Author Intent Revisited

So, I’ve already written an article on how author intent is irrelevant. However, I might have to backtrack on my statement. It wasn’t exactly recently that J. K. Rowling said in an interview that Ron and Hermione would never have been together in real life. This didn’t mean much for me as I’m not an uberfan, but as with the last time that Rowling dropped a little secret about one of her characters that isn’t in the novels themselves, it got a huge fan reaction.

I feel like none of these bits of trivia (yes, “trivia” like “trivial”) should matter. Nothing that she says changes anything that happens in the novels. Dumbledore being gay does not change the story. The fact that she felt the Ron and Hermione relationship was not realistic does not change what happens. It still happens. And yet… BOOM!

There are comments upon comments of readers either in favor or against what she said. Some were delighted, because it confirmed for them something that they believed all along. However, what has piqued most of my interest were the comments stating that Rowling had “ruined” or “cast[ed] a negative light on the novels” with her statement. I take this to mean that either the reader is unable to enjoy the novels in the same way with this knowledge. If author intent were completely irrelevant, this wouldn’t be.

Still, I believe that with her statements, Rowling does in fact taint her work. She wrote these novels, encoding the message in the words where it was then received by the reader. The message was received and interpreted, and it cannot be taken back. By saying these things, she is in fact stealing meaning from the reader, which I feel is a betrayal of the author/reader relationship.

The reader trusts the author to be in absolute control of the story. I always say, “In order to write with authority, the author must be the god of their own world.” You, the author, are god, and a true god makes no mistakes. To take that back? Now, she is a person. Fallible. The veil is gone.

Now, sometimes, I like trivia. I find it interesting to see the contrast between what I had planned and what the final result was. I am the master of last minute decisions. I don’t think a single novel turned out how I originally planned it. And sometimes, you want to share this information with your readers. “You know, [So-and-so] was never supposed to survive past chapter five, but [he/she] grew on me.” And so on and so forth.

What is the difference? I had to sit and think on it a while, because it felt hypocritical. The difference is that the trivia that I would deem harmless and interesting are where I felt my plans were wrong, and I’m happy with the way that they went instead. What I presented to my reader is the best story that I could come up with. I believe in it. So-and-so lived past chapter five, because it was better. I’m not saying, I should have gone with my original intention, because this is unrealistic that they should have survived.

I have to hand it to Rowling. Letting out these little controversial bits of trivia every so often is business genius. One, it keeps people talking about the novels. Two, it requires very little work. As an author, I can’t help but admire her for it. As a normal person and reader, I can’t help but be really annoyed by it.

The original blog on author intent:


One thought on “Author Intent Revisited

  1. I agree absolutely. I have no problem with telling people that Dizzy and Scott, the main couple in my story, were never originally meant to be together, but the characters pulled so strongly to one another I couldn’t keep them apart. I think that knowledge enhances the story, because it speaks to just how POWERFUL the bond between those two characters really is. I mean…it goes beyond the storyline… Those two were just meant to be together, even though I in no way designed them to be.

    But if I were to say, “You know, Dizzy really should have stayed with Erik (her original lover)…breaking them up was a mistake.” That statement totally TAINTS the whole story. And it would cause a backlash from my readers, because everyone loves Dizzy and Scott together. They just suit each other so much.

    I do believe writer intent plays a role in the story making process. As you said, we are the gods of our worlds…and while I do believe in imperfect gods, to be a god you do at least need to have power and prestige. But once the story is out there…it’s in the reader’s hands. Control goes from the author’s hands to the reader’s. The world, the characters…they become theirs. And at that point, you’re absolutely right, writer’s intent is lessened in its significance. But you make a good point in this re-evaluation on your stance…it may be lessened or weakened, but it’s still there…

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