NEW YORK — “That’s a very good question. I’ve never been asked that before!”
Only a few questions into “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling’s Q&A session at the close of her Open Book Tour at Carnegie Hall on Friday (October 19), she found herself repeating that line over and over, as the 1,600 public schoolchildren in attendance laughed gleefully. The students appeared to be true scholars of Rowling’s work in her estimation, and she praised them for stumping her, since for at least one moment, she confused her own story’s chronology.
“Ah! She doesn’t know her own books!” Rowling laughed.
However, the comment that grabbed headlines took place at a Q&A session with sweepstakes winners later during the day. Rowling told the audience that Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore was gay and had fallen in love with fellow wizard and erstwhile friend, Gellert Grindelwald, according to the Associated Press and Potter fan site the Leaky Caudron. The crowd cheered, leading Rowling to say:
“If I had known this would have made you this happy, I would have told you years ago.”
The answer came in response to the question of whether Dumbledore had ever been in love. Rowling replied, “My truthful answer to you … I always thought of Dumbledore as gay. … Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald, and that added to his horror when Grindelwald showed himself to be what he was. To an extent, do we say it excused Dumbledore a little more? Because falling in love can blind us to an extent, but he met someone as brilliant as he was, and rather like Bellatrix he was very drawn to this brilliant person, and horribly, terribly let down by him. Yeah, that’s how I always saw Dumbledore.
“In fact, recently I was in a script read-through for the sixth film, and they had Dumbledore saying a line to Harry early in the script, saying, ‘I knew a girl once, whose hair …’ [the crowd laughed]. I had to write a little note in the margin and slide it along to the scriptwriter: ‘Dumbledore’s gay!’ ”
Noting the audience’s enthusiasm, she added, “I had to give you something to talk about for the next 10 years. … Just imagine the fan fiction now.”
At the session earlier in the day, questions about love were directed at Rowling herself. When asked by an 18-year-old 12th grader, “Which of the Potter characters would you marry?,” Rowling giggled. “The truth is, in my younger days, I dated Ron more than once,” she admitted, giving an inside look at why Hermione (the closest character to Rowling’s younger self) might be attracted to Harry’s best friend. “He’s fun to write, but not so much fun to date.” And once she had learned her lesson, Rowling said, “I married Harry Potter,” referring to her second husband, Neil Murray. “He’s up there [in the wings]. I just mortified him,” she laughed. “But he looks like Harry would look like, at a certain age. I married a very good person and a gutsy person. And that’s who Harry is.”
Fans might think that’s even more reason why Hermione should end up with Harry — but Rowling said she always knew that Ron and Hermione were meant to be together, just as she thought Harry and Ginny were meant to be together. “I thought it was obvious, but apparently there are Internet wars about this,” she said. “And they get very vicious.” Rowling said she was unaware of the shipping wars for years, until someone suggested she take a look at the fan sites. “It was scary!” So many readers wanted Hermione and Harry to be a couple, Rowling said, that “I got hate mail … from adults! Not people your age. You at least understood.”
And for those who didn’t, she explained. “Harry and Ginny are real soul mates,” she said. “They’re both very strong and very passionate. That’s their connection, and they’re remarkable together. Ron and Hermione, however, are drawn to each other because they balance each other out. Hermione’s got the sensitivity and maturity that’s been left out of Ron, and Ron loosens up Hermione a bit, gets her to have some fun. They love each other and they bicker a bit, but they enjoy bickering, so we shouldn’t worry about it.”
Rowling was also surprised how many fans expressed desire for a romantic story line for Harry’s nemesis, Draco Malfoy. “No, please!” she laughed. “Please don’t fancy Draco!” When a 13-year-old eighth grader asked whether Draco was ever actually evil, or if he was just acting that way because he was afraid, Rowling clarified that she thought he was a lot like Dudley, Harry’s cousin — “raised as a pampered only son, indoctrinated with his parent’s beliefs.” The moment Draco got what he thought he wanted, to become a Death Eater, and given a mission by Lord Voldemort, as he did in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” reality finally hit him, Rowling said, because his dream was “so very different.”
“If the question is whether Draco would have committed the murder, my answer is no,” Rowling said. “I don’t think he would. He had lowered his wand. He was prepared to come over to Dumbledore’s side. I hope you see that there’s some of that same feeling in Book Seven, when he does try to protect Harry. But he’s in too deep. Like a lot of characters, he’s not a hero. There’s a real moral cowardice to Draco. But is he wholly bad? Absolutely not.”
Same with Dudley, whom Rowling imagined would have awkward reunions with Harry over the years. “I’ve never been asked that either!” Rowling said when a 16-year-old 12th-grader wondered if the two would ever see each other again. “Harry and Dudley would still see each other enough to be on Christmas-card terms, but they would visit more out of a sense of duty and sit in silence so that their children could see their cousins.” Which means Dudley actually gets to the point where someone besides his parents would find him loveable? “People usually ask me, what is it that Dudley saw during the Dementor attack?” Rowling said. “My feeling is that he saw himself, exactly for what he was, and for a boy that spoiled, it would be terrifying. So he was jolted out of it. Dementor attacks aren’t usually good for people, but this one was.”
As is sometimes not knowing the whole story. Like Rowling before “Deathly Hallows” was published, Dumbledore withheld key information from Harry, so as not to “spoil” his journey, prompting a 9-year-old fourth grader to ask if Dumbledore ever really did love Harry, or was he just manipulating him so that he would sacrifice himself in the end?
“That’s a deep question, thanks for asking it,” Rowling said. “Dumbledore did like Harry, and as he got to know him, he became like a son to him. But I wanted you to question Dumbledore. It is right to question him, because he was treating people like puppets, and he was asking Harry to do a job that most men twice his age wouldn’t have been able to do.” But if Harry had all the information, he likely would have been tempted into doing something else, so he had to trust Dumbledore, who ultimately did guide him to do the right thing, Rowling said.
Having magic doesn’t make anything easier, she said. “If everyone were given a wand …,” she started. (Spotting one fan with a wand, she pointed to him and added as an aside, “You’ve already got one! I hope that’s not trained on me!”) “… The world would be strangely similar,” she continued. “Because nearly everyone, and not just because you’re Harry Potter fans, would want to use it for good, to have fun, to look after their friends and family. But a small number would think, ‘What’s in it for me?’ And that’s the dark side of human nature, which remains the same whether you have a wand or not. We’d have exactly the same problems. Cruelty. Bigotry. Oppression. That’s what Harry’s fighting against. Not magic.”
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