Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Who Owns Fictional Characters?

First off, thanks very much to the amazing Ginger Clark for her guest post yesterday -- not only is she a great agent, I think she has a future as a blogger. Also, linking to her PublishersMarketplace page reminded me that I also have a PublishersMarketplace page that I recently updated, so please check it out. It will blow your mind. (not really.) But please at least take a look, that html code doesn't write itself.

So as I'm sure you've heard by now, Dumbledore is gay. I knew I should have read those sequels!!! But here's the thing: those who have read the books tell me that he doesn't even so much as hold hands with anyone. Hmmm...

This we know: he's a bachelor (not this kind), he kind of maybe liked this other wizard dude but it's kind of ambiguous.... Oh! and JK Rowling says he is. But then, the New York Times kind of put him back in the closet, basically saying it doesn't matter.

In order to decide whether or not Dumbledore actually is gay, it opens up a bigger literary can of worms. Who gets final say on the interpretation of a character, especially when the evidence on the page is ambiguous? Does the author get final say based on her intention? Do the readers get final say based on what's there on the page? Who gets to decide?

So you tell me: who owns the characters on a page? The Author? The readers? A combination?






76 comments:

ejk said...

The author, no doubt, gets the ultimate say becasue he/she CREATED the character.

But, I think most authors would be okay with readers having their own unique interpretations as well.

cynjay said...

Stephen King has a great bit in On Writing about how writing is telepathy - writers write an image and somewhere down the line, readers receive that image. Not to say that it's the same image once it gets there.

I think ultimately, the film companies own the character - that's how everyone will think of any character once it's been on the big screen.

Roxan said...

While the character is being written it belongs to the author. He/she can bend it to their will.
Once it becomes published it becomes the interpretation of the reader.
I agree with cynjay. Once the film companies make a character, that's what it become.

V L Smith said...

I think the characters are much like your own children. You create them, you give them life and nurture them. You try to protect them and mold them. You know everything about them - their likes, their dislikes, their favorite foods, how they got the scar on their chin, etc. But once you send them out in into the world, they take on a life of their own. They become influenced by new people and new perspectives. At that point, while they will always be your babies, they are now on their own and you can no longer protect them...or redefine them.

Anonymous said...

Dumbledore is gay because J.K. says he is, and that is FINAL!

Marlene Dotterer said...

The author is god in this case. She knows things about her characters that may never be available to the public. But that only goes so far. The reader has his own interpretation and that's what matters to the reader.

Since Rowling has given us more information (or maybe, TMI) we, as readers, can add it to our interpretation. For me, this info has no affect on the story. Dumbledore's sex life had no relevance at all to the plot or the outcome or any of the characters. Knowing this just kind of "rounds out" the character.

I don't think the film companies own a character, even though that's the one everyone sees. The character is still the author's, as much as our kids are always our kids.

Kate H said...

Fundamentally, I agree with V L Smith. But in this particular case, I think Dumbledore cannot be gay because neither I nor my husband nor any of my friends who are HP fans ever suspected he was gay while we were reading the books. (It's not unusual for a sage type to be celibate.) If a quality does not come through on the page, it isn't authentic. The author has blown it. (I would say she blew it by pretending that he's gay rather than by not showing it more clearly, especially since these are supposed to be children's books, but that's just me.)

Josh said...

I'd say the author can always take reader opinion into consideration, but it is their creation, their story, and their say in the end.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

The author.

But that doesn't take away from reader interpretation. I mean, look at the Talmud!

Melanie Avila said...

Nathan, I noticed you say on your Publisher's Marketplace page that you're interested in narrative nonfiction, but don't mention memoir. Would memoir be included in that category?

I'm writing my memoir which is why I'm interested - I plan to query you when I'm ready!

To answer the post question, I think the author has the ultimate say about the characters, but the public certainly has a right to express their opinions. In this case it's especially noteworthy that Rowling came forward with this information, rather than responding to public speculation (unless I'm mistaken - I haven't read the books.)

Nathan Bransford said...

Melanie-

I definitely represent memoir. Thanks for asking!

Heidi the Hick said...

To add to the comparison of our characters and our children: We invent fictional characters and raise our children for many reasons. We love them, we want to experience their growth, but ultimately they must leave us!

A writer, in my opinion, has to create an entire world for that character to inhabit. I have to know what my Fake People like to eat, like to listen to, and wear, even if it doesn't figure into the story, because it makes that person more real to me. If he's not real to me, he'll never be real to the reader.

I can see why JKR never mentioned Dumbledore's orientation. It was totally unnecessary to the story!!! I hear a lot of anger out of people that she dared to throw this in after all's said and done and printed and sold. Why shouldn't she? If asked, she'll tell. She invented him.

Of course she isn't going back and changing things. This admission doesn't change anything.

