Who Is Superior When It Comes To Canon & Interpretation: Authors Or Readers? (Ft. A Fight To The Death)

Is it really me if I don’t do some sort of mildly controversial discussion post?

(Clearly not.)

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?

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45 thoughts on “Who Is Superior When It Comes To Canon & Interpretation: Authors Or Readers? (Ft. A Fight To The Death)

  1. My, this is a very confusing topic (to me). All I can say is that it depends on one’s imagination or how they interpret a book. Readers can think any possible thing but it doesn’t mean that that is precisely what will happen in the book. I mean it depends on the author. And if the author actually starts writing books according to our interpretation, they’ll probably have to write a hundred books. Like some people ship Ron and Hermione while others ship Harry and Hermione, but obviously they both couldn’t happen. So Rowling went with one of them. But this doesn’t mean that we can’t ship Harry and Hermione.
    This is a really interesting topic. I have never thought about it in this way. ALSO… congratulations on 2000 followers. Woohoo! girl so happy for you. ❀ ❀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, this hit near since I’m a reader and a writer. And someone that wants to become an author.
    I must say that agree with you on many points. About interpretation from authors to readers, I feel that sometimes being always clear is the best thing to do. But also creating a incert atmosphere might not be wrong, but the author must be awere of this. Anyway, I think that reading is a personal experience. Like, I read a book with two queer characters. While some reviews I read talked about queer baiting, for me was pretty clear that both or at least one character was not sure about his orientation and that there was still much to learn. So I asked myself if me and them read the same book. Which is normal.

    Talking as a writer, I don’t lie: if someone would pass a certain character for what is not, I will be a little bothered. Unless I left it open to interpretaion. Which honestly I think that is risky. There’re things that I would never left open. But this is more on the side of character’s identity than role model. What I mean is that there are reasons why an author chose a certain identity and that’s might be a random choice or something more profound. And also: if a character has a certain identity, it’s because represent someone. So actually coding it as something else might be a form of erasure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh, I find the queer baiting thing interesting because I always feel meh about that. I know people have called Sterek (a gay ship on Teen Wolf, a TV show) queer-baiting, but the characters are both straight and one of them is an adult while one is in high school, so…I feel like there’s a difference between queer-baiting and “you really wanting a ship to happen, and it doesn’t.”

      I agree with that! I think authors do have reasons why they might or might not leave something to interpretation, so it’s probably best to respect that! I know I love characters, but not every single one of them has to be a role model!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. With the queer bait I wasn’t talking about character with canon sexual orientation. In this case the situation was open and later the author stated that, in fact, one rep was questioning . But also, in Teen Wolf case, it should be seen if the promotion of the show was actually trying to do so.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved your points. I think it is fine to let the imagination wander and explore ideas and do the what ifs, but at the end of the day, it is the authors work, and as a writer you can’t always fit everything on a page so they do have to fill in the blanks even if we don’t always agree.
    But an author, like a painter, or choreographer also have to understand that different people will take different things out of their work and interpret it differently.
    Definitely give and take and understanding needs to happen on both sides. ❀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The way I feel about this as a reader is, I try to separate the media from the person. Unless the person does something unforgivable. Authors are people, and people say and do stupid things. The internet has made it so that the stupid things people say and do are amplified. I don’t follow many authors of social media because I don’t want to have the work change.

    As a writer, I can understand the need to protect and explain your characters and the things that you create. We live with this characters and in these worlds for years sometimes and when a reader sees something that we didn’t intend, I understand the want to correct them, but how people interpret what you write is beyond your control.

