I ask in part because I overloaded on playoff hockey this weekend (Bruins live! Penguins, Red Wings, Canucks, out!) and never quite organized my thoughts enough to follow up on Friday's post, but also because of a statement made by one of the people in my writer's group on Sunday.
The incident in Writer's Circle occurred when one gentleman was discussing something new he is working on. It's creepy. It's edgy. It's got a post-apocalyptic feel to it, and it involves bugs, the breakdown of civilization, and chaos vs. order. Nice and cheery. While talking about it on Sunday he mentioned Lord of the Flies and how, while preparing for work as an English teacher he read a ton of material about the book. He said, and I quote: "Where I think everyone got it wrong – where I think even the writer got it wrong – was…" and he proceeded to tell us where William Golding got it wrong.
I am not an argumentative person. I'd like to say it's because I'm too analytical, but the truth is I'm just not prone to arguments, period. Anyway, my mouth started to open and I drew a breath and prepared to make a statement, to argue – and then I shut my mouth. This was not the time to argue the point – we were already bumping up against our time limit and we still had at least two people left to read their pieces. It would have been a good discussion to have, and maybe we will some day, but yesterday was not the right time.
What I was going to say, in a huff of righteous indignation, was this: An author can't be wrong in his interpretation of his work. It's impossible, and the simple reason is this: there's only one person who can be in an author's head (not counting, of course, all the characters crowded in there) when a book is being written. I wasn't in Golding's head when he wrote Lord of the Flies, and neither was my Writing Circle member. It's fine for him to say, "I think most of the interpretations got it wrong." It's fine for him to say, "I think it's really about THIS", but I don't believe any reader or critic can say, "he's got it wrong" when it comes to discussions of what a novel is about. It reminds me of this scene from Back to School, where Rodney Dangerfield's character hires Kurt Vonnegut to write an English paper on…Kurt Vonnegut, and gets this response (Language warning! and yes, if you're not familiar with the movie, Vonnegut did make an appearance):
I've talked off and on about the interpretation thing before and I realize you can't control what other people think. Some will love it, some will hate it, some will say, "meh." But don't tell me what I was thinking when I wrote it (speculate all you want, I guess. Speculation is fun, but don't pass it off as gospel, because you don't know. You can't know. You may see things in it that the author didn't, and maybe the author would say, "Hey, you may be right on that, maybe that was in the back of my head at the time." But he's not wrong.
What do you think?