He's Gay, and He's Native American: Rowling and Scalzi Claim Marginal Identities for Charcters After the Fact

Well, this is interesting. (Hat tip Lawrence Schimel)

On October 20, J. K. Rowling read from book 7 at Carnegie Hall in New York.

After reading briefly from the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, she took questions from audience members.

She was asked by one young fan whether Dumbledore finds “true love”.

“Dumbledore is gay,” the author responded to gasps and applause.

She then explained that Dumbledore was smitten with rival Gellert Grindelwald, whom he defeated long ago in a battle between good and bad wizards. “Falling in love can blind us to an extent,” Rowling said of Dumbledore’s feelings, adding that Dumbledore was “horribly, terribly let down”.

Three basic reactions:

1) Huh.

2) That fairly cool.

3) Well, damn it, why the hell couldn’t you have told us that during the series?

Recently, there was a kerfuffle (has anything other than blog wars ever popularized that term?) on the popular blog of military science fiction writer John Scalzi. Scalzi, responding to discussions of how and when race is deployed in science fiction, revealed how he wrestles with the issue.

My way of dealing with spec fic’s racial lopsidedness (on the writing side, at least) is somewhat passive-aggressive: I avoid making any sort of overt racial identifiers at all with my characters unless it’s required by the plot, which for my books it generally isn’t. This is not the same as actively specifying minority characters in my books, which is a point no doubt many will be happy to make, and they’re right. But it’s not excluding them, either, which is not trivial.

Scalzi went on to indicate that he had imagined a main character in one of his series to be non-white, although he had never left any racial markers on the page.

This is the moment when I say “I heart Scalzi” before launching into intense criticism. Kameron Hurley of Brutal Women summed it up well:

As a writer, you may write colorblind. You may pull out all the color and race and cultural tags for every single one of your characters, and thereby prove that they could be of any race!

Sure. Let’s go with that. Nobody in your book has a skin color, or any sort of physical description at all.

You really believe your reader’s not givng your characters a physical description? You think that one of the first markers they make, after size and gender, won’t be color? Pigment?

The problem with writing in “race-neutral” (what is that? Gray? Beige?) terms is you get the same problem you run into when you write in gender-neutral terms. As people raised in a racist, sexist, society, we’re going to norm a lot of stories, a lot of people, as white males. There are certainly ways you can code this differently, and every reader brings their own unique set of indicators to the reading experience, but I think the vast majority of people are going to sit down and code your world in whitewash unless they get some indication that it’s otherwise or they bring something non-majority to the table.

We have a default setting we’ve been programmed with, and it’s the default setting we’ve been pumped full of since birth: stories about bands of white brothers, fathers and sons, heroic male conquerors, Columbus, rich white presidents, men of Science, great white male writers; the men who run the world are white. The important people are white. We’re reading about important people, right? Unless we’re reading some kind of hippie women’s story set in some jungle where people don’t speak plain English.

As Kameron Hurley acknowledges, Scalzi has provided himself a little bit of an out here: he works in a far-future world which may no longer share our politics of race. (But really, do they have nothing to replace it? Nothing?)

Scalzi himself argues that he’s not writing colorblind (because he knows what colors his characters are), but that readers are reading colorblind. He goes on to say that this doesn’t of necessity reinforce a white default. As a first step, he says that while he envisions characters is novels as being “people like me,” whiteness is not part of that profile. Honestly, I have a big problem accepting that — but, let’s accept it anyway. Scalzi’s politically aware and not, IMO, given to lying to trump himself up. Perhaps, through deliberation or coincidence (I trend toward postulating the former, even if not on a conscious level), Scalzi has trained himself not to view race as a default.

The mistake he makes is in assuming that it’s responsible for writers to assume that readers will be able, or willing, to do this. Scalzi:

Now, you may ask why I didn’t just note all this [stuff about race] in the book; the answer is because I didn’t want to, because it never came up as part of the story, and because I’d rather have people imagine Harry Creek to be who they were comfortable with him being. If they see him as white, that’s their karma, although I will say I’m sorry that their default is white.

