So it seems what while I was off busy with real life, J. K. Rowling answered a question from a fan by explaining that Dumbledore was gay, and had been in love with dark wizard Grindlewald. (For those who haven't read the books, in his youth Dumbledore and Grindlewald plotted to rule the world together "for the greater good", but eventually when Grindlewald's got his dark wizard groove on and was carrying on a reign of terror over in Eastern Europe, Dumbledore headed over, defeated him in a duel, and consigned him to a life sentence in wizard prison. In the process, Dumbledore's sister was killed, and he foreswore the idea of ruling others for their own good.)
Now, there's no particular evidence that Dumbledore leans that way in the books, and since I'm a "what does the book actually say" kind of reader, that means I don't really find this fru-fraw very interesting. Perhaps this has all sorts of deep meaning (disappointment for some, exultation for others) among the sorts of people who spend their time reading The Definitive Guide to the Potterverse or writing FanFic. But as far as I'm concerned, this just doesn't mean much of anything unless she goes on to write a book about it, in which case the book might be good or it might be lousy. In the world of books, even kid-lit, it's books rather than press conferences that matter.
However, that doesn't keep there from being lots of fuss. Jay Anderson has covered a bit of it, and Mark Shea has a very reasonable post about it, followed by 200+ comments, most of which are predictably not very reasonable.
I honestly don't have anything to say on the revelation itself. Both it and the rumpus a few days earlier when Rowling "revealed" that the Potter series contained some Christian imagery strike me as not very interesting. (The one great author revelation I'd be interested in is when the dream starts in Brazil.) But what does strike me as a bit interesting is the reaction of a number of the people concerned with the issue.
So for instance, The Herald announces:
Well, the cat is well and truly out of the bag now. Like every writer, Rowling has a back story for her fictional characters and ... there can never more be any doubt about Dumbledore. On balance, I think his gayness is a good thing and its revelation has been cleverly executed. First, Rowling built the character layer by layer. She built him to be the acme of all that is wise and kind; dutiful and virtuous. She put him in a position of trust; headmaster of a mixed boarding school. She made him a champion of the underdog and a protector of the excluded. She even killed him off in a final heroic act of self-sacrifice. And having placed him as far beyond criticism as her fertile imagination would allow; abracadabra - she revealed that he was gay.While at the other end of the ideological spectrum, blogger Zippy (never a man to be accused of mild opinions) opines in Mark Shea's combox:
Let the prejudiced, the gay bashers, the bigots try as they might; they won't be able to tear this icon off his pedestal. Rowling has held a literary mirror to their narrow-mindedness to let them see for themselves how purposefully blind it is. And as they wrestle with the invisible knots she has tied them in, they'll hear, if they listen, her metaphorical laughter. It's the laughter of a Pied Piper as she leads their spellbound children to the broad sunny uplands of tolerance.
I think Rowling has single-handedly called "game over" here, for all practical purposes. There is no need for someone who enjoyed the series to "un-enjoy" it, as if such a thing were possible; but on a future-looking basis HP is now just another turd-bomb in the culture wars, like it or not. Its author has clinched the matter, seemingly deliberately.What strikes me as tiresomely similar about both "sides" in this discussion is that neither one seems to have a well ordered idea of the book as text, rather than the book as whatever-the-author-and-fan-communities-mutually-say-it-is. So for instance, it seems to me that marxist/atheist Jean Paul Sartre actually wrote just as good (if not better) an illustration of sin and its consequence (hell) in "No Exit" than C. S. Lewis did in any of his books dealing with the topic -- though Lewis's books are certainly good. Sartre didn't intend to do this, from what I can tell. He intended to write a play showing how we are controlled by other people's ideas of us. However he was a successful enough observer of human character and its flaws that I think he actually succeeded in writing something which can be seen in a very interesting Christian way. This is not to say that a work is totally defined by how it's audience reacts to it -- that would be rather tiresome and post-modern. Works of fiction are best seen, it seems to me, as acts of sub-creation -- things are are seen as true so far as they are related within the context of the text. And how good that text is (leaving aside issues of prose style and such which are obviously key) has a lot to do with how successfully it conveys a sub-creation with "rings true". Do these people seem like real people? Does the world work in a real way? Does it convey something that seems true/worthwhile/interesting?
All this argumentation, on the other hand, not only strikes me as a bit off base, but as coming from people who don't actually read fiction all that much. Having hit a fairly adult reading level by age nine and going through books pretty rapidly in my youth, I was reading a lot of varied stuff by the time I was in the 10-14 age range which is probably the right age-range for the latter Harry Potter books. Sure, I read the canonical stuff like Narnia and Lord of the Rings, but I also a whole range of stuff by a lot of science fiction and fantasy authors (I was a genre reader as a youth) most of them very clearly with non-Christian viewpoints on the world. And my faith and sense of morality survived just fine. (Honestly, if your kid is getting his sense of morality from a seven book kid-lit series rather than you and your parish -- there's probably something wrong with the family communication level.)
Indeed, my sister used to refer to the "Aristophanes principle of pagan inoculation", which was basically that running into non-Christian characters and values for the first time via non-Christian literature (read in the safety of your home and discussed with your family) is much safer and lower pressure than running into it for the first time with close friends in a personal crisis.