Take that, Christian Harry Potter fans

DumbledoreOK, OK, I have received your many emails.

I am well aware that many Harry Potter fans want GetReligion to help them answer this question: If Albus Dumbledore had a gay skeleton in his closet, why didn’t reporter Rita Skeeter of the Daily Prophet include that information in The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore, her tacky, unauthorized, tell-all biography of the Hogwarts headmaster? Doesn’t that make his dark, dangerous and ultimately deadly relationship with the evil wizard Gellert Grindelwald all the more scandalous? Or not?

In case you have been on another planet for a few days, J.K. Rowling had an interesting exchange with a fan the other night during a Q&A session at Carnegie Hall. She was asked:

“Did Dumbledore, who believed in the prevailing power of love, ever fall in love himself?”

She answered: “My truthful answer to you … I always thought of Dumbledore as gay.”

This, of course, followed very closely on her recent MTV revelations about the role that her Christian faith played in shaping much of the symbolism and many of the primary themes in the megaseries. Click here for a previous post by young master Daniel Pulliam on that topic, or here and here for my most recent columns on the various stances that Christians have taken — pro and con — on the Harry Potter novels.

Well, the story has moved on, in large part because the mainstream press wants to know (a) if the Dumbledore news represents an endorsement of gay causes by Rowling and (b) if this statement will provoke many conservative religious believers to renew their attacks on her books.

It’s clear that Rowling will continue to talk about this, as shown in a new Globe and Mail report:

J.K. Rowling says her out-of-the-blue revelation about the sexual orientation of Albus Dumbledore, one of the key characters in her blockbuster Harry Potter series, has prompted at least one fan to come out of the closet.

“I know that it was a positive thing that I said it, for at least one person, because one man ‘came out’ at Carnegie Hall,” Rowling told a news conference Tuesday at the International Festival of Authors. “I’m not kidding.”

… The author said she knew “very early on” in the writing process that Dumbledore was gay — “probably before the first book was published” — but didn’t feel the need to spell it out for readers.

So far, the mainstream media seem to be reporting pretty much what Rowling seems to want them to report. But some have gone on and taken the next step — click here for a Baltimore Sun effort — to raise this to culture wars status. Here’s an interesting quote from David Baggett, associate philosophy professor at Liberty University’s School of Religion:

Baggett, who co-authored the 2004 book Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts, says he was taken aback not only by Rowling’s announcement, but by the fact that it came on the heels of her confirming many Potter fans’ belief that the series had Christian themes.

“It doesn’t change my perception of the series, but it does say something about her choice to include this detail at that time,” Baggett said. “Does she have the right to keep giving us details? I wonder what’s the point, other than her staking out her agenda.”

HP Dumbledore Wand Detail 2Rowling can, of course, keep talking and writing for years to come. She has, for example, said that she plans to write an encyclopedia of some kind containing the back story behind the events in the Potter series.

I predict her future comments will reveal that she is what I have always said that she is — a liberal, mainline Protestant Christian. Here’s how I put that in a recent Scripps Howard column, describing one camp of Christian readers who embrace her work:

Rowling has confirmed that she is a Christian and a communicant in the Church of Scotland, which has Presbyterian roots. In one oft-quoted interview, she told a Canadian newspaper: “Every time I’ve been asked if I believe in God, I’ve said, ‘yes,’ because I do. But no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that and, I have to say that does suit me.”

Thus, this group of Potter supporters argues that Rowling is a Christian — perhaps one with liberal beliefs — who has chosen to write mainstream books containing Christian symbols and language. In other words, she is a Christian who writes books, but not “Christian books.”

So what is the big story here? That even more ’shippers in cyberspace will write even more fan fiction about Dumbledore being gay? There’s libraries of that already. Does this really change the content of the books?

