Monday, October 22, 2007

Why Christians Care About What Rowling Says: A Lesson in How to Read a Text

Why does it matter to me what JK Rowling says about Dumbledore and his sexual orientation? After all, if you read all the books as I have, you will find no hint of his sexual orientation. Its only after this announcement that Dumbledore's pre-occupation with another character becomes suspect. (That's Grindlewald for fans, not Harry...though I guess anything goes now.)

The fact is that evangelicals are driven in their interpretation by the "Author's Intent." When we read the Bible and other texts, we aren't so concerned with simply finding out we think a text means, we want to know what the author meant for the text to mean. The author ultimately assigns the meaning, and if we miss their meaning, then we miss the entire point.

We are taught to be skeptical of our own interpretations. And that, by the way, is very sound evangelical advice. This is why your pastor has multiple commentaries lining his bookshelves in his office on a single epistle (I sure hope he does, anyway.) And this is why he is diligent in the original languages. He's not trying to "reader response" what the author said, he's trying to understand the original point.

So, when an evangelical hears and author say, "Oh, by the way, this character is gay." We can't, with Stanley Fish, say, "Well, the text doesn't mean this to me. Therefore, he is absolutely not gay, no matter what Rowling says." We respect intent, and so as ugly as the truth is, we read Dumbledore as gay as per the author's wishes. Thus, the story is tainted for us.

If Rowling had come out and said, "You know, Dumbledore dealt with sin like everyone else. In fact, he was attracted to other men, an issue with which he struggled his entire life. Indeed, this explains why he so threw himself into teaching and the study of magic." Not only would I have applauded that, my respect for Dumbledore would have risen.

This is not how the author told us this information, however. We are told, smugly, that he is gay. And it was even given with a jab to "evangelical" types, the very ones who take authors the most seriously in their works. This is why a serious evangelical can't just "overlook" this part of the story due to scant evidence in the text themselves. We have a living author saying, "This is how he is, and he's not sorry." So, we have to grudgingly change our opinion out of respect. Amazingly, a more liberal reader could pretty much blow-off anything an author says anyway because they make texts mean what they want without recourse to any opinion but their own. Just look at what they do to the Bible!

So, needless to say, I am disappointed, and if I ever read Harry Potter's series again, I will read Dumbledore as a homosexual as per Rowling's wishes. But his character is diminished in my sight, and I think that beauty of the story is lessened by Rowling's irresponsible addition to an otherwise noble character.

10 comments:

DJP said...

Good point. Why's everybody deeper than I am? Going to have to work on that....

You may enjoy (?) , where I get about as deep as I can.

Brad Williams said...

I read that and I completely agreed. The only way I got so "deep" is by thinking, "Gee, why am I so hacked off by this stupid announcement?" Then I thought, "Boy, it sure would be nice to be one of those types who just blow off author's intent and make texts mean whatever I want." Then I thought, "Hey...maybe that's why me and Dan are so hacked off..."

Daniel said...

What makes me sad is that all those Christians who were against the books for all the wrong reasons, and who brought shame to the name of Christ by their less than gracious behavior will now regard themselves as justified for having behaved so.

DJP said...

Yep. And in the back of my mind, I wonder whether this might be a slap-back at them. She's got no kinship with them, no investment -- so there!

wana be said...

What makes me sad is that liberals will say that Dumbledore is more noble for being gay. He overcame so much to get to where he is. That is assuming there is a stigma in wizard land.

Jeremy Weaver said...

I'm disappointed that you guys actually read those books. Can anyone say, "Nerds!"

Brad Williams said...

Leave it to the guy with the cool truck to out us nerds.

Jeremy Weaver said...

I've been suspicious of you for a while.

Joe Thorn said...

Things to consider:

"Gay" is an orientation, and does not necessarily indicate action. If Dumbledore was gay, he appears to have lived a celibate life. Interesting. Why?

Also, she said she "always thought of Dumbledore as gay." She does not say he was written that way. In fact some in the gay community seems a little irked by this. JKR saying that she thought of an old, celibate character as gay does little for them.

When reading this fiction, we can only deal with what was written, and not what was potentially rattling around in the mind of the author. Of course authorial intent matters, but in my reading and re-reading of the series I do not believe she actually wrote DD as gay. Another way to say it, and I think this is clear in her answer and writing, she did not write DD with the intent of him being thought of as gay.

In the end, I find her answer to another's question frustrating since it is truly irrelevant to the story and the character as written. Like everything else in the world, this series is a mixture of good/bad, though I think it is a supremely good work of fantasy.

Jim said...

What makes me sad is that Christians can read books about witchcraft in the form of entertainment.

Welcome to sorcery 101..."no it is simply harmless fun for the youngin's"...and inner child in all of us.