Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Dumbledore light in the loafers

My initial reaction upon hearing the news was annoyance. With the final installment released, the series had lost its organic ability to shift in the face of critical challenges that an ongoing operation enjoys. JK Rowling had decided, or been advised, to nip in the bud any nascent criticism about the Potter universe's traditional (nevermind that it's fantasy!) socio-political structure. Albus Dumbledore, Hogwarts headmaster, was the apotheosis of dead white male greatness--disciplined, erudite, studious, magnanimous, rational, and just. Pathetically patriarchal, shamelessly chauvinistic!

I was off the mark, I know. I blazed through the first four books five years ago, in the course of about two weeks, at the request of my younger brother, but hadn't followed the story before, nor since, then. And Dumbledore is immaculate in those earlier books.

Turns out, though, Rowling mixed it up after that point. To where I'd read, each of the characters was clearly either a good guy or a bad guy (with the exception of Snape, a personal favorite alongside Percy). That's a prudent strategy in the beginning for an unknown author--don't make the thing burdensomely confusing. There are an endless number of aspiring writers who create novels with universes that are entirely too complex to take in all at once and so remain forever in obscurity. Once preeminence is establish the complex, entangling alliances and animosities can then be flushed out (the Warcraft series has followed this universal progression with great success as well).

By the time it was made known that Dumbledore--rather than being the asexual professor Rowling portrayed him to be--was gay, illumination on his past revealed a few skeletons tucked away. Ultimately, his penitent desire to apologize to his parents revealed that even in later life he remained fallible. Further obliterating my initial suspicion, Rowling showed that his unrequited love for another man was his Achilles' heel:
Rowling said Dumbledore fell in love with the charming wizard Gellert Grindelwald but when Grindelwald turned out to be more interested in the dark arts than good, Dumbledore was "terribly let down" and went on to destroy his rival.

That love, she said, was Dumbledore's "great tragedy."

"Falling in love can blind us to an extent," she said.
Had he been been stoic in the face of this desire as he'd been in the face of so many others, he would've knocked off Grindlewald several years earlier.

Realizing it is the fantastical Harry Potter series, Dumbledore is not the most credulous choice for a homosexual character. He wasn't flamboyant, conspicuously flirtatious, (with both men and women), gesticulative, or particularly focused on dress as 'ladylike' gay men (those whose sexual preference is evident from a mile away) tend to be. Nor was he sardonic, cynical, haughty, and equipped with a slightly misanthropic streak like 'the guy' gay guys often are (ie, Waylon Smithers when not dealing with Burns, or Squidward from the Spongebob series).

The most reasonable candidate would've been Snape, who fits 'the guy' definition to a tee. Well, that is, until it is apparently later revealed that he is a Sydney Carton-like character whose love for Harry's mother leads him to fidelius devotion to Harry, even though he despised Harry's father and despises the son to his dying day.

Yikes! That means my initial fear might still come to fruition. Snape, perhaps the series' greatest character, is nobly driven by his love for a woman. Dumbledore, who may share 'the greatest' award, is flawed only in his love for another man.

If it teaches young readers that an innocuous revelation about a person's character should not retroactively change their opinions of what they appreciated about the person before, splendid. Why not add that his grandfather was from Zimbabwe and his grandmother from Calcutta while at it (or maybe Tehran, so a charge against Rowling of pining for the old empire doesn't come up)?

That potentially positive message aside, the revelation is going to further take away from Dumbledore's larger-than-life character, for better or worse. Positively, it might be looked at as humanizing him.

It will do so not because he's gay per se, but because he has an explicit sexual orientation and a drive that he acts upon. Sexual desire is inherently selfish, and consequently it generally has a moderating effect on both the good guys and the bad guys, pulling them both closer to the neutral center by diverting attention from their more purely good and purely bad objectives (as what many of those in the 'Jesus had sex with Mary Magdalene' camp are trying to do, by diminishing the man from Galilee's putative holiness and bringing him down to a more human level).

9 comments:

Rob said...

I have no idea why she made Dumbledore gay. And in the context she did it, she won't be be making any activists happy.

