authorial intent and ownership

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This question is ever surfacing, always debatable, and perhaps the one issue which divides readers the most: does an author continue to ‘own’ their work after it becomes available to the public?

Whilst some authors are happy to have fans of their book/s interpret and analyse their plot and characters to their hearts content, some authors take  a more negative stance to this. They think they have ultimate reign over what this fictional character meant when they said that one thing, or did that one thing. Whilst in the strictest sense this is entirely true on many levels it is not. I’m of the personal belief that once a book is out there that’s it; the ‘canon’ is strictly confined to the printed word and anything that isn’t explicit in the text is up for personal interpretation by the reader.

Let’s think about the beloved Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling for a second. This set of books is seven long with thousands upon thousands of words set aside to tell an incredible story. That’s great. I love Harry Potter. But when you turn away from the books and instead look to Rowling’s twitter page and Pottermore it does spark more of a debate: are these extras she’s known for giving out truly ‘canon’? Rowling treats them as such and so do a great legion of fans but if you follow my argument that ownership is passed to the public upon publication, they’re not. I’m not saying Rowling isn’t allowed to give extra tidbits of information out or even saying  they’re invalid. They’re not! But my own thoughts on Dumbledore’s sexuality or Harry Potter’s grandparents’ names are just as valid. In particular with Dumbledore’s sexuality, no matter the intent she meant to convey in the text (perhaps as subtext between he and Grindlewald) it was never explicitly, or even implicitly, said that he is gay and therefore, even though I would strongly advise against it since Harry Potter needs all the queer representation it can get, Dumbledore can be any sexuality you desire him to be without you going against canon. It’s as simple as that.

I think sometimes authors are revered for their omniscience. After all, they do know everything about the world they have created. But that’s not the be all end all. If it’s not in the text, truly, what power does it have? Not much. Whilst I find knowing what the authorial intent was with certain passages and bits of dialogue to be interesting this doesn’t mean I have to limit my own interpretations. Imagine Literature classes if we only ever looked at what the author wanted to do/say!

My biggest suggestion would be to explore a world of depth in the stories you read. Whilst I don’t advise you ignore everything an author has to say on their works remember that you can take it with a pinch of salt – you don’t always have to read it as The Law.

What are your thoughts? Where do you sit on the Great Debate?

– JESS, XO

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