Who owns Dumbledore? She does. And she handed him over to us, he's become part of our popular culture, and we get to share in her world, his world, our own little brain movie as we read.

Those characters have become ours because she created them and wrote about them. There. Clear as mud?

Josephine Damian said...

Nobody. It's just like real people. You meet someone new, you see all sorts of positive qualities and similarities to yourself - you click.

Meanwhile your best friend meets the same person and sees only negative things and the very qualities that you liked are the ones that push your friend's buttons.

Some people, ie. the writer, may portray a character as nice and sweet - but certain readers see the character as a sap who lets everyone walk all over them.

Writer or reader, it's all about frame of reference - nobody "owns" the character, and everyone isn't going to view the character in the same way regardless of intent.

Nonny said...

The author created the characters. She has the final say. Period.

Readers, however, are welcome to interpret the books as they please. If you take five people and give them a book, they will almost certainly all read it a different way.

The problem comes when readers insist that their interpretation is God, and how dare the author announce something about the character that disagrees with their personal interpretation. That's not okay. They aren't the ones who created the story in the first place.

Wendelin said...

If you only knew the debate that's shaking fandom now to its roots! There's the "Dumbledore is asexual, as per the books" camp, and there's the "Whatever JKR says is gold" camp. I myself am in the "Why the heck couldn't she put that in the books" camp. Dumbledore being gay may not make much of a difference to the story, and may not have any bearing on the plot, but his being in love with Grindelwald certainly does. In the King's Cross chapter, when Dumbledore is essentially in confession with Harry (at one point he says, "I have no secrets from you any more") why couldn't he have said words to the effect of, "I loved Grindelwald. It blinded me to who he was"?

My guess is that either this is one of those things JKR makes up off the top of her head in interviews (not uncommon, and there was a lot of criticism for the stifling heteronormativity of the HP books after DH came out), or she coldly and calculatedly left out overtly outing Dumbledore in the books so as to not lose readership. Both options leave me with far less respect for JKR than I used to have.

As to who owns the characters now? It's us. The NYT gets to keep believing Dumbledore was asexual. Crazy fanfiction writers get to keep believing Dumbledore had a hot affair with the giant squid of Hogwarts lake. Some of us will reread the books with Dumbledore-loved-Grindelwald in mind. Others will burn their books because OMG, this guy dresses flaboyantly and makes stupid jokes and is SO GAY it's disgusting. Still others will snicker a bit when they read Dumbledore saying, "Let us now step out into the night to pursue that flighty temptress, adventure."

Once published, characters belong to the reader's imaginations alone. I, for one, wish JKR would shut up and stop giving out arbitrary details about them.

Kim Lionetti said...

Nathan--

What an awesome question!

When I'm submitting my clients' work, of course the characters are all THEIRS. But as a lifelong booklover, I can definitely see the other side as well. Reading is such an intimate experience. I defy anyone to tell me that Mr. Darcy isn't mine...ALL MINE!

Don said...

Wow, suddenly it's 1989 and I'm sitting in Professor Reed's Critical Theories class. There are two key essays here by Wimsatt and Beardsley. The Intentional Fallacy and The Affective Fallacy. My education was heavily steeped in the New Criticism with a minor dose of Deconstructionism (which could be viewed as the fulfillment of New Criticism). The New Critical line would be that all that matters is what's in the text. To move on to Deconstructionism, we add in the idea that, there is no outside the text. So Rowling's statement is part of the text, but it doesn't have a privileged status because she wrote it. The Barry Trotter books, fan sites and even the comments on this blog could be considered part of the whole broad text. A good deconstructionist critique has a sense of play (in both the sense of "playing with toys" and play as freedom of movement) about it, which is somewhat unsettling in that there is not fixed meaning, but probably is closest to the truth about literature: After all, with Rowling's statement, the meaning of the text has changed whether you want it to be or not, just like reading a biography of an author can change one's perceptions of that author's work.

Erik said...

"Ownership" is such a fascist bourgeois concept. Just let it go.

:-)

Onovello said...

Gee, I always saw Dumbledore as having no sexual orientation -- at least, none at the point where the series begins. He's always seemed kind of like the Zen Master who has risen above earthly desires.

But that brings to mind a question: does anyone else think Rowling may be setting us all up for her next series, starting with Dumbledore's student days?

Luc2 said...

Personally, I'd like to have some things left to my imagination. If it isn't clear in the books, the writer should leave it alone.

But this is a consequence of the publishing world becoming a business, IMO. Despite Rowling's reluctance to be in the spotlight, she has to give interviews, book signings etc., and is expected to say something interesting every time. And with a crowd of fans assaulting her with backstory questions, she found a good opportunity to get media coverage.

It's clear that fansites and blogs like this cover it, but I'm amazed that this was on every major news website and in big newspapers. THIS IS A FICTIONAL CHARACTER! People die daily of AIDS, war and famine, and Dumbledore hits the headlines.

