I have to admit, I was surprised at first. I came back from the AIDS Walk on Oct. 21 and heard that J.K. Rowling, author of the best-selling “Harry Potter” series, had “outed” Albus Dumbledore, the beloved headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as gay in a question and answer session in New York.
Rowling outed Dumbledore during her three-city United States tour culminating in New York City’s Carnegie Hall. She read from the seventh and final book in the series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” to an audience of Potter fans and afterward, answered fans’ questions. One fan asked if the venerable headmaster, who met his demise in the sixth book “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” ever fell in love himself. Rowling replied that Dumbledore was gay, and she’d always imagined him as such. Dumbledore was in love with his former friend-turned-dark-wizard, Gellert Grindelwald, whom Dumbledore had to duel in a great wizarding match that established Dumbledore’s reputation as one of the greatest wizards of all time. According to Rowling, Dumbledore’s love was “the great tragedy” of his life.
There have been reactions from both ends of the spectrum, ranging from relieved sighs to angry outcries about the message Rowling is purportedly trying to brainwash the world’s children with.
“The Potter books in general are a prolonged argument for tolerance,” Rowling said at the Carnegie Hall event, stating already-established similarities between the evil “Death Eaters” presented in her books and the Nazi party of 1940s Germany.
Few people seemed to take issue with Rowling’s comparison of the purist wizards in the “Harry Potter” universe to Nazis, especially since the similarities were considered obvious in the book, with the Death Eaters and their allies often disregarding anyone who could not do magic, had been born of non-magic-using parents, or who did not come from a “pure” blood line of wizards and witches.
Dumbledore’s sexuality, on the other hand, was not so obvious. In the thousands of pages that the “Harry Potter” saga spans, the overall message is the same: intolerance of anyone, whether they’re rich or poor, “pure-blooded” or not, or gay or not leads to broken hearts and broken homes.
Does the lack of obvious subtext regarding Dumbledore’s sexuality, does that really make Rowling’s message any less valid, or any less poignant? Hardly.
Tolerance isn’t something inherently limited; you’re not tolerant if you accept one thing but ultimately and vehemently reject something else. Rowling’s message isn’t “Accept everyone or else!” but more like a magical look at a world where intolerance has drastic consequences.
What many consider a children’s fantasy saga grew up and evolved, right along with the children that the first book was initially marked toward. Children grew up empathizing with Harry or Ron or Hermione and wanting to be like them: human, and going through human emotions and situations, but with a bit of magic tossed in the mix.
Though the titular character and his friends could use magic, Rowling never offered magic alone as the solution to the problems she presented in her carefully-crafted wizarding society. On the other hand, tolerance, as something anyone -magical or not- could possess and share, could be the final solution to any war.
Rowling’s intended message of tolerance was surely powerful enough to begin with, though, so her revelation that Dumbledore is gay seems a bit pointless, especially over three months after the release of the seventh and final book in the series.
“Dumbledore’s sexuality has absolutely no bearing on the plot of ANY of the books,” said Sandy Champagne, a reader from Louisiana. “[I]t was not needed in the books. Now, if the books had been Albus Dumbledore and the Philosopher’s Stone… then yes, a sentence stating his homosexuality might have been warranted around book five or six.”
Still, a number of fans, from children to adults, are baffled by Rowling’s announcement, and a number of them cited Rowling’s statement that “If I’d known it would make you so happy, I would have announced it years ago!” as cause for their suspicion.
“Was there ever a point when Dumbledore acted gay in the books?” asked Sean Lee from San Francisco. “It’s hard to say, but in my opinion there was never a time.” But because of Rowling’s announcement, Lee said that people are more likely to be interested in the book, even if they weren’t before, and people that did read the books are going to go back and pick it apart to see if they could tell whether or not Dumbledore seemed gay.
In the end, does it really matter? Albus Dumbledore, while a beloved character who mentored Harry throughout the series, was not the main character. It was important to know his future, as that was integral to the plots of the books, but not his past. What is important is the message he left behind, to both the fictional character Harry Potter and to the fans of his world: love, and therefore tolerance of all things, is a force greater than anything else imaginable. It might be a romantic notion, but one with perfectly sensible roots.
“It is our choices? that show who we truly are,” Dumbledore says to Harry in the second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. If we choose to turn Rowling’s announcement into something more than it is, we miss the whole point of Dumbledore’s character and the underlying moral of the books. We can question Rowling until the end of days: why did she make Dumbledore gay, why wasn’t it obvious in the books, why is Dumbledore the only stated character that is gay? Perhaps the more appropriate question is: Why does it matter? Why can’t we accept Dumbledore -lovable, fictional character that he is- as he is, whether that means he’s gay or simply? unstated?
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