A Real Conversation, Slightly Fictionalized for Dramatic Purposes

(Phone rings. It’s a FRIEND, in California)

Friend: So, I’m here in San Diego, and everything is on fire. All of California is on fire. Fire reigns here.

Me: That’s very nice, but I think your fascination with this fire thing has blinded you to the actual big news story of the weekend.

Friend: Which is?

Me: Dumbledore is, like, totally gay.


Friend: That’s insane.

Me: Which part, that he’s gay, or that it’s the big news story?

Friend: Either! Both! Is this gay thing in the books somewhere?

Me: No, JK Rowling said something about it at an appearance. Someone asked if Dumbledore ever knew love, and Rowling said something like, ‘well, he’s totally gay, and yes.’

Friend: Was she kidding?

Me: No, apparently Dumbledore has this mad crush on a guy, who then turned out to be evil, and Dumbledore was slow on the uptake because when you’re infatuated, you miss details.

Friend: Like your boyfriend being completely and utterly evil.

Me: This is what I am led to understand.

Friend: That’s just crazy.

Me: I don’t see why it’s a surprise. He always did have such fabulous robes.

Friend: And this is really what the rest of you people have been talking about all weekend.

Me: Well, I don’t think you appreciate the gravity of the situation. It’s Dumbledore. You’ve just been consumed with your silly little fire.

Friend: Being consumed in fire is more like it.

Me: I think you need to focus on what’s really important.

Friend: Not burning to death?

Me: No, no. The secret inner lives of fictional people in books you haven’t bothered to read.

Friend: I’ll get right on that.

Me: Do. Because now we’re all wondering about McGonagall.

Friend: What, like she’s a Templar or something?

Me: See. Now you’re getting it.

42 Comments on “A Real Conversation, Slightly Fictionalized for Dramatic Purposes”

  1. I don’t understand why Dumbledore being gay is worth making official? It doesn’t add anything to the story except make the student-mentor relationship between Harry and Dumbledore a little more creepy. She obviously didn’t do a good job of working in little hints that would indicate his homosexuality because it hasn’t come up as an issue until now.

    If her PR people told her that she needed some shock value to drive up book sales, they have no grasp on reality. Is she expecting everyone in the world to go out and buy a second copy of the book instead of rereading the one she already has? Were the religious groups finally coming arround and letting their kids read the book, something Rowling couldn’t handle?

    It makes no sense from any perspective, internal to the story or external to the real world especially to come out and say it so matter of factly.

  2. …lol, for one.

    But McGonagall, please; no need to butcher their names while you’re snarking them :P

    I think, if anything, the adding of the ‘Dumbledore is gay’ is more of a social comment than anything else. This way she can be like, gay people rock; her publishers can be like, ‘totally, gay people’, and everyone wins in PR.

    In actuality, it doesn’t matter -at all-.

  3. Southern California is on fire?

    Oh, yeah, that’s right, it’s that time of year in Socal: fire, followed by flood and pestilence. If you could work in a little famine you’d have all four horsemen of the Apocalypse. Can’t say I miss it at all.

    BTW, who the hell is “Dumbledore?”

  4. (to Patrick):
    Why would Dumbledore being gay make his being Harry’s mentor a creepy thing? He’s a teacher. Is it creepy that McGonagall is one of Hermione’s teachers, too?

    And personally, I feel Rowling’s revelation made parts of the last book work better. I had reservations about why Dumbledore would go along so willingly with a plan like ruling the Muggles just because he was buddies with Grindelwald. It just didn’t seem to fit, even with explaining it away as youthful visions of grandeur. Now, with it being youthful grandiosity AND puppy-love adoration, it feels more palatable. But maybe that’s just me.

  5. KeroKevin: There are still 2 or 3 movies to make (I lost count). Until those are done, Rowling’s opinion means something.

  6. Patrick:

    Yeah, I’ll second the “why does this make it creepy” thing. The very best teacher I ever had was gay (I didn’t know it at the time, but found out later, when I asked him about it), and there certainly wasn’t anything creepy about either his being a teacher of me then, or being my friend afterward.

  7. Hey, it’s a win-win for her. She gets huge “progressive” ups, and the people who don’t like gays, don’t lke her anyway, so she’s not losing anything.

    It lets her feel like shes “struck a blow against the man” without having actually done anything, or risked anything.

  8. It’s only creepy to those who harbor the suspicion that teh gays in schools are subverting our youth. Because, you know, it’s a life style choice.

    I expect to see it all over the talking heads by the weekend and included in the Conservative League’s/Family Values’ Educational Warnings Newsletter. Just another attempt by the facio-liberals to confuse the precious children and get them to believe in evolution.