Meanwhile, I would advise that serious readers who want to engage in serious discussions of this topic head on over to the weblog of my friend John (Unlocking Harry Potter) Granger, headmaster at HogwartsProfessor.com. You should click here for the thread on Rowling’s faith and then here for the Dumbledore discussion. Read it all.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • John M

    You wrote: “the Church of Scotland, which has Presbyterian roots”

    It would be more accurate to simply say that the Church of Scotland is Presbyterian.

  • Jerry

    I think it’s worthwhile to understand an author’s predisposition to talk about the backstory, which is this situation. The blog of an author,Neil Gaiman, put it this way:

    And, truth to tell, sexuality tends to be such a minor thing, if you have several hundred characters running around in your head. You know more than you’ve written. One of the characters in Wall in Stardust, for example, is not what he is pretending to be in a way that has nothing at all to do with sex, …

    As for withholding information… before the Internet, I’d tell anyone anything they wanted to know… Not any longer, because one day I may tell those stories. (If I knew for sure I wouldn’t tell them, then I’d happily answer people now.)

    So in this situation, it’s clear that Rowling talking about the Dumbledore character is no different than all the other backstory points she’s released since the books were published. After all, she did not go out of her way to say this but only spoke of it in response to a fan’s question.

    Of course, this is a hot button issue, so it gets the media attention while the other plot points, who married who, for example, are ignored except by the devoted fans. I’m sure the media and others will get obsessed with gay sex and demand that Rowling talk about whether or not Dumbledore was celibate for most of his life or not. But, at this point, to assume that Dumbledore had a homosexual “lifestyle” is going way beyond what she’s said.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    We certainly live in a society obssessed by the sin that never used “to dare speak its name” even if there is no evidence the fictional character ever committed that sin. Thus to throw that label around regarding a children’s series character–even by the character’s creator–is just part of the current obsession to normalize the abnormal in sexual matters.

  • Steve Edwards

    These are supposed to be children’s books. Why can’t they stay children’s books? What next, Hermione Grainger got pregnant by Ron Weasley and had an abortion? Snape keeps a cupboard of pornography and spends his mornings masturbating?

    Frankly, I never thought much of Harry Potter, but now I think even less.

  • Rachel

    Hermione Granger did get pregnant by Ron Weasley years later. And what does Dumbledore being gay have to do with sex? As far as I know gays can be celibate just as straight people can. The books don’t mention Dumbledore being gay once. And they never mention sex. Why didn’t you complain when Harry got his first kiss?

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Please, can’t we all just get along?

  • Rachel

    My sentiments exactly. Dumbledore’s sexuality has nothing to do with the books. J.K. Rowling just answered a question truthfully. Whether you agree or disagree with that, you should enjoy or dislike the books for how good or bad they are.

  • http://mamutong.com Nick Nichols

    More to the point, Dumbledore’s sexual preference has nothing to do with falling – or not falling – in love. So I’m perplexed by Rawling’s answer, except to the extent she was just trying to throw out a thought. But it seemed somewhat forced.

  • Discernment

    Those books ceased being “children’s books” with the release of the Goblet of Fire.

    I’m teetering on the edge of simply ignoring the things she says now and adopting the maxim, “If it ain’t in the books, then it ain’t canon.” You’d think that an author would use these opportunities to make a series more coherent, not less so.

    On a more pertinent note, her revelation that Dumbledore is gay doesn’t have to be liberal (although I suppose, since it’s her, it is). As someone at the Leaky Cauldron pointed out, if he was homosexually inclined but remained celibate because he thought those inclinations sinful (or something like that), there may yet be a rather Christian message in this revelation. (And, in my view, anything but celibacy would potentially open even more plot holes for that series.)

  • Discernment

    Oh, one more thing:

    You mean she allowed all that butchering of the movies but the moment someone suggests that Dumbledore had an interest in a young lady she intervenes? ¬_¬

  • Corban

    Please. Everybody. Dumbledore isn’t gay, bi, tranny, anything. He. Doesn’t. Exist.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Rowling certainly is a master at promoting her works. Nothing like creating a little controversy, which the press eagerly promotes, to pump up sales after the initial flurry and inevitable decline.

