Friday, October 26, 2007

Has J.K. Rowling Broken Faith with Her Readers?

No, I've never read a whole Harry Potter book. In fact, I'm pretty sure that my total exposure to all things Potter, including the movies, is chapter one of the first book in the series, and I read that quite a few years ago. And I don't particularly care one way or the other if any of the characters in the book are gay. But what the heck is going on with J.K. Rowling these days? Does she miss the spotlight so much that she's dreaming up new backgrounds for her characters while being driven to her next book signing event?

What I have found odd, and a bit irritating, these last few days is that, from everything I've read, there is apparently little, if anything, in the books themselves that indicate that Professor Dumbledore is gay. Rather, it seems that Rowling is able to generate all of this "buzz" simply by claiming that she always thought of him as gay. Her flippancy has forever tainted the books for many of her readers, I suspect. I know that I would not be happy to learn after reading seven books that one of the main characters in the books is not the man that the author led me to believe he is and that I may have missed some serious implications in the plot line, things that I would not have missed if the author had not hidden in print what she now claims in public speaking events.

23 comments:

  1. kid: "Did he ever fall in love?"
    JKR: "Actually, he's gay."

    ...and nobody found THAT offensive?

    (Rather more importantly, is the world so lacking in sexuality that it needs to be added to children's literature?)

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  2. I read the books and came away wondering if Dumbledore was homosexual on my own -- does that mean I don't count as a fan? That's the vibe I get from that article -- it sounds like every fan is enraged and disappointed (or should be! or else we're wrong!) with the announcement and never could have even imagined from the canon that Dumbledore is gay.

    But we did! Lots of us.

    I wish people would focus more on the valid and intriguing issues behind the revelation, instead of the shallow stuff like whether this is a PR stunt. The whole situation is disappointing; I thought this was an excellent chance for some excellent dialogue; so far the only kind I've seen where people are thinking it through instead of getting angry and offensive over it is on metafandom.

    Sorry to flood your comments -- I just think there are way, way more ways to consider this than the mainstream seems to be doing. It's just sad. :(

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  3. Good point, MDP. We all know Harry Potter would have been banned from schools if she had written gay characters living happily ever after. Her gay-friendliness is a sham. I'm sure the gay community isn't fooled.

    All I've seen in the mainstream is reporters swallowing the story hook, line, and sinker. They can't resist a controversy, even if it is completely imaginary! She sells more books, they sell papers, everyone's happy.

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  4. I never thought of Dumbledore as anything. I figured he had too much on his plate to have a love life with anyone.

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  5. Sylvia, I don't think it's a sham.

    Here's some context for the comment:

    http://eldritchhobbit.livejournal.com/175955.html

    I wasn't surprised to hear that Dumbledore was gay and my son didn't appear shocked either when I mentioned it to him.

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  6. I must say, like Sam, I have never read this series before. I'm more an urban fantasy addict than trad fantasy fan or YA fantasy fan.

    However, I did find the journalist's statement about writers knowing no more than the average reader about their own books surprising. I guess he has never written a novel before? If he had he would know the author of a novel knows more about the characters in that novel than she/he will ever be able to put into print in the novel. It is all of this background knowledge that gives the characters "flesh and blood" in the minds of the readers. Without that background info we couldn't write good novels.

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  7. Thanks to everyone for the great (and very interesting) comments. I wanted to be very clear that I haven't read the books or seen the movies so that what I had to say about the "revelation" came across as being from someone on the outside looking in.

    I do feel that authors have somewhat of an obligation not to change the interpretation of their novels by revealing things about characters that are not included in the published works. That's just not playing fair, IMO.

    It does sound like readers of the series may have suspected the "truth" about this character for a while because of clues that are in the books. If that's the case, than the media people are definitely making this into something that it is not.

    I guess the question is more one of whether or not Rowling has generated some kind of backlash with all her success. Are people resentful and jealous of that success? Is that why people are questioning her motives right now?

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  8. MDP, yeah, I think that is pretty offensive, the way that it came out. I'm not sure about the context and whether or not she corrected that impression later on, but in black and white terms, and based on those words only, that was a very insensitive way to put things.

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  9. Renay, feel free to flood away. You made some valid points from a fan's viewpoint and I appreciate that.

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  10. Sylvia, the cynic in me says that there is a good bit of truth in what you say. We know that the books have been controversial all along in some places...a gay main character in a series about witchcraft would have certainly gotten the the books yanked from even more shelves than they already were.

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  11. I doubt that I would have wondered either, Bybee. Unless the author made it seem relevant to the plot itself, I wouldn't have worried much about it.

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  12. SFP, thanks for adding weight to the idea that the media folks may be wrong on this one. Sounds like it's the kind of thing that can be argued either way with some confidence.

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  13. Laura, as an author, do you feel any obligation to disclose all to your readers about your characters? Do you see anything wrong with changing the nature of a main character by disclosing what was in your mind about the character when you wrote a book if you haven't already given hints in print about the character's true nature?

    I have a hard time with that...especially when the revelations are made on a book tour.

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  14. Hi, Sam! To answer your questions...

    I think this has more to do with the nature of the fantasy market than anything else. The fact is our fans are RABID for details. Whether they read trad fantasy or urban fantasy or YA fantasy, they want details. They not only want to know all the details about their favorite authors but also their favorite characters. That's why so many of us have blogs. Our blogs add another dimension to our novels by revealing all kinds of details about the novels we write, ourselves, and our characters. We do the same thing in our magazine interviews....we spill our guts, and the fans love it! I think that is also because most of us write series, and our fans become as attached to our characters as we do, so they have very inquiring minds (grin).

