissuade Gellert from the dark path he was going down, like he was later shown to do with Draco, and even tried to follow him down it despite what his subconscious probably believed. Dumbledore did these things because he was blinded by young love, and they are actual plot points, if not very large ones. They have bearing on what happens over the course of the series, so you can’t just pretend they didn’t happen.

  110. I must agree, when I heard that JKR had announced that Dumbledore was gay, I was shocked but I also thought to myself, ‘The seventh book makes a whole lot more sense now.’ Re-reading Deathly Hollows with that in mind, I can see what all that sub-text meant. I mean, sure, not everything is viewed through the layer of sexuality, but when you’re different in a world that doesn’t accept differences–you tend to think about it a lot. It’s a fact of life. It’ll affect everything you do. Even if it’s small, it’ll affect you.

  111. I’m not sure why the fact that Dumbledore is gay or not matters at all…nowhere in the book is it really relevant since it is pretty much from Harry’s POV and well, i really really doubt Harry cares about Dumbledore’s sexual preferences…

    The only part in the seven books where it might come up is the seven book with all those newspaper articles about him, but i doubt he ran around shouting “I’m Gay!!!” (or something close to that) in his youth. And as far as we know, Dumbledore already had a failed relationship with Grindlewald who killed his sister and then tried to take over the world. I doubt Dumbledore is going to advertise that he was in a relationship with him.

    Finally…Dumbledore is over 100 years old. I don’t think ANYONE read the books while looking for hints of Dumbledore’s sexual preferences. I doubt he even HAS a sex life anymore so if there aren’t any “proof” in the text, well, that’s cause he’s not doing anything with anyone! Nor is it relevant to the plot at all for the books to ruminate on Dumbledore’s past sex activities.

    One last thing…Am i the only one who thinks it’s creepy that we’re all debating the sexual activities of someone who is OVER 100 YEARS OLD??!?!?!?…the mental images scars the mind…>.<

  112. Last I checked, J.K. Rowling never said a word about any sex acts Dumbledore took part in. She said the man was gay. That’s relevant to plenty more than just what went on his bedroom – it’s about relationships, and motivations, and emotions.

    Something tells me that if she’d said that he once fell in love with a particular woman a while back – and thus revealed that the character is attracted to women – no one would be saying, “I don’t need to know about his orientation, ewww!”

  113. Phew! I read through all the comments, because I’m actually genuinely interested in people’s interpretation of Rowling’s admission.

    i) To me it seems obvious that there exists enough heuristic evidence that Rowling did not U-turn on Dumbledore’s sexuality (but rather knew for some time), whether it be through subtle hints throughout the books or sidenotes on film scripts. I will certainly assume this myself, but I can respect that in the absence of certainty, others can argue that this isn’t so. The argument that it is a publicity stunt/ attention quest holds no weight with me, however. The transcript of the interview shows that she replied to a direct question, giving her own opinion on her own character – she did not say it for the lulz or the shock value.

    ii) My refutation against those who say that the matter of Dumbledore’s sexuality was neither here nor there (nor indeed wherever Rowling describes it to be) has a few sides to it.

    - To those who say that because it did not add to a concrete point in the plot, or because there was no unambiguous way of determining Dumbledore’s sexuality from the text, that his being gay is irrelevant… well… On the contrary, to me that seems wholly relevant … er… markedly through its irrelevance – though my motivations for saying that are extratextual. It’s wonderful, I think, that Dumbledore’s purported attraction to men bore no major relevance to anything else in the text. Surely, since sexuality deals solely with someone’s romantic attraction, then in the absence of the reader being privy to any of Dumbledore’s love interests [by all accounts he appears more or less asexual during the events of the novels] the issue does not need to be brought up. The alternative is Rowling taking the reader aside and saying: “BTW, FYI, Dumbledore’s gay”. It’s refreshing that Dumbledore wasn’t a purpose-built conduit for his sexuality or, worse still, a rough incarnation of homosexuality. It shows that sexuality is an independent facet of the many, many aspects to a person. That is my initial interpretation of the situation.

