Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Week of "I Told You Sos" from Harry Potter Fans, Detractors [UPDATED]

First, the Harry Potter fans got to engage in their best "I told you so" when Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling explicitly revealed the Christian underpinnings of the stories.

Will the Harry Potter detractors join in with their chorus of "I told you so" now that Rowling has "outed" Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore as being homosexual?

By the way, what's up with that?

I think the whole Harry Potter debate up to this point has been rather silly, to be honest with you. My kids aren't old enough to read the books, although they enjoy the movies (which they really aren't old enough to view either - okay, I'm a bad parent). And I've never read them myself. But I never really bought into the "Harry Potter is evil" stuff. The Tolkien parallels seem about right to me.

But this latest revelation by Rowling, and especially the manner in which she revealed it (apparently to a large group of children), should be at least somewhat troubling even to those Catholics who have been some of Harry Potter's biggest defenders.

Here's the reaction of one disappointed Potter fan:
... I cannot help but think of all those people who spent so much time and energy into promoting these books, writing incredible articles, and more defending these books as good Christian literature. In one swoop she has taken all that effort and work and made a mockery of us all.

I feel betrayed. I feel humiliated.

I am angry...
Again, I've been on the sidelines of the whole debate (enjoying the movies along with my kids). But had I expended any effort in defending the Christian character of Rowling and the Potter books against the anti-Potter brigades, I'd feel a little betrayed right now that Rowling has practically undone all that work by serving up this piece of red meat to the Harry-hating opposition.

I'm not saying that this revelation changes the underlying Christian message of the books, mind you. But try explaining that to someone who was already predisposed to dissing Potter or, worse, to someone who was sitting on the fence about the books. This disclosure makes the sell a lot harder for those who were trying to do the convincing.

UPDATE #2 (22 October)
Just because it's funny as hell, this is my favorite quote so far on L'Affaire Dumbledore:
It's like asking if papa smurf ever served in the military. He not real. It's a waste of time to consider. Put this in the box with tinky winky. It doesn't matter. Let's worry about real threats instead of some wizard who is going to turn kids gay.

Speaking of reactions to Dumbledore's outing, here's Mark Shea's reasoned take.

UPDATE #3 (22 October)
Well, regardless of the merits of the Harry Potter books as Christian literature, it seems quite clear that Ms. Rowling, wittingly or not, has unleashed a major barrage in the culture wars with her Dumbledore revelation:
"Blogospheric Reaction to an Outed Wizard" - New York Times, U.S.

Rowling's outing of Dumbledore lauded" - Globe and Mail, Canada

Magical day for gays as Dumbledore is outed" - Times, U.K.

Activist welcomes 'Dumbledore is gay' revelation" - Ireland Online, Ireland

And this one should make any Potter fan squirm:

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.

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.
(emphasis added)

- The Herald, U.K.
Regardless of the merit of the Harry Potter books as Christian literature, I wonder whether that aspect will now and forever be completely ignored by a culture that will instead choose to understand the "true" meaning of Harry Potter to be something akin to that final paragraph in The Herald piece quoted above.

Gee, thanks, Ms. Rowling. That's just what us parents needed.

UPDATE #4 (22 October)
Zippy, commenting over at Catholic and Enjoying It, hits on the aspect that I find most problematic about Rowling's revelation (as noted in my previous UPDATE #3):
... The really blind thing would be to pretend that this doesn't change anything. Trying to spin this into Dumbledore-as-celibate-Courage-archetype or any of the other arguments to "save Potter" isn't going to work, in my view. We're past that as a viable possibility. In the culture wars it may have been back-and-forth ambiguous posturing before, but now Potterdom has just declared war on Christendom. Unless Rowling herself comes out with a "homosexual acts are wrong, Dumbledore is a celibate man with disordered desires" speech in the next few days - and I wouldn't hold my breath - you know how this is going to go; how it is already starting to go.
(emphasis in original)

Mark Windsor, also commenting at Mark's blog, writes in a similar vein:
The bottom line is that the media will see this as a major victory, and they won't let it go away quickly. Somewhere, there are college lit professors planning lectures on the subject, and I'm sure there's a Human Sexuality semester in there somewhere. It no longer matters what we think, or even what the author thinks. The meme is unleashed.