    What has happened with the HP books is unusual. I don't think anyone could have predicted that they would hop out of the YA fantasy genre. People who normally would never have read a YA fantasy series suddenly became hooked by this one. When that happens to an author just about everything she says is going to offend someone, because many of the people who have fallen in love with her books are not fantasy fans.

    This may seem odd to you, but let me tell you a little about what is happening in the fantasy market right now, and especially the YA fantasy market. This gay issue reminds me of what Anne Rice said about her vampire novels years ago. She mentioned that she had a strong following among gay men. Readers of traditional horror, like "Dracula," might find that a strange statement. But readers of urban fantasy won't. When vampires crossed over from horror into urban fantasy, their "feeding" became not only the way to grab a quick meal but it also became a sexual act. Vampires are not picky about who they feed from. So you will almost always find them feeding from both men and women "donors." Whether sex is involved or not, the act is usually sexual in nature for the donor. Thus, you have male vampires feeding from men donors in a scene that has a sexual aura to it.

    Vampires are so hot right now in the YA market that they literally sizzle. Trust me, this statement about an owl character being gay is not shocking to fantasy fans or even teenagers devouring YA fantasy fiction. It is the norm for those of us in the fantasy market, surrounded as we are with novels filled with vampires, Witches, wizards, werewolves, ghosts, faeries, etc. This is only shocking to those who don't read fantasy series regularly. For fantasy fans, it barely rates a "ho-hum," and they are probably wondering what all the fuss is about!

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  15. Sam, you asked about a backlash and why people are questioning her motives. . .

    I've heard religious conservatives who've read Rowling (that's a smaller subset than religious conservatives who won't read Rowling--because it promotes the occult) complain that by making her Christ-figure gay, she's mocked their beliefs. Well, uh, Dumbledore was never a Christ-figure; Harry was. Nonetheless, they feel betrayed: what will they tell the children?

    The media--it's much easier to take a quote out of context and stir up a ruckus over something as unimportant as an obviously celebate book character's youthful sexual orientation than it is to write about anything substantial and of actual import in the world. Death, famine, torture--oh, look! The wizard in the purple robe is gaaaay!

    Personally, I don't think Rowling's trying to sell any more books by any of her pronouncements--she's richer than just about anyone by now. I think she genuinely loves her characters and enjoys talking to readers who feel the same way about them as she does.

    And that's coming from me, the biggest cynic on the planet.

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  16. I dunno, it seems a bit cowardly, in this day and age, to make one of your characters gay and then keep him in the closet until after he's dead. We're supposed to applaud that? I don't think so.

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  17. Was Achilles gay? Bi-sexual? I remember a lot of ambiguity in The Iliad. In that day and age, with all those bathhouses, I wonder why Homer didn't spell things out a bit more blatantly. . .

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  18. Thanks for the insights, Laura. I'm not sure that, as a reader, I will ever see a novel through anything similar to the eyes of its author. I think that novels are a personal experience and that each of us ends up with a somewhat unique view of what we've read. That's the good news, IMO. But it probably does frustrate authors. :-)

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  19. SFP, I'll never understand how a book like those in this series can stir up so much animosity from the more religious sector of our society. I just can't get that stirred up myself because I cannot believe even for a second that anyone is going to be turned into a black witch by reading a book like the Potters. I don't think that parents give their kids much credit if they believe otherwise.

    As for Rowling, you may be right. She certainly doesn't need the money...maybe this is the only way that she can interact with the public and have some fun. I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, I guess, but I would still feel a bit cheated as a reader of the books, I think.

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  20. Sylvia, I probably should never have started this conversation since I haven't read the books...now I'm kind of on the fence. I do think I would feel slighted but maybe she's telling the truth...will we ever know?

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  21. I just finished The Dead Guy Interviews (not a book I'd recommend) in which the author took delight in pointing out just how many of history's legends were either homosexual or bisexual...he did it in such a crude manner, however, that it came across as childish.

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  22. In my opinion, this isn't a gay/straight political issue. It's a literary issue, and Rowling was stupid. She left out what should be a main issue in a character's life. That's lazy and incompetent writing. Revealing it afterwards is irresponsible.

    If a character in a book is a murderer, and after the book is released and read, the author reveals that, as a child, the character had witnessed the murder of his own father, wouldn't you be annoyed at the ommission? A person's life, and the struggles they go through (and, right or wrong, being gay in today's society is a struggle) defines their behavior.

    In my opinion, if Rowling just made it up, she's sick. If she knew all along, it should've been included in the books.

    And for those who "knew" before she said anything, you must be daggone smart because I haven't met a single person who wasn't surprised by this... and I work in a bookstore.

    One other thing - I'm so sick of everyone talking about how the religious right is so against these books. One small group who happened to be religous caused a stir. It was hardly a viewpoint of the majority of the conservative Christian community (you know, the same community who embraces the wizardry in "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Chronicles of Narnia").

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  23. I'd like to think (if she's being honest) that she left that fact out of the books because she thought it was a non-issue, but more likely she knew it would hurt book sales. It's only a small minority that is spooked by wizards, but the anti-gay movement is very powerful and active, at least in the U.S. She (and her publishers) would have lost big time if the books had gotten relegated to Heather-Has-Two-Mommies-land.

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