  • c0nd3mn3d

    Bolinger: jake (j.k. => jake, can we call her that? we can all say it started right here!), jake wasn’t creating controversy, she was answering a question honestly. perhaps you are an author and perhaps you can begin to understand the relationships an author must have with her characters in order to create coherent stories involving those characters, so perhaps you can rightly think that dumbledore is all of a sudden gay for promotional purposes. or, perhaps not; perhaps you just think she’s lying and that she hasn’t considered dumbledore gay since book 1.

    Corban: point taken on one level, however: here we are talking about dumbledore; and not just a few of us in number. i put it to you that dumbledore does exist in much the same way that god exists.

    Discernment: though i cannot make the arguments here for want of a better understanding of the characters, it strikes me as not inconsistent at all that jake would allow the “butchering” of the books into film where the thoughts or actions of any given character are not out of character; would allow things to happen in the movies that did not happen in the books but that might have happened in the books and still been consistent. for jake to allow the movie to portray dumbledore having a female love interest would be inconsistent not only with the explications of the books, but would be inconsistent with who jake knows dumbledore to be.

    Discernment: regardless of celibacy, depending on one’s “christian” beliefs, there is the “rather christian message” in this revelation in that it not being revealed in the books reverberates a live-and-let-live christian messages for us to mind our own business such as “do unto other”, “love thy neighbor”, “do not judge lest ye be judged” and others.

    Discernment: i would be interested in hearing what plot holes a revelation of “not celibate” would open. perhaps plot inconsistencies, but even then and at first blush i can see little to no potential for such an inconsistency as one would have to be able to identify a dumbledore quote or action and conclude with accuracy that such an action or statement is inconsistent with non-celibate homosexuality. no way. the other possibility would be an omission, for one to claim “ah, but he’s a non-celibate homosexual and jake failed to have him do this or that.” again, as with commission, one cannot pigeon-hole dumbledore into doing or not doing anything on the basis of his being a sexually active homosexual. having said that, i will direct the reader to the beginning of this paragraph and reiterate i am open to hearing what you may feel is a “hole” or a “inconsistency”.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    OK, folks. Back to the journalism issues in the coverage of this.

    I’ll let some of the recent posts stand, but let’s get back to GetReligion biz (which I know is hard on this post, but I was responding to many emails requesting comment on the HP stories).

  • Red

    The story is that the gay lifestyle is being spoon-fed to society from every direction and those who don’t approve be damned. It is the hot button question of our times like ‘the pill’ was for the 1960s and ‘the bomb’ was to the 1950s. We are called upon to adjust our own standards to bring our individual beliefs onto the same level as the movement. For those who can reconcile the issues, there is no problem. For those who feel there is a position worth defending, there will be long days of defending that ground.

    The mainstream media has become a willing client of this movement and happily endorse things like the so-called outing of Dumbledore regardless of its true significance. We who may find it all a bit repulsive are then slandered, labeled and libeled for saying so out loud. Words like ‘homophobe’ and ‘bigot’ have become blunt instruments, used in sloganized stereotypes to belittle anyone who tries to open a dialogue.

    The singular irony is that those who are calling for ‘tolerance’ to the gay lifestyle are often clearly without that particular virtue themselves. The only response often possible is to just… let the heathen rage.

    …

  • Steve Edwards

    Rachel,

    Being “gay”, I think, means more than simply being unfortunate enough to experience same-sex sexual attraction. It means defining oneself by it, and, in the current mentality of conflating desire and behaviour, acting upon it, or having the propensity to act upon it. It is an essentially political and ideological word, part of the cult of identity politics.

    So to say that Dumbledore is “gay”, is, in effect, whether Rowling knows it or not, for her to sanction a destructive lifestyle and to give succour to a profoundly sinister cultural, political and ideological movement. It goes much further than simply suggesting Dumbledore was tortured with lust for boys.

