an odd reaction in fandom

By now, everybody’s heard that Dumbledore is gay. That is not, I promise, what this post is about — just the inciting cause of the post.

To entertain myself, I took a brief look at Fandom Wank, wondering what kinds of reactions they were rounding up. (Answer: pretty much the ones you’d expect.) The only link I really followed was one to westeros.org, where they were discussing the issue of “interview canon.” And there I found an attitude that really raised my eyebrows.

I’m paraphrasing here, because several posts I saw raised this point, each one phrasing it differently. But the reaction was something to the effect of, “Authors shouldn’t create canon in their interviews; it should all be in the books.”

Um.

Step back for a moment and look at that. Authors shouldn’t create canon . . . .

Imagine you are a non-fanfic-writing-individual. An author you like gives an interview. They reveal — in response to someone’s question — a detail about the story you didn’t know before, be it that so-and-so is gay, so-and-so grew up in a home with seventeen cats, so-and-so really likes mint chocolate chip ice cream. What is your reaction? Me, I’d think, “oh, that’s interesting,” and enjoy the sense that there’s a real world the author is writing about, that exists beyond the simple words on the pages of the books.

Now imagine that author answering such questions with “Eh, I don’t know.” Makes the world look like those old Hollywood facades, doesn’t it? A pretty front with nothing behind it. What you see is what you get. Kind of boring, really.

Authors shouldn’t create canon in their interviews.

That statement contains a giant roaring assumption that just boggles me: that fanfiction is some how an end goal for what an author does. That authors should be taking the desires of fanficcers into account when writing their books, when talking about their books, when answering the questions of fans. Why? Because apparently it makes things more complicated for the fanficcers, having to track what got said when and whether or not it should count as canon.

If the comments had been phrased in the vein of, “man, now we have to debate whether or not to count that as canon,” I wouldn’t mind. It’s a problem for the people writing fanfic; let them decide how to handle it. But the accusatory tone I saw in some of the comments . . . how inconsiderate of J.K. Rowling, to create canon in her interviews. Apparently she makes a habit of this. The nerve! To know more about her characters than she wrote into the books! To share that information with people when they ask!

Fandom wankery, indeed.

0 Responses to “an odd reaction in fandom”

  1. mrissa

    I think that the question of canon is pretty thoroughly un-authorial. That is not what we do. We write stories. Whether “canon” is in the “accepted points of fact in this particular universe” sense or in the “accepted important points of reference in this particular field” sense, it is somebody else’s job. Or if it’s the same person’s job — like ‘s — they’re wearing a different hat at the time.

    • Marie Brennan

      Exactly. “Canon” (in the sense meant here) is inherently a fanfiction concern. Therefore, let fanficcers be the ones concerned about it. As long as an author has ensured continuity within her own writing, her responsibility in that respect is done.

      • mindstalk

        If you extrapolate “fanfiction” to “fan speculation”. I’m familiar with canon considerations from discussions of Tolkien and Brust’s books, and Bujold. No actual fanfiction was involved (at least, where I was looking) just trying to piece things together and fill in gaps.

        Are orcs really corrupted elves? It’s in the Silmarilion, but that’s just one slice of JRRT’s notes, and we know he was moving in a different but less well-developed direction later on.

        Is Ethan of Athos canon? It’s an actual published novel, but I believe Lois is on record as regretting going near telepathy. Or Hodgell’s “Child of Darkness”.

  2. heyiya

    I see JKR as a bit of a special case when it comes to this stuff. I think the annoyance with her in fandom comes largely from the fact that she doesn’t create canon/a world very *well* in her books (inconsistencies, huge gaping plot holes, etc), and then tries to fix it in interviews — usually much less imaginatively than fans have already done.

    I am fairly pissed off about Dumbledore’s gayness for all the obvious reasons (safe post-sales announcement, only gay character is dead and asexual, queer love leads to evil, by tokenizing this one gay character she makes a disavowal of the queer coding that’s been read, I think validly, onto several younger and sexier characters she made a mad dash to heterosexualize). The possibilities JKR leaves out of her universe are far more interesting to me than the ones she writes in; I don’t approach her books the same way I do those by writers whose world-building I respect and admire, from whom I am always eager to hear more about their characters.

