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Spiral Stairs
10-26-2007, 06:40 PM
I’m sure most of you heard that J.K. Rowling “announced” that a character in the Harry Potter series – Dumbledore – “is” gay. (Disclaimer: I have not read any Harry Potter books; I have not seen any Harry Potter movies.)

Something struck me as very odd about this statement. Dumbledore is a fictional character. He exists – and “is” whatever he “is” – only because Rowling put some words on a piece of paper. As a result, to my mind, the circumstances and facts relating to his “existence” are solely those that are spelled out on the page. It just doesn’t make any sense to me, as a reader, to think that the author still “controls” the character after “The End.” I am free to imagine other aspects of characters, but it bothers me that an author feels free to hover just offstage, ready to pop in after the curtain’s come down and tell us more facts about characters who are, for literary purposes, gone.

Since I have not read any Harry Potter books, I am not invested in Dumbledore as a character. I don't "know" him. By analogy, I imagine what it would feel like if John Updike said in an interview that Rabbit Angstrom -- whom I do "know" -- was gay (or a CIA spy, or an alien). I would feel pissed and cheated. When a writer closes the book on a character, the reader is implicitly told, “There you go. I’ve said everything I’m going to say. Everything else is up to you.”

Does it bother anyone else?

(Further disclaimer: I have not found Rowling’s actual quote. She has been paraphrased, at least, as saying the character “is” gay, as opposed to saying that she “thinks he might be” gay. I think the latter might be a fair comment from Rowling, as she is simply expressing an inference that could be drawn from the words she has written, as opposed to asserting a completely independent fact.)

Angelinity
10-26-2007, 06:57 PM
doesn't bother me. considering the new theory proposing an infinite number of universes where every concievable course of action is individually explored, i don't exclude the possibility that organised thought -- and written fiction especially -- may actually create realities somewhere in the omniverse. characters may well continue to develop?

for its creator, the character certainly continues to exist and develop beyond 'The End'.

ColoradoGuy
10-26-2007, 07:41 PM
Interesting question. With the popularity of the Potter books I wouldn't be surprised if aspects of the characters and their fictional world enter the language in the way other fictional characters and their worlds have, forming part of the common store of language even for those who have never read the books. Several Dickens characters have done this; for example "pickwickian" is in the OED for "generous, jovial, and plump". Maybe Dumbledore will achieve that, too.

Higgins
10-26-2007, 08:05 PM
Interesting question. With the popularity of the Potter books I wouldn't be surprised if aspects of the characters and their fictional world enter the language in the way other fictional characters and their worlds have, forming part of the common store of language even for those who have never read the books. Several Dickens characters have done this; for example "pickwickian" is in the OED for "generous, jovial, and plump". Maybe Dumbledore will achieve that, too.

It's also one of those things where the public wants more out of an author (and I guess the characters) in a kind of "human interest story" way.

For example, R. Chandler said that Philip Marlowe had briefly attended Oregon State University....though this is not mentioned in any of the books.

It's sort of a case where journalistic demands generate a penumbra of fiction around the actual fiction.

JoNightshade
10-26-2007, 08:11 PM
As far as I'm concerned, everything exists inside the novel. If it's not in the text, it's not there. Fans and lit students can debate about it all they want, but the text is the text.

Personally I thought it was in bad taste (incidentally, I don't read the Potter books either) for the author to start "adding" stuff after the fact. If it was important enough to her, she ought to have included it in the books. She didn't, so clearly it wasn't.

JLCwrites
10-26-2007, 08:21 PM
Agreed. Let the reader create the character in his/her own mind. Should an author embellish and add more information about characters after the book is published? IMO, no. I understand that recently the public wants to delve deeper into an author's imagination, but what ever happened to the reader's imagination?

Higgins
10-26-2007, 08:41 PM
As far as I'm concerned, everything exists inside the novel. If it's not in the text, it's not there. Fans and lit students can debate about it all they want, but the text is the text.

Personally I thought it was in bad taste (incidentally, I don't read the Potter books either) for the author to start "adding" stuff after the fact. If it was important enough to her, she ought to have included it in the books. She didn't, so clearly it wasn't.

How can everything exist "inside the novel"? There are all kinds of assumptions about the universe and society and the meaning of songs and sounds and gestures that only make sense if you connect them up with things outside the novel. For example, if the hero is presented as driving a Starlight 51, drinking whisky, listening to Elvis on the radio and taking to his friend about the high school football game they played the day before...you're going to use all kinds of external information to make sense of that...and then suppose the author says later that (as it happens) he never drank and drove in high school, that's going to alter your feelings about the hero.

JoNightshade
10-26-2007, 08:47 PM
How can everything exist "inside the novel"? There are all kinds of assumptions about the universe and society and the meaning of songs and sounds and gestures that only make sense if you connect them up with things outside the novel. For example, if the hero is presented as driving a Starlight 51, drinking whisky, listening to Elvis on the radio and taking to his friend about the high school football game they played the day before...you're going to use all kinds of external information to make sense of that...

Contextual/factual information is much different than the emotional reality of a particular character. What I mean is not that you can't reference things outside the novel (although I hate brand names), but that your character has no reality besides the words on the page. He exists within the universe you create for him.


and then suppose the author says later that (as it happens) he never drank and drove in high school, that's going to alter your feelings about the hero.

No, it's not. It definitely shouldn't, in fact. Fiction is fiction. Either you buy the story when you read it or you don't.

This is why I prefer not to know anything about the authors who write the books I like. :)

Anyway this is just my opinion, how I look at things. Arguing about this stuff is delving into the field of--

oh, is this in the critical theory board? Dangit!

