I Had a Comrade

October 24, 2007 | 107 comments
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By now you will have heard the news that J.K. Rowling herself has decided to preempt the Dumbledore slash fiction. She reveals that Dumbledore’s intense attraction to Grindelwald was homosexual attraction.

But if you want an explanation for why this is silly, see Ross Douthat’s and his follow-up. My real concern is the devaluation of male friendship, of which this is only an example. My real concern is that modern times implicitly deny that deep male intimacy can be something other than sexual (whether carnally sexual or platonic).

I know better, because I’ve experienced that intimacy. I knew one or two companions on my mission that I loved almost insanely. We walked down the streets together arm in arm. When we sat we leaned against each other, like John the Beloved laying against Jesus. Separation was painful. I don’t think it would be distorting the hothouse atmosphere of those days too much to say we would have died for each other. I knew a couple of soldiers–I knew an atheist seminary drop out in Spain–I knew a handful of fellow students–with whom it was the same.

The shame of our times is that even now some of you can’t read this without thinking that of we friends I or the other must have been latently gay.

107 Responses to I Had a Comrade

  1. Dan on October 24, 2007 at 6:19 am

    I don’t think you’re gay for having that kind of friendship. I think that we are certainly devaluing the relationship men have one toward another when we make such close relationship as Dumbledore apparently had with this Grindelwald be sexual in nature. I think there is still so much that we just do not understand about ourselves, how we truly work.

  2. Norbert on October 24, 2007 at 6:38 am

    A good point. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    It also seems odd for an author to discuss a character beyond the scope of the text — it seems to me the text should stand on its own, and I as the reader should be allowed to read the relationships between characters for myself. If he is gay, than make that explicit in the text: if the text is ambiguous, then the reader gets to decide. I find this authorial intrusion ridiculous and immaterial. (And does the book need the publicity this statement seems designed to create?)

  3. Doug Hudson on October 24, 2007 at 7:43 am

    Norbert, I’ve heard that JKR is working on an Encyclopedia of the HP universe, which will contain many tidbits like this.

    As for why she is sharing, many authors, especially those who “world build” like JKR, have a lot more detail for their world than is necessary or appropriate for the actual books. Some of them, understandably fond of their creations, like to share this information with the fans.

    The fans, for their part, are vehemently divided on whether it is appropriate (check out the HP fansites and livejournals for absolutely vicious arguments.) Many agree with you–if it is not text, then they don’t want to know. Others love the extra tidbits (as evidenced by the tons of people asking JKR questions.) Live and let live, says I…its easy enough to disregard her comments as “non-canonical”.

    The funny part to me about the furor is that everyone is discussing the revelation about Dumbledore, but few are mentioning the implications about Aberforth and the … well, I’ll spare your sensibilities, but its much worse.

    To your point, Adam, I agree–its the same sort of thing that irks me when everyone talks about the “obvious homosexuality” in the Lord of the Rings…to be sure, some of the things code “gay” to modern readers, but it is fairly certain that Tolkein was just hearkening back the days when men could say they loved each other without meaning homosexual love.

  4. Jonathan Green on October 24, 2007 at 8:48 am

    After several thousand pages devoted to the friendship of Harry and Ron, why is a single extra-textual reference to an episode of youthful homosexual attraction deep in one character’s past–an episode that ends in disappointment and regret, moreover–some kind of threat to the possibility of male friendship?

  5. Eric Boysen on October 24, 2007 at 9:30 am

    I suspect that eventually Rowling will write more of the back story and will include more of what the world calls “adult themes.” She will want literary respect that only comes from exploration of the dark side of human character. Nothing about it will reduce my appreciation for her current corpus, but the effect will be one more ink stain on the white wall and a coat of whitewash on the black wall.

    There need be nothing carnal about the love between men. Such love is often written of in the scriptures (c.f. 2 Sam 1:26 – (David to Jonathan) I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.), and, yes, is found in Tolkien. Everyone who reads LOR should be able to see the reality of the Great War written into the battle scenes. Here is an author who was there. And in the awful carnage fell many of his bosom friends of youth. The friendship they shared and the pain of their loss pours out of the pages in blood and tears.

    Most male friendships that are of any depth and strength must be created in doing something together, something with value and in the face of great odds. The values may be ephemeral and the contest artificial or it may be over eternal principles and the venue one of deadly action, but something beautiful can be created amid the chaos and destruction.

    What an awful time the iron has in the forge, but perhaps when the Great Smith is done, the tool rejoices in its new found form, strength and function.

  6. danithew on October 24, 2007 at 9:40 am

    While the Harry Potter books are fine, I’ve never understood why they are so huge. In my opinion, the author and the books don’t deserve all the attention they get. But it’s a reality.

    Regardless of how a person feels about the Potter books – it doesn’t seem appropriate to me that children’s literature is an arena for a political battle over gay rights or gay acceptance. However, sexuality and sexual issues are so ubiquitous in media these days – maybe at this point it doesn’t even make a difference.

  7. TMD on October 24, 2007 at 9:46 am

    I think JKR made her characters much less interesting by doing this. The practical effect is that she has made her world much more of a cliche than it was. Much of the novels seemed to advance the idea the eccentricity, etc., were ok, and sometimes even positive things–Dumbledore’s ‘touches of lavender’–Hay’s (I thnk) famous description of Lincoln were perhaps the best example of this. Now we find it was really just all part of a stereotype of a gay man. Apparently, the message is you can’t be eccentric without being gay…which is ok, but still, by saying this she has reified categories that it had seemed that she was trying to break.

    More generally, I think you’re right, Adam–she has only advanced further the idea in kids’ minds that the only kind of really close freindship between guys, beyond the age of 13, is suggestive of homosexuality. Which is unfortunate, since it makes will make it more difficult for those people to have those kinds of friendships.

  8. z on October 24, 2007 at 9:54 am

    I think the anti-gay side contributes to this problem by stigmatizing and punishing homosexuality. It increases the social cost of the potential friendship, because the possibility of being mistakenly thought homosexual is a larger problem if homosexuality is rejected by the community.

  9. Nick Literski on October 24, 2007 at 10:23 am

    When you read a story containing romantic attraction between a man and a woman, does this “devalue” male-female friendship? Does this constitute “the implicit denial” that deep male-female intimacy can be “something other than sexual (whether carnally sexual or platonic)?” Of course not. Why then, should the outing of Dumbledore create such a response?

    Another aspect of the post concerns me. I am a gay man, and my best friend also happens to be a gay man. Our friendship is very intimate, and incredibly important to each of us. We are as much “brothers” as two unrelated men could ever be. That said, we wouldn’t dream of becoming sexually intimate—the very idea is just creepy to both of us, almost incestuous. If two gay men can share an intimate friendship that is not sexual in nature, why on earth does anyone need to worry that Dumbledore’s outing “devalues” non-sexual intimate bonds between heterosexual men?

  10. Ivan Wolfe on October 24, 2007 at 10:38 am

    This is happening more and more. I was reading a recent Moon Knight comic book, and an old character – Frenchie – “outs” himself. When Moon Knight said “you should have told me years ago – we were friends and I wouldn’t have cared”. Frenchie replies (paraphrased) “it should have been obvious from how devoted my friendship was.” In other words, two men can’t be really close friends without at least one being gay. It’s creeping into the pop culture more and more.

    Of course, I’m surprised no one has brought in D. Michael Quinn’s yet. He wrote a book on this idea (of course, I found the book to be absolutely ludicrous. Considering it was the first Quinn book I ever read – well, ever since then I’ve been mystified why people take Quinn seriously).

