Friday, November 23, 2007

What if Voldemort became real?

As all us Harry Potter fans know, Voldemort is not a real person. As a fictional character, he's evil and blameworthy within the story, but not in real life. But suppose J.K. Rowling had the power to bring Voldemort to real life. And suppose that if she did so, the real Voldemort would be exactly like he is in the books. He'd be just as mean and nasty and evil. Would he be morally blameable for his actions?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Fall festivals

I don't really have an argument to make today. I just want to point something out that I find kind of interesting. As just about everybody out there knows, holidays like Christmas and Easter have pagan roots. That is, there used to be non-Christian holidays on those days that Christians sort of took over. Christians started celebrating something entirely different on those days, although they kept some of the trappings, like Christmas trees, and Easter eggs.

Everybody reacts to these things a little differently.

Some people who are not Christians like to throw this in the face of their Christians friends as if they've discovered something that will be embarrassing to the Christians or as if it somehow amounts to an argument against Christianity.

Some Christians, most notably Jehovah's Witnesses, take the non-Christians seriously and seem to think there's something inappropriate about celebrating Christmas or Easter since they both have pagan origins.

Some Christians see nothing wrong with celebrating the birth of Jesus or the resurrection of Jesus, even if done on the same day as a pagan festival as long as you're celebrating something completely different. They're uncomfortable with some of the trappings, though. Others are even okay with the trappings as long as they have been stripped of their original significance and serve merely as decoration and jolly good fun.

What we have seen in the past is happening in our own day. Some Christians who are especially averse to Halloween are now celebrating what they call "fall festival." And they have kept many of the trappings--children dressing up in costumes and gathering candy in baskets. It is sanitized only by avoiding costumes of anything scary or supernatural, and by gathering the candy at church instead of door to door.

The funny thing about that to me is that this Christianization of a pagan holiday was already done once before to Halloween. All Hallows Eve or All Souls Day was turned into all Saints Day. But that seems to have been completely abandoned. Now we're just having fall festivals.

And it's funny that the Christian alternative to Halloween would be a fall festival since even in some pagan traditions, Halloween was a harvest festival. What do fall festivals or harvest festivals have to do with anything specifically Christian? Every agricultural society has had harvests, and they usually have them in the fall. It is strange to me that this Christianization of an otherwise "bad" holiday isn't really Christian at all. It isn't anti-Christian, of course. It's just not specifically Christian. I mean nothing particularly Christian is being celebrated.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Is Dumbledore gay?

I've been hearing lately that J.K. Rowling has announced that Dumbledore is gay. I haven't tried to verify it or anything because for the purpose of what I want to talk about it, it doesn't matter whether she actually said that or not.

This raises an interesting philosophical question for me about the nature of fiction. Dumbledore doesn't really exist. He's just a fictional character in a story. So Dumbledore can't really be gay in real life. If he's gay at all, he can only be gay as part of the story.

But the problem is that the story itself doesn't stipulate that Dumbledore is gay. In the story of Harry Potter, there is complete silence on Dumbledore's sexuality.

One might argue that the story gets its meaning, not merely from the words, but from the intention of the author. In that case, you might say he's gay just because J.K. Rowling had decided all along that he was gay, even though she didn't say so in the story.

But does the intention of the author matter if she doesn't include information in the story? If so, then Rowling could start making all kind of crazy announcements about the characters in Harry Potter that are not included in the story, and we'd all be obliged to take her word for it. She could just up and decide that Filch killed his own mother and that nobody ever found out about it. She could decide that Hagrid joined a monastary for a while after being kicked out of Hogwarts.

Let's suppose for a moment that Rowling's intentions matter even if she doesn't write her intentions into the story. Does it matter when her intentions came about? Does it matter whether she intended all along for Dumbledore to be gay, whether she decided he was gay half way through writing the books, or if she decided he was gay after writing the books? What if she changed her mind tomorrow? Would Dumbledore then be straight just because she said so? Could she change her mind a dozen times between now and when she dies, and would the story change as a result?