Kate Nepveu, who also wrote a separate post on the subject, responds in comments:

This entry is built around a big misunderstanding, to wit:

“The people like me” != “the cultural default.”

The default in our culture is whiteness — and, to get back to Rowling, heterosexuality. When sexuality and race are not mentioned, most authors mean to indicate whiteness and heterosexuality. Scalzi is not subverting this paradigm by refusing to mention race; he only plays into it. The world in which he’s writing has certain politics, which certainly he needs to write to, but in other ways he acknowledges that he’s working for his audience. As an author who belongs to the joking group the “New Comprehensible,” Scalzi puts an emphasis on writing fiction that is accessible to the mass of our population. Our population has certain tools for analyzing texts. These include a white default as much as they include certain assumptions about nanotechnology — the latter of which Scalzi overtly navigates. When he introduces the basic rules of his world in the first chapter of his novel, he exposits them. He exposits them because readers need to know. Why does he assume we don’t need to know about race?

Perhaps because he says that readers should already know enough to know to vary their default. But then again, maybe they “should” know stuff about physics which he has to explain. We don’t. He’s stuck with the reading population he’s got, and we don’t live in a futuristic utopia.

Niall Harrison said something I thought was smart on the topic of writing about marginalized or non-default characters:

If “straight white male” is the default, then anything else indicates that a choice has been made — or at least, it implies that a more conscious choice has been made than the one made by Stanley’s author. Even if the motive behind that choice is, perfectly validly, “why not?”, the choice is there.

And when it’s not textually present — that choice is, in a real way, not there.

This scenario is even clearer with Rowling, who does not have a utopic science fictional world to pose as a hypothetical. It’s neat that Rowling has a homosexual character, but could we have seen this in your series, please? Could we have seen Dumbledore with a real, living lover? Or, failing that — if he spent his life pining — why couldn’t we have learned about that? We got to learn about the long flaming heterosexual torches, including much more twee whining about Snape and Lily than I was interested in.

Yes, I know Rowling has to deal with the reality of her audience, just as I said Scalzi does. And of course, writing for children means accepting certain boundaries. I can understand that she didn’t want to ask for more textual trouble from Christian conservatives than she’s already got. As the interview relates: “Not everyone likes her work, Rowling said, likely referring to Christian groups that have alleged the books promote witchcraft. Her news about Dumbledore, she said, will give them one more reason.”

Of course, that leads me to say: they hate you anyway. So, why pander to them?

Most texts only appear as themselves. Books are a finished form. We, as writers, are often told we have to send them into the world without our excuses, without our explanations. When we go to workshops where other people critique our manuscripts, writers are entreated to stay silent. Because our justifications don’t matter — the text becomes what the reader makes of it, a combination of their experiences and the tools you give them.

Neither Rowling nor Scalzi gave their readers the tools that they needed in order to pry this information from the text. It’s an afterthought, left to discussion by only the most devoted fans, only the people who happen to read the blog. Why should it have to be the non-white characters and the homosexual characters whose marginal lives are illuminated not even in the marginalia of the text, but in the essays and justifications afterward? Once again, they get the short shrift.

For Rowling, there’s one redemptive silver lining: the fact that her books have, outside her hands, a vital textual life of their own. As the article reports her saying, “Oh, my God,” Rowling concluded with a laugh, “the fan fiction.”

UPDATE: Several people of my acquaintance have mentioned that their central annoyance with Rowling’s reveal is not that she didn’t mention the gay character’s identity in the series, but that she is playing off of an old and poisonous stereotype that gay people are doomed to heartbreak.

This seems, to me, to be a valid concern. However, in the context of the novels, it seems to me like Rowling is often eager to split up romantic and family relationships. I guess I’d read Dumbledore/lost-love as parallel to Snape/rejection. That doesn’t excuse the stereotype, though, since there are no positive examples of gay romance in the novels.

Still, my primary concern is erasure. From Kat Allen’s blog, I learn another thing Rowling’s said: “Rowling remarked that if she had known that (applause) would be the response, she would’ve revealed her thoughts on Dumbledore earlier.”

