Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Deconstructing Harry Potter

(JK Rowling, which rhymes with bowling and not howling, the only billionaire author in the world who earned her riches through her widely successful Harry Potter series. It is so hard to believe that she used to live off government support before her tumultuous public acclaim.)

Let me start off by saying that I love the Harry Potter (HP) series. My friend Les was adamant I read the book way back in college. She generously lent me the first three HP books and midway through the third book of the series, I was definitely hooked. I was practically begging for her to give the fourth book as soon as I finished the third one. Curiously, the HP books had the same effect on my non-reading sister. I nonchalantly advised her to read the first book saying she might enjoy reading it despite her engineering background. Soon, she got addicted just like me and even bought her own copies of the book just so she could read and re-read it again.

I often say that my favorite book in the series is the second one. I find the second one the funniest and most charming of all. Harry, at this stage, is still a fresh and hopeful young 14-year old boy still in love and at awe with his new environment. As the series continues, Harry grows up, becomes accustomed to his wizarding world and shows his darker mature side. As most book critics would say the entire series is a "bildungsroman" of the main character, Harry Potter. As such, the first book, which serves an introduction to the entire seven-book series, is the shortest book of all. I daresay the best-written book in the series is the third one as it provides the best mystery of all. All of the seven books is basically a whodunnit mystery novel with a heightening climax from chapter to chapter. The HP books are simply "unput-downable" and you will end up staying awake all night as you rush to know how it will end. Highly controversial from the beginning because of its sorcery and witchcraft theme, the HP series breaks all of the record for the most number of book sold at the fastest possible time. We should all thank the book's author, JK Rowling, for making reading such a cool thing for children and even adults to do again. Children the world over would line-up the bookstores every time a new book in the series is up again. Personally, I find the series amazing because it is craftily written for the enjoyment of children and adults alike, and everything about the plot is highly original and creative. JK Rowling transports us to a new world, both childlike and magical, which is something beyond our imagination. She brings to life new characters and gives a new twist and look to ordinary things we take for granted. I for one believe that the HP series will the stand the test of time and will be adjudged as one of best books or series in the years to come. In fact, when my own daughter, nicknamed JK, (her name stands for those initials, plus I am such an incorrigible fan) starts reading, we will read together the entire HP series.

The last and highly anticipated book of the series came out in the mid quarter of this year. It was a bittersweet moment for most fans. They wanted and longed for the book's ending and yet they were reluctant to let it go. JK Rowling was clear from the beginning that she will end the series at Book 7 and yet I for one simply wanted her to go on. I wanted her to write about Harry Potter from his babyhood upto his dying day. Heck, if she could write about Harry for eternity, I would still be interested to read it one book at a time. I was lucky enough to get a bootlegged soft copy of the last book before it officially hit the bookstores. As such, I was able to read the book before fellow book addicts got their legitimate hard-bound pricey copies.

More recently, the last book, HP7, again gained headline news as JK Rowling surprisingly outed the reverent and almost godly figure of Albus Dumblebore in her book signing trip to New York. Answering an inquiry from a child fan on whether Dumbledore will ever find true love, JK Rowling simply said, "Dumbledore is gay." This answer elicited gasps and applause from a stupefied audience. I don't know what to make out of this recent relevation. It just reminds me of the time it was rumored that my fave Sesame muppets of all time, Ernie and Bert, are actually gay lovers. It was said that the producers of the show were prepared to sacrifice one character by letting it die on national tv as a result of the sexually transmitted HIV virus. (WTF!) Accordingly, they wanted to promote sexual education and gay rights to the conciousness of young children. While being politically correct, all I could think of at that point was, why can't they just keep my childhood favorite character innocent and childlike. So when I heard about this recent outing of Dumbledore, all I could think of is why can't she just let me keep this all-knowing and all-powerful godly image of this well-loved character.

Firstly, unlike others who doubted or sensed that Dumbledore's character might be gay because of his apparent lack of love interest in the series, I never once thought of Dumbledore as gay. My idea of him resembles that of St. Thomas Aquinas, John Paul II and most priests in general. Just because they lack an obvious lady love doesn't mean they are gay. That is not to say that all priests aren't gay because sadly, controversies have erupted over sexual indiscretions of Catholic gay priests. I thought of Dumbledore in this highest regard, his apparent lack of love interest was justfied in my mind by his Socratic love of wisdom and truth. Naturally, he wouldn't have time to think about human love as he was thoroughly engaged in his quiet and passionate love of wisdom and universal ideals. So all the while this noble version of Dumblebore was apparently incorrect. Maybe he is the same wise and venerable character I loved but his uncharacteristic lack of a romantic lady love was not all due to his scholarly quest for wisdom, but simply because of his sexual orientation.

I love JK Rowling and the HP series just the same. All literary works stands to be constructed, deconsructed and reconstructed to the author's and reader's content. In fact, in literary criticism, it is a rule of the thumb that the author must never interpret his own work, otherwise, he/she will unwittingly limit the reading of the work in one voice or light only. I am sure JK Rowling chose to stay quiet about Dumbledore's real idendity for a good reason. Revealing him as an openly gay character might attract unneccesary attention to the book and offend the sensibilities of her young audience. Although I know Dumbledore's sexual preference should not affect his noble status in the book, I still can't bring myself to reconcile this perfect scholar idea I had of Dumbledore to the outed "real" Dumbledore. It's almost the same as discovering for the first time that Sir Ian McKellen, who resembles Dumbledore's character in appearance and personality and plays Gandalf, the noble wizard role in another literary gem, Lord Of the Rings series, is actually gay in real life. I just dont get it.

I am not homophobic. I am consciously respectful of other people's ethnic, racial, and sexual differences. (I even have a lesbian friend.) I almost always practice political, religious and gender neutrality. It's just that when you suddenly find out somebody you thought of as the epitome of manhood and saintliness is gay, of course, my normal reaction is that of shock and fear even. Perhaps its the same as the people in the olden times suddenly finding out that the world is round and not flat as previously believed. They set their ship to sail forever fearful of falling off the edges only to find out that they won't fall at all. So your whole world and outlook suddenly turns upside down, inside out. You experience a sense vertigo as you no longer know which is which. I guess the world is really like that, its not a simple matter of seeing white as white and black as black. We live in a gray gay world indeed.

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