  11. Ivan Wolfe on October 24, 2007 at 10:51 am

    The best commentary on the Rowling revelation has come from two sources:

    Hogwartsprofessor.com

    http://hogwartsprofessor.com/?p=198

    excerpt:
    My conclusions about the “Dumbledore is gay” media event and Fandom tempest, then, are:
    (1) The meaning of Ms. Rowling’s words are best understood in the contexts of her “connection” that night with the 19 year old woman who asked the question and of the dynamics of the crowd at this Open Book Tour event;
    (2) The media presentation of the event as Ms. Rowling’s endorsement of homosexuality and an anti-faith agenda was straight from Rita Skeeter’s notebook and part of their endless campaign to convince the public that Ms. Rowling is the enemy of their enemy, namely, the Church;
    (3) The anguished and disappointed response of many Christian readers to these reports was also according to Culture War formula and in keeping with a hyperextended understanding of the word “gay;”
    (4) “Dumbledore is gay” no more makes the books an invitation to homosexuality or contrary to orthodox Christian belief than “Sorcerer’s Stone” made them a “gateway to the occult;”

    and from Neil Gaiman:
    http://www.neilgaiman.com/journal/2007/10/flowers-of-romance.html

    excerpt from Gaiman:
    And, truth to tell, sexuality tends to be such a minor thing, if you have several hundred characters running around in your head. You know more than you’ve written. One of the characters in Wall in Stardust, for example, is not what he is pretending to be in a way that has nothing at all to do with sex, although the clues are all there in the book, but if I don’t do another story set in Wall you’ll never find out who he is, or even why he’s interesting.

    Both of these are much longer, so read the whole thing(s).

  12. Adam Greenwood on October 24, 2007 at 11:25 am

    Thanks for the comments, all, and particularly your overwrought, passionate, sincere prose, Eric B. That comment is one I’d be proud to write.

    Note that male friendships aren’t the only ones that can suffer. I know a woman in our ward who has a real hard time with the others at her high school accusing her of being lesbian because (1) she has close female friends and (2) she doesn’t whore herself out.

  13. Jacob M on October 24, 2007 at 11:26 am

    Adam, I think you are on to something here. Why is it that men can’t express a loving relationship to each other without the fear of sounding gay? I do think part of the problem is that the word love has come to mean a physical sexual attraction between people, at least in the literary and Hollywood world. Rowling seems caught up in that type of thinking, which is sad.

    I had figured that it was Grindlewald’s charisma that had caught Dumbledore. Kind of a Hitler parable sorta thing.

  14. Janet on October 24, 2007 at 11:26 am

    Heh, I had a bet with myself regarding how long it would take someone on the ‘nacle to take up the Dumbledore discussion! And I’d bet on T&S since you guys have such a huge staff. Congratulations, Adam! You win……um…..I could send you the funny comments an acquaintance made about the series’ penchant for leading youth to hell. They’re rewarding in a jocularity-inducing way. (She didn’t understand that *The Onion’s* article on the subject was satire, and sent it to everyone she knew as argumentative proof of Rowling’s wicked ways.)

    I have no problem with Rowling outing her character–characters may technically be the artistic creation of the author but they have this nasty habit or developing themselves in your head seemingly without conscious input from you. It is quite unnerving.

    That said, thanks for bringing up the topic of male friendship. I am exceedingly tired of people claiming that male-to-male love MUST be homosexual because of the reason you state: it devalues friendship for friendship’s sake. Men already face intense social pressure to be tough, blablahblah, and that our cultural obsession with sexuality should undermine or detract from a primary means of male intimacy simply stinks. It makes gay guys with a partners AND close male friends look promiscuous, straight guys with wives look like closeted liars, and subverts all you fellers’ ability to have richer lives without causing tittery gossip. ‘Tis good for nobody of no sexual persuasion.

    Though I don’t mind w/Dumbledore since intense sexual attraction in teenage years provides an explanation for how a moral character got sucked into immoral political shenanigans. Adolescent sexual desire wreaks havoc upon the logical brain; I’d have understood equally if he’d been a nitwit over Bellatrix LeStrange briefly in his youth.

  15. Adam Greenwood on October 24, 2007 at 11:35 am

    I had figured that it was Grindlewald’s charisma that had caught Dumbledore. Kind of a Hitler parable sorta thing.

    If Rowling wanted to make a Serious Point, that would have been a better one. But I think Ross Douthat is right that Serious Points are out of place.

  16. Janet on October 24, 2007 at 11:38 am

    Ivan, thanks for the excerpts–especially the bit about Rita Skeeter’s notebook. Excellent.

    Adam–do you think the sort of friendships you describe in your past are rare amongst men, or just rarely discussed? With one rather notable exception (I was report to BYU’s standards for being a lesbian because my BF and I walked around campus with our arms around each other’s shoulders), I’ve never noticed platonic intimacy between women causing anyone consternation.

  17. trish on October 24, 2007 at 11:47 am

    #10, my daughter has had the same hard time because she hates pink, dresses and everything frilly. She has even had trouble with teachers ….she is 8.

  18. Janet on October 24, 2007 at 11:55 am

    Oops, I’d missed #10. How terribly sad. Things have changed since I was in high school. Homophobia may have abounded, but unless I was oblivious, only boys were in the cross-hairs. Sigh.

    I left something out of my #14–some teenage boys threw a very large rock at my BF and me one night on Center Street. They drove by in a pickup, tires as low-slung as their minds, pitched this missile, yelled “f#$#@##$ dykes” at us, and zoomed off. The incident took me totally off guard, and that’s the difference I see between men and women when it comes to intense platonic friendship; none of my guy friends–gay or straight–would’ve been so shocked by such a reaction to their linked arms. Double sigh.

  19. cyril on October 24, 2007 at 11:58 am

    Adam, it\’s not that I disagree with your lament, it\’s that I disagree that what you lament (the inability of non-sexual male bond that is powerful, deep, loving, and accepted/embraced for what it is) is somehow new. It is not.

    Further, using your logic, one could also lament the inability of men to hold/touch children who aren\’t there own in an affectionate way without raising eyebrows.

    Perception is powerful, even in the mind of the perceived.

  20. Seth R. on October 24, 2007 at 11:59 am

    Honestly, the “revelation” didn’t bug me in the slightest. The mad rush to slot this into some larger social agenda seems rather overwrought to me.

    It fits with the character and makes sense within the story. Good enough right?

    Now if Rowling had tried to neatly pair off Neville with Luna in the end though…. Now THAT I would be irritated about. To be quite frank, the lame relationship between Lupin and Tonks bugs me more than this does.

    Although it does make the post I’m planning on Joseph Smith and Harry Potter a bit awkward….

  21. Adam Greenwood on October 24, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    Further, using your logic, one could also lament the inability of men to hold/touch children who aren\’t there own in an affectionate way without raising eyebrows

    I do lament it.

  22. Andrew on October 24, 2007 at 12:07 pm

    Adam, excellent, excellent post. I appreciate when someone identifies a problem that’s right under our noses but that we haven’t been noticing.

    There was a time when you could call a buddy up and ask if he wanted to “go to go to dinner and a movie” and nobody suspected that “gayness” was behind it. Nowadays my friends at work would refer to this sort of male-male outing as a “Mandate”–gayness has to be suspected or implied. And if I wear anything nicer than an old pair of jeans and a T-shirt when I go to the movies with a male friend, I wonder if I’m sending out signals to bystanders that we are gay–simply by being dressed nicely in the company of another man. And, of course, we have to sit in the movie theater with one empty chair between us to make our un-gayness clear to the world.