That kind of gives me the shivers. Gay people are only worth writing about if the reaction is applause.

This entry posted in Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans and Queer issues, Popular (and unpopular) culture, Race, racism and related issues. Bookmark the permalink. 

42 Responses to He's Gay, and He's Native American: Rowling and Scalzi Claim Marginal Identities for Charcters After the Fact

  1. 1
    jd says:

    Given that my largest criticism of the Potter series is that everyone stupidly fails to share relevant information with other people, the idea that no one mentioned Dumbledore’s orientation fits right in.

    She did code Angelina really well, I thought. (when a Slytherine makes fun of her dreads)

  2. 2
    Robert says:

    [sorry - posted on wrong thread]

  3. 3
    Dianne says:

    The Dumbledore revelation makes perfect sense and explains why he acted the fool with Grindelwald. But I still say that the correct resolution of the Harry-Ron-Hermione triangle would be for Harry and Ron to get together. They struck me as a far more likely couple than Hermione with either of them, which I just can’t picture. Ginny and Hermione, on the other hand, would make a nice couple. I always kind of thought Harry fell for Ginny because she represented the Weasley family more than for her as herself. Hermione on the other hand seemed to be paying attention to Ginny as an individual, even if most of their conversations were “off stage”.

  4. 4
    Dianne says:

    As Kameron Hurley acknowledges, Scalzi has provided himself a little bit of an out here: he works in a far-future world which may no longer share our politics of race. (But really, do they have nothing to replace it? Nothing?)

    Except that it does, at least to some extent: Remember the scene with the (specifically identified hispanic) drill sergant and his use of minority status as one excuse to hate the recruits? (In Old Man’s War). Maybe race isn’t as important in Scalzi’s projected future, but it is still something people think about and notice.

  5. Pingback: dumbledore is GAY « Sara Speaking

  6. 5
    chris says:

    As a writer also, I often purposefully leave out character description so that the reader can insert themselves more fully into the story. Orson Scott Card talks of the merits of this in his book, “Character and Viewpoint.”

    I can’t say whether this is short-shrifting characters who may or may not be of another race or sexual persuasion. Maybe it’s the easy way out, as you seem to be implying. I hadn’t thought so before.

    Sometimes, especially at the very end of this interesting essay, the writer does come across as humorless and over-serious. J.K. Rowling’s comment, to me, sounded completely harmless, and in the spirit of the moment.

    Interesting things to think about. Thanks.

  7. 6
    Dan says:

    Except that it does, at least to some extent: Remember the scene with the (specifically identified hispanic) drill sergant and his use of minority status as one excuse to hate the recruits? (In Old Man’s War). Maybe race isn’t as important in Scalzi’s projected future, but it is still something people think about and notice.

    Old Man’s War also has a scene on the Beanstalk in which John Perry deals with a very unpleasant racist. So, in the universe of Old Man’s War, some people care a lot about race, and this may be why Sergeant Ruiz goes out of his way to point out that in the CDF, everyone is green.

    Harry Creek on the other hand comes from a different fictional universe in which Earth has no colonies and deals with extraterrestrials on a regular basis. It makes sense that there isn’t much racial prejudice in The Android’s Dream because they have species to worry about; black and white live together in harmony, united by a common fear of four-armed and fuzzy.

  8. 7
    Mandolin says:

    Check Nancy Kress for writing advice on character that’s… um… not informed by a homophobic mindset.

  9. 8
    Doug S. says:

    If there’s no evidence in the books themselves that Dumbledore is gay, then does the author’s statement, made outside the text itself, make it so?

  10. 9
    Madeline says:

    Doug S. – good point.

    I have always thought that authorial intent is largely irrelevant. Any statements Rowling makes about the characters outside of the text aren’t privileged because she is the author. She had a chance to make the truth explicit – and that was while she was writing. Once she is done writing, the text no longer “belongs” to her, in a sense.

    Frankly, I love the idea of having a homosexual character in the series, and I don’t assume – unlike many people – that characters whose sexualities aren’t stated outright are automatically straight.