See you guys later. :)

DonnaDuck
10-26-2007, 09:32 PM
The way I see it, if the details were important enough for the story, it should have been included in the story itself, as in the text. I am quite content with what I read and let my mind do the rest but there are many people out there, especially in the Potter fandom, that won't let the sleeping dog lie and want to know every minutiae about every character for whatever reason. I think the author adding in things after the fact, for me, doesn't change the book at all, whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. 20 years down the road when a new generation of people are stumbling upon these books, is it going to matter what came out of her mouth after the books were written? It's not like "Dumbledore is gay" is going to be written on the inside cover, nor is any other detail she's given about the world in interviews but not put in the books. As far as I'm concerned, what she, or any author, says about their work holds little bearing, especially when it comes to time because in order for people to find out information like this, they're going to have to dig for it, presuming they even know it exists. The book will transcend far beyond the interviews so I tend to not listen to them.

Higgins
10-26-2007, 10:09 PM
The way I see it, if the details were important enough for the story, it should have been included in the story itself, as in the text. I am quite content with what I read and let my mind do the rest but there are many people out there, especially in the Potter fandom, that won't let the sleeping dog lie and want to know every minutiae about every character for whatever reason. I think the author adding in things after the fact, for me, doesn't change the book at all, whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. 20 years down the road when a new generation of people are stumbling upon these books, is it going to matter what came out of her mouth after the books were written? It's not like "Dumbledore is gay" is going to be written on the inside cover, nor is any other detail she's given about the world in interviews but not put in the books. As far as I'm concerned, what she, or any author, says about their work holds little bearing, especially when it comes to time because in order for people to find out information like this, they're going to have to dig for it, presuming they even know it exists. The book will transcend far beyond the interviews so I tend to not listen to them.

What about books such as The Magus, which exist in two very different versions? Your choice of which version of the same fiction to take as the fiction and which to take as "outside" the fiction is pretty much outside the fiction.

DonnaDuck
10-26-2007, 11:29 PM
What about books such as The Magus, which exist in two very different versions? Your choice of which version of the same fiction to take as the fiction and which to take as "outside" the fiction is pretty much outside the fiction.


I have no idea what you're talking about so I can't even comment on your point of reference. I take it this is a book written in two different ways? If so, considering there's only one version of each Harry Potter book then there's only one point of author-drawn reference for the fiction world itself.

Higgins
10-26-2007, 11:49 PM
I have no idea what you're talking about so I can't even comment on your point of reference. I take it this is a book written in two different ways? If so, considering there's only one version of each Harry Potter book then there's only one point of author-drawn reference for the fiction world itself.

So different kinds of fiction have different rules about what is inside and what is outside. That seems reasonable to me. Evidently the Harry Potter books are firmly exclusive of any outside elements...even those specified by their author, whereas when John Fowles said in 1977 or so that the 1965 version of the Magus was effectively outside the current version (1977), then that put the entire earlier version of the book on the outside of the fiction. I assume if one of the Harry Potter books was superceeded by a new version that would be a different problem from what happened with the Magus.

scarletpeaches
10-26-2007, 11:56 PM
I reckon the author can - has a very strong right to - say anything he or she likes about their creations. They are his creations, after all! Their right to tell us what happened to them doesn't end after we turn the last page.

After all, don't many of us do character sketches, aspects of which are never written into our books?

I think it makes the characters even more rounded. I like to think of them having a life beyond the page. We all have lives beyond the internet, don't we? None of us are one-dimensional AWbots. Why should a literary character be a one-dimensional "on this page only" person? Don't we want to make them as real as possible?

I just hope Rowling knew Dumbledore was gay from the beginning and didn't just make it up later on for impact. Perhaps she gradually came to realise he was gay. I'd like that, if the discovery slowly crept over her. It would make him uberreal if there were things about the character even the author didn't know. I'd like to think he 'came out' rather than she outed him. ;)

DonnaDuck
10-27-2007, 12:25 AM
Yes, we map out characters for ourselves. Why should the rest of the reading world feel the need to know the minutiae of my characters' lives? Flattering, yes, but not necessary. Rowlings characters have become the "next generation Hollywood" that should have paparazzi following them. Next thing you know Hermione will be getting out of her Mercedes sans panties and Harry will be screaming "Fire Crotch" with Ron stumbling out of rehab. There's a big difference between a need and a want. The readers don't need to know every little bit about a character, they just want to and it's up to the author whether to divulge that information. Rowling could have just as easily said 'no, he never found true love" and left it at that. She chose to go further with it.

They are, after all, not real. If the book can be understood as is, how important is outside information to it? Your life isn't going to improve if you know what sneakers this character wears. It's asinine. My characters are mine, figments of my own imagination that I put down on paper for others to read, not flesh and blood human beings worthy of tabloid journalism and I think this whole Harry Potter thing has escalated to that. We're sick of Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton and Hogwarts is where the fresh meat is. It's created fictional tabloids. I say let them have their private lives. We don't need to know anything beyond the books, we just want to.

By the way, Dumbledore was gay from the beginning, according to Rowling. She just didn't feel is pertinent to bring it up until the end since it only played a role in the final book.

Spiral Stairs
10-27-2007, 12:28 AM
After all, don't many of us do character sketches, aspects of which are never written into our books?
Yes. And if, upon pigs learning to fly, I am ever seated across from an interviewer who wants to know more about one of my characters, I will say, "I think character X might be [blah blah blah]," or "I meant to suggest the possibility that character Y is [blah blah blah]." I would not (unless coerced by aforementioned flying pigs) assert an extra-textual statement as a fact about a character. At that point, when the words have already been committed to paper and the book bound, I am in the same position as a reader.


