During a question and answer session last Friday at Carnegie Hall, “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling made arguably the biggest announcement about the series since the release of its final installment in July: Albus Dumbledore, the beloved former headmaster of Hogwarts, was gay.
Though the immediate reaction of those present seemed to be positive, reactions over the last several days have been mixed. Negative responses were mostly homophobic – some people believe it is inappropriate to portray homosexuality as okay, especially in a children’s book. Others expressed frustration that Rowling didn’t mention the wizard’s sexuality earlier in the series, although Rowling claims she hinted at it throughout.
I, however, had a positive reaction to this revelation. It is true that Dumbledore’s sexuality is not essential to the plot, but that does not mean that we can’t gain some insight into his character because of it. Dumbledore’s character is revered throughout the series for his tolerance of others, but we are never told why he was like this.
The main characters in the series are a compilation of misfits and outcasts, from Luna “Loony” Lovegood to the awkward Neville Longbottom, to Hermione, a muggle-born, and even Harry, whose lightning bolt scar has always made him stand out. It is not always clear why Dumbledore took such a liking to these characters, but now an inference can be made that he, too, knew what it was like to be different, and therefore identified with them.
Rowling revealed Dumbledore’s sexuality on Friday in response to a question about whether Dumbledore ever fell in love. Her answer: “I always saw Dumbledore as gay.” She said it in such a nonchalant way, implying that though his sexuality gives insight to his character, it in no way defines him, just as Hermione is not defined by her non-magical lineage or Harry by his scar and its history.
Revealing Dumbledore’s sexuality in the series may have distracted the reader from what is actually important about his character – his skills, his compassion and his knowledge. Rowling instead allowed us to get to know and love Dumbledore’s character before learning about his sexuality. Choosing to reveal it after the fact, though, shows that his sexuality’s biggest impact is not on the story itself but rather on its effect on the readers. Creating a gay character with such power and prominence in a novel and with such a lasting effect on the series’ readers will undoubtedly have an impact on how our society views homosexuality, just as the series has impacted how society views witchcraft.
During the question and answer session on Friday, Rowling said that in creating the “Harry Potter” series she hoped to create a “prolonged argument for tolerance, a prolonged plea for an end to bigotry.” She did so by drawing various parallels between the Wizarding World and ours, including parallels between the Death Eaters and the Nazis, as well as Purebloods versus half bloods and racism and ethnicity issues. Now, she has introduced homosexuality into the novels as well. She realizes that this revelation will create controversy and debate, but that apparently was her intent with the series all along, and for that I respect her.
Lombardo is a member of the class of 2010.