I first read “Harry Potter” in college, after my friend was introduced to the series, years after they were first published, by the children she was babysitting. At that time we saved the bulky books for school vacations, something to look forward to after finals and term exams were handed in, actual reading for pleasure. And as English majors, what alarmed us the most at the time were all the adverbs used by author JK Rowling. So much adverbs.
It got us thinking, made it awkward when our teachers criticized the books, but we kept reading. This was the story after all.
When I had a child of my own, I couldn’t really get him interested in the series of wizarding boys, despite multiple attempts. And then Rowling, in increasingly bizarre statements, revealed the kind of person she is, not the kind whose work I can support. But even before the writer makes it vehement anti trans known position, she said statements that not only distract from the story, but undermine its magic and call into question its intent.
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During an appearance at Carnegie Hall in 2007, when asked if Albus Dumbledore, the wizarding headmaster and confidant of the Harry Potter hero, had ever fallen in love – despite defending love he is alone in the story, without a partner – Rowling said: “I always thought of Dumbledore as gay.”
It could no longer be just history, but an attempt to profit from an identity retroactively.
This line apparently put the audience on their feet in a standing ovation. But Rowling didn’t exactly answer the question. You can be gay and find love (did the screenwriter know that?), even late in life, even reward love, unlike the long and tumultuous feelings Rowling later said Dumbledore had for bad boy wizard friend Gellert Grindelwald.
Dumbledore’s strangeness was a surprise. Not unwelcome. It was only . . . it didn’t seem to be in the text, all thick, in seven volumes. But then Rowling said something that questioned her motives: “If I had known this would make you so happy, I would have announced it years ago!”
It couldn’t be just history anymore, but an attempt to leverage an identity retroactively, to find Dumbledore.
Retconning is an abbreviation of the phrase “retroactive continuity”. As Merriam-Webster describes it, “Retcon had a full life during such a young word— it was only added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2021 — including its “change from a noun to a verb, and from the jargon-filled chat rooms of the Internet to general language.” edit a story fictitious previously established, after its publication or its diffusion.
A term that first came to prominence in comics circles in the 1980s, examples of reconnection can be found much earlier: when Sherlock Holmes falls to his death in “The Final Problem”, by example – but it turns out he wasn’t dead after all. Dead but not really dead is a big retcon. To see: Emperor Palpatine, Professor Xseveral deaths in theFast and Furious” franchise.
Unfortunately, Rowling did not resurrect Dumbledore or Severus Snape when logging back in, but instead, tweeted that Nagini, the giant snake of the Harry Potter universe, comes from the Indonesian myth of Naga. Indian writer Amish Tripathi corrected her saying that Naga is an Indian origin story. Rowling reacted to film casting review of an Asian actor to play Nagini in her human form, a subservient role of the exotic which the Harvard Crimson derided as “throwing several Hollywood-produced Orientalist stereotypes into a cauldron and stirring them”.
In a “no one ever asked that” retcon, Rowling also revealed how wizards used to go to the toilet. If you don’t know yet, spare yourself.
And then there’s the weirdness of Dumbledore. Entertainment Weekly wrote of the “long history of discuss – but not describe – Dumbledore’s sexuality.” Writing in 2019, Devan Coggan said, “Despite all this talk and several years of new movies, Rowling still hasn’t confirmed the wizard’s orientation in book or on screen.”
If the “Harry Potter” books portray the wizard’s homosexuality, it’s a superficial, outdated, and dangerous idea of who gay people are.
The new film: “Fantastic Beasts: Dumbledore’s Secrets” attempts to rectify this silence. Is it too little too late?
Unlike previous “Fantastic Beasts” movies, young Dumbledore (Jude Law) speaks directly, albeit briefly in moments that feel awkwardly inserted, about being in love with Grindelwald” with lines like “Because I was in love with you” and “The Summer Gellert and I fell in love.” It’s still not much,” Dan Selcke argues, “but better late than never.”
The lines feel like little specks on a sinking ship. So many things distracted from the latest “Fantastic Beasts” movie. So many scandals, including one of its stars Ezra Miller arrested for disorderly conduct after former star Johnny Depp once came under scrutiny for abuse allegations and was replaced by Mads Mikkelsen. And who can forget Vladimir Putin defending Rowling?
It’s hard not to read too much into the title of the film “Fantastic Beasts”. Is one of “Dumbledore’s Secrets” Dumbledore’s sexuality? It shouldn’t be – and that’s the problem.
If the “Harry Potter” books portray the wizard’s homosexuality, it’s a superficial, outdated, and dangerous idea of who gay people are. The confirmed bachelor who never marries. Who is an unromantic being and never finds or even seeks happiness in a romantic partner. Or even dates. He has a safe and non-threatening idea of what a homosexual person is, the gay best friend tropelike a manager.
The books are set in a contemporary timeline. There’s no reason for Dumbledore to hide forever, other than his author’s homophobia. And before discussing, as Lev Grosman fact in Time, that readers don’t get a glimpse of the romantic lives of Hogwarts professors, we To do. Professor Snape’s love for Lily, Harry Potter’s mother, is a driving force behind his character and the story itself.
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In a climate where strange people can’t tell their own stories, where books with queer characters are banned every day, and trans authors and children face a legislature meant to strip them of their humanity and end their lives, the queerness of Dumbledore seems hollow, hypocritical. There are so many strange stories to tell – why this one, where an old man gets locked up and dies alone? Why give credence to this retcon, whose author wants queerness in his own way, nailed down, safe, with no regard for the life-threatening of his queer readers?
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