When someone says the name J.K. Rowling, certain images always come to mind: a legendary writer, a woman who lived in poverty, a champion for feminism and prominent Trump Troller. She set up the Lumos Foundation to help children grow up in loving families. She is by all means, a wonderful person; I speak from experience having met her on the Half-Blood Prince book launch night back in July 2005. From what I personally experienced with Jo and the way I saw her treat others in the crowd, I whole-heartedly confirm she is a gem. The beaming smile, the friendly chat; she’s so charismatic and treats everybody like an old friend who she hasn’t seen for a long time. Above all, she’s an inspiration…but lately she has found herself at the core of controversy.
J.K. Rowling has revealed that Albus Dumbledore had an “intense sexual relationship,” with dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald in their youth. While their relationship has been a talking point since 2007, the news of their relationship being sexual has whipped the LGBTQ community into a frenzy. Some praised J.K. and some called her out for not including Dumbledore’s sexuality in the main Harry Potter series and instead outed Dumbledore at a Q and A session shortly after the final book’s release in 2007.
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, he was very drawn to this brilliant person and horribly, terribly let down by him.”J.K. Rowling at Carnegie Hall in NYC. 20th October 2007.
I understand that representation is a huge thing for us and in today’s world it is something unquestionable. It’s easier than ever to have representation now. I get that people are upset that Dumbledore wasn’t outed in the books but we have to remember that the first book was written in the 1990s and the series was published between 1997-2007. It became the biggest selling, most commercially successful franchise of the literary world and even if Jo had wanted to out Dumbledore in the books, she wouldn’t have been allowed by her publishers and editors as it may have harmed sales in anti-gay countries. There was enough controversy already with fundamentalist Christians over the use of magic.
As a writer, I understand what it’s like to know your characters inside out. I could talk all day about my characters histories and moments in their lives that don’t ever make it to the books. This is exactly what has happened here. The Harry Potter series was Harry’s story and Dumbledore’s sexuality was never important – he had more important things to worry about, like shaping Harry into a strong wizard, capable of defeating Voldemort. Had he been outed, his relationship with Harry would have been looked at as inappropriate. He would have, to uneducated folk, turned from mentor to paedophile, which he absolutely isn’t.
How Gay is Dumbledore?
Instead of outing him, J.K. cleverly hid hints within the text throughout the books and with the knowledge of his sexuality, small moments gain a new meaning. Most notably he never mentions a Mrs. Dumbledore nor any female love-interest. He’s one of the most famous and greatest wizards of all time. He could have his pick of anyone but he choses not to.
He has a fascination with knitting magazines:
‘No, I was merely reading the Muggle magazines,’ said Dumbledore. ‘I do love knitting patterns. Well, Harry, we have trespassed upon Horace’s hospitality quite long enough; I think it is time for us to leave.’Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Page 73)
His flamboyant language and dress sense (which is always extra, even for Wizards) reveals a classically camp air to his character.
When he looks into the Mirror of Erised (a mirror which shows your heart’s desire) he claims to see “thick woollen socks.” This is an undoubtedly evasive answer to hide the truth. As revealed in Fantastic Beasts 2, it has been confirmed that Dumbledore sees Grindelwald. However, in later years he sees the same as Harry. He sees his family alive and together again.
Throughout the final book (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) we learned about Dumbledore’s past and discovered that there was so much more to him than we ever knew. The story of his “friendship” with Grindelwald is revealed through the Rita Skeeter expose, “The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore.”
Dumbledore and Grindelwald
The book within the book covers many things about Dumbledore’s tragic family life and his meeting with the future dark wizard who came to live in Godric’s Hollow with his great, aunt Bathilda Bagshot. Bathilda was the wizarding author of the History of Magic. Grindelwald had been expelled from Durmstrang, the Eastern European wizarding school, known for its links to the Dark Arts. He had been carrying out “twisted experiments,” that were too much even for Durmstrang. This in itself gives us a clear insight to what Gellert is capable of. Upon his move, he and Dumbledore became instant friends. They both saw brilliance in the other and shared common goals of finding the Deathly Hallows and creating a new world order in which wizards would rule over muggles. In one letter, Dumbledore stresses that wizarding dominance should be done “for the greater good.” It’s the final line of this letter that gives us all we need.