It's time Paris Hilton did something stupid again.

Ulysses said...

Who owns fictional characters?

I do! (Bwahaha!)
Pay me.

I believe writing is like every other art: a collaboration. I put into it what I think ought to be there. You're free to fill in the rest, and get out of my words whatever you want. There doesn't have to be any correspondence between the two.

The books never stated he was gay. I never thought of him as gay, or indeed gave any thought to his sexuality. Now that she's finished writing the words, I can read them any way I like. Her comments in the press may indicate what she intended, but that's not the way the character of Dumbledore played in my head.

Of course, all this ignores the legal ramifications. If she owns the copyrights and trademarks, then in a very real sense she owns the character and I can't take my interpretation out for a walk among the words without proper authorization.

Christopher M. Park said...

I think that Orson Scott Card said it best in his introduction to his 1991 edition of ENDER'S GAME:

"The story of ENDER'S GAME is not this book, though it has that title emblazoned on it. The story is one that you and I will construct together in your memory. If the story means anything to you at all, then when you remember it afterward, think of it, not as something I created, but rather as something that we made together."

I read that many years ago, and it has stuck with me ever since. It bothers me a lot that Rowling announced that Dumbledore was gay like she did, and I think readers are certainly free to interpret his character as asexual or however else they want to, as long as it is consistent with the (mostly scant) textual evidence regarding his sexuality.

Now, if Rowling had made this revelation in due course as part of one of her novels, that would have been a different matter. She's perfectly free to do whatever she likes with her characters in the context of her writing, and that's a license held exclusively by her as far as I'm concerned. If she had revealed him to be gay in the context of the story, I would have been fine with it, although admittedly I prefer the vision of him as a great wizard above sexual concerns, as the times article notes. But it would have been her choice, since it was her work.

I think it's rather cheap in general for authors to explain backstory outside of their actual novels. Certainly it's not a problem with minor details such as specific age, birthplace, etc, that just wouldn't come up in the story -- but anything that seemingly flies in the face of textual evidence, or comes as a shock, or even seems a stretch based on textual evidence (as this does) shouldn't be revealed outside the narrative, in my opinion.

This would be like if George Lucas had revealed in an interview that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father, after only making the original movie. How horrible would that have been? Certainly there was foreshadowing for that revelation, but if it had been revealed outside the narrative of the movies it would have seemingly lost all truth and meaning.

I believe that the author has the exclusive right to do anything they want with their worlds and characters, but only in the context of their narratives themselves. Once those pages are in the hands of the readers, the readers are going to make their own inferences and come to their own personal understanding, right or wrong. A later work can certainly cause readers to revise that personal understanding -- all the best sequels do this to some degree -- but this is expanding the story, not clarifying it in interviews or endnotes. At least, that's my take.

Jason said...

The author gets first dibs on the character, but when she gives him to the reader the character belongs to them.

In this case, JK is done with Potter Books. If she wanted a gay wizard, she could have made one, but she gave him to the world, announced that she's done, THEN said he's gay. Doesn't even matter now--she didn't bother to say it when it mattered.

Without the readers, where would authors be?

Kaleb Nation said...

the author has the final say: after all, there's so many cut scenes between the original and the final book that the author still has in their head that the reader doesn't ever get to see: of course they know all the innermost secrets that may never even appear on the page!

Erik said...

Guys, while you tell us about what makes up a fictional character, why not talk about something supposedly real?

Many people have different opinions about me. Some might see me as a very loving person, some as an intelligent one, some as a complete SOB (to put it nicely). Who's right? Who gets to "decide"? It's a ridiculous concept from the start. After I'm dead people will still have opinions about me, so it's not as if it's really my call anyways.

So, tell me, why is a fictional character all that different? Why would you treat something that your senses tell you is "real" any different than what your imagination cooks up?

There's never any one "right" answer, and there's no such thing as "ownership". You see the world one way, and I another. Claiming anyone has a claim that is more valid than anyone else is a very silly thing to say.

(I'd stick to the pithy translations of my ideas into ordinary speech, but no one seemed to get that, either).

Helen said...

Roland Barthe said the author is dead as soon as his or her text is published, because then, provided the book is read at all, people will (mis)read it, appropriate it, etc. As for Dumbledore, I see him not so much gay as a healthy participant in our homosocial society, where men invest their feelings into other men. Dumbledore chases after Voldemort and Harry Potter for seven long books. No, wait, he dies at the end of the sixth book. But anyway he dies happily, struck by a phallus...umm a wand. And he is buried, hugging another...umm wand, the one he got, after he castrated...umm defeated another wizard (I forget his name). Maybe that's what Rowling tried to tell us.

Dwight's Writing Manifesto said...

Frankly, I'm much more shocked and concerned by A.A. Milne's bombshell confession that Senator Pooh's anti-Heffalum voting record ran completely counter to his late life Woozle dalliances.