    I think we as people need to understand that authors are people and aren’t perfect. People do things that we don’t agree with, and I honestly think we have to give a little bit of a break to authors who say things about their creations that we don’t agree with.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s so true! I find it interesting how, in terms of media influences, authors are the ones we can communicate with easily the most! So that can blow up in our faces sometimes (and we’re seeing that happen with authors getting in bloggers’ spaces). And it’s true – what people do with your art is totally out of your control.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I knew I’d love this post as soon as I saw the title. Some things are really easy to take away from the author – things the author leaves ambigious. Like Hermione’s race. She really could be black, just reading the text.
    I think if the author leaves something ambigious, we can use our imagination to take the text where we want to take it. Now, if the author clarifys that something is NOT canon, then you kind of should not keep pushing it.
    But as an author, I know my readers can interpet things differntly. And sometimes, their interpretation is better than my imagination. πŸ™‚

    But Cursed Child really doesnt’ deserve to be canon. It read like fanficion, and I kind of think of it like that. It just doesn’t feel like the original story. Fun, but not true to Harry Potter?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I disagree that Rowling leaves Hermione’s race as ambiguous. Black characters are always specifically described as being black (Angelina Johnson, for example), and Hermione isn’t. She IS, however, described as being very tan after coming back from holiday. I’ve never heard anyone describe a black person as tan. Doesn’t mean you can’t imagine her black if you want to, I guess, but I don’t think that’s a “correct” reading based on the given descriptions. *shrug*

      Liked by 3 people

  6. Oooooo, what an interesting discussion!

    For me personally, if it’s in the book, it’s cannon. The end. I don’t really see a point in going around complaining that Ron and Hermione got together in the end because that’s what happened. Don’t even get me started on Snape/Lily.

    But if it ISN’T in the book, it’s up to interpretation. I think the Outsiders is a great example there, because (I guess, I haven’t read this one, *gasp!*) the book doesn’t say the characters AREN’T gay. Better example, I always go to Harry Potter because I know it back and forwards, Luna. It drives me no end of crazy that JK Rowling just came out in an interview and decided that Luna marries some descendant of Newt Scamander’s. Ooooookaaaay, it’s not in the book, I don’t have to care. In my mind Luna ends up with Dean Thomas after book 7, which is also a fine interpretation because the book doesn’t say otherwise. And I have evidence to back up my claim, lol!

    I’m kind of with you on black Hermione too. She isn’t black, and you can interpret her that way if you want, but I agree that it isn’t REALLY representation. But I don’t have a problem with people who do that. I always imagine the characters I’m reading about look basically like me, until some description in the book says otherwise. As the book goes on the character looks less and less like me, lol. But at the beginning most girls are white, pale, brunettes who are a little shorter than average. Because that’s what I look like. So I’m not upset if black people do the same thing. They put themselves onto the character, just like I do.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I find that interesting, because I’ve seen lots of people not like Rowling adding stuff to the books, like how people say Dumbledore declared gay after the fact doesn’t count as actual representation when it’s not explicitly said in the books (which I think is valid)!

      I find that interesting, because I’m black and unless it’s explicitly stated, I imagine all characters as white, which is probably because society thinks of white as the default. I’ve never thought of someone black if they’re not, and I love the black girls in books I do get, so I’ve never seen the point! πŸ˜„

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s so interesting! Obviously based on my comment I assumed you would imagine characters as black unless said otherwise. But I guess I can see how, since so few characters typically are, you wouldn’t.

        But like you, I just don’t see the point. Why not look up to an ACTUAL black character? Maybe because back when HP came out there weren’t any?

        Liked by 1 person

  7. This is a very interesting discussion and is one that made me really think about things. I think if it’s in the book it’s canon. I accept the majority of Cursed Child as canon, the one thing that I can’t accept as canon is the time turner.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think it’s all pretty ridiculous.
    As a reader, think what you want about a book. That’s the beauty of a well written book, you are forced to use your imagination from time to time. IF you keep thinking about it after, even better. So don’t go asking an author if your interpretation is correct unless you want to hear their interpretation. Which likely won’t agree with yours because people are different.
    There’s an old adage, “you’re blaming someone for shooting you after you handed them a loaded gun.”
    Authors, be happy people are reading your books and thinking about them. ‘Nough said.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that point you made about not asking for an interpretation if you don’t want to hear it makes a lot of sense. Authors aren’t obligated to confirm every theory put in front of them (at least, I don’t think so), so I think if someone really enjoys their interpretations, it’s probably not best to actively try to be disappointed. πŸ˜…