I think it makes the characters even more rounded. I like to think of them having a life beyond the page. We all have lives beyond the internet, don't we? None of us are one-dimensional AWbots. Why should a literary character be a one-dimensional "on this page only" person? Don't we want to make them as real as possible?
I like to imagine the other dimensions of characters as well. But I feel that I have an agreement with the author that I will be allowed to fill in the blanks that the author doesn't. Think about it this way: A writer usually wants to include key descriptive details about a character relatively early in a story. It can be jarring to learn, 280 pages into a 300-page book, that the protagonist has only one arm. Sometimes, obviously, such a delay serves a literary purpose. That's fine. But I don't want the author throwing crap at me just to rock the boat. And it's even worse if such crap is thrown after the character has made his final appearance in a written work of literature. It's so jarring, in fact, that I think it's unfair.

Aside: There has been some really interesting discussion along these lines about the Sopranos series finale. If you didn't see it, you've probably heard that the series ended with an abrupt cut to black in the middle of a shot of Tony Soprano, leaving a world of possibilities open. Legions of fans wondered "What happened to Tony? Was he whacked? Was his family whacked? Did he continue to sit in that booth eating onion rings?" Some demanded that David Chase tell them what happened. He hasn't said what he envisioned would have been the next shot, if the show had continued. Since it didn't continue, Tony Soprano ceased to exist, and nothing happened to him next.

Higgins
10-27-2007, 01:41 AM
Yes. And if, upon pigs learning to fly, I am ever seated across from an interviewer who wants to know more about one of my characters, I will say, "I think character X might be [blah blah blah]," or "I meant to suggest the possibility that character Y is [blah blah blah]." I would not (unless coerced by aforementioned flying pigs) assert an extra-textual statement as a fact about a character. At that point, when the words have already been committed to paper and the book bound, I am in the same position as a reader.


I like to imagine the other dimensions of characters as well. But I feel that I have an agreement with the author that I will be allowed to fill in the blanks that the author doesn't. Think about it this way: A writer usually wants to include key descriptive details about a character relatively early in a story. It can be jarring to learn, 280 pages into a 300-page book, that the protagonist has only one arm. Sometimes, obviously, such a delay serves a literary purpose. That's fine. But I don't want the author throwing crap at me just to rock the boat. And it's even worse if such crap is thrown after the character has made his final appearance in a written work of literature. It's so jarring, in fact, that I think it's unfair.

Aside: There has been some really interesting discussion along these lines about the Sopranos series finale. If you didn't see it, you've probably heard that the series ended with an abrupt cut to black in the middle of a shot of Tony Soprano, leaving a world of possibilities open. Legions of fans wondered "What happened to Tony? Was he whacked? Was his family whacked? Did he continue to sit in that booth eating onion rings?" Some demanded that David Chase tell them what happened. He hasn't said what he envisioned would have been the next shot, if the show had continued. Since it didn't continue, Tony Soprano ceased to exist, and nothing happened to him next.


Endings are tough. Closure is probably impossible. Given that we live in a culture (and who does not?) where characters and Gods and myths can be told and re-told...who is to say that Tony Soprano or Dumbledore cannot reappear. In fact right here they already do...."always already" as some have translated Saint Derrida. Deja encore, toujours deja without any diacritic markings...on and on...time stops for no reader or writer-turned-reader as in a movie where we see the words "The End" but in endless frames of film.

ChunkyC
10-27-2007, 02:01 AM
By the way, Dumbledore was gay from the beginning, according to Rowling. She just didn't feel is pertinent to bring it up until the end since it only played a role in the final book.
Yup. And she probably wouldn't have brought it up at all except that someone asked her point blank whether Dumbledore ever had love in his life, or words to that effect. She could either tell them the backstory she'd created for him, lie, or not answer at all. I think she did the only thing she could, she told them the backstory.

josephwise
10-27-2007, 02:25 AM
When a work of fiction is read by anyone other than the author, the characters are no longer the sole property of the author. The reader contributes quite a lot to the creation of the character. Thus, the author has no right to change the reader's view of published text, nor does the reader have any obligation to let it be changed.

In this case, Rowling's action was that of a fanfic author (which is to say, a kind of reader), and not that of the originating author. The originating author can ONLY contribute to the text prior to publication.

Dumbledore now belongs to the millions of readers, and at this point Rowling is just one of those. Nothing wrong with that, but nothing consequential either.

Mud Dauber
10-27-2007, 03:33 AM
When a work of fiction is read by anyone other than the author, the characters are no longer the sole property of the author. The reader contributes quite a lot to the creation of the character. Thus, the author has no right to change the reader's view of published text, nor does the reader have any obligation to let it be changed.

In this case, Rowling's action was that of a fanfic author (which is to say, a kind of reader), and not that of the originating author. The originating author can ONLY contribute to the text prior to publication.
I'm not trying to be difficult, but I read your post a number of times and I can't understand what you mean by the author having no right to change the reader's view of published text. I don't think she was trying to change anyone's view. I gathered the same thing as ChunkyC, that it was a situation where the person asking sort of pinned her for an answer, and she just decided to answer honestly.

And how was her action that of a fanfic author?

ColoradoGuy
10-27-2007, 04:11 AM
When a work of fiction is read by anyone other than the author, the characters are no longer the sole property of the author. The reader contributes quite a lot to the creation of the character. Thus, the author has no right to change the reader's view of published text, nor does the reader have any obligation to let it be changed.

