Oct 242007
 
Is it really such a big deal that Dumbledore was crushing on young Gellert back in the heady, free-loving days before the war? Does it really change anything about the books? Heck, does it even change anything about the fans’ perceptions of the books? Rowling commented, “God, the fanfiction,” but that just shows she’s never heard of rule 34. The body of fanfiction based on the Potter novels is so vast as to be beyond the comprehension of any sane man, and at least a quarter of it is probably porn. Rowling, imaginative as she may be, could not possibly conceive of anything that fanfic writers have not already turned into treacly, overwrought prose riddled with misspellings, atrocious grammar, and cell-phone language.

I don’t doubt that this will add more fuel to the fire of fundamentalists already out to burn the books for daring to mention witchcraft and to promote tolerance. And I have already been subjected to a diatribe accusing Rowling of using this to “drum up publicity” for the books, which is patently ridiculous. For one thing, Harry Potter has so thoroughly permeated popular culture that it is almost certainly impossible to publicize it further. For another, J.K. Rowling is already wealthier than the Queen of England. If your personal wealth overmasters that of a family that spent centuries sucking dry the marrow-bones of indigenous peoples then you hardly need the extra publicity a gay controversy will give you.

Even in the context of the books, this is a minor fact. It fills out the story of Dumbledore’s fascination with Gellert, but this is hardly necessary as the books themselves give a strong account of his feelings. It casts an interesting light on his relationships with Snape and Harry, but it doesn’t really make any more sense of them. While it might be interesting for the fans to know that Rowling thought of Dumbledore as gay, knowing this doesn’t really add much to the depth of the story.

I’ve even seen some comments saying that it was brave of Rowling to admit that Dumbledore was gay. Well, it fits her books’ themes of tolerance. But “brave”? For admitting that a secondary character was gay months after the final volume of her series wrung its billions from the best-seller list? Not a chance. “Brave” would apply if Harry had secretly crushed on Oliver Wood, gotten beaten up for glancing one too many times at the other blokes in the Quidditch showers, and shyly asked Ron to be his date at the Yule Ball. But Rowling never took such chances.

For all that can be praised about the Potter books, it’s important to realize that Rowling always played them perfectly safe. The teenage romance was chaste and hardly emotional. The abuses Harry suffered in his adoptive home were never of a kind that truly threatened his well-being. Neither Harry nor any of his friends was ever truly tempted by evil. She rarely played with ambiguity — with very few exceptions, Harry’s foes were completely unhinged monsters or obstinately ignorant to the point of irrationality (or, like Umbridge, both). Neither Harry nor the reader was ever remotely tempted to take their side. I’m not criticizing her for this — were I lucky enough to be in her position I might take the same approach. But let’s not make the Potter novels into something they’re not. And let’s not give Rowling’s pronouncements about them more than the momentary notice they’re due.

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