    • Marie Brennan

      While you’re right about the less-than-watertight construction of her world, I wouldn’t characterize her comments in interviews as all an attempt to “patch holes.” She’s made it abundantly clear that she thinks about her characters well beyond what she puts into the books — she knows all kinds of stuff about Dean Thomas’ family that never became relevant, frex — so when people ask, she tells them.

      Do I believe she thought of Dumbledore as gay? Yes, actually; the revelation made me nod and say, “okay, I can see that.” Do I wish she had made it explicit in the books? Yes, certainly. I’m not sure I think that the possibility of reading other characters in a queer light means she was making a “mad dash to heterosexualize” them — heck, someone who read my first novel said he thought one of the secondary characters was in love with the protagonist. From my perspective, there was no such relationship, but I can recognize how someone might read it that way. I can easily see that being the case with (say) Lupin, everybody’s favorite example. It doesn’t mean Rowling changed her mind on him one way or the other.

      Nothing says you personally have to be eager to hear more about these characters. The relevant thing here is that some people are eager, and there’s no good reason Rowling shouldn’t answer their questions.

      • heyiya

        I don’t have any problem with her answering the questions, or with her knowing her characters — I guess I was just stating why I sympathize with the fans who find her add-ons irritating, and why I sympathize more with regard to JKR than with the same irritation when it’s applied to other authors.

        I’m quite sure that Rowling had Dumbledore’s gayness in mind all the time, if she says so (I certainly always read the Dumbledore/Grindelwald relationship as a love affair), and that she never intended Lupin to read queer. However, I don’t think she wasn’t aware of the speculation on her queer-looking characters or of the way HP as a whole has often been read as a coming-out narrative; therefore I do see a certain connection between those speculations and her post-series declarations.

        But I am more interested in the novels’ reception and appropriation within certain communities than I am in JKR’s intentionality; I don’t mind that she *has* an intentionality, but a gay Dumbledore doesn’t change the fact that her characterizations shut down the queer identificatory possibilities in the novels. I like the way fans take those possibilities back, and so I quite purposefully read through those lenses rather than the official ones. I don’t have the quote handy, but Alexander Doty articulates the kind of queer reading/viewing practice I’m talking about very nicely.

        • Marie Brennan

          Heck, people usually read through the lens of their preferred interpretation, whether consciously or unconsciously. Frex: my subconscious refuses to acknowedge that near the end of The Long Run, Daniel Keys Moran has a whole set of scenes about Trent getting biosculpture. I cannot see him as a Hispanic man, regardless of how vitally necessary that change was to the subsequent plot. He still looks like Trent in my head, and always will.

    • anghara

      That’s part of both the problem and the charm of ROwling – anything can happen and usually does.

      I have no problem with Dumbledore’s being gay or not gay, canon-gay or not-canon-gay, in-text or out-of-text – in short, I have no problem with any of this whatsoever.

      But I do think (call me just a LITTLE cynical) that whatever you might say about Rowling as a writer she’s a master at marketing. Wow, look at this – after the whole Potter SUmmer that we had, when you couldn’t throw a hypothetical rock in or out of the Internet without hitting something to do with Harry Potter – angsting about spoilers, who leaked what, will Harry live or die, whatever, you name it – the furor (and the intense interest) begins to die down in October. WHAM – Rowling comes up with something that’s practically guaranteed to keep her name (and Harry’s) up there in lights, and kachinging the cash registers. She could not have been more spot on – hot on the heels of her “christian allegory” mutterings comes the revelation that one of the lynchpin characters (now safely dead, mind you) is/was GAY. Shock, horror. As if the Christian Right didn’t have enough to complain about with all that witchcraft and the disgusting way those books are corrupting our children, wouldn’t you know – now we have the revelation that the HEADMASTER of a SCHOOL with CHILDREN IN IT is GAY?!?! (I’ve already seen the “Christian” posts about this. If there is a GOd, why can’t he strike down the hypocrites?…

      Sigh.

