17 November 2007

Let's not even get onto Aberforth's goat

I'm getting rather concerned about the number of my friends who are starting to worry about me. I'm afraid I may be giving them the impression that I've not really assimilated Nietzche's advice on battling monsters and gazing into the abyss.

I'm fine, really. I've been working on my research, and reading the Apostolic Fathers, and failing to read Bleak House, and writing letters, and dispensing alcohol to the good people of my parish, and today I had lunch with an old friend and wandered around the National Gallery with her, after which I browsed bookshops with another old friend. So don't worry. I'm not just brooding over the few fascinating fragments of fact or fiction that have made their way to me of late. My life and thoughts are pretty full.

Anyway, one of the things I wound up thinking about the other day was the revelation of Dumbledore's sexuality by J.K. Rowling at Carnegie Hall a few weeks back - something that got rather more attention than her comments just a few days earlier about Christian imagery and symbolism in Harry Potter.

I'd never picked up on any suggestion in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, let alone any of the earlier books, that Dumbledore was gay. I'd assumed that Dumbledore's youthful adoration of Grindelwald was based on hero-worship rather than desire, which is basically how I see the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. Well, in the Iliad, at any rate. There's no hint of a sexual attraction there, although there's certainly no indication to the contrary, and perhaps, at least in the case of Dumbledore, we should look on this as being akin to the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.

Neil Gaiman was talking about this recently, in response to a letter quoting someone who had argued that writers confident in their powers shouldn't feel the need to announce details such as this, and said:
'You always wind up knowing more about your characters than you can get onto the page. Pages are finite, and the story isn't about giving you all the information about everyone in it any more than life is. Things the author knows about characters (or at least, strongly suspects -- it's never really real until it hits the page, because the process of writing is also a process of discovery) that don't make it onto the page could include the characters' backstory, what they like to eat, the toothpaste they use, what happens to them after the story is over or before it began, and what they do in bed. That something didn't turn up in the books just means it didn't make it onto the page or wasn't relevant to the story.

[. . .]

And, truth to tell, sexuality tends to be such a minor thing, if you have several hundred characters running around in your head. You know more than you've written.'
All very well, perhaps, but this does raise questions about who really owns the characters. Does the author? Do the readers? Can anyone - even the author - really definitively say anything about them that's not in the books themselves? Does it matter if they do?

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