J.K. Rowling, just about the only author who could command a full media conference at 8 a.m on a rainy Tuesday (especially without a new book to flog), floated down into Toronto today. The main purpose of her visit was to give a reading for some lucky children (literally lucky—they had to win a lottery for their tickets) as part of Young IFOA, the children’s lit portion of the Harbourfront Literary Festival, and to accept an award for environmental heroism. The math is, in fact, astonishing: printing the last Harry Potter on eco-friendly paper apparently saved nearly 200,000 trees and 7.9 million kg of greenhouse gases. I had no idea publishing alone could save the world.
The children and the trees being the important matters, the meet-the-media part was clearly a chore to be done, if not actually a begrudged add-on. It’s always fun to watch Rowling, who has no need of third-party promotion, deal with the media; that was as true as ever today, what with no future books on the horizon and the news about Albus Dumbledore’ sexual orientation just out.
No press was to be allowed in the kids reading, which naturally irked us, but Rowling has always managed to make the media play by her rules. So we grumbled but did what we were told: showing up at 8; waiting (and waiting etc.); cameras eventually gathered at the front, looked left, relaxed, looked left, relaxed etc. until an exec from Raincoast, Rowling’s Canadian publisher showed up to give us the rules. There would be opening remarks and award presentation then “a very brief press conference with selected questions and no follow-ups—everything has to be wrapped up by 9:10.” Since it’s now 8:50 some restless seat-stirring follows.
Eventually Rowling came out to applause, clicking cameras, the award and her first question: “Why did you reveal that Dumbledore was gay in a way outside the book?” (Because somebody asked me a direct question about him finding love.) Two questions later: “At what stage did you decide Dumbledore was gay?” (No particular moment; I didn’t decide it, I realized it.) Three questions later and a tiny v-mark is starting to appear on Rowling’s forehead: “Do you think some readers will be upset about Dumb …” (Why should they be?) Two more questions on: “Do you expect political problems in countries where homosexuality is frowned on? (Answered more or less with a shrug.)
My turn, and feeling that if she doesn’t pitch something at the next person to Dumbledore-ize, I will, I ask Rowling about how much tweaking her famous already-prepared last chapter needed to fit changes in the story as it developed? (Only the insertion of Teddy Lupin, “so readers would know he was alright. I didn’t have to do that before, because right up to the end of Book 5 I thought Remus Lupin would live.”) Two more questions, then the last one: “Why didn’t you reveal Dumbledore was gay in the book?” By that point, Rowling who is always polite to reporters, was turning quite testy (“If you were an author then you would understand .”)
Dumbledore’ sexuality is clearly the burning question of the day, based—as far as I can see—on two points: its potential to embarrass Rowling (some, at least, of the questioners about it would love to hear her confess she was afraid to be explicit); and a belief that a progressive author owes it to the world to be more militant in his/her progressiveness. Even Rowling would find it hard to argue with the possible extent of her influence: “I know that it was a positive thing that I said it [about Dumbledore], for at least one person, because one man ‘came out’ at Carnegie Hall,” Rowling told us. “I’m not kidding.” But it’s still harder for outsiders to argue with her right to craft her books as she sees fit. My best guess is that Rowling thought she had declared Dumbledore’s gayness in a subtle way, realized later it was too subtle, and took the first opportunity to make it known. Whether she’d write Book 7 differently now … is maybe the question I should have asked. But I was still glad to hear Teddy Lupin was OK.