In this case, Rowling's action was that of a fanfic author (which is to say, a kind of reader), and not that of the originating author. The originating author can ONLY contribute to the text prior to publication.

Dumbledore now belongs to the millions of readers, and at this point Rowling is just one of those. Nothing wrong with that, but nothing consequential either.
I understand your point, which is why I regard fanfic as a variant of reader-response critical theory (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=51318&highlight=fanfic) (which is sort of what you're describing).

Ava Jarvis
10-27-2007, 04:33 AM
Why punish the author for being the author? It seems kind of ungrateful. "Hey, we know you spent a couple decades of pain on this opus, but really, your opinion doesn't count anymore."

What's wrong with saying, "Hey author, it's kind of cool that you're letting us know more details. It's not going to make me really sweat about it, but hey! You're still thinking about the characters! Must be interesting to be a writer...."

Characters have an existence before the text and after the text. For most writers, main characters don't ever die. They are a strange presence in your head, but no more strange than your memory of friends or acquaintances are.

And characters have existences that are under the text as well. Dumbledore being gay is one of those things that swam under the surface of the text; now that we know, it makes several plot points much clearer. In fact, I wondered if he was gay in book 7, because of one of those plot points that had come up. And I do not wonder about the gayness of characters lightly.

I just wonder why people get so defensive about it all. Does anyone freak out about the Silmarillion, which is pretty freaking expansive?

Oh wait, some people do. But usually not as vividly.

Sheesh.

Still, I understand not wanting to find out that a person you knew so well---and that's what the most driven of characters do, get people involved with them---has some kind of disturbing underside, or something else you've never seen and never expected to see.

And if it were a real person? Just to be expected. No one shows you their complete face at any one time. Neither do compelling characters. At best you get hints.

Fact is, writers construct characters like real people. That's why such characters are so memorable, beguile us so much. What the hey.

Anyways, the movies are not done yet.

Ava Jarvis
10-27-2007, 04:42 AM
:song:
He is so mysterious
His middle name's Tiberius
:song:

Just thinking about how Star Trek: The Animated Series was officially declared non-canon by Gene Roddenberry. Except that tidbits like the "T" in James T. Kirk standing for "Tiberius" have effectively become canon.

By the way, Warp 11 rocks. Here's the Lyrics to "Everything I Do, I Do with William Shatner (http://www.warp11.com/ra_lyrics_02.htm).

Higgins
10-27-2007, 06:20 AM
Endings are tough. Closure is probably impossible. Given that we live in a culture (and who does not?) where characters and Gods and myths can be told and re-told...who is to say that Tony Soprano or Dumbledore cannot reappear. In fact right here they already do...."always already" as some have translated Saint Derrida. Deja encore, toujours deja without any diacritic markings...on and on...time stops for no reader or writer-turned-reader as in a movie where we see the words "The End" but in endless frames of film.

More on always already:

http://ideasofimperfection.blogspot.com/2006/01/always-already.html

http://www.nextbook.org/cultural/feature.html?id=57

Kentuk
10-27-2007, 07:11 AM
SpiralStairs When a writer closes the book on a character, the reader is implicitly told, “There you go. I’ve said everything I’m going to say. Everything else is up to you.”


Not true, writers put a great deal of forethought into their characters and writting. There is a lot of stuff that doesn't make it into the book and more stuff that gets cut by evil editors. How do you know Rowlings isn't going to write another Potter. Poor women probably woke up the other night with the best plot ever and now can't help herself.

ChunkyC
10-29-2007, 08:51 PM
Good point, Ken. As far as an author "changing a reader's view of published text", every sequel in every series ever written does exactly that. My perception of Harry Potter grew and changed with every book.

Again, in this particular case, Rowling probably wouldn't have said a thing had she not been painted into a bit of a corner. And even then, what she said was a clarification. Cripes, people beg authors for background material that didn't make it into the book all the time. Complaining that the material once revealed wasn't what they wanted it to be is not being fair to the author at all.

talkwrite
10-30-2007, 01:49 AM
Is this an indication that the art of novel writing is changing? Are authors at the mercy of the reading audience?

In todays "instant" world the author is so accessible to the public and the PR efforts surrounding a book is a far cry from a few short decades ago.

There is an all consuming PR machine that each of JK's books had to go through and she knew it as she wrote the last ones. I surmise that this is her way of thumbing her nose at it. Maybe she longs for the control of her characters that she had when she wrote their lives?

Birol
10-31-2007, 06:23 PM
I’m sure most of you heard that J.K. Rowling “announced” that a character in the Harry Potter series – Dumbledore – “is” gay. (Disclaimer: I have not read any Harry Potter books; I have not seen any Harry Potter movies.)

Spiral, before you state that such statements are out of line or are after-the-fact creations, perhaps you should read the books? Or at least research them a little better.


Something struck me as very odd about this statement. Dumbledore is a fictional character. He exists – and “is” whatever he “is” – only because Rowling put some words on a piece of paper. As a result, to my mind, the circumstances and facts relating to his “existence” are solely those that are spelled out on the page.

Well, no. Characters have backstories. They do not spring into being at the age they are in the story being told and cease to exist at the last page. In well-written books, there's always more to them than his on the page. They existed before the story started, have histories and a past. They've been influenced by what came before the story began. The things that the writer doesn't spell out are still there, in the text, or the sub-text. It's in the subtle way a character moves, how they choose to respond to others, the decisions they make. It's in the why and how and what of the characters' existence.