    Incidentally, Dumbledore was created as a fictional character by Rowling, she can do what she chooses with him. So to state “she was only answering a question honestly” is disingenuous. I suspect, however, that she has drunk the gay-rights Kool Aid just like most people out there, and imagines she is acting benevolently in some way, rather than leading children to destruction. I’d like to think that if she was fully in receipt of the facts she would have acted differently.

  • Frater Titus

    Hate the fictional character, and the sin.

  • Rachel

    How is she leading children to destruction? What kid upon hearing this would suddenly say ” Alright Im gay”? No kid wants to emulate some ancient guys sexuality. No kid wants to emulate ANYBODYS sexuality. When little kids hear about sex for the first time it’s usually the most disgusting thing on earth for them.

  • Steve Edwards

    Lots of adolescents go through confused stages. To say to them “it’s OK to be Gay” is to lead them into a destructive lifestyle.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    As noted on HogwartsProfessor and the Leaky Cauldron (where there is something resembling a transcript) “Rita Skeeter” at AP massaged the story for their agenda, conflating the Dumbledore question with the “tolerance” and “question authority” remarks from different parts of the evening. And apparently NOT quoting “Don’t believe everything… the press tells you”. The story also ommitted the context of why she said the young woman “deserved a truthful answer”. (She was less forthright with a child’s question about the “improper charms” Aberforth Dumbledore used on goats…. apparently that one did not call for an explicit answer.)

  • Nicole

    The fact that Dumbledore is gay is inconsequential to the books and what they stand for and I think J.K. should be commended for that. Had she never answered that question, Dumbledore would have remained the most respected, moral, and powerful figure in the series. There is absolutuley no hint of his sexuality in the books and so we should all be able to go on reading them like they are. His sexuality seemed to be a side note of Dumbledore that J.K alone possessed in her mind, were it does no harm. We are NEVER asked to accept his sexuality. In fact, I would say that it stands as testement that Dumbledore was not perfect and made grave mistakes in his life.

    I think it is prudent to remember that all sins are equal in the eyes of God and therefore Dumbledore’s homosexuality is no more offensive than the ‘little white lies’ Harry told to his teachers and friends. It only restates what the seventh book tried to say about Dumbledore being human, and by no means perfect. It also stands to say that just because one may be gay does not mean that they cannot be moral in other ways, that they cannot be wise or kind. The admirable qualities of Dumbledore far outway the unadmirable ones. We stand to learn more from him about how to be fair and loving and true than how to be immoral.

    And please, it is ridiculous to think this was a move to promote her books or cause controversy to increase sales. First of all, she risks loosing the support of the many Christian readers she has, not gaining any. And second, she is worth more than the Queen of England right now, generations of Rowlings to come are set for life, she is the most accomplished writer in the world, and the richest writer in all of history. She has never, I repeat, never, bought into promoting her books in any way. She was unbelievably reluctant to even have them made into movies although she knew it would boost sales severalfold, as it invariably did. She avoids me media like the plague. I cannot believe someone would still think she would do something as underhanded as pronouncing a character gay for her own personal gain.

  • kristy

    This is something that, for me as an adult reader, and my son as a 15 year old reader was ‘too much information’. It reminded me of finding out a couple of unflattering tidbits about my beloved grandma. Yeah – it may be true, but I don’t want to know about it.
    It’s too bad that the ‘Christian’ theme discussion got buried by the sexual orientation thing by the press – the timing of the two ‘announcements’ was really unfortunate, and we all could have predicted which story would get the biggest press.

  • c0nd3mn3d

    “We are called upon to adjust our own standards to bring our individual beliefs onto the same level as the movement. For those who can reconcile the issues, there is no problem. For those who feel there is a position worth defending, there will be long days of defending that ground.”

    *Correction* You are called upon to apply your standards to yourself and to your minor children, and possibly not even the latter according to your preference. You are called upon to not subject your standards and personal beliefs unto others. You are perfectly welcome to maintain your standards and individual beliefs. For those who cannot reconcile that the sexuality of others is not their concern, seek professional help. No, really. I mean no disrespect, but you have boundary issues.

