Dumbledore is not Gay: Taking Stories More Seriously than the Author

Recently, J.K. Rowling announced to the world that one of her characters, the heroic mentor of Harry Potter, Dumbledore was gay.

Nonsense. There is no evidence of it in the books and the books (at this point) are all that matter. I have always thought the books deeply Christian not because Rowling told me so (which she recently confirmed), but because the text is full of Christian images and ideas. She had a chance to give Dumbledore a boyfriend, but she muffed it. I refuse to denigrate friendship by reading every close one as sexual . . . and she gave us nothing else.

No offense to an excellent author, but Dumbledore no longer belongs only to Rowling. He also belongs to her readers who have been given a series of books in which Rowling was free to say what she wanted to say. She wrote about Christianity openly by Book Seven, but if Dumbledore was gay, she decided to hide it. She hid it so well that there is no evidence of it.

At this point it is too late for Rowling to change the text. She cannot decide to kill Harry now . . . or announce that Harry is actually a vampire, a member of the Tory party, or antidisestablishmentarian. She wrote what she wrote and now it belongs to us.

Is this post-modern?

Is authorial intent the only thing that matters in reading a book?

Authorial intent is important, but not the only important thing.

If the author has hidden her intention so well that only her opining after the fact reveals it to us, then she has missed her chance.

Rowling chose to hide her “opinion” of Dumbledore’s sexuality until the story arc was done, Dumbledore dead, and his life written. Now her opinions no longer matter, just her text. If she could point to anything in that text that suggests something greater than friendship, mentoring, or a professional relationship, then that would matter. She has not and cannot. She carefully hid the “fact” and now it is too late to introduce it.

Lest one think that I say this only because homosexuality bothers me, then let me compare it to another situation. Suppose that Rowling now claimed that Dumbledore and Minerva McGonagall had a passionate relationship. Since there is no reason in the text to know this is true, or to find it relevant to the story arc as we have it, Rowling’s opinions of the headmaster’s heterosexual affairs matter very little in terms of understanding the books as they are. There is as much evidence of this (after all) as of Dumbledore’s homosexuality.

If I utterly hide a fact (as an author), then I cannot suddenly introduce it by opining outside of my book about my book.

Author’s revelations about her intent might be interesting to the scholar in studying the directions Rowling did not go with her novel. They might inspire learned papers on why she hid Dumbledore’s love life (homophobia?), but they no longer can impact the text. The text is fixed and if she did not reveal it there, then it is not anywhere. Of course, the reader, like Rowling, is free to invent her own private meanings and expand the stories in new ways, but Rowling cannot force us to do so.

This is not different than the way I treat any book.

No piece of Plato’s biography will change the text of Republic. It is possible that some new biographical information could swing the interpretation of a disputed passage in one direction, but it could not introduce a new character or give an old character a new role.

(”The lost scroll of Plato noted that the Master thought that Cephalus was committing impieties and not sacrificing when he left in Book I.”)

Rowling said nothing of Dumbledore’s sexuality, wrote nothing of it in the “canon,” and so her opinion is interesting, but not determinative.

What if the apostle John had secret beliefs about cosmology that he did not place into his text of the gospel? What if he thought about these views as he wrote the text? Once the text is fixed, then it is too late for him to introduce his ideas into the book.

What if Rowling writes a guide to her characters in which she gives new “back story” to the characters?

That too will not matter . . . anymore than I care much about the “Lost Books” (really his notes) that the Tolkien family keeps publishing from the author of Lord of the Rings insofar as it could possibly change the meaning of Tolkien’s main work. The text is fixed and it is as it is. The fact that Tolkien had other ideas about Frodo, Merry, or any other characters is important to discuss how the story came to be, but does not change the meaning of the text, if there is no explicit (or even hint) of the “new” matter.

I do not react this way because Rowling has said something I find personally distasteful. I do find homosexual behavior contrary to nature and the laws of God. However, I do not find the tendency to homosexual behavior shocking or particularly distasteful. We live in an imperfect world and if Dumbledore lived a celibate life giving himself to his work, then he is a perfect (fictional) model of how to deal with disordered affections.

The problem is that there is just no way to know this “fact” about Dumbledore from the books. It is not there, it is not relevant, and Rowling’s opinions about her characters are now only of historical interest. She meant Dumbledore to be gay, but she left it out.

We can only know such things by “revelations” from Rowling and Rowling is no longer god of her private world. She created it and stepped away from it.

It does not matter if she had Dumbledore’s failings in mind as she wrote, since she censored it out so heavily as to be of no use in understanding her novel. Unless we are give word’s new meaning, she chose words like “friendship” to describe Dumbledore’s relationships.

Too late to change the path you have written, when standing before your own words.

A story is crafted and then it enters the public. We read it as a whole and accept the world in which it was created. Unless Rowling writes a new book (a prequel?) and changes the canon, then she is stuck with the world she created. In it Dumbledore has no particular sexuality at all.