  9. Confound it! How do these uppity Conservatives keep uncovering our Super-Double-Plus-Secret plans to brainwash the minds of the young childrens?!

    I shall visit terror upon them all! (Unless, of course, they prefer cake?)

  10. JK Rowling is now a (twice?) billionaire. What’s to risk? ;)

    I’ve been following the conversation on the “Dumbledore’s out of the broom closet” thread at Making Light, and I’m fairly astonished at how much vehemence folks are bringing to the party. Not about the Dumbledore, mind you. But that JK would make such an extratextual revelation. Shiver.

    Silmarillion, much?

  11. Chris Byrne has the right idea, but doesn’t go far enough. Not only is Rowling not losing anything, she stands to gain a ton more (I guess that should be “tonne,” huh?).

    The fundies who have steadfastly boycotted HP all these years will now buy the books by the crate in order to meet after services and ob-ses-sive-ly suss out every last corrosive clue. I’m sure they’ll find that “Hogwarts” and “Hogsmeade” are some kind of transliterated anagrams of “Sodom” and “Gommorah.”

    Jim Wright: Dumbledore is a polar bear who serves as the official mascot of Churchill, Manitoba. He’s the one with six toes on his left rear paw who rears up and shakes the polar buggy that carries tourists out onto Hudson Bay. The fact that he’s been outed is of concern because the biggest source of tourism to Churchill is the Shady Dale Christian Retirement Community in Winnipeg.

  12. There’s cake in it if I switch to being a conservative! Well, heck, that’s almost makes it worth the lobotomy.

    Just kidding, some of my best friends are conservatives.

  13. I think she had to say something because the filmmakers were going to introduce a small line about a romance for Dumbledore in the next film. As in female. J.K. had to let them know that it wouldn’t work. She probably would’ve mentioned it in the book but the editors crossed it out. Likely that’s why she had to say it after the fact.

  14. Phoenixrev:

    “She probably would’ve mentioned it in the book but the editors crossed it out. Likely that’s why she had to say it after the fact.”

    Given how massively her books expanded later in the series, I don’t expect editing was an issue.

    The simplest explanation I suspect is correct: She had it as Dumbledore’s backstory but didn’t feel it was necessary to put into the books themselves.

  15. Editors? The way I heard, by the time we got up to Book 5, JK was pulling an Anne Rice, more or less. (grin) Actually, I have to agree with those that say it makes sense to the relationship he had with his buddy. And Hogswarts is something of a calling, to the point that everyone on the faculty seems to have given up something of a personal life for the sake of the school and the students. Snape’s story is sad, too.

    Dr. Phil

  16. “She had it as Dumbledore’s backstory but didn’t feel it was necessary to put into the books themselves.”

    Possibly, but I also suspect she kept it out on purpose. People get bent out of shape because the books supposedly promote the use of magic. If she said Dumbledore was gay, there would be even more of an uproar. And we are seeing it now.

  17. I didn’t mean creepy as in there was something fundamentally wrong with having a homosexual as a mentor figure as a teacher. I just meant that there will be a lot of speculation/humor based on the Harry/Dumbledore interaction throughtout the novels. JK Rowling acknowledged this herself immediately after making the “Dumbledore is gay” comment by saying something akin to “Oh god, imagine the fan-fiction now.”

    It’s not so much any actual implications as much as the stigma that may be placed on the series as a chess piece in the ongoing battle between liberals and conservatives. Dumbledore has instantly gone from a character in Harry Potter to being the gay character in Harry Potter. When people talk about the character, the first thing that will come up will be his homosexuality even though it isn’t even hinted at in the novels.

    People will applaud her for bringing “real-world issues” into Harry Potter but why introduce very complex topics such as homosexuality and leave out teen pregnancy, suicide, drug addiction, and other complex issues. Note: I am not saying homosexuality is a bad thing, I am saying that it is a complex issue and that the Harry Potter books are first and foremost a children’s series of books.

    All I’m saying is that there was no real reason to retroactively identify Dumbledore a gay character, internally or externally. And if you cite internal logic and characterization, you obviously haven’t read the books. She already sells enough books, gets enough press, and has the religious extremeists condemning her work unjustly.

  18. No real reason? *headtilt* Someone asked a question, and she answered it honestly. This wasn’t something she held a press conference to announce – it was a response to a question. How exactly would it have been a good idea to not answer truthfully?

  19. I think something is being missed in the same interview she basically said that yes the goat charm was what all the perverts thought it was….

  20. Jim: This is my first taste of the Apocalypse (I have fires to the north, south, east, and west of me today) and I have to say it feels rather comfortable. This is why I like living here – sci-fi happens!

