The Undeath of the Author

The Undeath of the Author February 6, 2014

If you’ve paid attention to the media at all over the past couple of days, you’ve heard about author JK Rowling’s big reveal. The author of Harry Potter explained that she didn’t think her pairing of Hermione and Ron was really a workable relationship.

“For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron.”

Presumably Rowling, who plotted everything out years before the writing, elected to stick with her original plan even after the characters developed in different ways.

I’m working from an article in the Daily Telegraph, who did their journalistic duty by scouring the net and finding the only two internet HP fans who were shocked and angered by this. As opposed to the 47 gazillion (aprox.) fanfic writers who have elected to just ignore the pairing and have Hermione and Draco hook up. With Harry.

The Telegraph also dug up an academic who is apparently annoyed at Rowling:

Pamela Ingleton, an academic who has written about Rowling’s habit of revealing more about her stories after their publication, said some passionate Harry Potter fans felt angry that she was “entering on their territory”.

She said: “She is still constantly intervening in the process of understanding and reading these characters and these stories.

“In some ways she is speaking for the books instead of letting the books speak for themselves.”

I think Ingleton is overstating the problem, but it does bring up an interesting point. One of the first guidelines I was taught for literary interpretation is that “the author is dead.” The writing and the creator are separate.

But that’s a lot easier to say when the author is literally dead. Failing that, it helps when the author is a distant figure than can only be reached through the mail. But in the age of fansites, fanfic authors, and author blogs with other social media, the distance between the author and the reader is shrinking. Authors are twittering their work schedules, explaining their craft in blog posts and giving direct interviews on Reddit.

I’m curious as to what this does to literary interpretation of modern works. I can’t help thinking of Amy Tan getting royally pissed at the Cliff’s Notes company for what they said was her intention in writing The Joy Luck Club. What happens when the author is a participant?

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