Stuffed yella HYPOCRITE!

Katherine E. Hazen said...

Heh, how funny, my boyfriend and I had a big debate about this last night because of the Dumbledore being gay thing.

My take: It's very important to note that the actually quote was "I always thought of Dumbledore as gay." Not, Dumbledore is* gay. Whether he is gay or straight is relatively unimportant to the story. So much so that it is never addressed. I've come to think of it as being similar to having a character whose eye color is never mentioned. It's obviously a trait that is there, but it's not so important to the character that it was mentioned. So if I think of them as having blue eyes, my boyfriend thinks of them as having green eyes, and JK Rowling thinks of them as having brown eyes, does it matter? For each of us it's one little detail from our imagination that helped cement who that character is/what they looked like.

As a writer those are the types of things that I hope help make a character more real for my readers. If it was important I would just put it out there and if not, well, using your imagination is a huge part of what makes reading great. Why read if not to take the author's world and explore it, making it a little bit your own?

So Dumbledore being gay? I think it suits his character and I always thought of him as such, so it's no change to me. My boyfriend who wants so badly to think of Dumbledore as straight (not because of a homophobia issue but because he always thought of Dumbledore as "getting all the ladies"), let him. Let the little nerdy boys' imaginations run wild and cement those characters and give them hope for growing up to be big nerdy men who can get a woman. :D

Sirena said...

I think that the character belongs to the author, which is why they can kill them off in the middle of a heart-wrenching series.

However, and isn't there always one of those or their first cousin "but", readers develop an emotional stake in a character. The characters in the books become what they see in their minds eye. An author could write a story and very clearly describe the character only to have someone come back and say, "I thought she had brown hair, not blond."

I think this emotional stake is why so many readers become disillusioned by writers when they change a character the reader has come to love. So in the case of ownership, I side with the author but I can empathize with the reader completely.

In the case of Dumbledore being gay, I feel that it doesn't have much bearing on the overall theme of the stories. I’m not a fan of J.K. Rowling (let the lynching begin) but I have suffered through three of the Harry Potter books looking for the same thing that people raved about. I think it is just silly to go back after all is said and done and say, “Oh, by the way, Dumbledore is gay.” It leads to that whole problem about readers feeling betrayed by the writer after they have placed their trust and given the characters an emotional stake in their literary lives.

Sorry about this, it became more of a rant than an opinion.

Dave Wood said...

A book is a collaboration between the writer and the readers isn't it? Surely the author only 'owns' the character, or any other aspect of the story, until s/he shares the story -- then it can't be taken back.

It sounds like some people feel Rowling tried to take Dumbledore back from them. In this case, though, she was sharing her backstory for Dumbledore, responding to a question about whether he had ever loved anyone. Rowling's answer was basically, "Yes, but maybe not who you'd expect." Maybe, in the sixth book, Dumbledore should have said to Harry, "I knew a boy who's hair..." Then the scriptwriter and everyone else wouldn't have been so confused. Personally, I'm glad he didn't camp it up around school, but I'm glad he found someone to love.

Nathan Bransford said...

For the record, the exact quote from JK is:

"Dumbledore is gay, actually."

jjdebenedictis said...

In books 1-6, JKR didn't give any hint Dumbles was gay, but in book 7, she DID. When I got to the end of book 7, I immediately thought, "Is Dumbledore gay? It seems like he's gay."

After all, as a young man, he had a fascination with Grindelwald that made more sense if it was a crush, and Elphias Doge was more devastated by Dumbledore's death than a mere friend should have been. The clues WERE there.

Plus Dumbledore wore that natty purple suit, y'know (book 6).

lizr said...

Notwithstanding legalities, I’d say it’s a combination.

That said, keep in mind that I’m basing this opinion on fan fiction, which I write, so I am familiar with those “rules”. If it’s in the book, it is canon. If it is implied, it is canon, but up for interpretation. But if it never came up anywhere in published form (not including press releases ;) ), it is author canon. The author could later change their mind, or find that a particular characteristic doesn’t work after all once he/she tries to write it in; but once it is published, it becomes canon.

Example: S.E. Hinton once commented that her character of Sodapop, in The Outsiders, died in Vietnam shortly before his 19th birthday. People went nuts. Girls were crying themselves to sleep. It later came out that, no, it was the boy who the character was based on that died, and she gave this information to Rob Lowe during the filming of the movie to help him better connect with the character. Still, fans were assuming this was canon, and anything that diverged from this future was wrong.

I think that S.E. might be wishing this little bit of information had never gotten out because of how blown out of proportion it was. In a recent radio interview in which she was asked about her thoughts on fan fiction, Ms. Hinton stated that we should feel free to create our own back stories, futures, etc. for her characters, as the only canon that really counts is what is in the book.