    But since there is no textual evidence to indicate Dumbledore’s sexuality either way, any statements about it are merely speculation. Even if Rowling makes them. Personally, I never considered Dumbledore’s sexuality at all during the series, but I thought one or two other characters were gay. I would still suspect so even if Rowling told me I was wrong.

  11. 10
    Lisa Harney says:

    I admit that I’d wondered if Dumbledore is gay more than once, and I did wonder if there was more to the whole Grindelwald thing in the book. I don’t mind that she didn’t make a point to explicitly spell it out – there’s several other characters (McGonagall, for example) whose orientation is also not explicit in the text.

    The Snape/Lilly thing was a major plot point with regards to how Snape regarded Harry, so it was covered.

    I do wish she’d made it somehow explicit in the text.

  12. 11
    Rose says:

    Lisa Harney– I agree. Dumbledore’s relationship with Grindlewald (while interesting and significant to his character) is only really relevant insofar as it affects Harry’s story. I, for one, would have found it weird if Rowling had gone into more detail– Harry hears about it third hand, after all. I thought that she adequately conveyed that D & G had a passionate intimacy, in the 19th century style.

    I’m sure that there was a way for some writer to skillfully indicate that it was a possible sexual relationship: but Rowling is not that writer. Her greatest weakness, for me, is in her depictions of romantic relationships– I found *all* the romance in the books completely unbelievable and poorly characterized. I wish she’d left more of the romances out of the book.

    That being said, it is strange that with all the extraneous teenagers running around there’s never a “her girlfriend” or “his boyfriend”. I mean, the odds of Harry having no gay friends or acquaintances is extremely small…

  13. 12
    Evan says:

    I’m curious how people imagine Rowling might have put more discussion of Dumbledore’s sexuality into the books without it seeming out of character and inappropriate–considering that his relationship to the protagonist for most of the series is that of a distant teacher and occasional mentor, and the focus of most of their conversations is Harry and his personal destiny.

    We see him exclusively through Harry’s eyes, and what Harry would’ve seen is a courtly old gentleman who never married. (Oh, and who wears flamboyant purple robes.) I’m not sure how much more obvious she could’ve been.

    The character of Dean Thomas is somewhat more pertinent to the conversation, I think. He’s black, but the fact is only mentioned once that I can recall. The fact that his mother is a muggle is of far more significance.

  14. 13
    Mark Terry says:

    I feel a little bit like I took a wrong turn and accidentally stepped into English 101: Children’s Literature and Gender Roles.

    What I personally find interesting about the topic is what it reveals about the commenters. Literature often is a mirror reflecting (a perhaps distorted) image of the viewer. Will you now go back through all Harry Potter novels looking for evidence of Dumbledore’s homosexuality? Will his professed “love” for Harry, particularly at the end of books four and book five take on a more sinister, or perhaps the word is inappropriate, tone?

    Are there any married faculty members at Hogwarts? They all seem to be older, single people. Or is that merely that they are seen from the POV of children? These people are, by and large, their teachers with no private or personal lives.

  15. 14
    Meep says:

    It worries me that my own default for characters is “white” even though I’m not. (Sort of.) I hope my kids don’t think that way.
    I did read a book once about a hyperintelligent baby that was kidnapped, but midway through the novel the baby points out that he is black, and wondered if any of the readers thought otherwise. It was strange yet refreshing, but the end of the novel was too tidy compared to the rest of it.

  16. 15
    Mandolin says:

    Meep,

    :( I hear what you’re saying.

    In one of the posts that’s linked in mine, Scalzi quotes Kate Nepveu saying:

    It’s not that I am “colorblind,” because I know what colors our skins are. It’s that at a very deep subconscious level, I am convinced that I am white. (For those of you new here, I’m not.) That is how strong the cultural default is. The cultural default is white, therefore everyone’s white, therefore I must be white too.

