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Does Author Intent Really Matter?

We all love reading and one of the reasons it’s so enjoyable is because you get to be a part of a new world and see it through your eyes. Personally,  I ding even like audio books because I find the characters never sound like how I pictured them.  Is author intent similar? Does what the author meant really matter once the words have been printed out and disseminated to the masses? Can the author really say, “No, that was supposed to make you think about blah, blah, blah,” or “This character is actually…” I think that the beauty of creative writing is that it is not only creative in its inception but in its perception as well. Twenty people can read the same short story and come out with twenty different take-aways. It is what makes book discussions fun, it expands our paradigms, it gives us something to muddle over once we’re back home sipping tea and picking up another read. But, doesn’t this change once the author begins sharing his or her perspective?

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The “death of the author” means that once a book has been published it is no longer in the control of the author.

One author I’d like to mention is J.K. Rowling, the mind behind Harry Potter. Now, I read the series not too too long after it came to the United States and the third book had just come out. I read all three of them in a day and loved it. (Sirius and Severus remain my two favorite characters.)  And that was all good. More books were published and then the movies were made and the world became full of Potterheads, people representing their Hogwarts house more than they would their alma mater. And it hasn’t changed that much. But not too long after social media started becoming more and more popular, Rowling began sharing her intent, telling everyone that she meant this one thing. And, by default, saying their viewpoints were wrong. I’m sure you would like an example.

One of the least controversial examples is that, after the series ended, she decided to give us the houses of some side characters, like Hagrid. Add to that the fact she recently decided to claim Hermoine was Black and a long list of others after-the-fact additions, she has almost completely changed the canon of her own series. Now mind you, some of these things aren’t as important but there are some that just don’t make sense. Hagrid is obviously a Slytherin, why else would Tom Riddle act so friendly towards him? Anyway, Rowling has been adding more and more to her stories, leaving less up to the imaginations of her readers.

Another good example of an author who does this is John Connolly. Now, you’ll get to read a review of his The Book of Lost Things this Friday but until then, let me tell you that I loved the book. However, at the end of the book were some extras, a short conversation with him and then he decides to give us the original fairy tales and folk lore that he used to inform his narrative. Don’t get me wrong, I love fairy tales and was excited to read it, I didn’t even mind him discussing the origin of the story but Connolly also decides to tell his reader how the book should’ve been read. I won’t include quotes for fear it would spoil it for you. And in truth, I was very disappointed. I had just finished a fantastic book and wanted to know more about his inspiration…what I got was basically the author telling me that my opinions were entirely false and that his entire story was an allegory. Yes, critical theory is important but I understand why so many stand behind the “death of the author” concept.

I have written all this and have come to one point. Author intent really doesn’t matter. To some, it may be nice to know but to many more it ruins the whimsy of the narrative, it answers questions that we may not have wanted answered and takes some of the fun out of a re-read.

Authorial intent doesn’t make it the only correct interpretation.

Where do you stand on author intent? Do you prefer to come to your own conclusions or have everything flushed out by the writer? Let me know in the comments! Also, I’d greatly appreciate it if you followed this blog, if you don’t already. I post twice a week and would love for you to stop by again.

Happy reading!


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