Now, at the same time, I also think that there is a certain window of expectations that readers view the story through. For some it is a little wider than for others (I’m actually picturing a bell curve here), and it’s easier to interpret the story more loosely. As individual as this is, though, the closer you get to the edges, as either the author or the person interpreting the characters, the less believable you’re going to be, and the more people will be telling you that you aren’t being true to the character(s).

Dwight's Writing Manifesto said...

Oh c'mon! It was there all along!

The purple robes. The tastefully decorated study. Thin, neat, lifelong bachelor. Grindewald. The way he could host a killer party.

Right at the part in Book Three where Harry walks in and catches Dumbledore watching the Bravo Channel marathon in the pensive, I was all "AH HA!"

I'm tellin' you, JK was dropping hints like Snoop drops the beat.

Linnea said...

That's easy. No one. Characters, like people, can't be OWNED. (unless you're into slavery but that's a whole other thing)Just because I've created an individual doesn't mean they belong to me. Nor do they belong to the reader. Like any author there comes a point when my characters run ahead of me, bent on doing their own thing. All I do is follow. If that isn't freedom, I don't know what is!

Neptoon said...

Aloha,

The author owns control over the lives and personalities of his characters. The readers get to judge those personalities, deciding whether to love them or to hate them.

I have read every single HP book, even travelled over to Oahu to see the movies on large screens, but at no time did I ever wonder(or care) who Professor Dumbledore was doing. It has never been an issue.

Of course, I never ponder the sexual preference pendulum of the other octogenarians I see either.

Kylie said...

I think fictional characters are open to interpretation, but since the author decides what they actually do, I'd say it is their character when it all comes down to it.

And as a die-hard Harry (technically Voldy, but he died in 7 so I hated the book) fan, I'd just like to comment to the Dumbledore discussion: How much does this really change the story? Everything still happens the way it always has, its not like the words are going to rearrange themselves to be like, "Dumbledore is SO gay!" He's still Dumbledore, he still did everything Rowling said, and he is still the same person. I don't get why people make such a big deal out of it. Besides, Voldemort had been just such a better character and history and everything up until he dies... :P

"Hissy hissy, little snakey,
Slither on the floor.
You be good to Morfin,
Or he'll nail you to the door."
<3

Kim Stagliano said...

I think the key words are, "...on the page." It's absurd to me that Rowling is carrying on about her characters after the series as ended. Especially since the prologue was so disappointing telling only what one character does for a living. (Neville, herbology instructor.) When I find out if Steph Plum marries Joe Morelli it had better be in a book and not Janet Evanovich (be right back, I need to genuflect for a mo') OK, I'm back... Right then. Not when Janet Evanovich mentions it to Oprah or Ellen while tucking her breast back into her shirt.....

Anne-Marie said...

I thought the story was that Rowling's quote came after she saw a script for the upcoming movie, where the screenwriter had written something in about Dumbledore in his young days and his affections for a young woman. Her reply was that it needed to be scratched out because he was gay, and would therefore not have had the girlie crush. At least, that's how it was reported here.

Dave Wood said...

I wonder is Rowling 'discovered' this about the character late in the series as she was reviewing the earlier books. Granted, it seems a biggie, and she does seem to have planned out all sorts of little details about the later series before she published the first book. But when I'm revising, I discover new, sometimes major, things about my characters or events. I love that process, and it's not a problem during revision, but in a series where the first books are already published an author can't really revise, only add on -- and carefully, at that.

Josephine Damian said...

Nathan... a suggestion....

Since Ginger was such a hit, how about some other CB agents as future guest bloggers...

Maybe we can hear from a co-worker looking for other genres different from what you and Ginger are looking for? Like thrillers? Mysteries? Someone who doesn't mind a dead body or two! :-)

Or chick lit agents? WF? Historicals? Literary? Humor? Vampires?

Nathan Bransford said...

Josephine-

Um, I represent all of the genres you listed, but yes -- I'm hoping to have some other agents brave the blogspot and will hopefully have some more guest posts. Stay tuned.

Anonymous said...

Nathan,

I checked out your Publishersmarketplace.com page.

One question: Are the books you display at the bottom of the web page all the books you have sold since joining Curtis Brown in 2006?
Quite a few of the PM agent sites list the books they have sold recently, even if they haven't yet gone to press.

It would be very helpful for those of us considering working with you to know how many books have you sold over the past year and what kind of books they were.

Kimber An said...

Admittedly, I've never read any Harry Potter books or watched any of the movies. The premise never interested me. Still, I really can't understand what the fuss is about. Why does it matter what his orientation is? It's much ado about nothing.

I don't think anyone but the author, the publishing profressionals in contract with her, and anyone licensed by her should make money off the characters. However, once a book is released, the characters belong to everyone to interpret and enjoy or not.

Nathan Bransford said...

