Is it really me if I don’t do some sort of mildly controversial discussion post?
Today we’re going to tackle the question if authors or readers are superior when it comes to interpretation and declaring canon. Fun topic, I know!!!
- They write books. I mean, obviously. The books we devour and cry over and scream about and fangirl over and shove into people’s faces and throw across the room are written by authors. I mean, if authors didn’t exist, BOOKS WOULDN’T EXIST. What a nightmare.
- They talk with us on social media. I mean, how awesome are some authors when they share your fanart or talk about how awesome your cosplay of their character is or like your Tweet about the tattoo you just got based off of their book or when you just finished their book and screamed about it, and they respond??? Authors are so cool.
- They do signings and book festivals. Sometimes, we have the opportunity to meet authors out in the wild and the great outdoors, and it’s a pretty freaking awesome experience to tell an author you love their books in real life and capture a part of their soul a.k.a. their signature in your book.
- They answer our questions. Even if we ask the same questions over and over because we don’t realize that it’s already answered. THANKS FOR YOUR NEVER-ENDING PATIENCE, V.E. SCHWAB.
But, sometimes…authors can disappoint us.
(*insert loud gasp here*)
For instance, take the whole controversy surrounding S.E. Hinton regarding a Twitter exchange in October of 2016. Basically, someone asked if there had been any hint of a romance between two male characters in The Outsiders, and Hinton responded that the characters weren’t gay, that a gay relationship wouldn’t have worked out well in such a homophobic time period, and that she had lots of friends she loved but didn’t want to start a romantic relationship with. This blew up and people were angry that it seemed Hinton wasn’t allowing people to interpret her book in a way she hadn’t written it. If you want to learn more about this whole situation, here’s an article that sums it up pretty well!
And then the whole deal with The Cursed Child. Pretty much all Harry Potter fans were excited when they heard there was going to be another book in the series, but once it was released, it was met with lots of disappointment and anger and hate. Personally, I really enjoyed it, but nowadays, it’s pretty popular to just ignore this book and say that it “doesn’t count as canon.” But are we as readers allowed to just write off a book if it doesn’t fit with the way we see things?
That’s really what I wanted to dive into today – when it comes to canon in books, who has the more superior authority: the author or the fans and readers? I decided that I wanted to examine both sides of the argument!
1.) It’s a lot of hard work to write a book. It really truly is. I used to write a lot when I was younger, and I’ve only finished one book (it was when I was ten, and it’s the worst book ever written), but I remember I binge-wrote it across two journals over two weeks, AND MY WRIST CRAMPED UP SO MUCH.
So I can’t imagine how long and how much effort is put into writing a book that’s supposed to actually be good. It’s a lot of uphill battles with writing first drafts…and second drafts and third drafts and fourth drafts; choosing what to edit and what to keep; writing an outline; and this doesn’t even include how hard it is to get published. I know that if I put all that hard work into a book and trying to make it perfect to my standards, that I might be a smidge annoyed if someone who only bought and read a book (which is awesome!!!) all of a sudden got to interpret things the way they want to.
But, on the flip side, they also love you and bought your book and want to support you, so it’s sort of a dilemma, since you want to thank them, in a way?
2.) They don’t want things to be misinterpreted. And I think that makes a lot of sense! You don’t want people to get the wrong idea or message from your book; for instance, I don’t think Maggie Stiefvater wants us to think that Piper, who simultaneously enjoys attending yoga classes and killing people, is the character we should model our life after (or maybe she does. Who knows?).
But on the other side, you don’t want people to think that a character that’s a POC is white or a character that seemed like they had anxiety from the writing really doesn’t.
3.) They don’t want to lie. I mean, I think it’s exponentially worse if an author said that they were cool with a reader interpreting something in some way when they really weren’t or didn’t think that way. It’s definitely awesome when authors confirm your suspicions about certain characters and you can feel the excitement for those it’s important to, so I feel like there’s no reason to overshadow that with an author who just didn’t write it that way.
1.) They “make the books.” I feel a bit iffy about this reasoning, but I’ve definitely seen it around before! I don’t believe buying a book means that a reader has magically acquired the ability to interpret it any way they want to, but I guess it does make some sort of sense that if you’re supporting an author, saying that interpretation as a free-for-all is fair? I don’t know.
2.) Reading is a subjective experience. This is definitely true! There have been so many times where I’ve loved a book, then stumbled upon a negative review for said book by someone else, and it’s as if we read two completely different stories. Books are art, and art is something that’s entirely subjective, so interpretation is valid.
On the flip side, I don’t think that means all interpretation is equal. For instance, when some people read the Harry Potter series, they interpret that Dramione is a valid ship. Obviously, there’s negative zero contextual evidence backing that up, so that’s not as equal an interpretation as thinking that Dumbledore was a terrible person who refused to help Harry. Or, for a more ludicrous example, you can interpret that Hazel and Augustus in The Fault in Our Stars are actually aliens, but, once again, that doesn’t make it so.
3.) They need representation. And this is totally valid. It’s awesome when people get to see themselves in books, especially if they’re marginalized. One person who was angry at Hinton actually asked her why she would reject something that might make young gay kids happy.
But, on the flip side, I personally don’t see the point in made-up representation. I can interpret that Hermione Granger is a black girl, and that’d be totally awesome, but why do that when I could look up to Starr from The Hate U Give or Alia from Wonder Woman: Warbringer or Winter from the Lunar Chronicles? Why not seek out valid, canon representation, since it’s much better anyway? I could name every single YA main character as black, and though it might help me, it’s not really representation at all.
What do you think about the subject? Do you think authors or readers are superior all the time, or does it depend on the situation? What are some things you don’t accept as canon in books?