Not nearly as important as everyone thinks...

>> Monday, October 29, 2007

A week ago, roughly, I commented on J.K. Rowling's decision to out Albus Dumbledore. What was it I wrote? Oh yes:

J.K. Rowling has outed Dumbledore. Of all the questions I might have had reading the Harry Potter books, Dumbledore's sexual orientation never crossed my mind. But good for him, I guess, or for Rowling. (Although I also can't help thinking that, if she wanted to make a statement, outing Dumbledore is about as innocuous a statement as you can make.)

It was slightly less newsworthy, I think, then the other part of the blog entry: a report that a Japanese fashion designer had invented urban camouflage in the form of a cloth vending-machine hood that you could pull over your entire body to make yourself look like a soda machine to prospective muggers.

A week later, and everyone is still wild about Harry, but there's no love for the faux vending machines amongst us. Or among Japanese urbanites.

Not that there's anything wrong with loving the Potterverse. I had the last four books delivered to my front door by Amazon on the day of release. They're great, fun reads, even the last two when Rowling realized she'd boxed herself in a corner and had two only two books to cover at least a half-century of exposition.

But talking about a dead fictional person's sex life fifty years ago is about as relevant and interesting as talking about a dead real person's sex life fifty years ago. Okay. Bad comparison. People still buy books about who Marilyn was screwing. But I hope you get the point.

See, if you haven't read the books, here's the thing: Dumbledore is the grandfather figure in the Potterverse. Do you spend a lot of time thinking about your grandfather having sex? Go ahead, do it now. Take your time. With your grandmother, with some sailor from the harbor, with Marilyn. Whatever floats your boat. Picture that hot grandfather action.

See, you didn't want to do that, did you? Not because you can't accept that your grandfather had sex--he had sex with your grandmother at least once, right? It's that you really just didn't actually care all that much about that part of your grandfather's life. It's not like you had conversations like this with your friends:

Your Friend: My grandfather was a marine and served in WWII and Korea.
You: My grandfather banged my grandma.
Now, someone might be saying that accepting your parents and grandparents as sexual beings is part of growing up. Could be, but it's not really part of Harry's growing up in Deathly Hallows. Or in any of the other books. It's trivia. Okay, Dumbledore's gay. What I really want to know is if Lily Potter really had Farrah hair. That's a far more essential matter when it comes to how I pictured the characters, seriously. Dumbledore gay? 'Kay. Whatever. Lily Potter had big hair and grooved to disco? As Darth Vader famously said, "Noooooooooooooooooooo!" What's next? Moony, Padfoot, Prongs and Wormtail sitting around a table in Red's basement, marijuana perfectly innocuous smoke swirling around their heads as they have a completely inane conversation about Fez's Wormtail's sex life?

There is, however, an interesting question buried in this. One that I've been beating to death in the comments thread on John Scalzi's Whatever blog, and that I might take up here at some point. Is Dumbledore _____ (fill in whatever you'd like) just because Rowling says so outside of the text? When does an author relinquish control of her creation over to the reader, and should the reader care what an author says independently of the text?

I think--and I'm not quite ready to elaborate here and now--that a writer has to accept that once a story is out in the wild, readers are going to draw from and project onto the work whatever they want. What the writer has to say might be interesting, and might help establish a common ground for people to discuss the work with each other, but the writer doesn't own what's in the reader's head.

Although, now that I think about it, all those comments I made at Scalzi's, and I should have been wondering about Lily's big hair and Snape's corduroy pants. Damn. I missed the point until it was too late. Again.




3 comments:

rbird Monday, October 29, 2007 at 11:02:00 PM EDT  

wait a second...are you trying to tell me that you never thought about grandmother and grandfather doing the bone dance? pfffff.

Eric Monday, October 29, 2007 at 11:46:00 PM EDT  

AGGGH! I fought to come up with a good, absurd euphemism for sex, went to google and everything, and you come in here and drop the phrase "doing the bone dance" just like that! Why couldn't I have thought of that! It's perfect. I could have used that an hour ago!

I am totally remembering that. For the future. Because we're all going to live there someday.

(Sorry. Had to say it: I watched Ed Wood again a few nights ago.)

rbird Friday, November 2, 2007 at 12:55:00 AM EDT  

mattress dancing. that's another good one, but it's not as effective.

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