  17. 16
    Bjartmarr says:

    Rose:

    That being said, it is strange that with all the extraneous teenagers running around there’s never a “her girlfriend” or “his boyfriend”. I mean, the odds of Harry having no gay friends or acquaintances is extremely small…

    I dunno about that. When I went to high school, there were no out gay kids that I was aware of. And I went to a pretty progressive school. It wouldn’t surprise me at all that an ancient stodgy British boarding school kept the gay kids neatly packed away in the closet.

    (In defense of my high school, they started up a LGBT group the year after I left.)

    Mark:

    Are there any married faculty members at Hogwarts? They all seem to be older, single people.

    OMG, you’re right! They’re probably ALL gay! ;)
    (Well, except for Hagrid and Snape, of course. Though they could be bi…)

    Actually, I think you’re right, that the teachers are seen as sexless when viewed through the eyes of the children. I really didn’t miss seeing discussions of teachers’ sexuality in the books. I think it would have seemed out of place.

  18. 17
    Ampersand says:

    I’m curious how people imagine Rowling might have put more discussion of Dumbledore’s sexuality into the books without it seeming out of character and inappropriate….

    Iirc, much of Dumbledore’s background was given in the form of a gossip columnist’s writings. It would not have been inappropriate for a gossip columnist to mention Dumbledore having had a boyfriend at some point.

  19. Pingback: Pandagon :: Dumbledore’s secret gay life :: October :: 2007

  20. 18
    Roxie says:

    About Dumbledore… someone (in another forum) said

    It probably wasn’t in the books simply because it wasn’t needed in the books. Not only would her publishers and editors not stand for it, as it might lower sales (when it comes to conservatives and children), but why would Dumbledore tell Harry he was gay, when it wasn’t relevant? Keep in mind that Grindelwald wasn’t mentioned by Dumbledore (it’s probably a sore subject for him) until the end of the 7th book, when he had to sum everything up for Harry. Obviously, it wasn’t the time to go, “…I wanted to hit that so much. But, uh, nevermind that. Go defeat Voldemort.”

    I really think it didn’t need to be mentioned in the books, anyway. It’s irrelevant to the main story, and I actually like the fact that there’s at least one fictional gay character who isn’t put in the plot mostly for their homosexuality to be mentioned constantly. A gay character who isn’t defined by their sexual preferences? Fine by me.

    While I absolutely can see how Dumbledore’s tragic love is a stereotype, it also fits with the rest of his character’s really very tragic past. Unfortunately, we don’t have any other (known) homosexual characters to reflect this off of.

    Although when compared with Snape, it is interesting to see how two ppl with sad pasts can go such different ways.

    I digress…can’t really argue about the applause thing…I wonder what was she more concerned about though? The fans or the publishers?

  21. 19
    Alaina says:

    Although I think that it would have been great to have had Dumbledore outed in the book, I also think that the way she did it has some merit. JK Rowling’s readers spent years of their lives with the characters of the HP books. Most of them probably became quite emotionally attatched to Dumbledore. Don’t you think that it was a good thing for people to learn to love him before learning of his sexual orientation? If she had revealed his being gay in the first book, some people would have either stopped reading the books or (more likely) just seen the bad sides of Dumbledore. I think that, whether she intended it or not, getting her readers attatched to Dumbledore before revealing the fact that he was gay was a pretty smart strategy.

  22. 20
    Les says:

    On dumbledore: In one of the earlier books, he flirts with the female faculty member who I can’t remember the name of, but who is in charge of Harry’s house. Not that he couldn’t be bi, but he’s heteronormative in earlier books.

    In addition, not only does his relationship with Grindelwald end in heartbreak, it’s actively evil while it’s going on. He neglects family members who need him. He toys with evil. It IS very 19th century in that gay apparently means turning away from your family and becoming evil. Good thing for him it ended poorly and he could go back to being good.

    Perhaps to make it more tiredly homophobic, she could have made Grindelwald a vampire and Dumbeldore could be half vampire, set free when his boyfriend dies. Or Grindelwald could have been killed by an insane ex lover of his!

    It’s probably for the best that she left the explicit declaration out of the series. FWIW, I did suspect that was where she was going with that relationship.

