Someone has not spent much time among Harry Potter fans.

The Dish quotes someone named Tamar Szebo Gendler who thinks she can tell J.K. Rowling what not to say about her own characters:

As far as textual evidence goes, it’s clear that “Dumbledore is gay” is not a primary truth in Harry Potter: that sentence appears nowhere in the 4,100 or so canonical pages. So the question is whether it is a secondary truth. … [O]ur best evidence here is what Rowling herself said. But why should that matter? As readers have complained: “If the series is truly at an end, then the author no longer possesses the authority to create new thoughts, feelings, and realities for those characters. And, indeed, this sort of view of authorial authority is held by a number of leading critics of authorial intent. They point out that language is a social creation, and that authors do not have the power simply to make words mean what they choose. By this reasoning, it’s not up to Rowling to say whether Dumbledore is gay: her texts need to be allowed to speak for themselves, and each of her readers is a qualified listener.

Oh, no, it’s not like J.K. Rowling created Dumbledore, or wrote the Harry Potter series, or anything.

In case you haven’t read the series and don’t have many friends who can’t resist talking about it, there are spoilers below the jump. Proceed with caution.

As someone who spent several years navigating the jungle of hilarity that is HP fandom, I must say Gendler’s remark of “each of her readers is a qualified listener” is absolute bullshit. HP fandom taught me that readers bring their own baggage to their interpretation of fiction, and they will insist on projecting their prejudices, preferences and anxieties onto the books no matter how explicitly those ideas are debunked within the pages of the canonical text.

Now she’s saying that, since all 7 books are finished, Rowling “no longer has the authority” to tell us about her creations? That the author’s word doesn’t matter? Really?

We live in the age of the Internet, in which any asshole can get online and post their thoughts at a moment’s notice, without the slightest quality control, in a place where untold thousands of people can see. This also means that creators can get online and interact with their fans in ways they could not do before everyone and their dog had a computer with a wireless card. It means anyone can set up a website, a blog, a social network, a bulletin board, and gather with fellow fans to discuss their fiction of choice. This can lead in many positive directions but it also creates a breeding ground for utter madness to develop at a pace that was impossible back when everyone had to wait for the latest issue of the New Yorker to hit the newsstands.

So, with that in mind, if authors want to use that communication medium to clarify and elaborate on certain elements of their work for confused fans, that is entirely their prerogative. There actually is some primary evidence in Deathly Hallows that Dumbledore was attracted to Grindelwald, though it can  be argued that more explicit evidence could not have been made to fit into the narrative. After all, Dumbledore was already dead by then and the books are told from Harry’s POV. And perhaps Bloomsbury and Scholastic would not have allowed Rowling to write explicit evidence of a major character’s homosexuality in a fictional series aimed at juveniles. “Family values” and all that. Either way, there were some fans who picked up on the Dumbledore/Grindelwald angle before Rowling told us in so many words, and it was not wrong of her to tell us that if it seems like Dumbledore preferred the menfolk, IT’S BECAUSE HE DID.

Furthermore, my time in HP online fandom taught me that fans tend to be extremely selective about how they honor authorial intent. If they refuse to accept something she tells us outside the books, it’s because they don’t like what she’s saying. If she says what they’ve wanted to hear all along, they’re all too happy to see it in her own words.

All that said, Gender’s full article in TPM is actually quite a lot more interesting than simply asserting that “if it isn’t in the books, it doesn’t count.” She ultimately concludes that Dumbledore’s homosexuality is (arguably) valid because his rapport with Grindelwald was relevant to the plot. Still, I find it very, very amusing for her (or anyone else) to contend that the author and sole creator of a series doesn’t have the authority to tell us about her characters, or that reader response trumps authorial intent. Here’s another way of looking at it: there are  a lot of things that J.K. Rowling told us about her creations, within the text itself, but to a lot of readers, the text wasn’t good enough. (To a certain faction of HP fandom, “too obvious” meant “therefore not true,” for example.) So, for a lot of these questions, Rowling did interviews and shed more light on what she had in mind. For some readers, that still wasn’t good enough. The reason why it wasn’t good enough was that they didn’t want to believe it. One of the observations she made was that, “A book is like a mirror. If an idiot looks in, a genius won’t look out.”

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  1. #1 by TPM quotation on February 20, 2011 - 8:39 PM

    Why? Because for most Potter fans, Rowling is the patented owner and creator of the Potter universe. When she told the audience at Carnegie Hall that Neville went on to marry Hannah Abbott, or that Petunia “almost wished Harry luck when she said goodbye to him” at the beginning of Deathly Hallows, no one wrote in to say that that those things didn’t happen. After all, Rowling invented the world of Harry Potter, and she has the unique prerogative to authoritatively fill out, embellish, and continue her story. Rowling herself seems to endorse this view, claiming that Dumbledore “is my character. He is what he is and I have the right to say what I say about him.”

    • #2 by TPM quotation on February 20, 2011 - 8:40 PM

      The Above is a quote from the Gendler article.

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