It just doesn’t make any sense to me, as a reader, to think that the author still “controls” the character after “The End.” I am free to imagine other aspects of characters, but it bothers me that an author feels free to hover just offstage, ready to pop in after the curtain’s come down and tell us more facts about characters who are, for literary purposes, gone.

You're really assuming that this is what happened. That there weren't hints or clues in the books. As you said, you haven't read them.


Since I have not read any Harry Potter books, I am not invested in Dumbledore as a character. I don't "know" him. By analogy, I imagine what it would feel like if John Updike said in an interview that Rabbit Angstrom -- whom I do "know" -- was gay (or a CIA spy, or an alien). I would feel pissed and cheated. When a writer closes the book on a character, the reader is implicitly told, “There you go. I’ve said everything I’m going to say. Everything else is up to you.”

Again, no. The thing is, there are clues and hints to Dumbledore's sexuality within the text and on the page. In any of the HP books does Potter ever come out and say, "Gee, Professor Dumbledore, why don't you hook up with Professor McGonagall, you seem to have an awful lot in common?"

Well, no, because that's not in Harry's nature and he's still a child. He's just beginning to realize his own sexuality throughout the books. Harry even states, near the end, that he never thought to get to know Dumbledore as an individual, as a person. However, in the things that Harry does learn about Dumbledore, especially in Book 7, there are elements -- those pesky backstory and character history things -- that are brought more to the fore that do definitely suggest that Dumbledore was homosexual and, actually, the particular plot point ChunkyC references makes a whole lot more sense knowing that. [/quote]



When a work of fiction is read by anyone other than the author, the characters are no longer the sole property of the author. The reader contributes quite a lot to the creation of the character. Thus, the author has no right to change the reader's view of published text, nor does the reader have any obligation to let it be changed.

In this case, Rowling's action was that of a fanfic author (which is to say, a kind of reader), and not that of the originating author. The originating author can ONLY contribute to the text prior to publication.

Dumbledore now belongs to the millions of readers, and at this point Rowling is just one of those. Nothing wrong with that, but nothing consequential either.

I so completely disagree with this. Does the reader bring his own interpretations and prejudices and self-conceptions to a reading? Certainly. Does this mean that the reader is involved in a collaboration with the author? Not to the level that you suggest. Does that mean that the author is no longer the primary interpreter for the characters? Absolutely not!

Look, I've met ChunkyC, who is also posting in this thread, in person. Before I met him, I knew a few things about him. I had some self-conceived notions. I knew some of his backstory, but not all. I'll never know it all. Together, all of these things helped shape how I, someone who is not him, viewed him. Does these mean that my interpretation or perception of him as an individual has helped create him? No. My perception could be completely flawed. It can be changed by the additions of new data or new revelations. No matter what I do or do not know about him, I will never know or see him as he actually is, because I am not him and he's not my creation. I can only hope to get to know him better as time goes on.

The same is true of fictional characters. I can never know them at the same level as the author who gave them birth, from whose head they came. There are nuances and subtle influences to who the character is that I may never know, but that may have had a very profound impact on the character's psychology, that might have gone a long way to shaping who they are.

To suggest that I, as an author, am no more to my characters than the average reader and that I know no more about them, and sometimes less about them, than the average reader, is absurd.

Rowling will never just be another reader to the characters in the HP universe. She's their god(dess), their creator. She looked into the HP universe and said, "Let their be life." And there was. And it was good. No other individual did the same.

Spiral Stairs
10-31-2007, 07:14 PM
Birol, I don't have time to respond to all of your points, and I won't have time during the next (NaNoWri)month, but suffice it to say that I simply don't agree that, in creating a written work, the author is offering the reader a glimpse through a window into a world with an independent existence. I simply don't agree that characters "exist" off the page. This isn't a point that can be proved; it's a matter of how I, when wearing my "reader" hat, understand my relationship with the person wearing the "author" hat. I understand that relationship differently from you, apparently.

I do agree, however, that authors can suggest facts by way of subtext, and it is not out-of-bounds for the author to say what she meant to suggest. As you (bitingly) note, however, I have not done any research to determine whether Rowling did that here. The coverage of her "revelation" was so exclamatory, though, that it appeared to be a surprise to (many of) those who have done their research. I also meant to raise a more general issue, though, about the relationship between author and reader, not constrained by the facts of the Dumbledore revelation.

(Last point: ChunkyC indisputably and materially exists "off the page" -- that's not a matter of how I understand my relationship with ChunkyC. Therefore, I don't see the analogy.)

ColoradoGuy
10-31-2007, 07:35 PM
To suggest that I, as an author, am no more to my characters than the average reader and that I know no more about them, and sometimes less about them, than the average reader, is absurd.
Isn't the issue, though, that the author may launch the characters but then no longer controls them, and in that sense may know less about them then the readers?

Birol
10-31-2007, 08:13 PM
Except the author has the full backstory and history. They know the details that make them who and what they are, even if they do not use, or reveal, all that information in the telling of the excerpt of the story.

Birol
10-31-2007, 08:21 PM
Birol, I don't have time to respond to all of your points, and I won't have time during the next (NaNoWri)month, but suffice it to say that I simply don't agree that, in creating a written work, the author is offering the reader a glimpse through a window into a world with an independent existence.

Then how do you see it? Most of the time in the author's mind the characters do have a past and a history. When stories are being told, it's not that "the story begins here" but more where the author "chooses" to start the story. Take a virtual stroll through AW. Listen to author's speak about their worlds, their universes. How many times do they say something like, "But there's so much more that came before this; I have so much history here."


