OK, 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.”
Rowling 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.