As the roaring climax to the decade-long Harry Potter film series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two hits the screen, the urge to explore the massive appeal of J.K. Rowling’s opus is irresistible.
These books and films have captured the imaginations of children and adults worldwide, proving that Rowling has made the greatest contribution to fantasy literature since L. Frank Baum created the Land of Oz more than a century ago.
Just as the Oz books and the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz have had particular resonance with LGBT fans, the Harry Potter saga has its own special queer appeal. “Friends of Dorothy” are just as likely to be friends of Harry.
From the first moment we met young Harry, he was trapped in a childhood where he knew that he was different, and was reviled by his aggressively “normal” Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia. You think you grew up in the closet? This kid was raised in a cupboard under the stairs.
The Dursleys always knew that Harry was different, were frightened by it, and tried desperately to hide it from the outside world and from Harry himself. Until, of course, the giant Hagrid fatefully informed him, “Yer a wizard, Harry!”
Identifying his difference was a major step, but “coming out” as a wizard is something else entirely. The dynamic between the muggle (non-magical) world and the wizarding world is strikingly similar to that of the straight and closeted gay worlds. They exist side by side, but the wizards must keep their identities and powers secret for fear of frightening the muggles.
The only real-life muggles who’ve been frightened are the groups of Evangelical Christians who’ve been calling for boycotts and bans on the Harry Potter books and films for years, claiming that they promote magic, evil and devil worship. This may be the most spectacularly unsuccessful boycott in history; the Potter books have sold more than 400 million copies worldwide, the films have grossed more than $6 billion.
Once Harry entered this magical world, he discovered what many LGBT folks have found: there are lots of new and strange rules, you may or may not know who’s really on your side, but by and large the whole thing is frickin’ fabulous.
Fans have been so inspired by the potential for gay subtext in the series (in particular the idea of a secret love between Harry and his nemesis Draco) that a Google search on “Harry Potter Draco Malfoy gay” brings up more than a billion results. A YouTube search on “Harry Potter gay” brings up nearly 5,000 videos.
After the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling politely announced that Harry’s mentor Professor Dumbledore was gay. This revelation did shed some light on Dumbledore’s back-story (to be detailed in the final film) but it had no impact whatsoever on sales or public enthusiasm for the final book. The generation that grew up with Harry Potter apparently couldn’t care less if someone they know and love is gay. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia would be apoplectic.
The hallmark of great literature and film is that regardless of how fantastical it may be, it has the ability to reflect back to us our own lives, dreams and experience. This is why the Harry Potter saga speaks to so many people on so many different levels – and it’s certain to work its magic for many years to come.