I simply don't agree that characters "exist" off the page. This isn't a point that can be proved; it's a matter of how I, when wearing my "reader" hat, understand my relationship with the person wearing the "author" hat. I understand that relationship differently from you, apparently.

Ah, but you see, your relationship really isn't with the author. It's with the universe and the characters that the author has presented. The author is merely the interpreter or the bringer-of-the-story. The relationship isn't with the individual writing the story but with the story that is written.


As you (bitingly) note, however,

It wasn't meant to be biting, but it does seem that a number of individuals (not necessarily you) wish to debate points in books that they haven't read. For some reason, this is especially true in Rowling's works. The Harry Potter universe takes much criticism from individuals who have not read the books and who are not familiar with the universe.


The coverage of her "revelation" was so exclamatory, though, that it appeared to be a surprise to (many of) those who have done their research.

Keep in mind that these were children's books and Dumbledore was only a secondary character. Many of the people reading the stories might not have picked up on the odd little things -- I know when I was reading I did thinking that there seemed more to the plot point than was being said but I did not choose to dwell on it. The clues were there, though.


I also meant to raise a more general issue, though, about the relationship between author and reader, not constrained by the facts of the Dumbledore revelation.

And I have no problem discussing the general issue.


(Last point: ChunkyC indisputably and materially exists "off the page" -- that's not a matter of how I understand my relationship with ChunkyC. Therefore, I don't see the analogy.)

The analogy is quite simply: There's more to Charlie than I, as an outside observer, know. As a reader, another form of outside observer, there are more to the characters than I necessarily know.

ChunkyC
10-31-2007, 08:49 PM
The character does exist off the pages the reader sees, on pages the author has created, but not included in the particular work the reader is presented with. The character's behaviour in what the reader sees, is naturally an extension of that other material the reader doesn't see.


Isn't the issue, though, that the author may launch the characters but then no longer controls them, and in that sense may know less about them then the readers?
I think this is valid, in that the author has no control over how a reader interprets what they're shown of a given character in a published work. Before the movies came out, each reader of the Harry Potter books inevitably had a different image in their mind of each of the characters. The odds against that mental image exactly matching someone else's has got to be astronomical. So, in that sense, the final form of the character is created by the reader's interpretation of what the author has written.

Or I'm completely looney. ;)

andrewhollinger
11-30-2007, 02:48 AM
This is a great thread.

From what I understand, Rowling answered the question "Will Dumbledore find a girlfriend/love, etc." and replied, "Dumbledore's gay."

I have no problem with an author creating a fuller story for her character than we know, as a means to inform her characters actions and decisions. I don't know if Rowling had to divulge her information. She could just as easily have answered the question with "no."

And I've always been intrigued with what the author doesn't let us know. Why does the story end where it does? The story beyond the story. I know my imagination goes wild. But I enjoy it.

I have read the Harry Potter series. I enjoyed them. That Dumbledore is gay holds no sway over the story. Rowling, however, has said that her story is about otherness. Wizards and muggles as kind of a way to help kid's find tolerance, diversity. I'm not surprised that one of the character's is out-right gay. I do think it helps that neither the books nor the movies play up Dumbledore's gayness, which would just illuminate his otherness. Something I don't think Rowling wants to do.

What I see here is an author who has more to say than what she put in her books. She's getting political, like so many authors. She just decided to expand her stories to do it.

I am undecided about how I feel about an author doing that. But I will say I'm not ruffled about Dumbledore's outing. It doesn't mess up the story for me.

Eternal Student
12-02-2007, 10:24 AM
My take on the matter of reader versus writer control is this. The writer has a back story and style that is cohesive, so the story comes out in a fluid manner that is accepted by the readers( for the most part, some people will hate the book). The reader reads and interprets the work, and it becomes real in the reader's mind. If the writer does not communicate the idea to the majority of their readers, the writer was not successful. When the writer is dead, the burden of interpret ion and authority lies with the reader. Any extra feedback from a living author is like DVD extras, interesting information that does not change the validity or nature of the main work.

Aslera
12-03-2007, 09:09 PM
I too have not found original text of Rowling's interview and I am not sure it's made it to Accio Quotes or Leaky yet. Someone asked her if Dumbledore ever found love in his life, particularly after the events in his life revealed in DH, and her response was that he did, but it was unrequited love, and it was with the golden haired boy described in DH. I'm trying not to put in spoilers for those who didn't read it though I doubt at this stage I'd be spoiling it for true HP fans.

HP spoiler alert for the rest...

Was that wrong? Heck,she's going to release an encyclopedia about the HP world and characters...perhaps Dumbledore's sexuality comes up perhaps it does not. Just because she knew this information and did not feel that it added anything or was important enough for the text does not mean it is great information that Potter fans gobbled up. She also revealed information after DH about Harry and Ron being Aurors, about Hermione working in Magical Law Enforcement, and that Victoire was Bill and Fleur's daughter. There was a great deal revealed after the books which only added to the sense that the world continues even if she isn't writing it. I think it added to the realism of the whole concept. She even said she hoped that Teddy would have some closure, that he would grow up to be a fine young man etc and that she wrote him into the epilogue because she wanted to know what happened to him.

The backstory is just as important as what is published, particularly in a series as involved as Harry Potter.

Birol
12-03-2007, 09:34 PM
There is another possibility that none of us are considering. It's entirely possible that Rowling did make more out of Dumbledore's sexuality in earlier drafts, but that through different drafts, that material was cut from necessity or by the request of others.

