Posted at Sword of Gryffindor:
The question remains whether Jo Rowling answering all the questions and solving so many of the mysteries through Q&A rather than through storytelling has in affect stilled the wind from Harry Potter’s sails. If she is going to “explain” things - even when they appear to be outside the canon and merely in her head or in a file box somewhere, does that actually end up diminishing the books?
We see this happening all ready with the announcement that Sugar Quill is downsizing and Mugglenet’s podcast is ending in April.
I think that since so many appear to be accepting at face value all that she says about the books (after all - she is the author!) that there has been a serious lack of pushback from those who read the books not just from a fan-point of view but from a literary point of view.
We’re hearing a lot of a sort of “gossipy” stuff about the characters, but not the deeper view of the books that might even be outside the author’s control. Is she in fact helping her books by commenting on things so freely or in fact, as I said earlier, taking the wind out of the sails of her creation.
I have found it interesting to see the pull-back around the HP commentary world and have felt it myself. Why discuss the mysteries and musings of the series when we can just ring up Jo and have her explain things to us?
As I’ve written over at John Granger’s site, Bob Dylan has just refused for years and years and years to discuss the meaning of his songs. He’ll talk about his influences, but he won’t explain the songs to us. Even in his autobiography he spent far more time illustrating how he writes and virtually no time explaining the meaning of songs. But when he is asked what he believes in (as in his personal faith) he says it’s in the songs. But he won’t explain it - so guess what. If you care about it, you pour over the songs to try to understand. People write doctoral theses on Dylan’s work. But you are going to come up wanting if you think you are going to get him to explain the meaning of “Like a Rolling Stone.”
The fun remains then in trying to figure it out (and the songs have many layers and our responses to them have many layers) and Dylan fans get together (especially at his concerts) discussing these topics, using the “canon” of his works to back them up on what ever thesis they are working at. Books are even written and more conversation goes on - and still Dylan says very little. What he does say is still often open to interpretation. It is masterful.
I think that is the better way for authors and writers to go. Either the work stands on its own or it does not. If you have more to tell, than go write it but don’t tell us what you might write or not write. It isn’t true until it’s in prose. Until then the author might have his or her own opinions, but it might not means they are right.
All that being said, I do think the author has a role after the work is done - and that is to continue producing more work, not providing commentary to the work all ready completed. That is the work of the readers. The art of storytelling is that the reader also participates in the “truth” of what is happening. It’s not just “fiction” - if it’s good, it’s true.
Don’t get me wrong here - I am as interested in the things she’s been saying as anyone else. But now looking back has it really helped me want to dig deeper into the books? I have to say, no, it has not - and in fact, has done quite the opposite.
When I was working on my BFA in Creative Writing we used to have discussions about the role of the writer. We used to have teams of writers come and read their works. We were fascinated in the crafting of the work (as I was fascinated in reading Dylan’s insights on how he created some of his works), which is more of a mentoring role for writers. I can remember combing through F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, and examining it to see how he did it. It would have been highly inappropriate for Fitzgerald to suddenly, even magically appear in the classroom and start explaining what happened behind the scenes (yes, we know Gatsby’s a gangster, but perhaps not every reader would know that it would not have helped the book if Fitzgerald pointed that out to us) or whatever happened to Nick (”he bought a condo in Malibu and raised chickens”). What makes that book great is that it stands on its own - whatever we need is in the text and if it’s not there, then it doesn’t exist. There might have been more in Fitzgerald’s head, but it never came out on to the page and so it doesn’t exist. The genius of it was that we had to find the answers ourselves, not wait for the author to explain.
In fact, we were taught that it was a no-no to explain. In workshops the writer’s whose work was being reviewed had to maintain silence. It was an extraordinary experience, to listen as others around you reviewe your work within guidelines (you had to discuss it from the text, from what was or wasn’t there). But you could not explain anything. You to sit there and listen. Then you went home and did your rewrites. But the work finally had to stand on its own.
I can remember when my thesis (a novel) was being reviewed before I was awarded my degree. Two professors started arguing over the meaning of some of the characters or something and I sat there - of course, in silence - as they argued. It was exhilarating to hear the debate about the meaning (especially since one was a skeptic agnostic and the other a Buddhist).