Friday, July 10, 2009

Gay literary characters

This is a post I have been meaning to write for a while. At the end of May, I finished reading the fourth Fablehaven book by Brandon Mull. I've always liked to read, but I don't read nearly as much as I used to, and about the only thing that keeps my interest is fantasy, and I haven't even read much of that; just Harry Potter, Fablehaven, Ender's Game and Twilight recently; Lord of the Rings a few years back, and of course books like A Wrinkle in Time and The Chronicals of Narnia as a child/adolescent.

Anyway, one thing that I have thought about over the last year is a conversation that happened at a Relief Society book group gathering about 2 years ago. It was only a few months following the release of the final Harry Potter book, and a discussion started about how J.K. Rowling had announced that Dumbledore was gay. Our discussion consisted of things like, "I love Dumbledore, but why did she have to do that?" and "Okay, fine, if she intends for him to be gay. But why bother telling us?" At that point in my life, I viewed homosexuality as more of a choice, and I honestly agreed with the other sisters in my ward with this disappointing announcement. In fact, I believe I was the one that said, "why bother telling us?" and interestingly enough, that is the same response Scott received from his little brother and other members of his family when he came out last year. Interesting how life and attitudes can change so quickly.

Now, as I think about it, wow... yes, I have always loved Dumbledore. And now, gay guys are my favorite people in the whole world! I don't mean to stereotype here, but all of our gay Mormon friends are so kind and sensitive and intelligent and philosophical and amazing, all qualities that I would also use to describe Dumbledore!

I guess for a lot of you that have been out longer than Scott, this is old news, but here is what my research today found.

October 2007

Question asked in an interview with J.K. Rowling. The answer given by the author elicited a huge reaction and prolonged ovation.
Did Dumbledore, who believed in the prevailing power of love, ever fall in love himself?

My truthful answer to you... I always thought of Dumbledore as gay. [ovation.] ... Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald, and that 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... [laughter]. I had to write a little note in the margin and slide it along to the scriptwriter, "Dumbledore's gay!" [laughter] If I'd known it would make you so happy, I would have announced it years ago!

What a sweet response from the audience! Imagine if the interview were in front of a largely LDS audience. Instead of ovation and laughter, there would have been stunned, awkward silence, I bet! At least, that is the way I would have reacted two years ago.

I think I need to re-read the Harry Potter books with this new information in mind, or at the very least, the last book.

Anyway, back to Fablehaven: Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary. One of my students loaned me the book a week after it was released (so, end of March, beginning of April). I rather liked book 1 and book 3, and book 2 was okay, but for some reason, every time I tried to read book 4, I fell asleep. I don't know why...I don't think the story line was any less interesting. But I had to finish the book and return it to the student before school was over, so I forced myself to keep reading. Toward the end of the book, a new character and hero is revealed, and after that, I had no trouble staying interested in the book.

If you plan to, but have not read the book, this is possibly somewhat of a spoiler...

Anyway, I don't know if it is just me seeing the world through rainbow-colored glasses lately, but I swear the author purposely gave this character gay characteristics, which surprised me, with Brandon Mull being LDS and all... (there I go stereotyping again, Mormons this time).

What do you think? Here are a few excerpts about this character, Raxtus, who is a dragon...

Its gleaming armor of silvery white scales reflected a flimmering rainbow sheen... (page 401)


"There are no other dragons like me," Raxtus admitted. "See, when I was still in my egg, a cockatrice got into the nest...but some fairies intervened and rescued me. ...I was incubated and hatched by fairy magic, and I came out . . . unique."

"You're beautiful," Kendra admired. "And nice."

The dragon gave a snuffling, annoyed laugh. "I get that a lot. I'm the pretty dragon. The funny dragon. Problem is, dragons are supposed to be fearsome and awe-inspiring. Not witty. Being the funny dragon is like being the bald mammoth. Being the pretty dragon is like being the ugly fairy. Get it?"

"You get teased?"

"I wish I only got teased! Mocked would be more accurate. Scorned. Berated. Shunned..." (page 405)

"My dad is Celebrant the Just. He's basically the king of dragons. The biggest, the stongest, the best. And I am his greatest disappointment. Raxtus the fairy dragon."


"I'm barely half a dragon, Kendra. The rest of me is glitter and fairy dust."


"Can you turn into a human?" Kendra wondered.

"Like an avatar? A human version of myself? Not really. I mean, I've tried. But it doesn't work out well. I can't manage to look like a person...I look like a boy fairy with butterfly wings."

Anyway, I could keep going, but I think you get the idea. What do you think? This dragon ends up being the hero of the story, and it is awesome! It almost makes up for another part of the story that is incredibly disappointing.

Does anyone happen to know Brandon Mull personally at all? Did he intend to potray gay men in a good light with the addition of this character? I am tempted to email him and ask him...

Regardless, though, I was pleased. What a difference authors of popular young adult fiction like this can make with gay characters in their books. I applaud them.

1 comment:

Alan said...

What I know about fantasy fiction Sarah would barely wet the inside of Simon's sippy cup. So I'll defer to you on this, but I was intrigued by the connections you made here. I think you should track down Mull and ask him straight out (pardon the pun) if that's what he intended, and applaud him if he did.