Innocent child: Does Dumbledore find true love?

Rowling: No way. He's a homo.

It does but his reluctance to associate with Harry as he grows up in another light. Dumbledore might've been trying to avoid catching feelings.

Sirius Black would be a better choice for being "teh gay." Preferred the company of men, attractive, but never involved with women. Flamboyant, arrogant...

Audacious Epigone said...

Rob,

Ah, I think he was a dog as far as I made it.

I suppose there are probably several potential choices, since the series was mostly non-sexual, which makes the revelation that much stranger.

Rob said...

Ah, I think he was a dog as far as I made it.

Well, there's nothing wrong with being a grown man uninterested in children's books.

The books are nonsexual. They should be there are for kids. But family, having, and raising children take a prominent role. I can see how people who are not having children by traditional means would be uncomfortable with HP. See amptoons.com/blog for all the various ways fiction offends them.

sam said...

Very good and interesting, I enjoyed it. Why is Percy one of your favorite characters?

Audacious Epigone said...

Rob,

Do you have a specific post I should refer to? The general material there is noxious, and I'd rather not wade through it looking for something specifically relevant to Harry Potter!

Sam,

In Percy I saw a side of my high school self--the personage I took on when I was around kids hipper than myself. I wasn't popular because I was too busy knowing it all, the shtick went.

Percy's haughtiness is all-natural, as I wished it might have been in me. But mine was more of an anxious, defensive response. Still, it's natural to envy those with genuine qualities you can at best only parrot.

Of course, I was no genius, either, so when I was with the quest (gifted) kids, I'd shift into the room's hippest person, owing mostly to my involvement in sports teams that none of them (at least the guys) were a part of.

Keep in mind, too, that up to the fourth book, Percy is a very minor character. From what I get via Wikipedia, he became more prominent later on.

Rob said...

AP, it is, as you say, odious. I should have put a warning with my link. last time I went there Harry Potter was at the top. Link: http://www.amptoons.com/blog/archives/2007/10/20/hes-gay-and-hes-native-american-rowling-and-scalzi-claim-marginal-identities-for-charcters-after-the-fact/

If black characters act like white characters, then they're deracinated. If they don't, then they're stereotypes. It is a no-win for authors.

You might want to check out Robert Lindsay's site: a communist, race-realist, who thinks IQ and HBD are real. He is quite interesting.

http://robertlindsay.blogspot.com/

Audacious Epigone said...

Rob,

The amptoons person wants homo-erotica introduced in a children's series. I wish I could say that such a desire surprises me.

I've read Lindsay a few times.

Albus_Forever! said...

My feelings on Dumbledore: he was my favorite character of the series and that has not changed, but honestly I thought making him gay came sort of out of nowhere and I don't really see the point. I never thought of him as sexual in one way or another.
I could be wrong, but it seems like something JK just decided after the series was out. I never got that feeling from the books. I don't know though.... to be honest I don't care. He is still the greatest wizard ever to live.

I pretty much agree with your comments. Are you still kind of against homosexuality though? There was a certain feeling of disapproval that came across...?

Audacious Epigone said...

Albus,

To the extent that there was disapproval, it was at what I see as an unnecessary insertion of conspicuous sexuality.

I'd like to see one of the most conspicuous 'hot button' social issues that have clear evolutionary explanations discussed with those explanations in mind, though. Discomfort with homosexuality, especially among males, is a natural predilection. Not surprisingly, opposition to same-sex marriage is strong. Gay men are about one-fifth as fecund as their heterosexual counterparts. There is scarcely anything worse for reproductive fitness. Whether or not homosexuality is genetic (seems it should've been weeded out) or caused by a bacterial infection (the evidence for this seems most compelling to me) is irrelevant to the issue of the discomfort others have with it.

This explains why those who are totally tolerant of homosexuality in others still generally prefer their children be straight, if given a choice (I'm no exception--I want my children to be heterosexual, because I naturally want grandchildren at some point as well. But my love for my future offspring will not be at all affected by their sexuality. I do think there will be a day in the near future when that choice will be able to be made, especially if a genetic variation is identified in the HapMap or other genome sequencing projects).