      The bottom line is, it’s Rowling’s universe. SHE is God in theere. SHE decides what happens or does not happen or who or what her characters are. She, and she alone. WIhtout her there would have BEEN no Dumbledore. It’s an imperfect world that she has built, to be sure, and some parts of it are distinctly wobbly – but they’re her wobbles. I never read past book 3 in the Potter series, for several reasons – one was that while I enjoyed the books I just couldn’t get exercised about them to the extent that I wanted to be involved in a book – and my own worldbuilding is much more rigorous than hers, I double check things to make sure they all fit together, I don’t leave holes that I can plug – on the other hand I’ve never written a seven-book series so how would I know what that means, anyway…

      Eh. Leave poor Dumbledore in peace, I say. It’s okay to be gsy. I’m just not sure if it adds anything at all to the story – other than generating controversy and keeping up the interest and therefore the sales numbers – to reveal Dumbledore’s sexual peccadilloes out of school, as it were, and with no apparent particular relevance to the status quo. It feels rather like someone spraypainted the word “faggot” on his headstone in a misguided attempt to keep his memory alive.

      • heyiya

        whatever you might say about Rowling as a writer she’s a master at marketing.

        Oh, so very very true.

        As if the Christian Right didn’t have enough to complain about with all that witchcraft and the disgusting way those books are corrupting our children, wouldn’t you know – now we have the revelation that the HEADMASTER of a SCHOOL with CHILDREN IN IT is GAY?!?!

        To be fair to JKR, we do have to remember that she doesn’t ordinarily live in a world with the Christian Right in it (though as per your previous comment, I am sure she’s highly aware of her American market). The UK mainstream is a lot less homophobic than the UK mainstream. I haven’t seen the British mainstream press reaction (I live in the US), but Britain has civil partnerships, antidiscrimination legislation for sexual orientation and gender presentation in the workplace, and these issues are not controversial; Doctor Who is a family/kids show and has Captain Jack and lots of queer representation. Gayness is a lot more speakable in the mainstream there.

        • Marie Brennan

          Now I’m curious as to how that affected the reading of Lupin by UK audiences. I mean, here it’s easy to read his situation as a metaphor for homosexuality (he has a socially-unacceptable “condition,” people don’t want him teaching their children — even the rhetoric about men marrying their dogs/giving into bestial urges is echoed in his lycanthropy). Even before you get to the close relationships with male friends, it’s an easy setup to read as queer. But was that more common among American readers than UK ones?

          • heyiya

            I don’t want to come across painting the UK as a queer paradise! There may be no Christian right, but the prevalence of queer(ish) representation and the laws I mentioned are recent. Up until just a few years ago, it was illegal to “promote homosexuality” in schools (a Thatcher law, google ‘Section 28’ if you’re interested in finding out about it). And the anti-discrimination employment laws mean people have recourse for being treated badly and it it is officially ‘wrong’ but I doubt they have changed things in every workplace. Lupin’s experiences are definitely close in cultural memory, and probably still being reproduced in practice. (Although I think there was a strong dose of AIDS rhetoric in the representation of his lycanthropy, too, and I believe JKR may actually have done that on purpose).

            and I think that Lupin’s experiences

          • Marie Brennan

            Yes, I’m pretty sure she meant for it more to be read as a metaphor for disease than sexuality.

      • Marie Brennan

        While I will gladly admit to (and possibly bow to) her marketing success, unless you think the person who asked the question was a plant, I don’t think she orchestrated the timing of that particular revelation. The timing of the Carnegie Hall event? Certainly. But if nobody had asked about Dumbledore and love, I don’t know that we would have heard about it now.

        • anghara

          Oh, no, not at all – the marketing genius in question kicks in when she’s presented with opportunity. The person wasn’t a plant (well, it would have taken a HUGE amount of planning, if that person WAS actually smuggled in there to ask That Particular Question) but the response was… kind of… yes, I know it’s her world and she can do what she likes with it but it was just so damned *un-necessary*. It teeters on the edge of, and probably falls over into, TMI territory. The Harry stories were HARRY stories – and what Dumbledore did or did not do, unless it impacts on Harry directly, is kind of… not…yanno…RELEVANT, as such. It just feels like a little bit of post-summer-sales-slump-interest-stirring excercise to me. Maybe I’m maligning her. I don’t know. I’m trying to put myself into her shoes, and figure out what I’d answer if anyone asked me about the early background of any of my teachers in the “Worldweavers” books – and I don’t know that I would go this far. What the students of the school don’t know and never found out, the reader doesn’t really know either – *I* might, but that’s a different can of worms.

