I am not a fan of the Harry Potter series. Nonetheless, I, like every other sentient human being, know something about Harry Potter. Most of my friends are fans. My three younger sisters are fans. I've seen the movies. I've read small portions of several of the books.
So when J.K. Rowling announced last week that Albus Dumbledore, the aged headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, was gay, I was somewhat confused. When did the old dude with the funky beard turn into Gore Vidal?
According to Rowling, Dumbledore was always Gore Vidal. At a Carnegie Hall reading, one of Rowling's fans asked whether Dumbledore had ever found "true love." "Dumbledore is gay," Rowling gleefully responded. Dumbledore was apparently in love with his rival, Gellert Grindelwald, a dark wizard. "Falling in love can blind us to an extent," Rowling explained. Dumbledore's homosexual crush, Rowling stated, was his "great tragedy." Rowling went on to label the Harry Potter books a "prolonged argument for tolerance" and told her fans to "question authority."
Why did Rowling surreptitiously plant a creepy subtext in the most popular children's book of all time? She didn't. By most accounts, there is nothing in any of the books to suggest that Dumbledore is gay. It's easy enough for Rowling to retroactively adopt politically correct attitudes about homosexuality -- she never had to face the public scrutiny that surely would have ensued had she made Dumbledore openly gay. Instead, she raked in over $1 billion by appealing to kids and their parents, then conveniently announced Dumbledore's orientation before a swooning fan base in New York.
In announcing Dumbledore's homosexuality, Rowling was truly attempting to legitimate herself as a deep thinker and profound author, an artist with more to offer than Quidditch and appallingly unsubtle alliterative names. It wasn't enough for Rowling to author the most successful book franchise in modern history -- now she wants to be Philip Roth.
And the most convenient way for Rowling to pose as a "serious author" is to take a political stand that will earn her the enmity of Christian conservatives. The media made the most of the silly obsession of a tiny group of religious Christians who opposed Harry Potter because of its glorification of magic; now they'll scour the earth looking for religious Christians burning "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" because of Dumbledore's predilection for purple outfits. The media, which has always fawned over Rowling, will no doubt rave whatever she chooses to write next -- after all, anyone "victimized" by the religious right must be a great author.
Rowling's gutless decision to "out" Dumbledore months after the release of the last book in the Harry Potter series smacks of manipulation. Next she'll be telling us that Harry was actually an anti-war protester, Voldemort was a stockholder in Halliburton, and Hermione explored her sexuality during her college days before settling down with Ron. Rowling will clearly say anything for a buck -- anything to keep herself relevant.
Rowling, like so many artists, can't simply use her talents in ways that would please her readers. She can't stick with children's books -- that would "minimize" her, the same way singing non-political country would "minimize" the Dixie Chicks. She has something "important" to say, and we had all better listen.
Unfortunately for Rowling, her limited talents -- the Harry Potter books pale in quality when compared with Edward Eager -- are unsuited to the task of taking on large social issues. Rowling isn't Twain; she isn't even Stephen King. Rowling commenting on "love," "great tragedy" and resistance to authority is like Keanu Reeves teaching master classes on acting. All Rowling has accomplished by "outing" Dumbledore is undercutting her own broader appeal and demonstrating her own insecurity and intellectual shallowness.