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How many boyfriends had Albus Dumbledore?

I was not always as you see me now.

Many years ago, in a graduate school far away, I was a student of what H.L. Mencken liked to call “beautiful letters.” And it was with dim recollections of a past life as a graduate student in English that I reacted to J.K. Rowling’s announcement last week that she had envisioned Professor Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series, as gay.

However this may have titillated or energized her readers, I think that the remark was misguided — not because Dumbledore’s sexual orientation is in any way offensive, but because it appears to be irrelevant. While fresh scrutiny of the Potter novels may reveal hints, it doesn’t appear that Dumbledore’s sexuality matters in the books, which is the only place where it counts. He’s a character in fiction, not a person.

Seventy years ago, the British critic L.C. Knights published a famous (among academics) essay, “How Many Children Had Lady Macbeth?” It effectively demolished the older critical approach exemplified in A.C. Bradley”s Shakespearean Tragedy. Knights ridiculed criticism that treated Shakespeare’s characters as representing fully realized individuals, arguing that the characters exist only in the work to carry out the purposes of the work. They do not exist outside the play/poem/novel, and it is idle to talk of them as if they did.

That has been critico-literary orthodoxy for decades, and the attitude was pithily expressed by Vladimir Nabokov, who ridiculed the notion that characters could somehow “get away” from the control of their authors; his, he wrote, worked like galley slaves.

So Ms. Rowling, giving in to the avidity of fans who have not had enough Harry Potter with the completion of the series, offers them an additional crumb. No doubt in some electronic netherworld of which I remain blissfully unaware, avatars of all the Hogwarts characters are carrying on some further existence beyond the realm of copyright

But if Ms. Rowling wants to develop the characters further, she has a pen.


Posted by John McIntyre at 7:20 AM | | Comments (9)


The notion of fictional characters leading lives of their own can itself make for a fun story however, like Flann O'Brien's _At Swim-Two-Birds_.

Suppose that Rowling is giving us an insight into her creative process. Maybe some authors do fully imagine their characters, and then write about as much of them as they need. We can't know this about Shakespeare, but why not take her word for it? I find it especially interesting in that she implies that she sees the characters and their background from an adult point of view, then writes from an adolescent (or younger) point of view. As an adult reader, I find this adds to my enjoyment of the books.

Rowling, here (Toronto, CA) for the International Festival of Authors, was asked why she chose to announce last week that Dumbledore was gay – and that he had a mad, ill-fated, boyhood passion for his fellow wizard Gellert Grindelwald – instead of making it explicit in her series of Harry Potter novels.

"Because I really think that's self-evident," the 42-year-old British author replied. According to Rowling, the subsequent conflict between the two wizards laid the foundation for the final showdown of the series. "The plot is what it is and (Dumbledore) did have, as I say, this rather tragic infatuation," said Rowling.

"That was a key part of the ending of the story. So there it is. Why put the key part of the ending of my story in book one? If you're an author you might understand that when you write the ending, it comes at the end."

Later, she repeated that, "It is in the book. It's very clear in the book."

Gee, ever hear of the term "backstory"? A writer should create one for every major character. Rowling has merely exposed an element of Dumbledore's backstory. Character backstory is implicitly relevant to the art, the craft, and any writer should grasp this.

I don't know, she certainly is a brave woman to confront the fools again with gay tangent. As much as she may argue about physique of Dumbldore, just for the sake of winning argument, or sheer bravado, she either does not understand, or wicked ( in an oddly calculated way ) to use far out semantics.
Man has strong feeling for man, fathers feel for sons, brothers feel for brothers, thinkers often get in all kinds of trouble by getting hot on ideas of other thinkers and lo and behold, they get personal ( think Sirano and Roksana ) , and wrestlers embrace each other with gusto on a day to day bases. So, for all the gay-ish talk there a grain of salt.
Kudos however to Rowling for getting us all in a healthy debate on the issue.

On the other hand, why did she chose an old block for outing? The guy was old for the most part of the story, he parted the world as hero. Painting him gay will make all of us feel a little sorry for the guy and little better for ourselves ( both, gay, straight, and those who do not know and wonder in the middle ). And in the end, that was probably the last squeeze she could truly put in this duck press where every last breath ( or even entombed remains ) of her personage can be used to draw people attention.

I wonder what would happen if she comes out of the closet with Potter’s underwear? This certainly would put a major block of dynamite under financial stability of the franchise into the future.

But money and ownership aside, once she has started talking on sexual orientation of her personage, there is quite a mile to cover. Not all of them were as self conscious as deceased headmaster of Hogwarts.

Latest inconsistency is the Oct. 27 story on Swann Park, "Closer look for cancer near park" which an accompanying picture of the sign put up by local authorities spells it Swan Park. Which is correct, the state of Maryland or the Sun? Given your untrustworthy record, I go with the authorities. If the copy desk knew of the conflict in spellings (which it could hardly not have seen), then why not explain to readers rather than leaving the impression of another sloppy mistake in the Sun.

Well, the name is also spelled "Swann Park" on Baltimore City's map of neighborhoods and on the ADC street map of the city.

Given that signs are notoriously unreliable -- my in-laws in Pennsylvania live on a street with signs saying "Donnerville Road" at one end of the block and "Donerville Road" at the other, andt it took Howard County more than 30 years to change the name of "Satan Wood Drive" in Columbia to the intended "Satinwood Drive" -- I'm content to stand by our reporting.

I think what Rowling did was a great thing. It tells our children not to be afraid of homosexuals but to accept them as the people that they are. So thank you Rowling.

I have to say that your comments are exactly what I was thinking when I heard what Rowling had to say. At first I was upset that any author would dare to create aspects of a character outside a novel and without any real justification in the context of the work, but then I stepped back to look at who it I was talking about. I have a feeling that years from now when the definition of a “hack” is redefined in the Oxford English Dictonary there will be at least some reference to Rowling who has attempted to stir up political controversy by discussing characters outside the confines of the world in which she has created and in which her characters live.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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