LaceWing
12-03-2007, 11:35 PM
I imagined this character once, a writer of dark novels. Rather neurotic, a chain-smoker, who insisted on killing off all of her characters. It totally blew me away -- because she developed a mind of her own, as characters sometimes do -- when she wrote a book about a this IRS auditor, only to find that this guy was real. I mean, he could actually hear every word she typed. And then, a copy of her final draft got loose. Other people were reading it now and the guy had trouble recognizing himself in the mirror from one moment to the next. His tie would change from red to blue, his hair would go from straight to curly. Drove him nuts, turned him into some kind of psycho killer, bent on killing the lot of 'em.

Wouldn't it be cool to write a story about that? Call it "Stranger Than Stranger Than Fiction." Might be a good movie!

Tobin Erebusan
12-04-2007, 12:53 AM
I agree with Birol, and just to let you guys know, the context of Rowling's statement about Dumbledore was actually a response to a question of whether he had been in a romantic relationship before, or something to that effect.

Monkey
12-04-2007, 08:20 AM
I believe that Rowling always thought of Dumbledore as gay, and the fact that portions of the book make more sense when read with that in mind certainly bolsters (though does not prove) that opinion. It also somewhat justifies her releasing the information: knowing that the author thought of the character as gay can help the reader get more out of the novels. That makes it pertinent.

I see nothing wrong with an author telling their vision of a character's backstory, unwritten desires, or future. After all, they did create the character, and all of these things can play into the actions of that character. As in the case of Dumbledore, knowing what the author intended can help the reader get more from the text.

On the other hand, I see no reason why a reader can't say, "Well, I never saw it that way," and go on believing as they did before the author spoke.

Because Dumbledore is fictional, the point is arguable, regardless of what Rowling says.

In the end, the reader should take whatever stand sits best with them and their own understanding of the writing. After all, a really good book stays with us. We think of it, we wonder about it, we may even imagine what happened to the characters next. In this way, it becomes "ours". It is this place, outside the covers of the book, that we can make whatever we choose of what we have read. This is the place that many feel that Rowling should not have tread.

My point is, she didn't. She gave us more insight into her thoughts as she created the novel. We can accept her version of the character's desires with faith that her version is accurate, or we can reject any intrusion into our imaginative territory, regardless of the source. The choice is ours.

Mac H.
12-04-2007, 01:54 PM
.. suffice it to say that I simply don't agree that, in creating a written work, the author is offering the reader a glimpse through a window into a world with an independent existence. I simply don't agree that characters "exist" off the page.What an interesting way of looking at it.

In fact, I can't imagine how it would be possible to make sense of a story UNLESS we treat it as a glimpse through a window.

From a screenplay point of view, in fact, it is essential. In the Harry Potter movie, we are given a snippet of Harry's life with his Uncle & Aunt. From this snippet, the 'glimpse through a window' the audience is MEANT to understand that his life generally is unhappy.

In a film, we don't have a narrator to tell us what the offscreen lives of people are .. so the viewers have to infer them from the glimses they are given.

I'm not sure it would be possible to enjoy a film if we assumed that no characters had emotions or lives outside what we were told.

Mac

PhatDad
12-11-2007, 06:25 PM
This is a good thread as I'm currently studying intertextuality at University so this fits quite well and instead of my usual 'WHAT ABOUT DISNEY?' yells in the lecture theatre I'll be shouting 'WHAT ABOUT DUMBLEDORE?' :)

I can see it from both arguments here however I favour the argument that there is always more to a character than is published in the book. In fact the whole argument here about the character being changed in the readers mind reminds me of the Bruce Willis film 'Sixth Sense'. The same thing was done at the end of the film. A bombshell idea was dropped into your lap and made you recall the whole flilm and reassess it. That element of the film made it amazing in my view as it totally messed up your assessement of the whole film.

Hapax Legomenon
12-14-2007, 07:35 AM
Okay, this is really interesting, and probably going to be something I address in what I'm writing now. In this, the characters definitely do live on after the story has ended, which is rather unfortunate for some of them, especially the ones with messed up psychology that was portrayed as frozen in their original work.

I dunno, I'd say they still exist as an idea, but not as a 'person' that keeps on living. So, I'd say it's fine to say that 'Dumbledore is gay', but not 'Albus Severus goes on to have 87 children and drive a Pinto when he grows up.'

Birol
12-14-2007, 09:48 AM
I dunno, I'd say they still exist as an idea, but not as a 'person' that keeps on living. So, I'd say it's fine to say that 'Dumbledore is gay', but not 'Albus Severus goes on to have 87 children and drive a Pinto when he grows up.'

Isn't that basically what epilogues do, though? Take, as an example the epilogue of the final HP book.



SPOILER ALERT!!!







Voldemort is dead, Hogwarts is saved, the story that the reader has been following for 7 books is over. And yet, there is an epilogue that tells the reader who married who, that they have kids, that Hogwarts was rebuilt, etc. That, in fact, their lives have continued after the story ended.

DonnaDuck
12-14-2007, 07:04 PM
Voldemort is dead, Hogwarts is saved, the story that the reader has been following for 7 books is over. And yet, there is an epilogue that tells the reader who married who, that they have kids, that Hogwarts was rebuilt, etc. That, in fact, their lives have continued after the story ended.


But the story didn't end until after the epilogue. That's where the blank pages come in. I think it's what they do or don't do after that that's in question. Did Ginny pop out any more puppies? Did Bill's daughter and whomever get married? And so on and so forth.