    To me, this is just one more example of how men are getting a raw deal these days (yes, I said men), but that’s a rant for another day . . .

  23. GR on October 24, 2007 at 12:22 pm

    Read the letters of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed. Completely misunderstood by ignorant people in our time.

    I\’d say that this unfortunate presumption, that a man having deep feelings for another man can only exist by homosexual tendencey, may also confuse the minds of many young men in our age not only to the end that they feel it is an expression of homosexuality in general but that if they have such feelings it may be a sign to themselves that they are gay and have not realized it.

  24. Andrew on October 24, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    GR, Amen.

  25. tracy m on October 24, 2007 at 12:39 pm

    My whole problem is with an author (or producer or director or artist) adding after-the-fact, is their taking away my right to extrapolate what I will from the piece of work. Part of the fancy of engaging in a fictional world is that I GET to infer and fill in for what is implied or left open in the text (or film or artwork). It takes something away, my participation in my own experience, if an artist adds to the work once it’s been given as a finished work. If there is more to add, write it for heaven’s sake. Otherwise, shut up.

    David Chase did this recently with the Sopranos, too. I just hate it.

  26. austin smith on October 24, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    I agree that it’s deplorable that homosexuality is automatically read into close male relationships these days, but I think that it’s also naive to think that no close male relationships have a homosexual aspect to them. There are people who are gay, and I don’t think it’s wrong for the author to have decided that Dumbledore is that way. Of course we can read it as playing into the stereotype that all intimate male-male friendships are only between gay men, but we could also just see it as a gay character having an experience that must have been very difficult for him–an experience that many young gay men have.

    I guess it all comes down to how we judge the author’s motives. I agree that it would have been better to either make it explicit in the book or not at all, but it’s been made explicit now, and I don’t agree that we can just assume that Rowling is playing into damaging stereotypes.

    Then again, feel free to disregard all my thoughts here as I’ve never read any of the books…

  27. cyril on October 24, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    But I don’t think these are new phenomena is my point, and there are sometimes very wise reasons for them. More pronounced today than 100 years ago, yes. But not new.

  28. jjohnsen on October 24, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    “It also seems odd for an author to discuss a character beyond the scope of the text — it seems to me the text should stand on its own, and I as the reader should be allowed to read the relationships between characters for myself. If he is gay, than make that explicit in the text: if the text is ambiguous, then the reader gets to decide. I find this authorial intrusion ridiculous and immaterial. (And does the book need the publicity this statement seems designed to create?)”

    It has been mentioned elsewhere that this actually came to light because the writers of one of the movies slipped in a line about a former Dumbledore girlfriend, and Rowling had to correct it. Many books on writing that I’ve read have authors mention how much of a universe they’re created that never sees print. I assume Rowling always knew Dumbledore was a gay character, and just responded honestly to the question. If readers weren’t interested in more than what’s in the book, they wouldn’t attend functions such as the one where Rowling answered questions about various characters. People were asking questions and she was answering them. Unless you believe the person asking the question was a plant, I doubt Rowling answered the question this way for publicity. Like you said, the books and movies don’t really need any more publicity.

  29. jjohnsen on October 24, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    “If there is more to add, write it for heaven’s sake. Otherwise, shut up.”

    She’s giving the public what they want, the only reason it’s making a stir is because one of the questions she answered was about homosexuality. Is anyone complaining that she answered questions about other characters various relationships?

  30. tracy m on October 24, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    Is anyone complaining that she answered questions about other characters various relationships?

    I am.

    (I couldn’t care less about Dumbledore’s sexuality- as a matter of fact, I think the bru-haha in conservative groups is kind of analagous to a family finding out a loved one is gay, and then having to deal with it- an interesting dynamic.)

    When a work is done, stop. Allow me the pleasure of my own imagination. That is part of the promise of fiction, be it movie, play or novel. It’s like Margaret Mitchell not telling the world what happened when Rhett left. We, the reader, get to do that ourselves. If there was more for HER to tell, it should be in the book, part of the art.

    Otherwise, I stand by my original (albeit rude) statement: Shut up.

  31. tracy m on October 24, 2007 at 1:22 pm

    Oh crud. Can someone fix my open-ended italics? Sorry.

  32. Ana on October 24, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    I’ve actually been thinking a lot of Mormons would admire a gay Dumbledore who, after youthful indiscretions, became devoted to a higher cause and – well, he certainly seemed celibate in the books.

  33. Matt W. on October 24, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    Read the letters of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed

    This reminds me of the book Quinn did on Homosexuality in the early church….

    unfortunate.

  34. Christopher on October 24, 2007 at 1:40 pm

    Ivan (#8)

    Of course, I’m surprised no one has brought in D. Michael Quinn’s yet. He wrote a book on this idea (of course, I found the book to be absolutely ludicrous. Considering it was the first Quinn book I ever read – well, ever since then I’ve been mystified why people take Quinn seriously).

    Interesting comments considering most academics consider Same Sex Dynamics in 19th Century America: A Mormon Example to be Quinn’s most legitimate and scholarly work (it is Quinn’s only book to date published by an academic press). Gender historians and religious historians alike praised the book.

  35. Christopher on October 24, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    Matt W.,

    Quinn’s book would better be described as being about homosociality (not homosexuality) in the early Church.

  36. Geoff B on October 24, 2007 at 2:09 pm

    It is extremely disheartening for me to say that when I heard this news from JK Rowling I had to tell my tween-age children so they didn’t hear it elsewhere and so I could explain the context. They both kind of shrugged and said, “weird.” It didn’t seem to make a big impact, but I’m still sad I even had to tell them.

    My personal theory is that Rowling has been getting a lot of negative pressure in the UK from secularists/humanists about her Christian references in Harry Potter, and she revealed this information out of a desire to be “politically correct.” I have no facts to back that up, just a theory.

  37. Ardis Parshall on October 24, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    Quinn depicted Evan Stephens not only as gay, but as a predatory pedophile. That, to me, discredits any possible value his book might have had. Stephens’ life, writings, and speeches are the perfectly documented Mormon example of the kind of intimate, nonsexual male friendships Adam writes about.

  38. Christopher on October 24, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    Ardis,

    Fair enough. I wasn’t arguing for the explicit validity of all of Quinn’s conclusions, but rather just pointing out that the book was fairly well received by academia. And it does seem a little overly-critical to discredit an entire book because of one example in that book.

  39. Matt W. on October 24, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    Chrstopher, have you read the book?

    As far as I can tell, outside of the crop of Farms reviews, it only got one two reviews, one under the Jan Shipps influenced Journal of American History, and one in the Journal of Church History and Culture. I’ve read neither, but I’d say the book, if anything was widely ignored by academia, much like the rest of Mormonism…

  40. BiV on October 24, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    I don’t know if any of you who are criticizing Quinn’s book actually read it. The book was quite good, and pointed to the historical differences in male friendships in Joseph Smith’s day. I think you can read the parts on Evan Stevens as accusatory or merely descriptive, as you wish. I preferred to think Quinn was merely describing anecdotes in Stevens’ life, and I didn’t come to the conclusion that Stevens was gay. In fact, taken with the rest of the book, his behavior went along with what was quite common among many males.

  41. Costanza on October 24, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    FWIW,
    Walker, Whittaker, and Allen described the “Same Sex Dynamics” book as “an important book, probably Quinn’s best,” because it “considered Mormonism’s wider American context, had new information and views and treated a topic that was once taboo.” They do admit that Quinn’s “conclusions at times overreached his evidence.” This material appeared in their book MORMON HISTORY (U Illinois 2001, 86).

