Recently I saw a series of images entitled “Harry Potter characters in real life” (or something like that). Anyways, the images detailed how the characters would act if they lived in the 21st century like regular people, magic-less. While the characteristics attributed to them were generally from the books, some slight creative liberties were taken.
Which got me thinking. Everyone interprets characters and stories in different ways. I recently saw an article explaining why the Jedi are the true villains of Star Wars. The thing is, everyone sees the stories differently.
During these discussions some are sensible enough to ask authors their opinion on the matter.
Which begs the question: do author’s opinions on their own works really matter?
I thought about it for awhile, and after debating, came up with a conclusion: I would argue both sides.
So let’s begin.
Why author’s opinions on their own work matters
The idea that a creator intrinsically has the last word on their work is quite ingrained. The fact people still ask authors and directors what they think about their own work is proof enough.
And it makes sense. While it’s the mark of a good author to be able to tell a self contained story that doesn’t need extra material to explain the plot, it doesn’t mean that extra material doesn’t exist. Look at J.R.R. Tolkien, and all the tales he left unpublished that are hinted at in Lord of the Rings. There have been many a story with characters whose motives aren’t completely clear, but clear enough for the story to be enjoyed.
Even within stories, most characters’ motives are initially hidden. Readers can guess their motives all they want, but they’re probably incorrect. And even if they think they’re right, well, they didn’t write the book, did they?
I think one of the best examples of this is in Harry Potter, in the complex relationship between Snape, Dumbledore and Harry. Besides his own house, not many appear to be fond of Snape, and he routinely mocks and verbally abuses Harry, something that no other teacher does to any other students. Why Dumbledore tolerates it is unknown. But all is revealed in the seventh book, and while I found the explanation unexpected, it made sense. The point is, I could have any opinion I wanted about their relationship, but it’s J.K. Rowling’s story, and she gets to dictate what happens it it.
This license to have the final word on one’s own work should logically continue even after the book is published. Only the author knows the ins and outs of their work, and as J.K. Rowling has demonstrated with Fantastic Beasts, she has a lot more to say about her world of wizards.
Why author’s opinions on their own work doesn’t matter
It is interesting to note that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never described his famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, wearing a deerstalker cap. There are two references that appear to suggest it, but otherwise, the hat doesn’t feature in the books.
And yet, somehow, Holmes ended up with a deerstalker, and that image of the detective has been seared into our minds since then.
Even though it wasn’t Doyle’s image of Holmes.
Should we try to preserve Doyle’s Holmes—the one that didn’t wear a deerstalker? Does even matter anymore, now that Holmes’s fame has transcended even the fame of his creator?
A story is a story, and thus, anyone can make a judgment on it. It’s similar to cooking. While chefs get to have an opinion on their own dishes, unless they plan to go broke, they don’t get the last word on it. Their customers do.
In the same way, the public gets the last word on books. William Golding, the author of the “classic” Lord of the Flies, was apparently, in his later years, disgusted by the work. He thought his other books were better (maybe they were—I haven’t read them).
But again, does it matter? I’ve read Lord of the Flies, and it seemed to be a fine work to me.
As the old adage goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t get it to drink. In the same way, authors give out their offerings of stories to us. But once they do that, it’s up to us as the public to decide what to do with them, how to interpret them, and whether they deserve to be “classics”.
And that’s why author’s opinions on their own work doesn’t matter.
Playing the devil’s advocate is hard work. (I’ll leave you to decide which argument was the devil’s advocate.)
But for the purposes of this article, I’ll just go with the idea that the author of the article, me, doesn’t get the last word. That’s up to the public. To you.
What are your opinions on the matter? (Yeah, that’s a suggestion to comment. Unless you really do want me to have the last word.)