    - Even though I consider Dumbledore to be gay in the light of Rowling’s admission [and I had honestly toyed with the idea while reading the later books (after all, shouldn't Dumbledore be a prized bachelor and every single girl's dream?)], I agree that even if he was in love with Grindelwald, I would prefer to believe that his reckless actions at that stage in his life were as much to do with the intoxication by Grindelwald’s compelling rhetoric and the seduction of power etc. as with and romantic feelings that he harboured for Grindelwald. Perhaps a combination of the two was intended – after all, you can be attracted to a person in more than one way simultaneously and even the most voracious limmerence may not be directed by sexual/romantic attraction but friendship and respect.

    iii) As for authorial intent versus death of the author blah blah blah: that’s a debate that can never really be settled. It is up to the taste of the individual to decide what is his/her personal ‘canon’. Both sides here were very well debated (not that I consider myself to be a born arbiter in these sorts of situations, but I do want to give credit to people having interesting and critical opinions on things) and they addressed a wealth of interesting ideas. The original article was also tremendously well-constructed. Kudos to all!

    And apologies for posting with not the best organised thoughts – I’m sure I’ve left out relevant ideas that occurred when reading individual responses.

  114. What really gets me about the reaction to the revelation is the sense that homo- is necessarily the “Publicity stunt!” or “That was outta left field!” -sexuality. Aren’t we past that yet?

    I mean, come on… suppose Rowling had said that McGonagall was straight, and had once loved a man in her youth, but the relationship went badly enough that she become celibate the rest of her life. There wouldn’t be a media whistle, let alone a circus.

    The only legitimate complaint here is the one that she should have had the “guts” to make it explicit in the text, risking whatever impact it may have had on sales. Except that by nearly the same line of argument, every world-famous children’s-book series is obligated to have an openly gay character. Plus, at the culture’s current middle-school level of maturity, that would have overshadowed everything. The “stealth” approach is a much better way to give kids the it-really-doesn’t-matter message (not that I imagine she was ever intending social engineering).

  115. Ah, homophobia, the hilarious gift that keeps on giving. Regarding the backlash to Rowling’s revelation, I haven’t seen this much in the way of denialism and desperate attempts to discredit a fandom creator since George Lucas mentioned that no, Virginia, Boba Fett _didn’t_ escape the sarlaac’s pit as far as he was concerned.

    In both cases, there’s nothing stopping anyone from writing fanfic that says otherwise, but trying to argue with the _creator_ of a given world and franchise as to what’s canon is simply ludicrous. I’d have more respect for the “zomg Dumbledore is a homo NOEZ” crowd if they’d just admit that they have a problem with the idea of a major character in their favourite series being gay..but in all fairness, they probably have a hard time admitting that to themselves.

  116. Wow, reading these comments I can tell many of you aren’t writers, even if you’re readers. Here’s a perspective of someone who writes a lot and has a whole lot of books. Just because something about a character isn’t in the text doesn’t mean it’s not true or real. You know what a text is? Plot. Dumbledore being gay wouldn’t add to the plot. Even if Rowling had wrote it (though she does elude to it) it would have been cut. Because plot. If it was included in the book, many of you would complain about how it was distracting and out of left field. It simply has no place.
    Now, as a reader, I love hearing more about a character that couldn’t be cohesively put in the book. As a reader, I like gathering as much information about a character as possible in order to get a more cohesive picture. So I love it when authors divulge information about setting and characters. These are trivial in the wake of the main (just as Dumbledore’s sexuality) but they add depth to the book, that the book itself could not do. It’s not a case of poor writing. In fact, I would say it’s good writing. No need to tack on useless trivial things within a book, especially when they could be easily spoken of afterwards, like Rowling did.

  117. Actually, Dumbledore’s sexuallity is important to the plot and Voldemort’s downfall…
    His relationship with Grindelwald introduced him to the Deathly Hallows, and due to the fact he was in love with Grindelwald he delayed their fight for a long time, so long that Gellert managed to get hold of the Elder Wand. When Albus defeated him, the Wand transferred to him. And when Draco unarmed him and got the wand, it gave Harry the chance to become it’s master, even though Draco didn’t know. So, because of Albus’ homsexual love for Grindelwald, Harry was able to defeat Voldemort!

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