    Then again, I live in a barely-Valley condo, not a canyon home in Malibu.

  21. See, I didn’t think it added anything or subtracted anything from Dumbledore or his relationship with Grindelwald. Actually, I take that back: it may subtract a little from the Grindelwald story.

    I think many of us have, in our lives, become infatuated with an idea when we were younger. Because it intrigued us, or because we wanted to be radicals, because we hadn’t thought it all the way through, because we were naive, etc. I didn’t have a difficult time accepting that Dumbledore was a radical for a few years in his twenties and then, maturing, became aware that his ideologies hurt people and changed his views. I found it similar, say, to a young man in the 1930s idealizing the USSR as a working example of communism in action, only to become disenchanted with the excesses of Stalinism as they became evident, and rejecting the politics of his youth. That’s a real-life journey that a lot of people made, and similar to the life-journeys of others in later generations. (And the time period of Dumbledore’s infatuation coincides with the era in which someone on the right might have flirted with fascism or someone on the left flirted with communism–only to discover the horrors of Nazism and Stalinism.)

    To say that Dumbledore was really motivated by a crush–whether on a man or a woman–makes that transformation less interesting and less poignant in a way. “Oh, he was just another dude going to meetings so he could get laid.” I dunno. It’s too easy. She had a complicated, real idea, and reduced it to horniness. Except it’s not in the book, so I can stick to my original reading. So there, thpbbt.

    (Yes, I’m talking about Dumbledore and not the fire. What am I supposed to say about the fire? The drought is another possible indicator of global warming, and global warming is bad?)

  22. Dumbledore is flaming and so is San Diego. Not all of it, just that which is to the north of me, as well as the bit that is to the south. They are cooking, me I’m just fine and in the pink…rare piece in the center.

  23. southern california goes on fire. us up in the north get these tiny earthquakes most of us can’t even feel. that’s not very fair.

  24. One of my best teachers in high school was almost certainly gay, but back then people didn’t talk about that sort of thing. So I didn’t figure it out until years after graduation. Later, I was probably the only gay teacher in the Catholic school system in Utah.

    I didn’t see anything creepy about it either way.

  25. Patrick – I believe Rowling DOES tackle all of those difficult topics, in subtle and not-so subtle ways.

    She also tackles death, awakening sexuality, racism – why not homosexuality?

  26. He’s fine. If the fires get to where he lives, San Diego will have mostly burned to the ground by that point.

  27. That’s good. I hope all of your readers in the area are okay. The scope of the evacuation is mindboggling. At least when hurricanes hit heavily populated areas, there’s some warning and a little predictability. Not that we do a very good job getting people out, but you have to wonder if anyone in California was prepared for this.

  28. The fire we had a few years back really did help the city prepare. Some have been evacuated a little early. The injury and loss of life stats, while not perfect are extraordinary. There is room for improvement, but they really did learn something last time and adjusted accordingly.

    What is not fair is that some national media and the occasional politician are trying to compare San Diego’s “model” response with the Katrina response. San Diego has done an exemplary job and urban contingency planners should take notes, but comparisons between Qualcom Stadium vs the Superdome relative to shelter implementation is asinine.

  29. To the person above who decided that it reduced the story about Dumbledore having misjudged his friend to something that’s just about lust….wow, what a misread.

    It makes Dumbledore’s misjudgement based on *love*, not lust, because sexuality is not merely linked to who you want to play hide-the-sausage with.

    His own family broken, he turns to what he dreams to be a kindred spirit and finds himself betrayed. Which explains why he works so damned hard to make Hogwarts a family — disfunctional as it is, that’s precisely what it becomes for the faculty and students and staff.

    Dumbledore’s many statements about the special power love has gain additional resonance — since he knows from personal experience that it can blind you to the faults of your friends, just as readily as it can serve to protect a child, or turn enemies into allies.

  30. It’s a common fact that many writers have backstories and details about their characters that never make it into their books. And when the creator of said characters reveal one of those details, it’s more than ‘just another opinion.’

    I mean, yeah, if you really want you can just go ‘it’s not in the books so I’m just going to make Dumbledore straight in my head.’ Sure, go ahead but you have to ask yourself why you feel you have to do that. Also, it’s not in the books that he’s straight either. That’s just your default presumption that’s not explicit in the text.

  31. Hm. Let me clarify two (I think) things.

    First: I don’t really care what Dumbledore’s orientation was. It’s a question I never asked. I never gave it any thought one way or the other. So, believe it or not, I actually had no default presumption. If you’d asked me whether Dumbledore was straight, bi or gay, I imagine I would have said, “I don’t know… why?”

