Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sex, Power and Albus Dumbledore III

When I first started reading Harry Potter I noticed that there seemed to be an awful lot of bachelors in the wizarding world All the teachers at Hogwarts seem to be unmarried so to with most of the members of the Order of the Phoenix. Also most of the kids seemed to come from small families with the Weasleys being a noticeable exception. We never hear of Seamus Finnegan or Dean Thomas having younger siblings. Draco Malfoy appears to be an only child same with Crabbe and Goyle. All this amounts to a society full of people who to all appearances do not particularly concern themselves with sex. To me this made perfect sense. The lives of the citizens of the wizarding world revolve around magic. Both good and dark wizards completely devote themselves to practicing it, studying it, and trying to increase their power. Notice how, besides for history, Hogwarts does not teach any normal subjects. Everything is devoted to the practice of magic. It does not take such a big stretch of the imagination to see magic as totally consuming their lives to the extent that they would show little interest in marrying and having children. This would particularly apply to Albus Dumbledore. Imagine you are Dumbledore. From the time you are a young adult you know that you are one of the smartest and most powerful beings to have ever lived. That power isolates you from everyone else and it places an incredible burden on you. You have a duty to use your power for good yet how do you avoid forcing your will on others and becoming a tyrant? In addition this power is an incredible narcotic. You are nothing short of a God made flesh. Can you begin to imagine what that must feel like? It should not come as any surprise if such a character did not pursue any sexual relationship. The surprise would be if he did.
I understood wizards such as Dumbledore and Snape as being “real” versions of medieval magicians. In fact the very real medieval alchemist Nicholas Flamel shows up in the books as the creator of a philosopher’s stone. If I were to have Dumbledore pursue a sexual relationship it would have been along the lines of Goethe’s Faust. On the surface Faust Part I, is an example of one of our medieval magicians pursuing a sexual relationship. Faust sells his soul to Mephistopheles in order to regain his youth, which he then uses to seduce a young girl named Gretchen. Gretchen becomes pregnant and tries to kill her child. She is caught and executed for her crime. Faust though is not simply a dirty old man out to get laid. He is a philosopher out to engage in bildung. Bildung can best be understood here as the act of engaging in struggle in order to rise above it. Faust, as a philosopher, believes that he must engage in the struggles of this world and cannot remain locked away with his books. This is all part of a wager between God and Mephistopheles to see if Faust, having been given the world, would, on his own, return to God. Perhaps the world would be a better place if people took their ideas about sex from Goethe and not from Freud. Without any doubt one can better appreciate fantasy through the lens of Goethe then through Freud.
In conclusion, while I do not have a problem with there being sex in fantasy, I think there are good reasons why fantasy has far less than most other genres of fiction. I do not think this is a problem that has to rectified. In the end I do not really have a problem with the fact that Dumbledore, it turns out, was gay. I would have preferred it if Rowling had not tried to make this an issue of tolerance. She could have simply said that Dumbledore was gay but that this was simply the way she had imagined him and that no one should think anything of it.

4 comments:

therapydoc said...

I had no idea the fantasy world was so interesting. Reading HP did make it seem free of the sexuality we pick up in almost every kind of reading, watching, even listening in this post-modern age.

So maybe that's why I just wasn't ready for Ms. Rowlings announcement. I liked that there was nothing more than affection in the Harry Potter books. Fine, snogging may seem sexual, but it's certainly above the waist.

I won't be needing to reread them. Something's not the same, and it really isn't homophobia.

Do you think anyone will believe that? smiley emoticon here

Izgad said...

"I had no idea the fantasy world was so interesting."
Well therapydoc may I welcome you to the world of fantasy. If you are interested in further exploration this blog discusses numerous excellent books. Any exploration of fantasy should start with Lord of the Rings but that is a very difficult book to go through particularly the first time. If you liked Potter I would strongly suggest Garth Nix's Abhorsen series. I have been talking a lot on this blog about the Twilight series. If you have nothing against chick lit then I strongly recommend that you pick that one up. Also on the same front try Libby Bray's Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels.

Tobie said...

I would love to believe that Rowling's motives were so complex and theoretical. However, it seems to me that she was most likely motivated by a number of far more practical literary considerations:
1)It's primarily a kid's book and as such sex must be eliminated or at least made as oblique as possible
2) There is no room in the story for teachers to have outside lives and personalities, even hobbies, since they mostly exist only as a background to the main characters. When McGongall leaves the classroom, she largely ceases to exist. Rowling never bothered to flesh her out enough to create a family for her.
3)Ditto with other children- they aren't ever really mentioned because that would involve a lot of work creating and incorporating back stories for characters that she doesn't really care that much about.

As for the idea of being totally consumed with the magic, I would agree had Rowling chosen a different form of magic for her books. For her characters, however, magic is very much a mundane background thing. Professors don't have to give their lives to it any more than Physics professors must be obsessed with their subject. While, yes, you devote your life to studying it, that's true of any professor. Other than keeping up on the literature of the field, working quietly on some of your own research projects, it's not really something that you would devote yourself to.

Izgad said...

Unfortunately as her gay comments indicate, you are most probably are right about Rowling. I suspect that, like George Lucas with the first Star Wars films, Rowling created a work of true genius by accident without truly understanding what she was doing or why her work was so great. It is probably a good thing that Rowling is ending the series and will not write anything further in that world. I would not want to see Harry Potter destroyed like Star Wars was with its prequels.
Of course as Deconstruction has taught us, the author is not the sole true interpreter of a work. Therefore, as a reader my interpretation of Potter is just as legitimate as Rowling’s. Therefore I have the right to my own reading of Potter even when it goes against hers, particularly if mine is better. :)
(Just so everyone should know, I think Deconstruction is, for the most part, just a load of sophistry.)