Much ink has been spilled over J.K. Rowling’s revelation that Dumbledore was gay. I’m personally glad she said it for a number of reasons, one of which is a writing reason.
She showed respect for her readers. Giving an honest answer to an honest reader question is a matter of simple authorial courtesy. As an author, my default response to reader questions is to answer them to the best of my ability, unless answering them will create spoilers for later books.
Quite a number of people seem to disagree for various reasons political and literary. On the former I will simply say that I disagree vigorously. On the latter however, I am going to go into a little more detail as it is relevant to the core reasons for this blog’s existence.
The essentials of the literary argument are that the text is everything, and that authors should simply shut up about anything beyond what is on the pages in black and white because many readers don’t want the author messing around with their version of the empty pages that lie beyond the borders of the text.
My biggest problem with this it that it gives more weight to the readers who don’t want to know the author’s thoughts on something than it does to those who do, and it does so at a disproportionate cost to the curious.
J.K.Rowling was asked a direct question by a reader who really wanted to know Rowling’s answer. If Rowling had the answer in her head, should she really deprive those who are interested just so that those who aren’t don’t have to hear about it?
It seems to me that if an author doesn’t answer questions, it penalizes those who want to know the answers far more than answering penalizes those who don’t want to know. With the exception of a few very big names it is astronomically easier to avoid author answers to reader questions than it is to divine those same answers if they’re never given. If they stay in the author’s head, no one will ever know the author’s opinion but the author.
(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog October 25 2007, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)