    I thought, though, that Tonks and Werewolf-guy were the most queer characters in the series. Tonks was the most non-normative female. And werewolf-guy (I suck at names) has his line about “people like me” in the third movie. I know the movies aren’t cannon to the books, but when she wrote the final book, the movie was already out and she knew he was a queer metaphor. Which is why it was disappointing to see him married to Tonks.

    The whole last book is like a celebration of heterosexuality. Those two get married- and then die, which is certainly a common fate for queer figures in literature. The first few chapters are all about how great a straight wedding is and the epilogue features only heterosexual characters.

    Great, Dumbledore was gay temporarily and it made him evil and broke his heart. This makes the final book MORE normative, not less.

  23. 21
    Rob says:

    I thought she never mentioned Dean Thomas being black again because she had him date Ginny. Ron was supposed to hate anyone dating his sister. If Dean had been explicitly black, it would be too easy to think Ron was angry that she was dating a black boy.

  24. 22
    Robert says:

    Don’t forget, US readers, that the British boarding school culture, in the decades of Rowlings’ formative years, was fairly tolerant and not-a-big-deal about a certain amount of discreet upper-class homosexuality, both experimental and temperamental. I am sure that Rowlings’ decisions concerning her character were driven more by her own authorial vision and/or priorities, but it wouldn’t be particularly unreasonable for Dumbledore to have had gay experiences in life, and for those experiences to be a relatively unimportant part of his background.

  25. 23
    Silenced is foo says:

    Ursula Leguin’s Earthsea played glorious havoc with this when I was a boy. In the first book, skin tone is only given passing mention…. but in the second book, which is set in a primitive Nordic culture, it becomes apparent that the only whites in Earthsea are in an isolated, primitive region of the world and everyone else (including the protagonist and every other character from the first book) is brown. That was a fun realization, simply because it required that I completely re-picture every character in my head whose appearance I’d assumed to be white. Quite an eye-opening effect.

    I’m sure it’s no subterfuge on LeGuin’s part – more simply that, as a young reader, I was prone to missing details like that.

  26. 24
    Mandolin says:

    Oh, I think it might have been Leguin’s subterfuge. She’s pretty savvy about stuff like that.

    (Why am I still on this blog? I pre-programmed my articles to do a time release so I could ignore it, and yet I’m here. Mandolin! Go work on stuff.)

  27. 25
    Sara no H. says:

    Veering off-topic temporarily…

    Well, except for Hagrid and Snape, of course. Though they could be bi…

    Two words: Dark Revels.

  28. 26
    Kelly says:

    RE: Earthsea

    I remember reading an interview with LeGuin where she explicitly stated that the reason she only mentioned Ged’s skin color in passing was because she wanted the readers to focus more on him as a person, and at the time A Wizard of Earthsea was published there were practically no main characters in fantasy who were not white males.

  29. 27
    Michele says:

    oh, where to begin?

    first of all, although i typically disregard anything said outside the text of a book, i think harry potter may be the exception. rowling has said so much about the characters’ later lives that it is being treated as an unwritten sequel. so outing dumbledore in this case is very legitimate; just look at the headlines it’s made. no one will read the books now without reading his homosexuality, whether it is in the text or not.

    although i read so many characters in harry potter as potentially gay, (i thought the sexual tension was between harry and cedric diggory) i have to admit that i never considered dumblemore. i think i was afraid of the consequences. it’s bad enough for him to be the elderly gay man doomed to be alone, whose one relationship was with one of the most evil wizards in history. but i especially did not want ideas of homosexuality getting mixed up in his relationship with harry. although it is brave do depict a fatherly mentor figure who is gay, i shudder to think of all the readers now branding dumbledore as a child molestor. i suppose i’m still torn whether or not his presence as a gay character is damaging or rewarding. (seriously though, if cedric hadn’t died…)

    i also want to second the virulently heteronormative epilogue. the lack of homosexuality did not bother me nearly as much as an ending where all we need to know about the characters is that they all get married and have lots of babies. not only are they straight, but that straightness (and their nice nuclear families) is the happy ending in and of itself. i found the whole epilogue outright obnoxious.