  42. Christopher on October 24, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    Matt, I would hardly say the book was ignored. In addition to the journals you mention, Quinn’s book was also reviewed in Utopian Studies, Western Historical Quarterly, Journal of Men’s Studies, History: The Journal of the Historical Association, Journal of Religious History, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, and the Journal of Women’s History.

  43. Costanza on October 24, 2007 at 2:54 pm

    All due respect BiV, but I have read the book and Quinn makes it very clear what he thinks of Stephens. Consider:
    Quinn writes that Stephens went to “Central Park for ‘some sort of companionship.’ In New York at that time, Central Park was a well-known place for men to meet for sexual encounters.” It seems to me that his obvious implication is that Stephens went to Central Park for such an encounter. Otherwise this passage makes no sense. It also highlights Quinns propensity for reaching conclusions well beyond the evidence.

  44. Matt W. on October 24, 2007 at 3:19 pm

    Christopher, I wasn’t aware, and am impressed by the list. I’d love to read the reviews if they are available online.

  45. Christopher on October 24, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    If you have access to a University Library, you can access most of them through JSTOR. I think the real value of Quinn’s book isn’t what it contributes to the history of Mormonism, but rather what it contributes to the history of sexuality.

  46. Ardis Parshall on October 24, 2007 at 3:29 pm

    Specific to Adam’s post, Quinn paints Stephens’ generosity in providing room and board to young people so that they can attend school as though Stephens were using the boys as sexual partners. Quinn doesn’t tell us that his young guests were girls as well as boys, or that virtually all the boys later married, or that their surviving letters to Stephens are what you would expect to be written by grateful beneficiaries of a grandfather’s generosity, with no undercurrent of sexuality whatsoever. The so-called “blond Viking” Quinn makes such a big deal about was Stephens’s own nephew, for crying out loud, whom he took to New York City to enroll in school; the term “blond Viking,” which Quinn pretends was Stephens’s term, was a descriptor used by a friend (not Stephens) in the boy’s school yearbook. In other words, Quinn depicts Stephens as a predator for taking young boys under his wing under false pretenses.

    BIV, you can “prefer” to think Quinn was “merely describing anecdotes,” but Quinn’s writing is more pointed (and slanderous, since Stephens can’t defend himself) than you acknowledge.

  47. Ray on October 24, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    Personal opinion: I agree with Geoff in #34. She’s a billionaire right now; I doubt she cares about the dollars anymore. I think she wants to be taken more seriously as an author (someone else said that earlier), and this is one way to make that happen. She knew that this revelation would have hurt sales, so she waited until after the sales had flattened out to reveal it – when those who hadn’t read the “children’s fantasies” might buy them to find the previously unrevealed adult themes. Maybe I’m just a bit too cynical, but . . .

    Do I care if Dumbledore is gay? Not in the slightest. I actually like the idea of a gay man being such a wonderful role model – of love and service and dedication and loyalty and repentance (of arrogance, not homosexuality). The fact that he appears to have been celibate only adds to the appeal for me as a Mormon. In many ways, that makes him the ultimate Mormon superhero. *grin*

    Do I mind the revelation? Absolutely. My problem is that there truly is no hint whatsoever in the books, so it should be left that way. To make his friendship and bond with Grindelwald the proof of his homosexuality is disturbing, for exactly the reason Adam articulates so well. Tracy M said it well: I want (and I want my kids) to be free to create their own interpretations without every little detail being spelled out. These are fantasies, after all.

    Having said all of that, this is further proof that it is good to not be an evangelical Christian. To think that these are the people who think I am a brain-washed member of a cult.

  48. Jeremy on October 24, 2007 at 4:27 pm

    I think the best response to the Dumbledore-is-gay controversy came from a fake man-on-the street in The Onion the other day. When asked what he thought of the revelation, the fake respondent replied “Wow. I hadn’t heard that. I’ve been really busy lately not caring about the sexual preferences of fictional people.”

  49. Janet on October 24, 2007 at 4:30 pm

    GR–Amen squared. I once chatted with a shrink who worked at the MTC and she told me her two biggest problems consisted of elders finally trying to come to terms with their homosexuality while in the highly-charged atmosphere of missionary training (poor guys) and elders terrified that they intense feelings of *homosocial* intimacy they felt for their district-mates meant they were gay. Confusion all ’round.

    And whoo-boy, did that book about Abe Lincoln make me roll my eyes. Now the homosocial/sexual chapter in *Moby Dick* I’ll buy into, but the Abe letters? Not so much.

  50. Jacob M on October 24, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    46 – That is classic!

    47 – I don’t buy into that in Moby Dick. Melville was purposefully playing on cultural misunderstandings. Granted, the first time I read it, I thought it was the gayest scene I’d ever read, but I was like, 13 at the time. When I read it again about a year ago, I found myself laughing almost hysterically during that sequence.

  51. Joseph D. Walch on October 24, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    The shame of our times is that even now some of you can’t read this without thinking that of we friends I or the other must have been latently gay.

    What an indictment of our society, however subtle. It is true that some people will neither have healthy close relationships with either the same or opposite gender; but they also project their own warped worldly view on the healthy relationships of others.

    Then there are other ‘searchers’ (ahem comment #1) who just don’t understand ‘how it all works’ and therefore leave the door cracked for suspicion and psychoanalytical deconstruction. They do so ostensibly from the ‘intellectually honest’ grounds of objective inquiry, but the devil is in the details. No one, except children, can seriously claim objective innocence about topics of sexuality. The fact that this controversy concerns the fantasies in a children’s book make it all the more insidious (sorry Ray, I don’t think this is just about letting the kids have the right to imagine the characters themselves—otherwise we should equally condemn the movies—or perhaps be more charitable towards our Christian friends). Teach the children the ways of sexual deviancy early and they will never go astray (or go straight?, depends on what/how we teach).

    IMHO, such a statement, as you’ve suggested, stated seriously; is just another example of the warped sexuality that permeates our society; which in large part prevents the full flowering of our sociality.

  52. Adam Greenwood on October 24, 2007 at 7:31 pm

    F.P. Barbieri:

    Among my strongest reasons to object to [slash fiction] was what I described as an ignorant and jealous female reaction to male friendship: hello, here are a bunch of guys doing everything together – they must be having it off in secret, since of course guys only ever think of one thing, and it is inconceivable that they should have any interest in anything except the one thing.

    I detested and still detest that attitude. You may therefore imagine my pleasure when I found that JKR had, not just declared that Dumbledore was homosexual, but that he was homosexual IN THAT, as a teen-ager – as a teen-ager, mind you – he had been infatuated with the handsome and brilliant Grindelwald. Because, you know, infatuation – especially in the case of a brilliant intellect starved of intellectual companionship – has no proper home except the crotch!

  53. BiV on October 24, 2007 at 7:57 pm

    Adam, once again, one of your brilliant comments.

  54. Adam Greenwood on October 24, 2007 at 7:58 pm

    Sly, BiV. Very sly.

  55. Seth R. on October 24, 2007 at 8:46 pm

    Of more concern to me is how the actor who plays Dumbledore is going to handle this, if at all.

    Let’s face it, the current actor really isn’t that good. Neither am I impressed with the current director. I’m just worried he’s going to start adding “feminine flourishes” to the character or the director is going to try and write in certain undertones to scenes with Harry and Dumbledore – which both gays and anti-gays should find rightly offensive.