Anon-

For various reasons (which I'll blog about at some point) I don't always report my deals to PublishersMarketplace, and thus I think if I listed the deals I handled at the bottom of my page it would be misleading because it would be incomplete. But this is something I'm always happy to talk about with my prospective clients.

ORION said...

I create a whole backstory and history including likes and dislikes for my characters- even though none may ever reach the page it allows me as a writer to be able see them more authentically- The author initiates this process by writing the book -- the reader completes this process by reading it and provides their own reality - Who's right?
Whoever's head you're in!

Andrew said...

I'm not a Harry Potter reader, but I guess my answer is that in an increasingly metatextual world, fictional characters take on an existence of their own, and as readers, we choose how to take it. If you want to read/watch then let your imagination take it from there, great. If you want to check out blogs, web interviews, deleted scenes, commentary tracks, etc., then you're likely to be introduced to new information about the "author's intent." If you're interested in it, then it's a real part of the character. If you're not... then stay away from it. Of course, when there's a media blitz about it, it's harder to ignore.

And perhaps that's why I never got into Harry Potter. I knew that my reading of it would be overshadowed by the publicity and public discussion.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Nathan, the Guardian has the other quote. I suspect they're both from different parts of the conversation.

As for me, I think Rowling had just as much right to answer her reader's question as the reader did to ask it. Whether other readers wanted to know is beside the point (and something to take up with reporters and editors instead of the author). The two of them were continuing the conversation of the book.

K.C. Shaw said...

The author gets final say. I mean, come ON, the author invented the character. The reader is the end-user.

Kim Stagliano said...

Epilogue. I meant epilogue. Since my epilady incident and my steadfast refusal of epidurals I have struggle with that suffix, er, prefix.

Sure she owns her characters - but don't sneak me info after the fact. It just sits funny with me, not sure why. Probably because I did feel so invested in the world she created. I don't want dribs and drabs coming out. I literally and metaphorically closed the book on Harry. Enough. Do you think I need a life? I do.

Mary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary said...

I read the first three or four Harry Potters, and Dumbledore’s sexuality never crossed my mind. On screen, however, he was definitely played with a touch of camp.

Which leads me to wonder what it must be like for an author, who is in the process of writing a series at the same time as the preceding novels are being interpreted in film.

On the question of ownership: give life then let go.

Matt said...

Property is theft. Intellectual property is just... um. Intellectual theft?

No, wait. That's stupid.

I think on a legal level, if JK Rowling doesn't own Dumbledore, she's not the business person she seems to be (which is to say, extremely savvy).

I tend to disagree with the poster who said she blew it. I think that representing Dumbledore as overtly gay in the novels would have hurt sales, and that answering the news conference question as she did probably helped sales.

I also tend to believe that this particular revelation enriches the subtext of the novel. And the fact that people are having this conversation three weeks (or is it only two) after the news conference says something about the strong emotions Rowling has evoked about her characters, which, you know: good writers do that.

It also, to bring us to the philosophical underpinnings of Our Gracious Host's question, says something about the feeling of ownership of these characters that her readership already has. As I said, Rowling almost certainly owns the rights to her characters, and if she wants to write a Young Dumbledore series in which his sexuality is frankly discussed, she can, and good luck stopping her.

But I doubt she will (v. her savvy business sense).

However, at some point, I suspect that we will all be dead, and people will be reading Harry Potter books. At that point, of course, there will be people talking about Dumbledore's sexuality with footnotes and citations and erudite examples. They will surely get an A when they make a sound argument, regardless of their actual position on the subject, for that's what college is all about.

Their subsequent (or perhaps preceding) essay will be on the sexuality of Hamlet. Yeah, there are people who care. Amazing, huh?

Here, incidentally, is a link to an unofficial transcript of the Q&A session where she dropped the bomb. Don't know if the <a> tag works here, on blogger, or if that lt gt thing will either. Here's hoping for the universality of HTML.

peace
Matt

Jordyn said...

Since I have absolutely ZERO interest in Harry Potter, I'm just going to answer the bigger question of who owns fictional characters.

My answer: The author, through and through. They created the character, they thought up the story; it's their world.

That being said, there's nothing stopping the reader from thinking of the characters differently than the author intends. Like my dad said when I told him my cousin considers me and my guy friend dating, "She can consider whatever she wants. She can consider you guys MARRIED if that's what she wants to believe."
Self-delusion, people. It's a beautiful thing.

Dr. Dume said...

Seems to me that if Dumbledore being gay or straight doesn't affect the story, there's no need for it to be spelled out in the books. This was all because some film-maker wanted to add in a girlfriend for Dumbledore, and he never had one. Ghoul friends, maybe.

Do the books say whether Harry Potter is white, black, yellow or brown? The cover art and the films say he's white, but is it specified in the books, I wonder?

As to whether an author owns characters, I'm more worried about whether the characters own me. Sometimes it's hard to tell.

Michelle Moran said...