    Finally, as for race in harry potter, i want to bring up the character of kingsley shackelbot. although race is very downplayed in the books (many characters i didn’t know their ethnicity until i saw them in the films) kingsley seems to be the exception. rowling has a tendency to attach one or two adjectives to each character and use them constantly (see the bottom of page 45 in book 7!) kingsley’s descriptors are “bald, black, broad-shouldered,” and he is always described as having a deep, soothing voice. i’m very curious as to why the other characters are so racially neutral, while with kingsley it’s his most obvious trait. (even his name seems like an indicator.)

  30. 28
    Katie says:

    Gay Cedric!

    http://www.themedicinewheel.net/HP_novellas/aorist_subjunctive.html

    (Very well done, too. There’s lots of rather bad Harry/Cedric stories out there, but this is a good one, and more to the point, it really deals with Cedric being *gay* and coming out [especially the second installment] — not just hot Harry-Cedric sexual tension … although it’s got that too. (G)

  31. 29
    joe says:

    i also want to second the virulently heteronormative epilogue. the lack of homosexuality did not bother me nearly as much as an ending where all we need to know about the characters is that they all get married and have lots of babies. not only are they straight, but that straightness (and their nice nuclear families) is the happy ending in and of itself. i found the whole epilogue outright obnoxious.

    since the book was about harry, and he spent most if it depressed for lack of a family I think the ending made complete sense. Grow up, be part of a happy family that lives next door to your best friends from school. Sort of what he was looking for all along. I’m more concerned with how Nevile for the sword of Gryfindor away from the goblin.

  32. 30
    badpoetry says:

    I’m reminded right away of a book by Neil Gaiman called “Anansi Boys”. What was cool about that is that the first half of the book is written in fairly racially-neutral terms. The main character, “Fat Charlie”, lives in England, and is described as being a socially awkward, somewhat nerdy accountant. I confess to picturing the character as white, because that’s what my internal stereotype of a nerd is.

    About half way through the book, you realize that most, if not all, of the characters are black. (Actually, Fat Charlie’s love interest is half black, half Asian- and you only know that because Gaiman off-handedly comments on the color of her skin, mixed in with a flashback to her parent’s courtship). This revelation is not overt, and some of the characters could still be plausibly pictured as white, but overall the racial picture is undeniable.

    This mistake I made in picturing the characters as white, and then realizing I was wrong to do so, was my favorite aspect of my experience of the bo0k. It was fun to reread it with my updated mental pictures.

  33. 31
    Gretchen says:

    Joe – it’s because of the nature of the sword. Remember how Harry pulled it out of the Sorting Hat in the Chamber of Secrets? A true Gryffindor can pull what she or he needs out of the hat. Neville knew Nagini was right in front of him and needed to be killed, so the sword appeared there for him to do it with.

  34. 32
    Mandolin says:

    It’s true that Gaiman’s book is particularly good about that aspect, though I think there are some other mild problems in that book about race. I am still really glad that Gaiman was thinking about defaults, though; that was smart and made the book better.

    Just to spread the diverse recommendation lurve, and especially as most of (all?) the names that have been invoked so far are attached to white folk.

    There are a bunch of authors who work with non-white default who actually are non-white. Top recommendation: Octavia Butler, whose integration of race into character and description is always subtle and smart. While reading her work, I’ve several times had that mental shift you describe, where one realizes that a character to whom one had assigned one race or another looks different than you expect.

    Also: Samuel Delany, Nalo Hopkinson, Tananarive Due, Tempest Bradford, Tobias Buckell, N. K. Jemison.

  35. 33
    Sara no H. says:

    @Gretchen: I worry less about how the hat/sword thing “works” than about the issue of ownership that now surrounds the sword. Rowling’s made it clear that only “goblin fanatics” would believe that the maker owns it, which I find problematic in and of itself.

    re: re-imagining characters, when I first read Hermione’s description, I thought she was biracial — it was the description of her hair that did it. Now I’m kind of upset that I can’t get Emma Watson out of my head.

