Dumbledore has been diminished


Harry Potter series author J.K. Rowling has caused a sensation by revealing that the beloved headmaster of Hogwarts and Harry Potter’s mentor, protector and sometimes surrogate father, Albus Dumbledore, is gay.

There were no clues to this bombshell in most of the books, except for recollections in the last book of a young boy Dumbledore had been close to as a youth, who then devastated Dumbledore and betrayed their friendship by taking up the Dark Arts.

Needless to say, gay rights activists are ecstatic at the news. After all, Dumbledore is the most charismatic adult figure in the series. He is wise, powerful and compassionate, respected and/or feared by everyone in the magical kingdom. Doubtless Dumbledore will immediately be adduced in classrooms across the nation as a teaching aid for youngsters in their introduction to the diversity of sexual orientations.

There is something very odd though about Dumbledore being singled out from the huge cast of adult characters in the books as having any sexuality at all. Some of the characters in the books are married, many more are single. But their private lives and relationships are, literarily speaking, irrelevant. We only see the adults in terms of their relationship to the children.

Those who are married are invariably portrayed in their parental guise, rather than as men and women with any sexual preoccupations. Of course being married to the adult mind implies that they have sex, but for prepubescent readers, married characters are not a man and a woman who fancy each other, they are simply some youngster’s mother and father. Pre-pubescent readers do not think about or want to think about their own parents having sex, and sex would not be the first thing to spring to mind when they read about Harry’s parents or the Weaselys or the Dursleys. Married couples appropriately present as variants on different kinds of families, for the series’ great theme is Harry’s search for a family to replace the one he lost.

The adults are their moral and intellectual mentors. They should be, for literary purposes, chaste or asexual.

Now for the first time Harry Potter fans will be confronted with a theme they probably have no wish to ponder. Adults in a children’s novel, particularly one rooted in the magical tradition, should not be sexual beings. These novels are about the children coming of age, not the adults dealing with their own emotional and sexual baggage. Yes, the children do get to the age where they must struggle with their growing interest in sex, but the last thing they want to consider is the sex lives of the adults amongst them. The adults are their moral and intellectual mentors. They should be, for literary purposes, chaste or asexual. And so far in Harry Potter they have been.

Dumbledore’s gayness is a brand new element, and from a literary point of view, absolutely inappropriate. There is nothing wrong with Dumbledore being gay in terms of Rowling’s imaginative understanding of her character, but the gratuitous projection of this information into the books is inconsistent with the general character of her imaginary world, and in readers’ minds will retroactively distort everything Dumbledore has said and done.

However, as a symbol for gay activists eager to inculcate knowledge about human sexuality at the earliest possible age, Rowling’s revelation has been a marketing godsend. Sadly, the mighty and inscrutable wizard, in whom sexuality was properly irrelevant, will henceforth dwindle in the minds of readers into the merely gay headmaster.


Barbara Kay "Dumbledore has been diminished." National Post, (Canada) 25, October 2007.

Reprinted with permission of the author, Barbara Kay, and the National Post.


Barbara Kay is a Montreal-based writer. She has been a Comment page columnist (Wednesdays) in the National Post since September, 2003. She may be reached here.

Copyright © 2007 National Post

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