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Well … I am confused honestly as I think reading AND writing are both personal subjective experience. So who cares who’s right or not as long as there is respect??? Really I don’t see one above the other. I just respect everyone’s experience and work. The only thing I will never accep is authors or readers or bloggers bashing others.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I think unless the author leaves it up to interpretation, the book is canon. But readers have subjective views and so does the author. So I guess what I can say is the author is canon because he/she wrote the book but like anything after the book is just up to the reader because it’s different for everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. He made a lot of changes to the movies (4, 5 and 6) way after they were originally released. Just search on “Han shot first” for details – there’s a whole Wikipedia article on it!

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I do think that readers play a big part in this whole discussion. Writers are popular largely because of the readers. While author’s do have creative control, I would think they would need to consider the fans while writing, and forgo possible allusions. I don’t know, that’s what I think. Take it for what you will,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that makes sense! I have mixed feelings on whether an author should strictly cater books to their fans, since I don’t want them to feel like they should be forced to do something (ie: continue writing spin-offs to a popular series, stick in the same genre/age range forever, etc.) just so we can buy them, because I think it’s dumb to stop supporting an author just because they write something different than expected. But it all depends on the person, really! πŸ€·πŸΎβ€β™€οΈ

      Like

  12. I’d say, by definition, what is written clearly in the book is canon. I think what the author clearly states can also be canon. (Think of all the extra info JK Rowling leaks in interviews. No one is really like “No! Character A is NOT in Hufflepuff! She said that in an interview, not the books, so I will pretend they are in Slytherin!”

    However, I do think readers have the right to interpret books (assuming your interpretation is grounded in decent evidence, which is a whole discussion my co-blogger and I have had on our blog but kind of too long here…).

    But I also think that, if you are a person who values reader interpretation, maybe don’t ask the author for the “real” answer they had in their head while they were writing the book and then get mad when it isn’t the answer you wanted. In some of these cases, people wanted the author to validate their reader interpretation, then flipped out when the author disagreed and accused the author of trying to tell reader what to think or something. These readers would have been happy with authorial interpretation if it agreed with their own interpretation though, so that’s kind of hypocritical.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, I find it interesting you said that since a lot of people seem to hate Rowling adding stuff in her interviews.

      Yes, someone else made that point earlier, and I think that makes sense! Authors are free to state what they think about what they’ve written, so you can’t really be upset with that.

      Like

  13. A really interesting topic! I feel like a book is made in the interaction between the text (or the author) and the reader. I have a hard time with authors declaring something canon when it never ever showed in the books (J.K. Rowling does that a lot). But I feel like the story is made somewhere in between. Some things are open to interpretation and are to be seen a certain way from the reader’s perspective, and some are the way they are in the text and the way author’s made them and that’s that. Anyway, I really loved this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I loved this post wow!! You said this all so thoughtfully, and honestly?? I feel like if an author wrote something a specific way, readers should kind of respect that. I mean, of course readers can do ships and fanfiction of like, Dramione– but don’t make it canon? It can be headcanon or whatever, but maybe don’t try and force it into reality if it isn’t. I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M SAYING TBH.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. This is SUCH a great discussion, Mikaela!! I definitely haven’t thought about this before. I think that yeah, it makes sense for authors to not want things to be misinterpreted. But I do think that things that are vague can be left up to the reader? It may not be a valid interpretation, if in the book it literally says otherwise, but the reader can still imagine it.

    And wow, I never thought about the representation part!! It’s so horrible to me that my brain can turn anyone who isn’t white to someone white quickly, but it takes more time to visualize someone I thought was white as a POC. I totally agree with you tho — I don’t like how JK left Hermione’s race vague (but readers can interpret it how they like), and I’d rather have a concrete “statement” (I don’t know what else to call it??) so I know if it can really rep me/someone or not.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. This is a really great discussion! For the most part I accept whatever the author says as the truth, but I do think it really depends on the situation. And if something was left open to interpretation, I sort of feel like it then becomes more up to the reader. And basically this is just a confusing topic.

    Liked by 1 person

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