(Spoiler Warning: this post mentions a plot detail in the 6th Harry Potter book--not the newest one, but the one before it. If you have not read the sixth book and intend to, you may want to postpone reading this post.)
As surely everyone by now knows, at a forum for young fans of her Harry Potter book series at Carnegie Hall, author JK Rowling revealed that the beloved wizard and Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Magic was conceived and written by her as a gay man. This astonishing bit of back-story quickly became the stuff of a tabloid—and mainstream news—wildfire. More than ten years after this entertaining morality tale came to life, and almost 4 months since the final installment was published, why would Rowling choose this time—and such a forum—to make the revelation?
Also, why would she choose to sexualize a character whose literary raison d'etre had absolutely nothing to do with his sexual preferences? The character, so beautifully drawn, is the backbone of the story, in some respects even more important than Harry himself. Dumbledore is aged, and ageless. Like other warriors for good (think Gandalf in Tolkien’s Ring series, or Aslan, the stand-in for Jesus in the allegorical Chronicles of Narnia) he is almost beyond human. For the first six books in the series, he was the champion of the good, the foe of evil—and possessed the astonishing intelligence and power to ensure that the good prevailed.
His death at the end of the 6th book came as a devastating blow; we readers felt the shock of abandonment along with Harry, as the last of his protectors was demolished. As a literary device, though, the death was a virtuoso stroke. It robbed us of the comfort of a protector for the hero, and allowed the next and final book to set up, among other things, the fascinating history of how Dumbledore came to be who he was.
None of that back-story, however, required revelations as the nature of his sexual preference, witnessed by the fact that the series was concluded--highly successfully-- without any such.
So why take this classic morality play and bog it down with all the baggage that this hot-button topic will bring? Though set in and around London of the last 20 years, the story always managed a timeless quality. But now, I'm afraid, the story seems pulled down by An Agenda: the NYC forum, the nature of the question (in all the chat rooms and discussions I’ve followed I can’t recall for the life of me anyone interested in Dumbledore’s sex life) and the timing of it seem orchestrated somehow.
For example, Salon.com’s columnist Rebecca Traister notes approvingly that the Carnegie Hall audience received this revelation with a standing ovation. It seems to me that puzzled silence might have been more predictable. She also mentions the gleeful announcement by her 9-year-old friend that “Dumbledore is gay!!” Maybe Traister has very precocious young friends, but most 9-yr-olds I know would be confused by the news, and wouldn't understand it to be cause for celebration.
Traister also lists many quotes from the book in an effort to support the reading of Dumbledore as gay; all of them could be taken just as easily as an old-fashioned description of male friendship. But who of us wants to be old-fashioned?
If Rowling did originally conceive of this hero as a gay man—and I wouldn’t begrudge this talented creator her artistic license--why couldn't we the readers be allowed to interpret that ourselves? If it wasn’t necessary to be explicit during the series itself, why is it necessary now? Didn't the character speak for himself? Would we need to learn, for example, that Prof. McGonagall has a long-lost love child? That bit of sexual history would be just as unnecessary to the workings of the plot. Rowling is a consummate plot-spinner, and while her characters are masterfully drawn, they are also artfully drawn. We hear only as much personal matter as is necessary to inform the plot.
Indeed, the pointless revelation of this character's sexual preference is roaringly uncharacteristic of Rowling's style of exposition. I can imagine how hard it must be for her to lay to rest this splendid parallel world she created, so maybe it’s just a need to stay in the limelight and delay the end of the long moment.
But I must admit, I'm reluctant to explain all this to my kids.