Why Dumbledore Matters

This is a legacy post from a now defunct books blog.

I might have started this blog entry with, “By now you all know Dumbledore is gay,” and gone on to speculate about why Ms. Rowling didn’t introduce a celibate homsexual lifestyle for her headmaster within the text, which would have been interesting contrast to the celibate, presumably heterosexual, lifestyles for her other teachers. I would have mused that Dumbledore’s outing is remarkable because it changes nothing: he is still Dumbledore, the sage and trustworthy schoolmaster, and where else, outside Project Runway, has a noble older gay man become a universal icon of trust and love? I would have gone on to speculate that it would have done wondrous good to show a gay man as a teacher and mentor in a popular children’s books, while admitting that I don’t really want to read about the sexual politics of Wizardom: I think we can all assume that Nymphadora Tonks would be OK with it and Dolores Umbridge would be horrified, but their debate on the matter would be completely joyless unless Fred and George sent in a poof-dragon of magic and fireworks just to get Dolores’s skirts in a bunch.

I mean, I could have done all that, but instead I’m prompted to realize that there are grown-ups who neither know nor care who Dumbledore is, less yet his proximity to the proverbial closet. They live among us and act like normal people, but the entire above paragraph would be so many nonsense syllables to them, like a discussion of Web 2.0 to senior citizens: you twitter in your blog and put a wiki in your moodle? What is this rubbish?

Being deeply immersed in children’s literature, I kinda forget that a lot of people read grown-up books, like, er, The Da Vinci Code or even improving nonfiction like The Secret. This morning I was led by Rex Sorgatz’s Blog to a Chuck Klosterman essay on how he hasn’t read the Harry Potter books and doesn’t care a whit. Rex doesn’t care either. These are guys who are quite plugged into pop culture, so their statements that they haven’t read the most popular books of our lifetimes isn’t just about reading preference, but (perhaps) a public position that readers of a certain age (i.e., our age) should put away childish things. Chuck tells us a friend wants all adult readers of Harry Potter to be executed, but he seems content to just feel superior.

So instead of coming up with anything interesting to say about Dumbledore’s sexuality, I find myself grasping at reasons why grown-ups should care about anything to do with anyone at Hogwarts, even if those things are scandalous revelations about their private lives. I could argue that kids books are important, with all the Bruno Bettelheim retread arguments, but I’m sure they agree that Harry Potter is a lovely diversion for eleven-year-olds, but still wonder why anyone with mortgage payments and a masters degree would want to read them.

I don’t really think it matters that much in the way of getting pop culture references. So when you toss some dirty socks to your spouse as s/he heads to the laundry room, and s/he gets visibly emotional and squeals, “You give Dobby clothes?” a moment of great marital hilarity will be missed. A sad moment, surely, but probably not enough reason to plow through several thousand pages you don’t expect to enjoy. I myself have managed to hold body and soul together never having seen an episode of any generation of Star Trek or anything by Josh Whedon except that one episode of The Office where Jim convinces Dwight he’s turning into a vampire.

I think there was more to gain from Harry Potter than recognizing the trick-or-treaters who show up as pint-sized Hagrids and hippogriffs. The Potter phenomenon offered the rare thrill of reading a book at the same time as a bunch of other people and talking about it the next day. It wasn’t the same as talking about American Idol the next day, either — there was something more essential about it, the social sharing of a story, like we’d all seen the same Magic Play on a medieval stage or heard the same scop at the campfire. Somehow Book 7 transcended all the rubbish speculation and spoilers and cynicism and was still an enjoyable book that millions of people read together. It was like the whole world was tucked in together to hear a bedtime story. I have read better books, but I don’t know I’ve ever had a better reading experience.

It’s probably not for everyone, but like I do when people tell me (with the same superior air) that they’ve never liked baseball, or don’t see what the big deal is about the Beatles, or think Martinis taste like gasoline — I shrug, and feel a little bit sorry for them, and go back to what I was doing.

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