    Sorry, I just have little real respect for the current director. I wouldn’t put it past him to try something moronic like this.

  56. Costanza on October 24, 2007 at 10:39 pm

    Michael Gambon is a GREAT actor.

  57. Seth R. on October 24, 2007 at 11:00 pm

    Yeah, well… he’s downright awful in this particular role.

  58. Sarah on October 24, 2007 at 11:03 pm

    I don’t care whether Gambon is a great actor or not, he’s a terrible Dumbledore. I’ve been rooting for his death since first viewing the sleeping-in-the-Great-Hall scene in PoA, and that was I think two years before Dumbledore’s death in the books was confirmed.

    I thought this was an incredibly silly and self-serving (maybe just self-absorbed) move on Rowling’s part. It gains her publicity and acceptance from a group (the artsy, it’s-not-literature-if-you-can-actually-understand-or-enjoy-it) that to a certain extent made fun of Potter (and I would assume the entire class of people who criticized Star Trek for not having openly gay characters would be happy with this — except there’s not a hint of Dumbledore being gay in the text, which is more in line with what they seemingly want.) It only really hurts her with the “Harry Potter teaches children to become witches and dance naked in the moonlight” crowd, and as a bonus, she (or her defenders) can accuse anyone who’s annoyed by it that they’re homophobes.

    I’ve had less and less admiration for Rowling as an author since Goblet of Fire was released — this doesn’t reverse the trend at all. If she wanted to be brave, she would have had a character “come out” on the page, and it would have been a character we could actually see making these kinds of choices and having these kinds of struggles in real time, rather than speculatively sixty-plus years later. The best I can say is “eh, it was in her notes, and she just never cared before, and then she got asked the question,” and even that doesn’t really make her look good. And she has in the past made an effort to not mess with kids’ sense of what’s proper in terms of human relationships, reprimanding them for being so interested in Draco and Snape (and their choice of romantic partners, or seeming lack thereof.) If she thought that kids were likely to see “close male friendships = gay” from her answer, she could have addressed it at the time. I also don’t think she just got the question at random and wasn’t prepared for it — these Q&A sessions she does seem to be done with pre-approved questions, the way they are in televised campaign events.

    (and the “Dumbledore didn’t stop Grindlewald because he was in LOVE with him” line forces us to ask about his feelings towards Tom Riddle, whose threats Dumbledore didn’t work up the gumption to resolve until over fifty years after they first came to his attention!)

  59. Tatiana on October 24, 2007 at 11:59 pm

    I don’t think she said that with any sort of underhanded motive at all. I think she simply answered a question asked by her fan. I think she’s known Dumbledore was gay for a long time, but it never came up in the course of the story. I really don’t understand why anyone is upset about it. Particularly Mormons, who should be delighted that Dumbledore set such a good example of lifelong celibacy. His love for Grindelwald was unrequited, she said.

    I totally am glad to get more information about the characters. I never guessed that Dumbledore was gay from the books, but now that she said it, I can see how it makes all kinds of sense. I think it upsets me that people are upset. The statement I’ve heard so many people make that she should quit giving out this information makes no sense to me. I can’t help but think people wouldn’t have felt that way about almost any other revelation. They somehow resent Dumbledore’s gayness, it seems, and that doesn’t reflect well on them, to me.

  60. Joel on October 25, 2007 at 12:07 am

    The biggest problem with Rowling\’s revelation is that the Harry Potter series revolves around character development. Rowling\’s genius lies in her ability to make readers invest themselves in her characters. Why else would a young teenager trudge through so many 500+ page books. Kids actually care about the characters in Harry Potter\’s world. For those who see parts of themselves in Rowling\’s characters, this revelation, especially because of the way the media has framed it, truly raises questions about the nature of the \”love\” Dumbledore continuously touts as Harry Potter\’s greatest weapon against evil.

  61. Russell Arben Fox on October 25, 2007 at 12:29 am

    Alan Jacobs, evangelical Christian, social conservative, English professor at Wheaton College, author of a highly praised book on C.S. Lewis, and the single most thoughtful commenter on the Harry Potter books (and what he recognizes as their deep and obvious everyday Christian morality) I know of, weighs in on the Dumbledore controversy here. His basic questions: why does this surprise anyone, and why would anyone understand the casual revelation of a background detail that never made it into the actual books themselves to be meant to be an incentive to rethink the books entirely, or to rethink what the books have to say about friendship or indeed anything else?

  62. Janet on October 25, 2007 at 1:15 am

    Jacob M (#49)–No kidding on the hysterical laughter. Anyone who thinks that particular tome is devoid of humor really needs to read at least that much of it!

  63. Pre on October 25, 2007 at 2:25 am

    1- Quinn\’s book was not about homosexuality, rather the larger narrative of the book exposed the sad loss of the homosocial aspect of the church (which it can easily be argued helped to cement mens\’ commitment to each other and the family of the church) as it became more preoccupied with rooting out any homosexual content/contingent and with its move to appear more americanized. Imagine how much better Elders\’ Q. would be if we were actually tied together by something other than a desire to be somewhere else. True enough, Quinn probably oversteps in some of his conclusions but the overall point of the book is still valid.

    2- Dumbledore is JKR\’s character and she can do what she wants with him. I don\’t think it cheapens his character to have had some intense relationship/crush/admiration in his youth, because this is not uncommon, but rather his life was spent in another manner. Furthermore, this does not sully his other strong male friendships as none of them were sexualized or sexually charged in any way.

    3- I have brothers, both blood and otherwise, that I would die for. Several of my mission companions (15 years ago now) and I are still very close. It was nothing to wrap an arm around them then and it is still the same today and none of this affection is sexual in nature. Physical affection is a very natural human thing in which to engage and should be encouraged. Reading the letters of Jefferson to Adams and others suggests a much of the same affection we find in early saints\’ letters. I don\’t see any of this as a direct result of sexual politics but as a result of the misdirected individualism in our society that came after the industrial revolution when we stopped needing each others\’ physical presence and began to think we need big personal space.

    4- Brothers are a good thing and if everyone is worried that a celibate gay character is cheapening male friendships then you would be wise to go make some good male friendships right now to start showing your sons how men should relate, hugs and all.

  64. Dr. B. on October 25, 2007 at 5:39 am

    I don’t understand what the big furor is since authors are always deconstructing. Rowling’s clarification just gives us a way to once again discuss the gay issue among Mormons. Gay Mormons are sincere people but as Mark E. Petersen used to say about Jehovah’s Witnesses “just sincerely wrong.” I am not a homophobic. I am sure that many Church leaders sympathize but there is no way that Mormon authorities will ever in this Millennium change their viewpoint when the Bible is so clear about what is a perversion and what is not. Don’t confuse Blacks and the priesthood, a sociological change being made in institutional practice, with a clearly doctrinal concept as espoused by Paul.

  65. Dan Ellsworth on October 25, 2007 at 6:39 am

    I think it’s possible to have a perfectly straight cuddle with a buddy or two in the back of a suburban, but personally, I can’t hold hands with another guy. I tried it once, and it felt just too weird. I realize that other guys draw the line in dfifferent places; not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  66. quinn mccoy on October 25, 2007 at 6:58 am

    Interestingly enough, the TV scrubs talked about the relationship between men about 4 years ago, when the main characters sang a song called ‘guy love’, about the friendship that two men can have. check it out on the net if you want.