          Example – I have someone who has been described as being “Exiled”, apparently for some sort of wrongdoing on her part. I never explain what sort of wrongdoing it was. It doesn’t MATTER. Water under the bridge, and all that. If the character in question had sat down with one of my protags and said something more detailed about the matter, then sure, maybe it would be apposite to elaborate. But the Dumbledore we saw in the Harry Potter books – although he might have been shaped by his tragic past and made into this or that kind of person – is entitled to the privacy of that past. DId Harry ever know or suspect that Dumbledore was gay? If not, why should we? The books were pretty much focused on Harry and his pals and Dumbledore was there as the incidental kindly stern headmaster. That is all.

          I don’t care either way, really. I just, at this juncture, find it a little Rita Skeeter-ish.

          • Marie Brennan

            Well, but Dumbledore’s relationships in his youth became very relevant in the last book, with questions being raised about both Grindelwald (the one he was apparently in love with) and his family. So Rowling was shedding light on something already in the story, not supplying something out of nowhere.

            And for my own part, I think I’d be happy to share anything about the characters or the world that’s in my head, if someone cared enough to ask.

  3. tybalt_quin

    That statement contains a giant roaring assumption that just boggles me: that fanfiction is some how an end goal for what an author does. That authors should be taking the desires of fanficcers into account when writing their books, when talking about their books, when answering the questions of fans. Why?

    I agree. If an author wants to give additional details about their work or the world they’ve created in an interview, then it’s a free give on their part and it’s usually an interesting new window on what they’ve done/are doing.

    Where I do have some sympathy for fanficcers is where an author gives an interview that directly contradicts something that they’ve written in the books.

    To come back to Rowling for a moment, she’s had some instances where she’s given out information on character ages that directly contradicts how the time-line in her books appears to operate. I understand Rowling’s difficulty in that she’s often been put on the spot with a point that doesn’t make a huge difference to anyone but her most obsessive fans, but having been in that fandom community for a while, I can also understand why the fans get so frustrated if the answer simply doesn’t work. In that situation, I wonder whether she wouldn’t be better off saying that she thinks it’s supposed to work in an xyz type manner but she can’t be certain.

    Besides, the big reveal in that interview wasn’t Dumbledore being gay, it was Neville marrying Hannah Abbott and living over a pub. Trust the media and internet to miss the key point …

    • Marie Brennan

      Yes, clearly her books promote an alcoholic lifestyle. We must ban them, to protect the children!

      My personal interpretation of canon would be, books trump off-the-cuff comments made when she doesn’t have her notes to hand. I mean, have some pity, folks. Virtually every author who has ever written a long-running series with a large cast of characters gets things wrong. Books have the advantage of revision, of editors and copy-editors who should be helping catch and fix such mistakes; inaccuracies there are a valid thing to complain about. But errors made in a casual context? Nobody’s memory is perfect.

      • tybalt_quin

        :nods:

        Again, I agree with you. But. I do have a feeling that Rowling made a bit of a rod for her own back because a big deal was made about how she had every aspect of her world planned out and jotted down in notebooks. Having seen one of those notebooks in the National Portrait Gallery a few years ago, I can attest to their being pretty comprehensive but I wonder to what extent it means she feels pressured to give an answer to questions she simply never thought about (you know – the key ones like whether Hermione likes ramen noodles). The word is that she’s producing an encyclopaedia of Potterdom, which should be the definitive guide to everything, but she’ll never escape the really obsessive fans.

        • Marie Brennan

          I wonder how much series authors think about that these days, given how the Internet has facilitated that level of communal attention to detail. Frankly, I’m a little intimidated at the thought of people memorizing every last crumb of information I write.

          • tybalt_quin

            Frankly, I’m a little intimidated at the thought of people memorizing every last crumb of information I write.

