Albus Dumbledore, the beloved late headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, is gay.
As Dumbledore is an intensely private man, the world may have never known this fact had author J.K. Rowling not announced it last Friday evening. Rowling, who was on a book tour of the United States, had spent the evening reading from the last Harry Potter book in New York’s Carnegie Hall. When she was finished, the audience posed her a series of questions, including, “Did Albus Dumbledore ever fall in love?” Rowling replied, “I always thought of Dumbledore as gay.” The room fell silent for a few moments, then quickly dissolved into thunderous applause.
How does one react to this? Some are upset that Rowling did not mention her character’s sexuality before. What is the purpose of divulging Dumbledore’s sexual orientation after all seven books have been published?
There are a few things to consider here. First, is the audience’s reaction. Potter’s fan base is wide-ranging, to say the least, and it is comforting to know that news of Dumbledore’s sexual orientation was met with happiness.
Second, it is important to recognize that as delayed Rowling’s announcement is, the author has in fact made a great step forward in promoting diversity. She has created a character who is gay, yes, but whose sexuality is not central to their identity. Author Eudora Welty once said this about fictional characters: “Characters take on life sometimes by luck, but I suspect it is when you can write more entirely out of yourself, inside the skin, heart, mind, and soul of a person who is not yourself, that a character becomes in his own right another human being on the page.”
Rowling created a complex and interesting character in Dumbledore, and gave the reader information that she found important. Albus Dumbledore was a role model and mentor to Harry, and a foil to Harry’s rash character. It is difficult to find a situation where it would have been appropriate to mention Dumbledore’s private life, and perhaps Rowling would have found it distracting to do so. It was Dumbledore’s position as role model that was important to the series, his constant search for good, and his work against the darker wizards. If readers had known his sexual orientation, one has to think that it might have distracted from the plot of the novel and deterred the reader from the main themes.
Intelligent, worldly, well-liked and unfailingly wise, Dumbledore was perhaps one of the best-loved wizards of the series. When he died, the entire community of Harry Potter fans was shocked, and likewise rejoiced at his brief reappearance in the last novel. And readers learned all of this without knowing that Dumbledore was, in fact, in love with another wizard. It is a true example of unconditional acceptance, for readers received all of the information on Dumbledore that they needed to know. It will be interesting to see if the next two movies will now change their characterization of Dumbledore, or if they will continue down the same path as Rowling.
Harry Potter books are clearly the largest children’s literary phenomenon of the past 10 years. The seventh and last installment in the series was the fastest-selling book in history. Tens of millions of copies have been sold, and five movies already created, with two more in the works. It is comforting to know that news of Dumbledore’s sexual orientation was met with happiness by Harry’s diverse fan base. Even if it emerged as an afterthought, the egalitarian attitude inspired is important to note, and will hopefully lodge itself happily along with magic in the minds of readers around the world.