Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I Now Embrace Reader Response Theory

I've always sort of dismissed Reader Response theory as the easy way out and lame. It's just not that rigorous to me to base your whole interpretation of a work on how you feel about it. I think it's more interesting and relevant to look at historical context and (especially) authorial intent. It doesn't matter to me what I think Stairway to Heaven is about. I want to know what Robert Plant thinks it's about. And I want to know bad.

But JK Rowling's outing of Dumbledore has changed the way I think about Reader Response. I'm starting to think what the audience makes of a story or a song is a lot more important than I used to. Now it's personal. It's difficult to describe, really, because none of the details that make me love Dumbledore change because he's gay. He's still powerful and awesome and wise and cool. I just never thought of him as gay and its like when you find out that one friend knows another one of your friends is a vegetarian because they actually go out to lunch (without you) all the time but you never knew this about the vegetarian friend because, as it turns out--you've never been out to lunch with either one of them. You aren't even that close and you had no idea! I know it's silly, but it's how I feel. (And I'm privileging that more now, remember.) Why does JK Rowling have to throw it in my face that she knows these characters better than I do?

If I subcribe to Reader Response theory, it doesn't matter so much. My conception of Dumbledore is just as important as Jo's. Bono was right all along. He has always maintained that he likes it when fans read meanings into his songs that he never intended. He thinks it's totally valid and valuable. Which is so weird because I always thought Spanish Eyes was about me. It is. And Bono wants it to be. This is my new religion.

Seriously, we (the whole world, collectively) paid Jo a lot of money (just a little less than we pay Oprah) for Harry Potter. Can't we have it? I'll even make a deal with her: Dumbledore can be gay but he has to come back to life (or never have really been killed) in the last book. I think that's fair. And he has to wear better shoes and also Fred lives.


  1. I knew as soon as I heard the Dumbledore story that you would have something about it on your blog. Thanks. You seem to voice so eloquently my thoughts about HP. I don't care that Dumbledore was gay. It just seems odd to throw it out there when the books are done. It's like telling us that this is really the second marriage for the Weasley's and Mrs. Weasley actually has two older ingrate daughters named Leeza and Lezlie who live with their father by Charing Cross. Why do I need to know that? It's just odd, I guess.

  2. Did HP just get spoiled for me?

  3. DumbleDORK, more like it! Ha ha ha! See you in HELL, Rowling! Eat crow, Harvey Porter!

    I did a presentation on Reader's Response in Dave Cole's theory class at BYU. He told me that my presentation was "lazy." Oh well.

  4. You can have "Spanish Eyes" as long as I get "All I Want is You". I've always known that all Bono wants is ME!

    As for Dumbledore, it ruined the whole series for me since he has been outed. I will be burning my books on Halloween night in a big ceremony to voice my displeasure.

  5. Bonny's theory is that since so much of JKR's books are about tolerance, this "announcement" (which editors may not have let into the books) is another way of promoting that. I think it would have gotten way less attention had she slipped it explicitly into the books, and fewer people would know about it, and it would have seemed out of place in the books anyway.

    Back to Bonny (who is also a big big Potter fan, I'd say Potterphile but does anyone say that? it sounds really awful), she heard some interview where JKR said she wants to believe in God, but finds it difficult. Not that gayness has everything to do with religion, but gayness as a social issue has almost everything to do with religion.

    Anyway...I hate talking about gayness because I don't know what to think. Politically I don't really have much against gayness, but spiritually I do. I don't think it's being dramatic to say Dumbledore's "outing" will have a long-term effect on homosexuality as a social issue, because it brings it so openly into kids' world. I like to think I just won't tell my kids, "Oh by the way, imagine Dumbledore as gay when you read this" (which I won't) and that that will keep the books sex-free for them (which it won't). I can already imagine conversations on the playground. Hey, that's where I first heard about sex.

    Very good points by the way.

  6. Why does it matter, why bring it up now? I see the whole thing as a publicity stunt.

  7. I have long embraced reader response theory... and listener response theory. If you get "Spanish Eyes", then I definitely get "Don't Stand So Close To Me." by the Police. Does that reveal a little too much about my fantasy life? Also, about Dumbledore, I agree that it's a publicity stunt. Maybe she's missing the limelight a little more than expected.

  8. I don't care about Big D being gay so much except it does get in the way of him being a Christ figure in my reader response interpretation because I don't believe that Christ is gay. But it makes sense that she wrote it that way. She didn't exactly shy away from making political statements in the books.

    And, Zuc, you can still read them. Do, already!

  9. kacy -

    i am so glad you addressed this - i had a whole post about this rolling around in my head saturday night and then i woke up sunday to my mountain in flames.

    i will disagree with you about dumbledore living - i think he had to die for harry to complete his tasks properly. but i see no reason why fred had to die. fred and george are two of my favorite characters.

    i did like how she emphasized molly's maternal and homemaking strengths in her explanation of why molly had to be the one who killed bellatrix. she did raise fred and george - so her magical skills had to be.....extensive.

    i wonder what Bono thought of her announcement?

  10. JK! Making such an announcement so after the fact is just about the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Lame, Lame, Lame! Regardless of the Big D sexual preference. She could have made the announcement that he was really alive and just stuck in another dimension and needed Harry to help him get out. Let the story rest in peace.

    Shame on you for trying to steal the limelight from Spears and Lohan.

  11. I just wish, if she had more to say, that she would put it in another book. But I don't begrudge her the opportunity to share more about who she feels these characters are. She probably is having a hard time withdrawing from all of it - if the readers are, imagine how SHE must feel. :>

  12. I still think it's important to discover what your kids--especially your infants--think of Stairway to Heaven, and Led Zeppelin in general. I realize this is only the means to the end, but here goes:

    Lullaby Renditions

    You may want to skip the track for "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You" just so there is no confusion :-)

  13. Long live Dumbledore!

  14. i'm coming into this discussion extremely late, but i just found your blog and enjoyed the first entries so much, i'm now compelled to read them all. i probably should have started at the beginning instead of the end. oh well!

    anyway, my friend gabby (design mom) was at the forum where JK announced that dumbledore was gay. to hear her tell it, it was very off-hand at not at all a ploy for more publicity. (like she needs any more!) it was in response to a question from an audience member, who asked if dumbledore ever had a great love, and she replied that yes, it was grindlewald... (i think that was his name), because he was gay.

    for what it's worth.

    ps: very much enjoying the blog!


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