Albus Dumbledore cast in a new light

Months after `Potter' mania, author says the wizard is gay

October 23, 2007|By Joe Burris | Joe Burris,SUN REPORTER

When Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling took Albus Dumbledore out of the proverbial Hogwarts School closet the other night, proclaiming that she always intended the wizard and headmaster in her popular series as a gay character, a loud ovation swelled from the main floor at New York's Carnegie Hall to the balcony where Clark B. Merrill was seated.

"It was J.K. Rowling unplugged," said Merrill, a systems administrator from Roland Park who won tickets to the event Friday evening. "She doesn't have anything to hide anymore."

Some are wondering why Rowling, who made the statement in response to a question from a fan, would have anything left to reveal in a series that ended in July with the seventh Potter installment. Others revel in new information about beloved characters and, like those at Carnegie Hall that evening, applauded Rowling's decision to cast one of the series' most popular characters as gay.

They're among millions of Potter fans worldwide that have taken to the information with fascination - prompting response and discussion in Internet chat rooms and on message boards and Web sites.

It's not the first time that the outing of a fictional character has fueled debate about sexual orientation. Merrill said Rowling added that she would have revealed earlier that Dumbledore was gay had she known the news would be so well-received.

But some Potter fans questioned why Rowling would declare the character's sexual orientation despite not placing any references to it in the story line. Others are dismissive of the whole discussion.

"What's stopping her from saying that [Harry's friend] Neville grows up to be a pedophile," said David Baggett, an associate philosophy professor at Liberty University's School of Religion. The Lynchburg, Va., school, incidentally, was founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, who eight years ago caused a stir by questioning the sexual orientation of the purple character Tinky Winky in the Teletubbies children's series.

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."

Robert Thompson, a television and pop culture professor at Syracuse University, also questioned Rowling's new information, comparing it to the likelihood of Shakespeare stating Hamlet was adopted years after the popular tragedy had run.

"A true purist might say, `This isn't fair to do something like this after the fact,'" he said. "But ... it has a degree of authority coming from the one who made the characters up."

Others, however, were delighted that Rowling announced that one of the characters was gay.

"It's not just that she made a Harry Potter character gay. She made the most popular non-Harry Potter character gay," said Melissa Anelli, who runs a popular Harry Potter fan site named The Leaky Cauldron.

Anelli says she's not surprised that Rowling didn't mention Dumbledore's sexual orientation in the books and doesn't anticipate it being mentioned in coming Potter films.

"If you think about it, the books are from Harry's perspective, and there's no reason for Harry to know about Dumbledore's sex life," she said.

Meanwhile, Rowling's comment has prompted widespread speculation on the Web as to what other fictional characters might be gay or lesbian. Questions about the sexual orientation of such animated characters as SpongeBob SquarePants and Buster Baxter have also been raised.

But Rowling took the guesswork out of Dumbledore's preference, and some say the response to her revelation reflects the popularity of her work.

"Her characters didn't feel like fiction; people really felt like they knew her characters and related to them and cared about them," said Esther Clinton, an assistant professor of popular culture at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

"Dumbledore is clearly the most powerful and impressive character in the series," she added. "The fact that he is gay presents an image that, depending on your point of view, is pretty exciting or confusing. Hopefully, it will make people think about their attitudes."

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

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