Just for the record, I rather like most of the Potter books. I think they're good stories (though poorly told, at times). I agree with most of what both Mark Shea and John Granger have said about this. But things like this that give Andrew Sullivan great joy are usually not good for our side. I do also believe that JKR intended the Christian elements of the books, and I don't think they are subversive in general. The reaction of the left is entirely predictable.

I can't think of a better example of culture war friendly fire.
(emphasis added)

Yet another commenter at Mark's, Dave G., offers a word of caution:
But I would caution those who have criticized the books for trying to make a big issue of this. At this point, for diehard fans, I doubt there is anything that will make them change their minds. And JKR knows this, and will simply use criticism and opposition to boost sales of the books that are being opposed. And being mean or judgmental never advances a cause. Nor does cheering over a supposed moral victory. And, at the end of the day, it is a book, and might have Christian themes. To each his or her own.

For those who are children of the Church, and fans of HP, I would also caution. Don’t wait for JKR to come out and say ‘question authority - like the Catholic Church, and tolerate everything - like homosexuality’. She isn’t stupid. That would take out a whole segment of her customer base - and an important one, for many Christians have given the series a chance because of other Christians who have said they weren’t that bad, or that they were ‘Christian books’ on the same level as Narnia.

Instead, just step back, take a look at what she is saying, who she is saying it to, and its impact. Then ask yourself, do you still want to insist that HP is a “Christian book”, loaded with “Christian themes”, and therefore anyone could, by implication, go out and gobble it up and be edified and enlightened in their Christian walk? Wouldn’t a bit of caution at this point do better? Maybe backing off of the promotion and support until at least a little more is known? And if not, can we expect the same support and acceptance for others who are wealthy, influential, and heroes to our children if they go down similar paths about issues that may skate on the fringes of Church teaching? I will certainly remember the arguments for HP and JKR made now when discussing other issues.

Oh, and don’t be so quick to attack folks who express concern about things. As a friend of mine, a Presbyterian minister named Russ, was fond of saying: It’s better to err on the side of caution, to oppose what may turn out to be OK, than to promote what may turn out to be wrong.

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At 10/21/2007 7:10 PM, Blogger Histor said...

Re the outing:

Either this was actually necessary to reveal Dumbledore's character, in which case Rowling is just a lousy writer, or it wasn't necessary, in which case it's just pandering.


At 10/21/2007 9:14 PM, Blogger Theoketos said...

You cannot be on the sidelines if you let your kids watch the movie.

{I bought my wife the books, and will never read them now.}

At 10/21/2007 10:00 PM, Blogger Pro Ecclesia said...

I said "I've been on the sidelines of the whole debate", and I have been. This is the first time I've ever addressed the matter.

At 10/21/2007 11:20 PM, Blogger Fr. Erik Richtsteig said...

I suspect this is just pandering. I have read the books several times myself and nothing in them even hinted at Dumbledore being a person with Same Sex Attraction Disorder let alone gay.

At 10/21/2007 11:37 PM, Blogger Literacy-chic said...

I've already said this elsewhere, so I'm sorry for repeating it instead of rephrasing, but my take as an academic and a literary critic, is that I need to see her textual evidence that the character is gay. In every book she has revealed something new that she hadn't even remotely thought of while she was writing the previous ones. This is just one more example. Where will it end? When I teach literature, one of the things I tell my students is NEVER TRUST THE AUTHOR--at least, what the authors say about their own works. If it's not in the books, it might as well not exist. After all, the author isn't looking over the reader's shoulder whispering the "true meaning." That's the purpose of those little black marks on the page.

At 10/22/2007 12:24 AM, Blogger Literacy-chic said...