  67. Dan S. on October 25, 2007 at 7:55 am

    My only concern with learning about Dumbledore being gay is how the author had 7 books to have the opportunity to say that Dumbledore was gay, but didn’t. Apparently, she was afraid that it would detract from the story, and I agree, it would have, though not as much as some might think it would have. Still, by revealing it later, after she said she was done with the series, feels like she’s trying to go back and re-cast the characters in the novel in a way that most readers could not have perceived from reading the work alone. That would be like every author, director, etc., going back through their works and explaining the characters in a way that recasts them (e.g., George Lucas -”by the way, Han Solo was really an android”, Tolkien – “by the way, Frodo and Sam were lovers”, etc.). That messes with your already existing feelings for the work and is unfair to the reader who has invested in the characters as the work described them, not post-commentary.

  68. Ivan Wolfe on October 25, 2007 at 9:19 am

    the author had 7 books to have the opportunity to say that Dumbledore was gay, but didn’t. Apparently, she was afraid that it would detract from the story,

    Not necessarily. You should go read the Neil Gaiman link above. He says it best – there’s always more to the story than an author can put in the book. (one of the interesting parts of Gaiman’s posting is when he says that there is one character of his that he thinks might be gay, but he can’t be sure until it actually comes up in a story. Here’s what he said:
    Neverwhere has two gay characters who are Out, as far as the book is concerned, and one major character who is gay but it isn’t mentioned, simply because that character was one of many people in that book who don’t have any sexual or romantic entanglements during the story. So it’s irrelevant.

    Sometimes even the author doesn’t know for sure. (I used to wonder about Lucien the Librarian in Sandman. On the one hand, I strongly suspected he was gay; on the other, he seemed to have a small unrequited thing for Nuala going on. And if it had ever mattered in a story, I would have found out for certain, but it never did, so I didn’t.)

  69. Eric Boysen on October 25, 2007 at 9:44 am

    #11 Thank you Adam for your kind words.

    I think social boundaries have always been wider for men than women in compensation for a lower degree of emotional sensativity. Gay bashing is a social corrective measure used to keep the boundary in place by shame. The boundary can disappear within a group, even as small as two, but will likely be reasserted by the wider community.

  70. Adam Greenwood on October 25, 2007 at 10:25 am

    After several thousand pages devoted to the friendship of Harry and Ron, why is a single extra-textual reference to an episode of youthful homosexual attraction deep in one character’s past–an episode that ends in disappointment and regret, moreover–some kind of threat to the possibility of male friendship?

    JG, Harry and Ron are buddies. They don’t have the kind of relationship that our times wrongly thinks has to be gay.

    ——————

    Much of the novels seemed to advance the idea the eccentricity, etc., were ok, and sometimes even positive things–Dumbledore’s ‘touches of lavender’– Now we find it was really just all part of a stereotype of a gay man.

    Ugh, I hadn’t thought of that angle, TMD. Oh, well.

    ——————-

    When you read a story containing romantic attraction between a man and a woman, does this “devalue” male-female friendship?

    Nick L., if you think deep male-female friendships without a sexual charge are possible and desirable, and if you live a society which is inclined to think those kinds of friendships would really be sexual, then you should be upset if an author writes a story about such a non-sexual friendship but later reveals that voila, it was sexual.

    —–

    I think the anti-gay side contributes to this problem by stigmatizing and punishing homosexuality. It increases the social cost of the potential friendship, because the possibility of being mistakenly thought homosexual is a larger problem if homosexuality is rejected by the community.

    No, the real problem is that our sexualized times are pulled to think that deep friendships are sexual in nature. This would be wrong even if we thought being gay was paradise.

    ———————-

    Why is it that men can’t express a loving relationship to each other without the fear of sounding gay? I do think part of the problem is that the word love has come to mean a physical sexual attraction between people, at least in the literary and Hollywood world.

    Excellent point, Jacob M. The bigger problem is that we don’t feel comfortable with any virtue or any feeling unless we can explain it in biological terms.

    ——————

    There are people who are gay, and I don’t think it’s wrong for the author to have decided that Dumbledore is that way. Of course we can read it as playing into the stereotype that all intimate male-male friendships are only between gay men

    I do read it that way, Austin Smith.

    ————

    My personal theory is that Rowling has been getting a lot of negative pressure in the UK from secularists/humanists about her Christian references in Harry Potter, and she revealed this information out of a desire to be “politically correct.”

    I suspect the same thing, Geoff B., but you also have to remember that Rowling’s instincts are of the bien-pensant left. She mostly writes better than her background. Anyway, Rowling’s revelation is more representative of a problem than the problem itself.

    ————–

    Do I care if Dumbledore is gay? Not in the slightest. I actually like the idea of a gay man being such a wonderful role model – of love and service and dedication and loyalty and repentance (of arrogance, not homosexuality). The fact that he appears to have been celibate only adds to the appeal for me as a Mormon. In many ways, that makes him the ultimate Mormon superhero. *grin*

    Do I mind the revelation? Absolutely. My problem is that there truly is no hint whatsoever in the books, so it should be left that way. To make his friendship and bond with Grindelwald the proof of his homosexuality is disturbing, for exactly the reason Adam articulates so well.

    Yep.

  71. Adam Greenwood on October 25, 2007 at 10:41 am

    and the “Dumbledore didn’t stop Grindlewald because he was in LOVE with him” line forces us to ask about his feelings towards Tom Riddle, whose threats Dumbledore didn’t work up the gumption to resolve until over fifty years after they first came to his attention!)

    Yikes!

    ———-

    I really don’t understand why anyone is upset about it.

    I suggest reading my post, Tatiana.

    ———–

    this revelation, especially because of the way the media has framed it, truly raises questions about the nature of the ”love” Dumbledore continuously touts as Harry Potter’s greatest weapon against evil.

    Well, I doubt it. Though if you did find that everything he had to say about love was in a male context, that would be odd. But Book 7 cured me of my big enthusiasm for Harry Potter so I don’t really care much from that standpoint.

    ————

    why does this surprise anyone

    Because, RAF, when I read about a deep male intimacy I don’t assume that it involves homosexual attraction.

    and why would anyone understand the casual revelation of a background detail that never made it into the actual books themselves to be meant to be an incentive to rethink the books entirely

    People can rethink the books if they want, Grey Fox, that’s on them. But you’re mistaken if you think that information is insignificant just because its casually imparted.

    or to rethink what the books have to say about friendship or indeed anything else?

    Cardinal, Rowling didn’t say that Dumbledore was gay and then a bunch of troglodytes decided to reevalute Dumbledore’s friendship with Grindelwald in that light. Rowling said that Dumbledore’s friendship with Grindelwald involved homosexual attraction.

    I don\’t see any of this as a direct result of sexual politics but as a result of the misdirected individualism in our society that came after the industrial revolution when we stopped needing each others\’ physical presence and began to think we need big personal space.

    Its obviously both, Pre, in my mind.

    ——–

    Dan S., I think that’s a good explanation for why people are upset.

    ——-

    Gay bashing is a social corrective measure used to keep the boundary in place by shame. The boundary can disappear within a group, even as small as two, but will likely be reasserted by the wider community.

    Quite possibly, Eric B.

  72. Adam Greenwood on October 25, 2007 at 10:42 am

    Thanks for the comments, all. If I didn’t respond to you, its because you left me nothing to say.

  73. Jonathan Green on October 25, 2007 at 10:43 am

    Adam, do you seriously think that Harry and Ron are just buddies? Think back to book 4, and what Harry would miss most. Cedrick Digory and Viktor Krum both choose romantic interests, but Harry chooses Ron. I actually agree with your point about the troubled state of friendship, but I think your reading of Harry Potter is off.