I think v.l. smith put it most succinctly. While your children may be linked to you genetically, and while they may have spent their earliest years with you, at some point they grow up and join the real world. "They become influenced by new people and new perspectives."

Writers can do their best to shape a character, but ultimately, characters belong to the reader. After all, a character may come alive on a page, but they will only speak once a book is opened. It's the reader who brings them to life -- in their own mind.

So perhaps it's joint ownership?

Ello said...

Author hands down! Unless I disagree with the author, and then it is the reader, absolutely! ;o)

midnight oil said...

To me it is a matter of intent vs. impact. what we say or write vs. what we mean in our heads against the way it is accepted in someone elses mind. (Cnfused?) I write with the ultimate desire to touch someone in the world, even if it is just one. The story boils through their mind and comes alive. It is the reader who ultimately creates the character. And they will create the same one that I did if I did my job right.

Anonymous said...

Haha; I just had this discussion in my Humanities 200 class! The point that was brought up was that the author has no power over the characters once they have actually written down what they wish to write down. That they can't have a power-trip over making sure that every little detail is understood. Or, that there is "no reality outside of the book". So, if it's not there, it's not there, and it's free game!
I don't know how much I agree, but I like the idea of "no reality outside of the book"; that's why fanfiction is so awesome, because it builds alternate worlds outside of the reality.

cathellisen said...

When I read the last HP book, I thought the relationship was not all that subtle. So I wasn't overly surprised when JK announced Dumbledore's sexuality.

Authors generally have a pretty good idea of the background and history of their characters (it's all the false starts we have :P) and if the author says such and such a character is gay, then in their world he is. How the reader's choose to interpret this is a different story. The writer has no control over that.

Personally, I'm happy that she outed him, because I like being right. *grin*

Scott said...

As long as the author's statements aren't directly contradicted by the text, then I think the author's words have weight.

Even better is if the author's extratextual comments are actually supported by the text.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I like that different people take different things from characters. It's one of the joys. A perfectly formed, unread character is a sad, sad thing indeed.

lupina said...

Fiction is a tender dance between author and reader. The author leads, hopefully gives the reader a few good twirls around the floor, and the reader follows in his/her own style to complete the turns and help execute a graceful dip or lift at the end.

Adding details about characters after the fact is like the leader trying to throw in a few fancy steps after the last pas-de-deux; it's anticlimactic and should have happened within the context of the dance. If JK really wanted Dumbledore to be gay, she should have written it into at least one of her books. I read them all and never got that about him. But knowing his orientation would have made his inner conflict ever so much sharper and understandable.

Anonymous said...

The thing that's frustrating about this debate (not the debate on this blog, but the greater Dumbledore debate) is that it feels like it's about homophobia, not character representation.

JK Rowling was ASKED a question about Dumbledore's love life, so she answered. It's not like she randomly issued a press release about his orientation.

If she had been asked a question about his favorite type of pasta and she said "linguini with pesto sauce" would there have been an outcry like this? "No, I thought it was fettucini alfredo!" "How can she say this, it's not in the books?" No, people would have accepted it as a detail of his background that helped her make him more real on the page.

If his sexual orientation didn't matter in the books, it shouldn't matter now. Just like in real life, it doesn't change anything about the person.

Tom Burchfield said...

My feeling is that no matter how hard I try, I eventually wind up giving up control of my characters, hell, my whole book. My intentions only get me so far, and while, I hope that most readers will understand it as I do, there may be more than a few who interpret it in their own peculiar way. If someone wants to read my novel "The Vampire of Alpine Canyon" (sorry for the plug)as a perverse portrayal of Santa Claus, there's little I can do. No matter how many circles I run screaming "I didn't SAY that!" they're going to insist otherwise. I am hopeful any alternative interpretations are intelligent ones.

This reminds me of a story a friend told me: Her father had been a hobo riding the rails during the Great Depression and used to bore her for hours and days on end with his stories of the hardships he faced during that time.

She always dreaded having to listen to these stories . . . until the time came when she read "The Grapes of Wrath." by John Steinbeck. After she finished, she ran to her father in tears, crying: "I've just read 'The Grapes of Wrath!' Now I understand everything you went through!"

Her father glared at her: "That man was a lousy, stinking Communist," he said. "Everything in that book is a lie."

Anonymous said...

She never wrote about Dumbldore's oreination in the actual books therefore since she not writing them any more I do not think she can change anything like that. Although there was a part about people gossiping on whether Harry and the wizard had a thing going everyone who was reading knew that wasnt true because all the main characters Harry, Ron, and Hermione all were straight and had relantionships. Anyways I'm sure out of everyone who ever read those books not everyones going to have heard about what she's said. Thank you for bringing up this topic so I can form my own opinion.

Anonymous said...

