Harry hypothermia.

>> Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I've been reading a whole lot of comments this week to the effect that J.K. Rowling owns her work, and therefore she can say anything she wants to after the fact, and it must be true because it's her story; frankly, all those comments are scaring me.

They don't scare me because Dumbledore is gay. Okay, he's gay. Whatever. I'm not sure it's particularly relevant. And that's what's starting to scare me: a lot of people think that it is. A lot of people seem to be saying that the events of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows make more sense now that we have this vital puzzle piece that we didn't have before.

See, J.K. Rowling has detractors. And a number of them have leveled the charge that Rowling doesn't know how to plot her way out of a paper bag. This is something I've argued with. Have they read the books? An obscure incident in book 5 becomes a major plot twist in book 7! She has boxes full of notecards and things! She's a master at plotting, it's one of her strengths!

But I'm chilled to think maybe the naysayers were right.

When you were a kid, did you ever try to tell a story? Maybe something you made up, or maybe something you'd heard, it doesn't matter. And when you were done, did you ever look up into the faces of all those grown ups and see baffled looks of incomprehension there? And after a moment of awkward silence or strained praise, did you then say something like, "The ghost was really his feet under the sheets... get it?" Because you messed up the story: you knew all along that the ghost at the end of the bed was the man's foot, and that's why he shot his big toe off when he got scared. But you messed it up, because you were seven and didn't know how to tell a story, and when it didn't make sense you had to try to explain it to everyone after the fact. Your ineptitude resulted in everyone misunderstanding the whole story.

But you were seven. Or maybe you were nine. Whatever.

So here's J.K. Rowling, months after publication, explaining, "He was in love with Grindelwald the whole time... get it?" As if there wasn't enough there for the reader, however young, to try to figure out how someone so seemingly wise as an old man could be so foolish when he was young.

What if I've been wrong? What if Rowling's need to clarify this now reflects a fundamental failure to communicate, meaning that she's not nearly as good as I thought she was and made her out to be?

It's not just Dumbledore, either. Over on Scalzi's blog, someone asked if the people who had a problem with Dumbledore being gay had a problem with Snape being good--and I thought, "Wait, Snape's good‽ I thought Snape was just this guy in the middle who loved Lily Potter and did lots of bad things and a few good things, always looking out for #1 first and foremost. Shit! This might explain why I thought Harry naming his son Severus was so fucking weak."

All of a sudden, Deathly Hallows looks less and less like a mildly-disappointing finale to a great series and more and more like a Revenge Of The Sith-magnitude fumble.

A lot of people won't believe this isn't about Dumbledore's sexual orientation. I have no idea how one proves his liberated bona fides in this kind of situation. All I can say is it's about writing, it's about what's in the text, and what's not in the text, and how a piece of writing becomes a reader's.

And I'll make this presumptuous promise right now: in the unlikely event I ever write a novel that makes it into print and is read by anyone, I won't come out after the fact and tell you something something something that isn't in the text and say it must be true, because I wrote it and I therefore own it, screw you.


There are some good comments here, and I agree with at least part of this, although I'm not sure the "Grindelwald subtext" was that clear. It wasn't Interview With The Vampire, say. But maybe I'm just denser than I like to think. And certainly the comment about Rowling's "disturbing messages" does strike a bit of a chord.

You know, there's another way of looking at this: Rowling's announcement may be the best thing to happen to Philip Pullman in years. (Click on that link. If you do not already own it, click on "Add To Shopping Cart." Purchase. Thank me after you compose yourself and quit crying at the end of book three. You're welcome.)


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