    “The singular irony is that those who are calling for ‘tolerance’ to the gay lifestyle are often clearly without that particular virtue themselves.”

    You would call upon the Tolerant to tolerate intolerance?

    “It goes much further than simply suggesting Dumbledore was tortured with lust for boys.”

    *Correction* It goes nowhere near this far. Being “gay” means the opposite of being “straight”. “Crooked” was already taken. Perhaps you do, but I know nobody who defines themselves by their sexuality. Not really. I know “straight” men who are womanizers & “straight” women who are flirts; I know “gay” men who “flame” & “gay” women who choose to present themselves towards potentially being recognized as such, but all these people define themselves by their various careers & commitments to their communities and families and friends, etc. None of them define themselves by their sexuality. By the very fact that we have a “definition” of Dumbledore in the text of the Potter series entirely exclusive of his sexuality, it is clear Dumbledore does not define himself by his sexuality. As a heterosexual, are you tortured with a lust for girls? If you are, I do hope you will get help; I know that my heterosexuality does not leave me lusting for girls. Unless you have answered “yes” to my question, neither of us has any reason, especially given what we can witness from reading the books, to conclude or even suspect that Dumbledore is tortured with a lust for boys. Oh: by which we see that jake in no way suggested he is so tortured.

    The media will belay questioning and reporting upon the sexuality of real and fictional people alike as soon as there are rightly so few people concerned about the sexuality of none other than themselves and their partner(s) for the media to bother making the effort.

  • Chris Bolinger

    And please, it is ridiculous to think this was a move to promote her books or cause controversy to increase sales.

    No, I’m sure that it was done to reduce the attention paid to her books.

    First of all, she risks loosing [sic] the support of the many Christian readers she has, not gaining any.

    That’s a sweeping statement about Christian readers.

    And second, she is worth more than the Queen of England right now, generations of Rowlings to come are set for life,

    So what?

    she is the most accomplished writer in the world,

    Are you her publicist?

    and the richest writer in all of history. She has never, I repeat, never, bought into promoting her books in any way.

    Clearly not. The last thing that a writer wants is for his or her works to be promoted so that people actually become aware of them and want to read them.

    She was unbelievably reluctant to even have them made into movies although she knew it would boost sales severalfold, as it invariably did.

    Writers often are reluctant to have their works made into movies because the movies rarely do justice to the books.

    She avoids [the] media like the plague.

    Alas, she appears to have caught the plague. All kidding aside, now that the series is concluded, it makes sense for her to have more visibility than she did before.

    I cannot believe someone would still think she would do something as underhanded as pronouncing a character gay for her own personal gain.

    I never said that it was underhanded. In fact, as a Marketing professional, I think that it was quite clever.

  • http://religion.beloblog.com/ Jeffrey Weiss

    Not to toot my own horn, but, here’s the journalism I did on the topic.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Excellent piece, Jeffrey.

  • c0nd3mn3d

    “For all of those years, until those books were published, the characters and settings were yours to command and control. But then you let them go… …Now they are ours.”

    Except: then the movie producers came along to take some of that control otherwise ceded to us. And rather than take control of all the film issues that lie outside the books, they chosen to consult with jake to keep depictions of the characters and possible events in line with her vision. Thankfully, before the filmmakers could make it harder for us to imagine anything other than Dumbledore being heterosexual, jake spoke up and offered that she had always thought of him as being gay.

  • Rod Hill

    Rowling announcement that Dumbledore is “gay” reflects the culture within the European media and publishing community. Rowling’s fickle comment reveals and mirrors’ her surroundings. Her act of passing out more liberal medicine to the masses, with a wink at Hollywood, obviously reinforces Americans belief of a liberal media good-old-boy network that is focused pushing their agenda, and in Rowling’s case, pushing the European self-righteous all knowing, we know best agenda.