Birol
12-14-2007, 07:55 PM
If you want to take the stance that the story didn't end until after the epilogue -- and I do believe the story that we had been reading ended with the epilogue because the story we were reading was about Harry's battle with Voldemort and that ended before the epilogue -- then what the epilogue showed was that life went on, that the characters lives continued.

Lyra Jean
12-14-2007, 08:03 PM
Isn't that why people write fan fiction because they don't want the story to be over? They want the characters to keep on living?

I have a book written by Philip Pullman called "Lyra's Oxford" and it takes place sometime after the "His Dark Materials" trilogy. To me it shows that the characters do live on after the main text is over and done with.

DonnaDuck
12-14-2007, 08:11 PM
If you want to take the stance that the story didn't end until after the epilogue -- and I do believe the story that we had been reading ended with the epilogue because the story we were reading was about Harry's battle with Voldemort and that ended before the epilogue -- then what the epilogue showed was that life went on, that the characters lives continued.


I was going on the technicality of it all. The words the author had written didn't end at the end of the final chapter but at the end of the epilogue. What she wrote there, many people think, is a glimpse in a window after all of that mess with Voldemort, just to let us know that they did carry on, they did live happy lives and so on and so forth. There the word ends and it's whether they continue on after that or the train station gets nuked comes into question.

And yeah, I equate fanfiction to the likes of not wanting the characters to "die," to keep them kicking because you like them so much.

Birol
12-14-2007, 09:43 PM
The technicality is that the book ended after the epilogue, but the story continued. As you yourself have indicated, the epilogue is a glimpse in a window after all of that mess with Voldemort, just to let us know that they did carry on. This, right there, says that the characters do continue and live on beyond the end of the story. That they have "lives" beyond the portion that we've read about. That beyond extends both ways, past and future, where "present" is the portion that the story covers.

DonnaDuck
12-14-2007, 10:03 PM
But the topic of discussion in this thread is "the existence of characters beyond the written word," not the story. The last written word of the HP books is the last word of the epilogue hence their existence beyond that point, regardless if the story of Harry vs. Voldemort ended at the last chapter. The written word itself didn't end until the epilogue was finished. Is it a glimpse through a window, yes, but they're still in existence because the author wrote that glimpse. The paradox comes after that and whether they're still "living" after that glimpse.

Birol
12-15-2007, 01:33 AM
If you want to go with what started the discussion, the complaint was about things that happened before the written word, the book, the story that is being told, not after. The conversation has evolved somewhat from that point, though. I contend that the story that is told is just an extraction of a much larger event, that there are things which happened before "Once upon a time" and after "happily ever after."

Dakota Waters
12-17-2007, 01:09 PM
I feel strongly that JK did nothing wrong or even distasteful by 'outing' Dumbledore.

Just because knowledge about characters doesn't make the final MS, doesn't mean that JK didn't "know" additional stuff about her world. The fact that Dumbledore was gay may not have been directly stated in the text, but I've heard a lot of more hardcore fans say that they could have guessed as much.

I guess it's kind of like having deleted scenes in a movie or whatnot. In movies often there are events that happen kind of 'implicitly,' when we see deleted scenes we just get to see the 'how' behind what we already know happened. I think Dumbledore's homosexuality was 'in the text' even if it wasn't specifically stated.

Elodie-Caroline
12-17-2007, 02:38 PM
I've read the first five replies, before I read the rest, I'll add my own opinion...

Whenever I read a book or watch a film, I always think about 'what comes after'. For instance, you get people who kill other people in movies, in self defense etc. I cannot stop my imagination from wondering what happens to the person who did the murder/s; are they going to end up in court? Are they going to get away with it? L.A Confidential as a film springs to mind with this.
The very first time I saw, 'Gone with the wind', I was in my twenties and I couldn't sleep afterwards; I wanted to know if Rhett and Scarlett got back together.
With my own work, the baddie got killed and I left it that a group of ministry men disposed of the body, but I sit here and wonder if anyone is going to start asking questions and will my MMC and his friends ever end up in court over it? I've also written a page out, all for myself, never to be seen by my readers, asking if my MMC and FMC's love will last?

I dunno, maybe I'm weird or maybe my imagination is too active or something? But I like to know what goes on in the background and what happens to the characters.


Elodie

LaceWing
12-17-2007, 05:23 PM
http://3quarksdaily.blogs.com/3quarksdaily/2007/12/my-widower-and.html - Here's a story with a ghost as narrator and the MC is a reader of Proust. Proust's MC appears and then transforms into Proust himself in the reader character's mind. I like how all these "persons" overlap in my own mind. Rowling is as fictional to me as any other character I'm exposed to. (As are you, dear reader.)

http://www.dactyl.org/thought/Poetics-CogSci/zunshine_talk.htm - a more scholarly article on why we read stories that I found interesting, and why fiction is addictive. Just thought I'd mention it while I'm "here."

Elodie-Caroline
12-17-2007, 08:44 PM
I've always read fiction, because it was pure escapism.

HeronW
01-06-2008, 06:29 PM
Whomever writes the fiction has control of the characters/place/time until they are dead and their heirs (like Christopher Tolkien) do or don't carry on the literary mantle.

Writers know more than goes in the books--of course we do, it's how we write the characters even if we don't say in words, we intimate, refer, let slip, do all sorts of unconscious psychological cueing that adds to the whole character.

Per JKR and book 7 that goes into roundabout detail about a very close friendship with young Dumbledore and a male student, the whole ending badly with an accident, you can read 'into it' what you are comfortable with. Only JKR knows exactly what she meant but she was keeping it PC for all those who get pissy thinking about same sex relationships. 'Outing' Dumbledore goes into accepting people no matter who they love.