November 6, 2013

Harry Potter and "The Sect of the Phoenix" by Jorge Luis Borges

After the Harry Potter books were done being published, J.K. Rowling came out of the closet to announce that Hogwarts Headmaster Albert Dumbledore was oh so gay.

Now many, many years ago, a Spainish writer by the name of Jorge Luis Borges wrote a short story called "The Sect of the Phoenix" which describes a secret society whose traditions are passed down from generation to generation, using secret signs and rituals. In the story these signs and rituals are both common, yet not known to anyone outside of the group. Hmmm...

In any case, one of the more common interpretations of what the sect might represent, is same sex relationships. Of course, some say it might be referring to heterosexual relationships, but I'll just set that annoying little tidbit off to the side for now... and forever.

Now the juicy part of the story. In the Harry Potter novels, specifically the one called Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore is revealed to be *drumroll* the leader of The Order of the Phoenix, a secret society dedicated to fighting an evil That No One Dare Speak It's Name.

Which leads to the obvious question: Was J.K. Rowling referencing Borges work as a way of flagging or suggesting Dumbledore's sexuality? Or is it just a coincidence that the two titles are so similar?

Of course the idea of secret societies (that I'm now thinking one could argue function as metaphors for queer existence) plays a big role in the Harry Potter universe. The wizards, witches, and magic users have a global secret society that they keep hidden from muggles. Then, in addition to The Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter also forms Dumbledore's Army, which he has to keep hidden from Dolores Umbridge. Now I feel like I am really, really reading too much into all of this now, but the way Dolores Umbridge goes about persecuting the group now makes me think of McCarthyism and the Lavender Scare.

I realize that of course, the whole idea of wizarding society being "secret" is kind of a plot necessity that cleverly allows Rowling to set the wizarding world within our present day society, but the parallels are now rather striking to me. I know others have explored queer metaphors in Harry Potter, such as the fact that Harry Potter was raised in a closet only to find out in adolescence that he was really wizard, thus having "come out" of the closet, but that reading always seemed sketchy to me, due to it being a little too literal reading of the material.

Heaven knows though, even as a fan I have to admit that "too literal" and J.K. Rowling literally get along just fine. Umbridge can take all the umbrage with that she wants.

I hadn't considered doing any more reviews of the Harry Potter Series until now, but after being recently reminded of "The Sect of the Phoenix" while doing research for another project, I started thinking about the parallels and well, maybe I will.

In any case, file all this under "Over Thinking It".

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