Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,
Inverarity
inverarity

Authorial Intent, the Word of God, and Why All Comic Books Are Fan Fiction

So I'm taking a wee bit of a breather, now that the rough draft of AQATDR is done. Which means I'm only skimming it now and then and revising a paragraph or two... I'll get back to serious revision once I get my next batch of comments back from my betas.

I am already looking ahead to my next writing project(s). I'll probably discuss that in a future post. (Yes, I do intend to continue the Alexandra Quick series. Absolutely. But I may work on something else before I start writing AQ4.)

Anyway, since I have been thinking about writing so much lately (my own and others'), I thought I would dredge up a topic that has been circulating in HP fandom for quite a while, and in literature in general for ages: the issue of authorial intent.

For those not familiar with the issue, in a nutshell it's this: does the author's intended meaning of a text matter, or is it only the readers' perception of it that matters? Is an author's work open to interpretation, or if the author says, "It means X," does it really mean X?

Now, in academia, you have whole schools of literary criticism and doctoral theses debating this. In fandom, you have wank. (Which, let's be honest, is the same thing. Have you ever read an English Lit PhD thesis?)


So, for example, J.K. Rowling has said that Harry and Ginny are "soul-mates." Now, I'm not a Harry/Ginny hater; I was never any kind of shipper, so I didn't really care who Harry ended up with at the end of Deathly Hallows. But I'm certainly not the first to observe that Rowling did a pretty crappy job of building up Ginny and her relationship with Harry, so when she says that the two of them are "soul-mates," I was left thinking, "Okay, if you say so, but I sure wish you'd written something that would make it easier for me to buy that."

This can be extended to many, many other perennial debates in HP fandom. I'm not a Deathly Hallows hater either, but I am one of those people who found it disappointing in many respects. And all we have to answer our objections is the Word of God: i.e., what the author has said, outside of the books.

I'm in the school of thought that says authorial intent is irrelevant when it comes to interpreting the text. It may be interesting to know what the author's intent was, but if the message I get from Deathly Hallows is not as uplifting and heroic as what Rowling says it is, I'm not "wrong" in any objective sense. Harry isn't a hero just because Rowling says he is -- his heroism must be established in the text. People can certainly disagree as to whether Harry does emerge a hero, but the author's intent (i.e., the "Word of God") isn't an authoritative declaration that settles the issue.

I'm kind of in the middle ground when it comes to "non-canonical information"; i.e., interview declarations. This gets a lot of HP fans heated up as well.

All the stuff Rowling has said in interviews about what happened after the end of DH -- Cho Chang married a Muggle, Ron and Harry became Aurors, etc. -- I think can only be considered quasi-canon. It's silly to say that it has no stamp of authenticity, since Rowling could, if she chose, write an eighth Harry Potter book called "The Auror Adventures of Ron and Harry." On the other hand, I also think it's silly to regard it as having the same status as book canon. Canon implies that there's a written record and that it's been fixed. Sure, Rowling said that Ron and Harry become Aurors, but maybe in twenty years, when she decides to write another HP book, she'll change her mind and it will be "The Adventures of Ron and Harry the Kneazle Breeders."

So, if someone writes a post-DH story in which Draco is married to Pansy, I don't think it's necessarily non-canonical or AU just because Rowling said in an interview that Draco marries Astoria Greengrass. It may become non-canonical if Rowling puts that in the dictionary she keeps saying she'll publish someday, but right now, anything that isn't part of the written canon is just thoughts in her head, subject to change.

(Please note: I've heard some defenders of the Word of God argue that this is denying authors control over their intellectual property. That's a ridiculous straw man. Rowling owns the characters and can publish what she wants about them; no one else has the legal right to do so, unless she gives them a license. That's a completely separate issue from whether or not whatever thoughts in her head she happens to have said out loud constitutes official canon.)

This brings me to comic books. I assert that comic books (at least those publishing stories of established characters not written by the original creators) are, in essence, fan fiction. Fan fiction is when someone writes stories using someone else's creations, adding things to the universe and the continuity of those creations. The difference with comic books is one of legality, of course: the actual creator is usually not the one with intellectual property rights. The company (e.g., Marvel or DC) owns the characters, and so can give anyone they choose the right to write more stories about Spider Man or Superman. The same thing applies to licensed novelizations of movie and TV franchises, like all those Star Trek novels.

So, question: is Alan Dean Foster's Splinter of the Mind's Eye official Star Wars canon? What about the Marvel Comics series from the late 70s-early 80s?

Does the fact that I've said on my LJ that Constance Pritchard's middle name is Gwendolen make it (AQ) canon? (Never mind that AQ is fan fiction and thus nothing is "canon" in a legal sense -- y'all know what I mean! :P ) Does the fact that I already know in my head who Constance will marry someday make it canon? Would it become canon if I told you?
Tags: alexandra quick, fandom, writing
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