Friday, October 26, 2007

Rowling "Christian," Dumbledore "Gay": SWNID Catches Up

So J. K. Rowling has at last stated that the Christian imagery in the Harry Potter books, most obvious in book seven, is, well, deliberately Christian. And Rowling goes to church. And she describes her faith like that of Graham Greene (see The Heart of the Matter in the SWNID Fiction Club), that is, a struggle to believe.

That sounds about right. Rowling wasn't writing Christian allegory, which was obvious. And she probably couldn't if she tried, which is fine. And she's on a pilgrimage, which is at worst honest and at best an honestly more accurate self-assessment for anyone than the kind that claims to have it all together.

So the books are what they have always appeared to be: an imaginary tour de force that explores the longings of humanity for justice, redemption and love and incorporates elements drawn from That Which Answers those longings, however imperfectly the author grasps those answers (for further reflection on this issue, we recommend reading, in addition to Greene, books at left by Dostoyevski, Endo, Updike, and O'Connor).

SWNID, who believes that evocation and provocation are often more powerful than indoctrination, is happy with this outcome.

Meanwhile, others are enraged that Rowling reveals that Dumbledore was gay. His relationship with Grindelwald, it seems, involved a powerful attachment of the future headmaster with the powerful, charismatic wizard. For whatever reason, the relationship was unconsummated.

Some Christians are incensed. We're not.*

Here's the deal, brothers and sisters. Every character in Potter's world is flawed. And as the background story develops in Deathly Hallows, we realize Dumbledore's youthful attachment to Grindlewald, whatever its nature, is his undoing.

Further, per Rowling, Dumbledore never acts sexually on his attraction and, per our own observation, in the story world never makes another such attachment. In other words, he experiences same-sex attraction but doesn't act on the urge.

That's the point, and to make the point, we'll oversimplify. In itself experiencing same-sex attraction is not sin, any more than in itself experiencing the urge to have sex with a member of the opposite sex to whom one is not married is sin, or experiencing a desire to slap someone's face is a sin. It's a temptation. The sin is in what one does with the urge.

Part of the fascinating power of Rowling's books is the Dickensian richness of her palette of characterization, which is to say that every character is a full-bodied, unique, believable person. Dumbledore is but one of many, and his experience is but one of many that evokes the fallenness of all.

The hysterical Potter critic linked above worries about Christians exposing their children to a gay character. She needs to realize that her children are in contact with real "gay" characters all the time. But let's be precise and stop saying "gay." Many people experience same-sex attraction, some more commonly and more powerfully than others. Some act on it, and some don't. As a Christian, I want to support those who don't, just as I myself need support to resist the urges that lead me to sin when I give in to them. As a parent and educator, I want people to understand that there's a big difference between affirming the presence and worth of people who experience same-sex attraction and treating homosexual acts as the moral equivalent of sex in permanent, monogamous, heterosexual marriage.

Dumbledore's experience is so much in the background of the Potter narrative that Christians hardly need to worry that their children will be corrupted by reading the books, any more than they should worry that the theme from Mr. Ed if played backwards sounds like "someone sang this song for Satan."

In fact, let's say the obvious: parents who think that this element of the narrative will corrupt young readers reveal thereby that they don't trust their children over time to develop critical thinking skills and don't trust the power of the gospel to overcome evil. For them, the message of God is so weak that it doesn't work in people's lives even if they hear it every day, and the message of Satan is so strong that it will overwhelm even when it is buried deep behind a fantasy narrative, so deep that the author has to tell us what was in her mind as she wrote.

Or to be blunt: Jesus wins; Satan loses. We are not called to retreat to a fortress. We are called to charge into enemy territory. It's God's world and he's taking it back. As in, "Take heart, for I have overcome the world."

*Those ready to accuse SWNID of being a relativist on homosexuality ought to read these posts as a reminder.


Anonymous said...

One wonders if Rowling's eagerness to keep interest in the franchise alive got the best of her in an off-the-cuff moment. She herself has admitted that she's had trouble letting go of the story, letting it rest now that it is complete. What better way to keep people interested in the franchise than to start revealing juicy bits of information about characters to loyal readers who hang on Rowling's every word?

Anonymous said...

I'm intrigued by the notion of authorial intent in interpreting Rowling's work (or anyone else's). Since, in fact, she did not choose to make explicit in the canon of HP that Dumbledore was gay, isn't her revelation that she always considered him to be gay, merely her interpretation of the story, and not necessarily "fact," if you will? I agree with SWIND that "gay" isn't actually the best term to use for Dumbledore. By choosing to apply that particular term to him, Rowling does seem to be inviting a flattening, not enriching, of Dumbledore as a character--that for those both pleased and dismayed by his outing, his sexual orientation becomes a label and not merely a facet of his rich character.