Rowling stirs up some good literary criticism

By now anybody who keeps up with current events to a respectful degree has probably, in the very least, heard some mentioning of J.K. Rowling’s deceleration that the well known and loved headmaster of Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore, was supposedly gay. I have myself read quite a number of articles and responses on the whole matter. Everything from anger, to curiosity, to praise. Yet my interest in the whole matter has little to do with the whole “gay” question and more to do with ideas of literary criticism. This morning The New York Times had a great article by Edward Rothstein titled “Is Dumbledore Gay? Depends on the Definition of ‘Is’ and ‘Gay'” in which he wrote:

“But it is possible that Ms. Rowling may be mistaken about her own character. She may have invented Hogwarts and all the wizards within it, she may have created the most influential fantasy books since J. R. R. Tolkien, and she may have woven her spell over thousands of pages and seven novels, but there seems to be no compelling reason within the books for her after-the-fact assertion. Of course it would not be inconsistent for Dumbledore to be gay, but the books’ accounts certainly don’t make it necessary. The question is distracting, which is why it never really emerges in the books themselves. Ms. Rowling may think of Dumbledore as gay, but there is no reason why anyone else should.”

 

 

What I see as fascinating about Rowling’s claim is how it brings to front and center a question about authority in literature. Sure people are going all off about the question of what this homosexuality means to the whole series but I’ve read very little about people even asking if Rowling even has the right to suggest such a thing? Well of course she has the “right” just like if any of us want we have the “right” to say that Obi-Wan Kenobi was a Nazi, which obviously seems ridiculous. This is a question of author function in literature, is the author the absolute authority on the work that they produce? Or is it the reader? Or, perhaps, the text is the only thing that we should be looking at?

 

Spending my four years of college education as an English major I heard a ton about literary criticism. I grant that I am not as on top of my lit theory as some of my other classmates (partially because I was a writing option instead of a literature option) but I do feel that I get the general idea about a lot of this stuff. You see it all comes down to interpretation of the text. While the author may have a specific idea about what they are writing this does not necessitate that the audience will share the same sentiments. In fact each reader may have his or her own unique interpretations (some readers may have more than one interpretation). Some schools of lit criticism say we shouldn’t even bother to think about the author and his or her ideas and influences and should only look at our own interpretations or what the text literally gives us in its words. Other’s feel that one can not reasonable ignore the author of a piece of writing as they are the creators. I feel that the reaction to Rowling’s claim should be based more on the ideas of literary criticism than on the controversy of homosexuality. As Rothstein points out, just because Rowling may feel that Dumbledore is gay does not mean that we have to agree. Sure we are free as the readers, as the audience, to come to that conclusion on our own in the books, but there is not really anything in the whole series that necessitates it. Of course what Rowling’s claim has done is guaranteed arguments and interpretations for years to come. People are bound to be looking for every little detail that affirms her claim and every little detail that refutes it. In the perspective of somebody who loves literature and discussing books this is just about the most fascination thing that an author could do even if one feels that it was not really in her right.

 

And personally, on whether Dumbledore was gay, I say that I don’t really give a fuck, I don’t see it as being important to the stories at all.

~ by Nathaniel on October 29, 2007.

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