Saturday, October 27, 2007

Discovery Institute Fellow: Dumbledore is NOT gay

Young-earth creationist and Discovery Institute Fellow John Mark Reynolds has written a pair of articles arguing that Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling's outing of her character Dumbledore as gay doesn't make him so, since the text is silent on the issue. I actually think he makes a reasonable argument, except that he heads in a personally dangerous direction when he writes:

What if Rowling writes a guide to her characters in which she gives new “back story” to the characters?

That too will not matter . . . anymore than I care much about the “Lost Books” (really his notes) that the Tolkien family keeps publishing from the author of Lord of the Rings insofar as it could possibly change the meaning of Tolkien’s main work. The text is fixed and it is as it is. The fact that Tolkien had other ideas about Frodo, Merry, or any other characters is important to discuss how the story came to be, but does not change the meaning of the text, if there is no explicit (or even hint) of the “new” matter.

This seems to be at extreme odds with how most Christians view the Old Testament in light of the New (and, as an aside, how Mormons view the Old and New Testaments in light of the Book of Mormon). It's pretty clear that Christians do hold that the words of the Old Testament have different meanings than Jews attribute to them.

(Via The Panda's Thumb.)

6 comments:

tom said...

"This seems to be at extreme odds with how most Christians view the Old Testament in light of the New (and, as an aside, how Mormons view the Old and New Testaments in light of the Book of Mormon). It's pretty clear that Christians do hold that the words of the Old Testament have different meanings than Jews attribute to them."

Surely that's because they don't take the Bible to be fiction, and thus don't think that the "rules" of interpreting fiction that Reynolds advocates here should apply. No?

Jim Lippard said...

Yep. That's what I get for rushing to make a post as I'm trying to leave the house.

Though the question could be asked--if the writer of fiction is describing an imagined possible world, why can't there be facts about that possible world beyond what is explicitly described in the fiction? And why shouldn't the author be authoritative as to those facts? Reynolds actually seems to contradict himself at the end of his first article, where he suggests that if Rowling wrote a prequel, she could make Dumbledore a homosexual, even though he said that if she wrote an author's guide to her universe that included that fact, it would not be relevant. I'm not sure I see why that wouldn't work.

I still think there's something to my example, but that's because I think there are explicit contradictions between how Jews and Christians view the content of the Old Testament. (And I do think there's quite a bit of fiction involved.)

olvlzl said...

I've always had great respect for the Jewish practice of Pilpul, it is clear from this that there isn't any one meaning attributed to the Hebrew scriptures by those who would know if anyone would. That goes for Christians too, some of which approach the Jewish practice for rigor and seriousness, some are pure garbage.

John Mark Reynolds is just being silly. What an author says about her inventions is authoritative, by definition. It's not as if she didn't drop hints here and there.

tom said...

"Though the question could be asked--if the writer of fiction is describing an imagined possible world, why can't there be facts about that possible world beyond what is explicitly described in the fiction?"

I think the point behind your question is correct, and Reynolds's point is - as ovlzl put it - silly.

I am somewhat sympathetic to the idea that one can appreciate a work of art, music, or literature as it is regardless of the author's intentions. But my sympathy only goes so far: one can plausibly have license to insulate the original work and subjectively choose to experience it isolated from any context, but I'm unconvinced by Reynolds's (much stronger) claim that Dumbledore is not "really" gay (in whatever maximally objective sense is possible for a work of fiction).

A rigorous disagreement with Reynolds (or anyone else) on this issue would ultimately boil down to very empty questions about what it should even mean to say that Dumbledore is or is not homosexual. His first essay (I didn't bother with the second) confirms that: it's a pretty vacuous admixture of truisms and repeated restatements of his own intuitions, with very little actual argument.

tom said...

P.S...

Jim, I'm interested in the Dec. Infidels event. I've been a reader of Infidels and your blog for a couple of years, and I moved to Scottsdale just over a year ago.

Just curious what the event is about: Will there be talks given, or will it be for social & formal/organizational purposes?

Thanks,
-tom

Jim Lippard said...

Tom:

It's purely a social event at the end of a day-long board meeting. I'm trying to bring together a mix of people from different groups--Internet Infidels supporters, IIDB readers, atheist meetup group members, Phoenix Skeptics, people from the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix, and so on. You're very welcome to attend.

Also, I'm planning to attend the Phoenix Skeptics meeting at noon on Saturday, November 3 at Jim's Coney Island Cafe at Scottsdale Rd. and McKellips.