“This was your mistake at Durmstrang! But I do not complain, because if you had not been expelled, we would never have met.”
This line could be innocent and is subtle to say the least but this is from a time period (1899) where their love would have been forbidden. Around this time, during the “Two months of insanity,”as Dumbledore calls them, the two make a blood pact which would prevent them ever fighting each other should they disagree on their grand plan to overthrow muggles and take charge.
Later on the boys agreed that they needed to leave Godric’s Hollow to put their plans into effect but Dumbledore clashed with his brother, Aberforth who wouldn’t let him leave. Dumbledore’s father was in Azkaban, his mother had been killed in a magical explosion caused by Ariana who was unable to control her magic powers and needed constant care. Aberforth turned on the young lovers who were determined to leave together to rule the world.
“Grindelwald didn’t like that at all. He got angry told me what a stupid little boy I was, trying to stand in the way of him and my brilliant brother…And there was an argument…and I pulled out my wand, and he pulled out his and I had the Cruciatus Curse used on me by my brother’s best friend – and Albus was trying to stop him, and then all three of us were duelling…and the flashing lights and the bangs set her off, she couldn’t stand it- and I think she wanted to help, but she didn’t really know what she was doing, and I don’t know which of us did it, it could have been any of us – and she was dead.”Aberforth Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Page 457)
While Dumbledore and Grindelwald couldn’t fight each other because of the blood pact, it would appear that Dumbledore was caught in the middle. We can assume he tried to protect both parties but was still met with tragedy. From that moment on, Dumbledore’s relationship with Grindelwald turned sour.
“Albus (out of shame, or fear?) never saw him again, not until forced to do so by the pleas of the wizarding world. Neither Dumbledore nor Grindelwald ever seems to have referred to this brief boyhood friendship in later life. However, there can be no doubt that Dumbledore delayed, for some five years of turmoil, fatalities and disappearances, his attack upon Gellert Grindelwald. Was it lingering affection for the man or fear of exposure as his once best friend, that caused Dumbledore to hesitate?Was it only reluctantly that Dumbledore set out to capture the man he was so delighted he had met?”Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Page 293)
The above quote really hits the nail on the head. I believe Rita Skeeter knew what had really gone on between them. The quote feels like she’s hinting as much as she can but even she and her sensationalist Quick Quotes Quill, would not resort to outing a dead man. I can imagine her writing it like:
But why did Dumbledore not out himself?
Dumbledore could never, would never reveal his relationship with Grindelwald. Not only did Grindelwald become likened to a Wizarding Hitler; to do so would mean admitting that he had planned on assuming authority over mugglekind and ruling by his side. In later life Dumbledore was known as a “Muggle-Lover,” and became a defender of non-magic folk, so this would have destroyed his good reputation in the Wizarding World. He was so hurt by this relationship that it seems he never loved again. JK Rowling admitted herself that the love between him and Grindelwald was Dumbledore’s “Great tragedy.”
“Muggles forced into subservience. We wizards triumphant. Grindelwald and I, the glorious young leaders of the revolution…Oh, I had a few scruples. I assuaged my conscience with empty words. It would all be for the greater good, and any harm done would be repaid a hundredfold in benefits for wizards. Did I know, in my heart of hearts, what Gellert Grindelwald was? I think I did, but I closed my eyes.”Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Page 573-574)
Grindelwald, being a master of Dark Arts, almost certainly had some sort of hold over Dumbledore and young Albus became infatuated with young Gellert. Now, this is Dumbledore’s first love. Our first love is always the one where we fall too hard and too fast. We are blinded to what’s really going on. Dumbledore was the same. Our first loves shape us, and like we look back at some of our exes who used us or hurt us and we regret them, this would be something that ultimately really hurt Dumbledore. He thought he had met an equal – someone with whom he shared common goals and the two of them could go on to rule the world together but he didn’t initially see the evil within Grindelwald (or chose to ignore it) because he was so blinded by everything else. For those two months, Albus was essentially trapped in a kind of abusive relationship where he followed Gellert, naively, wanting nothing more than to impress him. Something he would later be ashamed of and want to keep quiet.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (page 574)
“Grindelwald lost control. That which I had always sensed in him, though I pretended not to, now sprang into terrible being. And Ariana…after all my mother’s care and caution…lay dead upon the floor.”