I have NOT said this before, but if this claim is supportable from textual evidence, what does it do to the relationship between Dumbledore and Harry as "Dumbledore's favorite" and the student to whom Dumbledore was "too attached"? It seems that this relates very negatively to the sex scandals that are rampant within schools.

There is a whole internet counterculture of adaptations of the Harry Potter characters and stories as "fan fiction" (written by fans) into homosexual fantasies. Rowling has, in the past, expressed her explicit approval of these subcultures. My guess is that she was pandering to THAT audience.

At 10/22/2007 10:26 AM, Blogger Denise said...

First of all, these are fictional characters.These characters are constructs of words. They have no actions other than those that were outlined on the pages of the books. For JK Rowling to come out now and say Dumbeldore is gay is ludicrous. That would be comparable to someone now declaring that the Three Little Pigs were a bunch of frat boys who engaged in wild drunken orgies. This is definitely sensational pandering. I have lost all respect for Ms. Rowling.

At 10/22/2007 10:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was always uneasy witht he books mainly from what I learned through a Priest in our Parish who had a healing ministry. He said that many times we open ourselves to evil in ways that we don't know. I'm not sure if you are aware of the person "Anne" under the heading of Direction for Our Times. She is under the full authority of her Bishop and therefore the Church. She is obdeient to the Church in all matters. In Volumne two, on page 3 dated August 18 2003, the words that she says come right from Jesus say this-" Much is said in your world about power:this one has power and that one has another power. Children are being deluged withimages of occult or magical powers. I want this to cease. There is an obession with the powers that are NOT heavenly powers. My children, even some of My children of Light, say these things are good things,or at least harmless." Your children must be protected from entertainment or games that feature "powers". You can check it all out yourself at I send this in the spirit of charity! Thank you for your awesome blog.

At 10/22/2007 1:42 PM, Blogger Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

As commented on Nancy Brown's blog, I feel like the victim of a "gotcha".

Someone else compared it, aptly I thought to the scene in Law & Order when Fred Thompson's character fires another (female) character. And the woman, a character of four years, asks if it's because she's gay.

There was no hint in all that time that she might be gay. It was stupid.

I think if I were gay, I might be annoyed at this announcement. The only textual backup to the notion of Dumbledore being gay are in stereotypes. Dumbledore has a marvelous fashion sense. He's arrogant, self-centered, highly tolerant of disorder, and largely non-confrontational. He is aloof from the children. He complains about social injustice, but never takes action on it (he notes that wizards treat non-human races badly, but he does nothing to change this, even when, for example, he could have created a new paradigm at Hogwarts for the treatment of house elves).

He thinks he is fighting against Voldemort, but in fact it is almost exclusively done through Harry. He makes stupid mistakes, and if not for Harry, all his plans would come to naught.

In the end, Voldemort makes only one mistake, and it costs him everything.

Dumbledore, by contrast, makes mistake after mistake, and all his scheming would come to naught except that Harry manages to pull it all out in the end, largely by virtue of his own courage and purity.

If I were gay, I would much prefer to hear that Prof. McGonagall, or Prof. Flitwick, or even Prof. Snape, were gay, than Prof. Dumbledore.

At 10/22/2007 1:58 PM, Blogger Darwin said...

Eh, I guess I don't have an opinion on it. Like LitChic said: beyond the words they author puts on the page, listening to them too much is not necessarily a good idea.

You'd never get the impression from the books that Dumbledore was gay -- though that he was so inclined (inactively so) is also not incompatible with what's in the books.

The fact is, Rowling is not at all a deep writer, though she's a moderately good storyteller. (Or, as one might say, she's got no strategic ability at all, but her tactics are good.) My guess is this was a toss out for the writers of FanFic and other such junk.

What makes it especially dumb is, it strikes me that this would actually make Dumbledore's youthful scheming with the dark wizard (which I guess now he allegedly had a crush on) a _less_ interesting character choice. If he was following the guy because he had a crush on thim that's less interesting than if this was an expression of his general desire for power.


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