    Second: I’m not sure I’m the one Jim was addressing–I might be, though, because I suggested that making Dumbledore’s motivations romantic did (possibly) diminish the story slightly. If I am, I’m not sure I reduced it to “lust” (though I did use the expression “wanting to get laid” or words to that effect). I, personally, didn’t need that dimension, and I think that dimension is maybe a little cliched. Sorry. Not everything is motivated by love, and not every love is romantic love. It appears, ironically, that I may have given Rowling a more sophisticated reading than she intended: one where Dumbledore was motivated by a passion for ideas and where fraternal love for a comrade-in-arms and ideological brother might lure one into saying and doing some dumb things.

    Finally (okay, here’s a third thing): the reason I feel I can say “it’s not in the text so I’m going to keep it the way it was in my head” has nothing to do with Dumbledore’s sexual orientation for at least two reasons. The first is that I really don’t care whether he’s gay or not–I was referring to my interpretation of his motives, not who he likes to snuggle with on cold nights (if anyone).

    The second reason is something that George Lucas clarified for me, but it can easily be applied to Rowling (or to C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books): how can I keep enjoying the Star Wars universe when Lucas keeps wrecking it and saying that the version I like “no longer exists”? The answer is that Star Wars stopped belonging exclusively to Lucas when he gave it to me and a bajillion other kids in 1977. Similarly, I know that C.S. Lewis wants me to read the Narnia books as insufferably awful Christian apologetics–fortunately, he doesn’t have a chip in my brain, and I can ignore all that facile nonsense in favor of a perfectly charming story about a kid and a talking horse. As for Rowling, she can say what she wants about the backstories of her characters, but the show is still going on in my head (and the heads of any readers). If we’re having an objective conversation, Rowling’s secret journals may have some value for the purposes of consensual “reality,” but that’s about it.

    Let me close by saying, I would have been more than happy if she had coded or explicitly labeled Dumbledore as gay in the texts, or another character. Writing a fantasy series about a gay kid would have been pretty brave and daring, if she’d gone that route. But shouting “so-and-so’s gay!” over your shoulder after the fact actually strikes me as a teeny bit yellow. Not that I blame her, it just leaves me wondering “why bother to mention it now?”

  32. An Eric,

    Those are fair points. In my English classes, we often discuss how the interpretations we get out of books are probably sometimes ones that the author would never have thought of or agreed with. Your experience of the books are your own and the author’s aren’t necessarily controlling.

    I mean, Ray Bradbury recently made a comment that Fahrenheit 451 was not about censorship and I went WTF?! Okay, I’m not going to completely discount this because as the author he knows better but I’m still holding onto my original belief that when firemen are going around burning books there’s censorship going on.

  33. Vincent: I was just as surprised by Bradbury’s comment, and it raises another point about an author’s intent.

    One of the interesting things about art is that it’s a collaborative activity between creator and audience. And while the creator of a piece may think he’s dealing with a certain theme or idea, that’s not always the case, and not always because the creator “fails” to express himself. Sometimes the creator is too close to the piece, or unconscious of subtexts, or the piece takes on a life of its own during the creative process. (In my own creative dabblings, I’ve had characters in a story say something that surprised me or–back when I used to play guitar more and fancied myself a musician–I’ve written songs that I thought were about one thing, only to realize when playing them later that a song was actually about something else. I doubt these are unusual experiences.)

    The audience, upon receiving a piece, may perceive all sorts of things that really are there (everyone in the audience can see it and agrees on it), that the creator really, honestly didn’t know were there. I think, for instance, that possibly everybody except Ray Bradbury sees F451 as being about censorship and totalitarianism. Is it really that likely or even possible that everyone’s wrong?

    It can be a tough call. Many people believe Lord Of The Rings was about WWII, something Tolkien denied and I happen to agree with him on: I don’t think LOTR works very well as allegory of any kind.

    I suppose that what I’m getting at is: there’s give-and-take, and an artist’s interpretation of his own work is relevant (and in some cases might be persuasive)–but it’s not dispositive and it can’t be, because that’s not how art works. It’s not the “artist’s vision” at all, but what happens somewhere halfway between the artist and audience.

  34. It seems to me that if I look back upon having read a book with this newfound information and exclaim “So that’s why he did it!” then either I didn’t read the book very well or the author didn’t write it very well.

    An unresolved motivation for a character’s actions may accidentally result upon ruthless editing but otherwise it’s left out to further the plot in the next story or because the writer didn’t know what it was to begin with (or didn’t realize it mattered to anyone.)

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