            :makes a note of this for future reference:

            πŸ˜€

  4. querldox

    That reaction by some doesn’t surprise me overmuch. While a definite minority, there are fanficcers who are obsessive enough that they end up seeing the characters/setting as theirs, rather than the original creator’s (with multiple rationalities given; “Clearly Star Wars Eps 1-3 show that Lucas never really knew what he was doing and I understand the universe so much better”, “Foo has quit writing about characters/setting X, and I’m keeping them alive”, etc. Recall that case a while back where a fan threatened to sue Marion Zimmer Bradley if she wrote anything about a particular time period in her universe since the fan had written a story set then that Bradley had happened to read?

    • Marie Brennan

      Heck, I don’t claim to understand the Star Wars universe better than Lucas, but I’ve come up with a much better arc for 1-3. <g>

  5. deadboxoffice

    A friend of mine was at the event at Carnegie Hall. She said that the audience reaction ranged from shrieks of joy to tears to people walking out. It’s strange to me to see the sense of entitlement that fans seem to have over another person’s art. I’m sure that J.K. isn’t losing any sleep over it, though.

    Here’s to hoping that you have to deal with such issues someday… and the millions that come with it. πŸ™‚

    Stay well,

    -Shawn

    • Marie Brennan

      Yeah, I’d be crying all the way to the bank. <g>

      It’s a double-edged sword, really. You want people to care deeply about what you write . . . but if they do care deeply, then you’re going to get extreme reactions, some of them negative. Gay activists who love you for saying Dumbledore is gay, gay activists who hate you for saying he’s gay after he’s dead and the series is over, homophobes who feel betrayed by what they perceive as a bait-and-switch, radical right-wingers who hated you from the start anyway, slashers who knew it all along, cynics who think it’s nothing more than a post facto marketing trick.

  6. Anonymous

    Here, here. Imagine the gall of that woman! Answering a question about her work that she may or may not have wanted to put into print before the series was done! *GASP*

    This is why so many fanficcers drive me batshit crazy. And I seriously despise the term “canon”. It is the singularly most grating word for me, as I work frequently in existing licenses (Babylon 5, Conan, etc.). So long as the work doesn’t change what has been written, who cares if it colours the edges, y’know?

    Cheers for posting this,
    Bry

    • Marie Brennan

      It would be easier if “what has been written” were truly clear-cut, but of course it isn’t. If you’ve been assuming one thing all along, then having your assumption be proven wrong can be disorienting. Done well, it’s awesome — oh my god, that changes everything! — but done badly, it feels like an irritating retcon. (Case in point: goddamned midichlorians.)

      I always marvel at people who work on license projects, whether it’s tie-ins for a media property or shared-world material. I suppose it’s technically no worse than working in a historical period (I’m waiting for the Elizabethan freaks to prove they know their history better than I do) — but man, some media properties seem to have tied themselves in knots as to what is supposed to be true and what isn’t.

      • princess706

        It’s truly funny because Bry knows so very much about the universes that he has license to play in… and yet knows so little about the world we live in. ::giggle::

        But then, don’t get me started on fan-ficcers who insist that what “they do” is no different, and sometimes better, than what Bry “does.”

        I’m just going to sit back and be amazed at y’all. I can’t even write my damn grocery list most days… πŸ˜‰

  7. Marie Brennan

    Exactly. A situation where every detail was in the book would result in a crappy book, either because it’s flimsy and lacking depth, or because it’s weighted down by a lot of irrelevant crap.

  8. raisinfish

    I can understand ignoring statements made in interviews as canon. Authors are always suspect, after all. They’ll tell you they meant one thing, but if you can find another angle in the text, it’s yours to find. Meaning is at least partially manufactured by the reader (though some texts are clearly resistant to some meanings) in my opinion.

    But to say that an author shouldn’t talk about their own texts, as to what they intended or didn’t intend?

    That’s a bit insane.

    • Marie Brennan

      Exactly. Decide for yourself what’s canon and what isn’t; produce your reading according to whatever criteria you want. But that doesn’t mean the author is constrained to keep her mouth shut.

  9. kendokamel

    Some Guy with a Website had some similar thoughts… (;

    • Marie Brennan

      <g> He seems much more down on fanfic than I am (though it’s hard to tell how much that’s tongue-in-cheek), but yeah — part of me’s sitting here thinking, “she slashed him before you ever thought of it.”

  10. unforth

    At the risk of drawing fire, I’m gonna say that I agree with what you wrote, and I especially agree with the commentary in many of the comments, but I think that you come down a little hard on fan ficcers.