This question (and you're not the only one asking it, Nathan) is interesting in itself to me. I mean, really the point is: who cares about Dumbledore's sexuality? Harry Potter certainly didn't, and that's why it wasn't in the books. Ardent fans (I'm one of them) want to know about everything in JK Rowling's head, and they do care.

But JK's revealed a lot of backstory that wasn't in the books. Why is Dumbledore's gayness the "revelation" causing a discussion about authorial control? I think the discussion says much more about our culture than it does about Dumbledore. And, ultimately, people are putting their own ideas of gayness into their reading of Dumbledore now.

So...the answer the question is: both - the author, JK Rowling, gave us more information about one of her characters and readers are still interpreting the books the way they want to.

Josephine Damian said...

Nathan: OK. Point taken. You are casting a wide net with your posted submission list and especially with the "anything else" you happen to like. I understand as a young agent you're eager to keep your options open, submission-wise.

But some agents who represent mysteries prefer the cozy kind to the hard boiled, or historical romance to erotica, and I'm sure if I knew enough about SF, I'd list some differences.

I know in the past you said "Fight Club" was male ennui, but I always thought of the Richard Ford and Richard Russo books that way - I thought of "FC" as urban fantasy (I only recently got an education in what UF means). Sometimes a writer's idea of what a genre is is different from the agent's.

BookEndsLLC agent Jacky reps a cozy mystery writer friend of mine. I have a referal from my friend, but I doubt I'd ever submit to her because my stuff is hard-boiled.

My approach to agents is to read their clients' books- I have a better sense of what my chances with an agent are by reading their clients' books and asking myself - realistically - if my book is similar to theirs.

eric said...

Late...always late.

While it's a nice thought to give in to letting the reader have their say, the problem with that is there will be endless readers (or so the author hopes) and that makes for endless, and inconclusive, interpretation.

So then, for sake of finality, if for some wild reason finality becomes necessity, Author-ity.

Jan said...

Well, the author owns the character and certainly thinks all manner of things about her character. But "book" isn't fluid...it exists in black-and-white on the page. If Rowling always thought of Dumbledore as a big fluffy sheep, it doesn't change the fact that the character in the book was not written as a big fluffy sheep.

If what the author thinks is in direct conflict with what she wrote (as it is in this case -- she thought of his motivation in a pivotal moment in the book being motivated by young romantic love, but wrote it as being motivated by loyalty to a friend during a dark time in Dumbledore's life...and wrote it just about the bluntly too) then one of two things happened.

(1) The author chose to write something different from what she always thought -- for whatever reason, it fit better, it was less controversial, whatever. In which case, she intentionally chose something different from what she always thought -- which is an author's right. Though it means the character in print is now ... well, the character.

(2) the author can't seem to figure out how to put the character in print the way she always saw him -- which is just bad writing.

Pretty much, there isn't a third option in a case where what was written is very clear and blunt where the author has never played games with other characters in similar situations (for example, Snape's feelings for Lilly were never presented loyalty to a best pal). She has no history of making you guess if characters were motivated by loyalty or romantic love (well, except in who Harry would end up with, but that was part of the fun and eventually revealled in the books) so ... there is no logical reason to have written the character contrary to how she saw him and still hold on to how she saw him.

Anonymous said...

Dwight said The purple robes. The tastefully decorated study. Thin, neat, lifelong bachelor. Grindewald. The way he could host a killer party.

What does any of that have to do with being gay? Or are we dealing in stereotypes here...

Danette Haworth said...

I'd say the author owns the characters--she wrote them knowing all their secret backstories.

Great page on PM. I'm a short story addict (especially flash)--The Star Above Veracruz might be up my alley.

writtenwyrdd said...

Legally, due to copyright, the writers own the character (unless they give up said rights)... However, seems to me that once that puppy gets published, the readers get to have their way with the characters, just like they do with the meaning and intent. No matter what the author says it was intended to say, the public ultimately defines the work. Just like poetry.

Chumplet said...

Kinda makes you wonder about Frodo, doesn't it? But we can't ask J.R.R. why he never married.

Personally, I suspected Dumbedore was gay anyway. And I didn't care. He made certain choices during his life because of love, and they influenced the outcome of the book.

Readers don't own the characters, but they are welcome to their own interpretation of the characters.

Anonymous said...

Kinda makes you wonder about Frodo, doesn't it? But we can't ask J.R.R. why he never married.

He never married because he was slowly dying and he knew he was dying -- and he also knew that he could never give him himself fully to life in the Shire again. Besides, he was raised by Bilbo, a confirmed bachelor.

Heather B. Moore said...

I think JK made a mistake in the way that she informed her audience. It was like an afterthought . . . If the series wasn't finished, it would be a different story. I don't care if Dumbledore is gay or not--it doesn't change the story for me--but she should've had the guts to write it into his character. I don't think did. Or if she "thinks" she did, she didn't do it well. Pointing out an obscure sentence/scene after the fact just doesn't make sense.

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