  36. 34
    Lisa Harney says:

    I’m curious how people imagine Rowling might have put more discussion of Dumbledore’s sexuality into the books without it seeming out of character and inappropriate–considering that his relationship to the protagonist for most of the series is that of a distant teacher and occasional mentor, and the focus of most of their conversations is Harry and his personal destiny.

    I agree that the series was mostly about Harry and thus Dumbledore being gay is mostly irrelevant. However, I admit my own bias – as a lesbian – that I’d rather have seen an explicitly positive portrayal of a gay or lesbian character than information revealed after the fact.

    I’ve made similar comments before and had similar responses (how do you think it should be done?) but I don’t really have a strong opinion on how it should be done, or even a strong opinion that it should have been done. It’s just wishful thinking, not an imperative.

  37. 35
    ajay says:

    Ursula Leguin’s Earthsea played glorious havoc with this when I was a boy

    Yes, with the innovative idea of having one (1) black character, Vetch, who is inferior in intellect and ability to the hero, and spends his time eating fried chicken.

  38. 36
    Mandolin says:

    I thought the point of Earthsea was that it was a non-white normative world? Is there really only one black character? Then why would she have been so upset that her world was whitened by the sci fi channel people?

    Confession: I’m not particularly stirred by LeGuin’s fiction, though I like her essays. I think my parents read Earthsea to me when I was four or five. I remember a little girl who lived in a tomb. C’est tout.

  39. 37
    ajay says:

    Black != non-white. It’s made clear that Ged (for example) is brown-skinned rather than Northern European-pale, but that doesn’t necessarily make him black.
    The Kargs (the bad guys) are pale-skinned, and either black-haired (Tenar, the girl who lived in the Tombs) or red-haired (the raiders at the start of “Wizard of Earthsea). Ged is “red-brown”. Vetch is “black-brown”.
    From the descriptions, Ged could look like anything from an Italian to an American Indian to an Indian Indian. But he definitely isn’t African-looking; that’s made very clear. His appearance is actually contrasted with that of the only major character who is described as “black” or anything close – Vetch, the Fried Chicken Wizard.

    It’s true that it was fairly innovative to have the white guys (or rather the whitest guys) not being the nice guys. (Tolkien’s “sallow” Orcs and evil White Wizards notwithstanding).

  40. Pingback: One Utah » Blog Archive » Well that explains my reaction to Harry Potter

  41. 38
    Brianne says:

    Interesting aritcle. I was thinking about the Dumbledore thing, and think that I may have a valid reason for it not having been mentioned in the story. I am sorry if this is already above in someone elses comment, but I am in a bit of a hurry to be finished. Dumbledore’s sexuality is not hinted at because all we ever see of him apart from the very first chapter, is through Harry’s eyes. What we as readers have brought to attention is whatever Harry notices. If Harry never noticed anything to hint at any sexual orientation then we would also be in the dark. Also, I may have found one instance of a hint in the books, when Harry is reading the article about Rita Skeeter’s book, and sees that there is a chapter about his relationship with Dumbledore, how Skeeter is making it out to have been more than just a student teacher relationship behind closed doors. But the biggest reason I think that it is not mentioned in the books, is that there was no reason. It would have been unnecessary information about the character. We do not know the orientation of any of the other professors except Snape and Lupin, and that was because they were necessary to properly telling the story. Do not give Dumbledore special treatment in this category, since he was until the question was brought up, no different in this respect, to any of the other teachers. Unless it helps to pull the story, or is visible to Harry and worth noting to Harry, then the readers have no need to know it. Going back and reading Deathly Hallows knowing Dumbledore is gay does not change much at all, and as such, means that it was an unnessesary bit of additional information. Interesting to know, nut not vital to the story. Sort of like Dean Thomas’ backstory not being in the books, but knowing it is interesting, how his father, a wizard was killed by Death Eaters an his mother remarried without knowing her late husband was a wizard and would then make her children magical as well. Dean went to Hogwarts believing he was Muggle-born which is why he could not go back to school in DH. Did not need to know it but interesting all the same.

  42. Pingback: tumblr backups