    Why? Because I was a little annoyed that this got said in an interview, also. Because I’m NOT in the fandom heavily, and if it wasn’t for LJ I’d never have heard about it at all, and it’s the kind of thing I find vaguely interesting. I suppose it would have been elucidated in the Encyclopedia, which I’m obviously the sort to buy, so I’m gonna down and defend the fanficcers a little bit and say that to some extent I think they are right that there is something a little aggravating and inappropriate about putting lots of information that we’d like to have known not in the books.

    That said, the idea of “creating canon” is a bit ludicrous. I doubt many authors think of what they are doing when they right as “creating canon” – I know that it’s never even occurred to me in regards to my own writing (though that’s a bit different since I don’t plan to publish what I’m writing). I think that the fandom’s devotion to the idea that every single word that she says – even the contradictory ones – have to be fit in is problematic. I know that there are things that I think about the series that she could come right out and say were untrue (heck, given my knowledge of her interviews, she may have already done so!) and I’d still not change my mind, because my interpretation is supported by the text, imo, and that’s good enough.

    Anyway, people have made lots of interesting points already, I just wanted to toss in that I think it’s pretty legitimate to be annoyed with an author for putting important info in interviews rather than in books, but at the same time I think that interpretation is the reader’s playground, whereas content is the authors – she can put whatever she wants in her world, it’s her world, but we control how we think of it and what we do with it. πŸ™‚

    I’m still gonna be writing that fanfic when I finish my novel…. πŸ™‚

    • Marie Brennan

      You may have wanted to know this information. Other people? Are (or were) perfectly happy not knowing it. Some people want to know everything, down to each character’s favorite flavor of ice cream; that can’t all go into the story. In the end, a writer has to make decisions about what to include and what not to include, based not as much on what people want (because that varies wildly and can’t be known for sure,) but rather on what serves the story they’re telling.

      The best argument I’ve seen for not putting this information into the books is, it didn’t fit there. We’re in Harry’s point of view (which is notorious for not seeing clearly), dealing with an extremely private man who half the time doesn’t share necessary information, let alone little side details about his own love life. I personally would have liked to see it come out somehow, but I can see a valid argument for it not being in there.

  11. moonandserpent

    I’m with the ficcers on this one. Sure they’re using words like “canon” but aren’t what they’re really arguing about authorial intent?

    Compare the Dumbledore-is-gay thing with Ridley Scott’s comments about Blade Runner a few years back. Years of debate about the film, lots of arguments about who is a replicant and who isn’t. Lots of readings of the movie, ect. And then back in ’01 or so, Scott states in an interview that while he told Harrison Ford and Co, otherwise, that Ford’s character was in fact a replicant.

    Cue the critical film snob and fan reaction hate. (Inc a pissed off Harrison Ford.) Scott’s authorial reading of the text isn’t very well supported by the film itself and is not answered anywhere in the movie. But Scott drops his bomb in an interview and boom, suddenly it’s “canon”.

    While many ficcers are all sorts of possessive, and creepy and come off as strangely entitled; perhaps some of them have a point that awesome revelations about the text are best left in the text and not in interviews where “the correct reading” is revealed.

    • moonandserpent

      And no one is… strike that… I’m not arguing that Rowling’s statement takes away someone’s ability to make their own readings of the books. But it does shut down a lot of conversation in a variety of circles.

    • Marie Brennan

      I think there are several valid arguments to make in favor of her putting Dumbledore’s orientation in the books, rather than talking about it after the fact. (Also a few good ones against it.) But the phrasing here automatically frames the debate in a particular light that strikes me as skewed.

  12. uninv1ted

    Authors shouldn’t create canon? Wow, where do these people think all that canon comes from? To me, it’s backstory, it part of of the author’s plan. These people clearly don’t get that not everything an author writes ends up in the actual book.

    Perhaps I’m generalising there a bit and I’m sure there is the odd author here and there who pulls something out of his or her backside after publishing, but surely for most authors, IT’S THE PLAN! They know more about their own characters than anyone else. Who are these people to contradict that? And if they are really that upset over something, whether it’s in a book or said after, that’s what the fanfic is for.

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