  74. Adam Greenwood on October 25, 2007 at 10:56 am

    Jonathan Green,
    I don’t mean ‘buddy’ as dismissive or as just a shallow friendship, though I can see why it would be read that way. They’re obviously strong, deep friends, just not intense friends.

  75. Rosalynde Welch on October 25, 2007 at 11:02 am

    Adam, from my outside perspective, it seems to me that the kind of intense male friendships you describe generally occur in very narrow social environments, namely all-male groups like the military or the mission, perhaps boarding schools. Sorry to reduce it to the biological, but the competitive instinct between males wakes up when women are around, and homosocial intimacy evaporates.

    Dunno how this relates to Dumbledore, etc. As I’ve said before, my biggest complaint is the unbearable cheeziness of Rowling’s talking about her characters as if they were anything other than a purely textual construction. This kind of silliness is to be excused among fans, but from a writer herself it’s cynical self-serving mystification.

  76. Adam Greenwood on October 25, 2007 at 11:07 am

    RW, that is too biological of a reading. I’ve had those kind of friendships in highschool and college too. But I agree that they tend not to last.

  77. Ivan Wolfe on October 25, 2007 at 11:09 am

    As I’ve said before, my biggest complaint is the unbearable cheeziness of Rowling’s talking about her characters as if they were anything other than a purely textual construction. This kind of silliness is to be excused among fans, but from a writer herself it’s cynical self-serving mystification.

    You obviously don’t read much of Orson Scott Card’s non-fiction output. Or Robert Jordan’s discussion on his writing. Or Isaac Asimov’s essays on writing. Or Gaiman’s posts on his website. OR takes a class on writing from Dave Wolverton. Or – well, i’ll stop there. Authors do this all the time! It’s part of the writing.

    I decided to write a novel recently, and now that I’m several dozen pages in, I find myself thinking about the characters as real. It helps in the writing. In some sense, fictional characters ARE more than “just” purely textual constructions. To claim otherwise is to devalue fiction.

  78. Matt W. on October 25, 2007 at 11:10 am

    What was that Kevin Kline Movie which pretty much said if a guy is sensitive and likes to read books, he’s gay? I can’t remember the name of it right now…

  79. Adam Greenwood on October 25, 2007 at 11:14 am

    IW, I think you’re right that all authors tend to think of their creations as real, but I don’t think it excuses them talking that way in public, necessarily. Courtesy is simply often a matter of keeping the things that you think to yourself. And I think authors out of respect for their readers have to acknowledge that their private musings about a character aren’t necessarily canonical. How that applies to Rowling I do not say, because I’m not real interested in that part of the question.

  80. C.Biden on October 25, 2007 at 11:33 am

    As others have pointed out, male friendship is not necessarily homoerotic. The Lord of the Rings cycle celebrates deep male friendship. Those relationships are profound and tender. Fiction opens us to multidudinous possibilities, not only those that are most current in the culture.

  81. Seth R. on October 25, 2007 at 11:40 am

    Oddly enough, when I mentioned this development to my wife without mentioning names, her first pick was Sirius Black.

  82. Rosalynde Welch on October 25, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    Sorry, Ivan, that’s either a naive or a purposely obfuscating way to talk about how fiction is made. If authors do it all the time, which I question, it’s because doing so seems to increase mystery and value of their craft and thus their own prestige.

  83. Brad Kramer on October 25, 2007 at 12:29 pm

    I haven’t had a chance to read all the comments yet, so if this has been covered, please disregard it.
    It seems like this conversation has been artificially narrowed to the realm of homosexuality. I think the larger problem is the way virtually all close adult relationships are sexualized. As LDS we imbibe this in our own special way, e.g. rules designed to prevent adult males and females from being alone so that they won’t accidentally have sex with eachother. Doesn’t the kind of sexualized panick that accompanies the realization that a male and a female that aren’t married to eachother are alone with the nursery kids bespeak a deep if implicit assumption that no two adults socially capable of being sexually involved can be close, physically or emotionally, without things inexorably getting sexual?

  84. Brad Kramer on October 25, 2007 at 12:31 pm

    BTW,
    I did (do) have several close friendships with former mission companions like Adam described. One of the young men in question even turned out to be gay, but that hasn’t affected by agreement with Adam that such platonic relationships of love are not only possible but desirable. I don’t think my relationship with him had anything to do with his then closeted sexuality.

  85. Ivan Wolfe on October 25, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    Sorry Rosalynde, but that seems naive or purposefully obfuscatory way to say that fiction isn’t all that important.

    I’m rather surprised you’re taking the stance that fiction is merely a textual construction and nothing more.

  86. Tatiana on October 25, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    Adam, I read your post carefully. Please don’t think I didn’t.

  87. John David Payne on October 25, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    The real way JKR’s revelation changes the Harry Potter universe is this: It is now more obvious than ever that Ian McKellen should have played Dumbledore. Which would mean, among other things, that we would all be spared the awfulness of Michael Gambon’s interpretation of the role. (And could Richard Harris have played Gandalf? I think so…)

  88. Rachel on October 25, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    There’s a beautiful essay by Montaigne that describes the platonic ideal of friendship – that’s where the quote “one soul in two bodies” comes from. I would recommend it.

  89. Russell Arben Fox on October 25, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    Seth,

    “Oddly enough, when I mentioned this development to my wife without mentioning names, her first pick was Sirius Black.”

    Your wife is on the same wavelength as many, many other serious (not to say obsessive) Harry Potter readers. From what I’ve been able to pick up here and there, no other character in the books ever attracted nearly as much speculation about sexual orientation as Sirius Black did.

    John and Seth and others,

    “Which would mean, among other things, that we would all be spared the awfulness of Michael Gambon’s interpretation of the role.”

    Don’t blame Michael Gambon. For that matter, don’t even blame the director(s). Blame it all on Steve Cloves, the screenwriter. The one adaptation he actually allowed to develop free of his interference, the fifth movie, was pretty much the best of the lot. That he re-asserted control and has insisted on doing the adaptation of the sixth book depressed Melissa and I to no end.

    Adam,

    “Because, RAF, when I read about a deep male intimacy I don’t assume that it involves homosexual attraction.”

    Alan’s point, Adam, was that 1) there’s nothing in Rowling’s writings or statements to make it all surprising that she could imagine without distaste one of her characters experiencing homosexual attraction, and 2) there’s nothing in Rowling’s politics or outlook on life to make it at all surprising that she would include such information in response to a question from the audience. As you note, she’s hardly an evangelical-style conservative, and therefore is presumably untroubled by the implications, whatever they may be, of an (after-the-fact) presentation of one particular instance of (long past and never actually fleshed-out) deep male intimacy in her books as homosexual.

    Rosalynde,

    “This kind of silliness is to be excused among fans, but from a writer herself it’s cynical self-serving mystification.”

    Ouch. Kind of harsh on fans there. Would I be far wrong in assuming from this statement that you don’t really go for those forms of literature in which authors colloborate with fans in the development of attachments to specific characters as entities whose stories they are interested in on their own terms? In which case, Jane Austen’s in trouble, since she took the time to answer fan mail about her chacters’ lives and loves. Tolkien did too; in a couple of his letters, he even went into some detail regarding the backstory and destiny of Gandalf’s horse, Shadowfax. Until and unless Rowling starts telling us all about Hermione’s cat Crookshanks, I’m going to maintain that Tolkien has still done her one better.