Dumbledore gave a little gasp and began to cry in earnest.”
While here, it may appear that Dumbledore is grieving Ariana’s death, if we look closer, it goes back to the feelings of embarrassment that he was duped by Grindelwald’s charm. His shame that the young man he had fallen in love with had manipulated him and ultimately brought about this tragedy, only to flee and leave him alone to suffer the consequences. He was left with the guilt that he would have abandoned his family for Grindelwald; the grief of losing his sister, ruining his family and losing the man he loved and the shame of his obsession with Grindelwald being the cause.
“He ran while I was left to bury my sister and learn to live with my guilt, and my terrible grief, the price of my shame.”Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Page 575)
The Years After
It was a lot for Dumbledore to deal with, again, remembering that the time between 1899 and 1945, homosexuality was still punishable by imprisonment. He couldn’t talk openly about what happened. Dumbledore moved on with his life and became a teacher at Hogwarts. Meanwhile, Grindelwald continued to chase his dreams of establishing wizarding control of the world. He kept the blood pact vial close to his heart, knowing that with it safe, while he could not harm Dumbledore directly, his biggest threat (Albus) could not harm him either. However, Grindelwald was cold and attempted to use others to do his dirty work and dispose of his enemy.
It was in 1927 that Newt Scamander’s Niffler managed to steal the vial and allowed Newt to pass it on to his old teacher. Between here and 1945, Dumbledore somehow found a way to end the blood pact, which prevented him from fighting Grindelwald and led to their final confrontation in 1945.
“They say he feared me, and perhaps he did, but less, I think, than I feared him. Oh, not death…Not what he could do to me magically. I knew that we were evenly matched, perhaps that I was a shade more skilful. It was the truth I feared.”Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Page 575)
Even with the blood pact destroyed, it would have hurt Dumbledore tremendously to accept that he needed to fight Grindelwald. Though he had once loved him, he would also associate him with the death of his sister and the loss of his family. He would be so conflicted but seeing him again would make it very real and reawaken those old, painful memories.
Representation Takes Time
Until now, those years bridging the gap between their meeting and the showdown have been elusive except for the brief mentions of the grand duel but with the Fantastic Beasts series, we finally get to see what happened. When JK Rowling mentioned that Dumbledore would not be explicitly out in Fantastic Beasts 2, there was an outcry from the LGBTQ community, understandably. The idea of a gay character not being portrayed as gay is queerbaiting at its finest. However, the film did subtly address the issue. While subtlety might not seem effective, now that JK Rowling has acknowledged that the later films will address the relationship further, instead of a positive reaction, the outcry has been even more critical than before, resulting in thousands of tiresome memes.
We need to remember that there are going to be five Fantastic Beasts films. We have seen two so far. The second introduced the idea of there being something between the two of them. There are three more films building up to the legendary duel between Dumbledore and Grindelwald. That’s three whole films left to explore the relationship and Dumbledore’s guilt and conflict. The story will have its time in the spotlight. This series is being released in a different world to the original books and films – a world where we can have openly gay characters.
I’m sure everyone would agree though that when writing characters as representation for minority groups, it’s much better to write them sensitively. It makes sense to take time to build a fully rounded character, rather than just force a storyline for the sake of having token representation. Had Dumbledore come in with jazz hands and talked about hot guys or that time he and Grindelwald did it in Godric’s Hollow, it would have felt jarring and desperate. J.K. Rowling knows what she’s doing. She’s carefully crafting her story and she’s writing realistically. Nobody wants forced representation. That can be as damaging as no representation at all. At the end of the day, does Dumbledore’s sexuality have to be screamed from the rooftops? Surely it’s better to write him as a realistic human – to show how he had this relationship with another man but it’s no big deal. It just happened.
“This is a story about two men who loved each other, and ultimately have to fight each other. It’s a story for the 21st century.”David Yates, Director
It was passionate, and it was a love relationship. But as happens in any relationship, gay or straight or whatever label we want to put on it, one never knows really what the other person is feeling. You can’t know, you can believe you know. I’m less interested in the sexual side — though I believe there is a sexual dimension to this relationship — than I am in the sense of the emotions they felt for each other, which ultimately is the most fascinating thing about all human relationships.J.K. Rowling, Writer
Representation is important. It always will be but with this story we just need to have patience. It will be worth it in the end.