  90. Ivan Wolfe on October 25, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    RAF -

    Jane Austen is a great example. In some of the editions of Austen I have, the editors include postscripts or footnotes that include all (or at least some of) the information about the characters back stories and post-story lives that she told to fans and friends. Lots of interesting little details there. Clearly, Austen was just a cynical self-serving mystic. (not really).

  91. William Morris on October 25, 2007 at 1:41 pm

    Although Rosalynde may be overstating things a bit, I have to agree with her that much of the extra-textual discourse created by authors does buy in to the whole mystery of the craft shtick. Which isn’t to say it’s not something that authors shouldn’t engage in — even if it does perpetuate a fan/author relationship instead of a reader/text one. Authors do benefit from this mystification — the ability to reveal information that exists outside of the text and to conjure up a world — a text that is both open and yet authorized — that the fans can continually explore (and even insert themselves in).

    I probably have less of an aversion to it than Rosalynde because of my love for and engagement with speculative fiction. But whether it’s cynical or not, the practice does shift power to the authors. As this discussion demonstrates.

  92. Adam Greenwood on October 25, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    RAF, I have no quarrell with the proposition that its unsurprising that Rowling would do this sort of thing. That is not necessarily to her credit.

  93. Adam Greenwood on October 25, 2007 at 1:47 pm

    Nota bene: comments will probably close this evening.

  94. Adam Greenwood on October 25, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    For those who are interested in what authors should be able to say outside their books about their creations:
    http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/ent/stories/DN-rowlingcolumn_1024gl.State.Edition1.2292bdc.html

  95. Ivan Wolfe on October 25, 2007 at 2:33 pm

    I think authors can say whatever they want (this incident really has brought out the nastiness in people – that article Adam linked to being one example), but that doesn’t mean I (or any reader) has to pay attention.

    I’m all for giving authors more power – I think we’ve swung too far in the direction of claiming readers have most of the power. I think the power is more or less shared equally, but whatever.

    I think Adam’s main point in the post is correct, but we seem to have gotten off topic (partially my fault) into debating whether authors can speak authoritatively on their own works. On the extreme ends of formalism or deconstructionism, no – but in between there are a lot of places where that’s okay.

  96. Seth R. on October 25, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    So Rowling is asserting control of her characters independent of wishes of the readers eh?

    Well we all know where this kind of mad power-hungry thinking can lead us.

    Three word hint:

    Jar Jar Binks

    [Ed.: case closed]

  97. Eric Russell on October 25, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    Authors can say what they want, but there’s a payoff. For Tolkien, and I imagine others such as Robert Jordan, the mythology is greater than the text. The books are there to support the mythology, not the mythology to inform the books. That’s fine, it that’s what an author really wants, but it does weaken the text.

  98. Jacob M on October 25, 2007 at 2:56 pm

    Ivan – I’m kinda with you. I do think that if the author says something about the characters in his or her story, then you are obliged to take that into your judgment of the characters. However, I do think that the authors should give us as much room for judgment as possible. By the way, I don’t mean the word judgment to be that the character is good or evil, but meaning that this is how we view the character’s motives. I’m probably not being very clear, but oh well.

    Seth R. – Amen, and my theory is that Jar Jar is also gay!

  99. Janet on October 25, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    “Sorry to reduce it to the biological, but the competitive instinct between males wakes up when women are around, and homosocial intimacy evaporates.”

    So why do you suppose this generally doesn’t happen w/women, Ros? Women seem to manage homosocial ties all the time, even when they are attracted to and even sometimes love the same man. How much more hellish high school would’ve been had this not been the case.

    Also, you’re sounding a bit cynical about fiction, my friend. Obviously characters are constructions, but our subconscious has its own little tool belt. I agree regarding Rowling’s occasional cheesiness in tone, but don’t you think characters pop surprising perks and sucker punches at their creators now and then? Sure, the sucker punches and perks are self-inflicted, but perhaps not consciously so. This never happens to me w/academic writing, but w/creative? All the unnerving time.

  100. Janet on October 25, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    Oh dear, Jar Jar would not be the gay hero Dumbledore would be. Jar Jar = the reason my 7 year-old buddy will occasionally refuse to talk to me: I will not watch the prequels with him. Far. Too. Painful.

  101. Eve on October 25, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    “If authors do it all the time, which I question, it’s because doing so seems to increase mystery and value of their craft and thus their own prestige.”

    Hmmm. Sorry, Rosalynde, but this seems to me an unnecessarily narrow and uncharitable reading of authors’ motives. It seems to me that the literary theories of the last half-century or so, wildly diverse as they have been in other respects, have had in common an elevation of a pristine, self-contained or culturally interpretable text and a corresponding degradation of the author amounting, in one notorious case, to the declaration of (in this case) her death. There are, of course, gains to be made from these theoretical moves, but it’s also worth remembering that they are simply moves, and it doesn’t seem quite fair to complain about an author’s comments on her own work simply because the very existence or validity of such commentaries discomfits the assumptions of contemporary literary theory.

    “my biggest complaint is the unbearable cheeziness of Rowling’s talking about her characters as if they were anything other than a purely textual construction.”

    OK, I’ll got out on a limb here and say that I think for the reader who loves a work of fiction, the characters and the setting are always far, far more than purely textual constructions. The experience of the novel fundamentally contradicts its fictionality in vital ways (if it didn’t, who would read it?). Even the most diehard theoretical purists routinely betray their seduction in their discussions of characters in the same terms we use to discuss living human beings.

    And in any case, the overlap between character and actual human being is greater than the combined areas of discontinuity. To pick just one particularly vivid example, particularly ready to hand: to the best of my empirical knowledge, everyone on this thread is nothing more than a textual construction.

  102. Janet on October 25, 2007 at 3:51 pm

    Oh fine, Eve, point the same direction as me while maintaining an academic tone and actually arguing the case. Pbbblt. (That’s a happy and friendly pbbblt, you understand.)

    Your last sentence is going to induce someone’s existential crisis.

  103. William Morris on October 25, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    Eve:

    I don’t think anyone’s arguing for the death of the author. Or at least I’m not. In fact, I fully agree with the overlapping — we all bring layers of sediment to our reading experiences. The question is at what point does the modern author as celebrity/author making mystical of their created world interfere with the act of reading, and, more importantly, with the creation of the types of readers that those of us who value narrative arts would like to see exist in the world (or maybe it’s just me)? I have to admit that even though I’m not a huge fan of the Harry Potter books (and, yes, I’ve read all of them), this feels like an unneeded, unwanted intrusion. A cop out, even. And a cheapening of about the only thing I found interesting in the series — Dumbledore’s past and the ideology of wizardly purity.

    I’d say more, but this is beginning to impinge on a blog post that I’m about to write so you all will just have to wait. :-P

    [Ed.: put up a link here]

  104. Janet on October 25, 2007 at 5:15 pm

    Good “trailer” for your post, William!

  105. Jacob M on October 25, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    Eve – So, I blog, therefore I’m not?

    (Janet’s prophecy come’s true)

  106. Aaron Brown on October 25, 2007 at 6:46 pm

    I could tell a story about instances of male “homosocial” intimacy at the MTC that were so over-the-top, it would make even Adam Greenwood raise his eyebrows, but I won’t.

    Aaron B

  107. Adam Greenwood on October 25, 2007 at 6:52 pm

    Thanks for the comments, all. We’ve done much better than I expected. If you have anything to add, please email me at adam @ times and seasons . org

    Mr. Morris, don’t forget to email that link when you post.

WELCOME

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