The concept of authorial intent is what the author meant to say in his or her work. What was the point? What were they trying to prove? What message were they trying to convey? For example the author of The Little Engine That Could clearly wanted to convey the message “if you approach a task with a positive mind-set you can achieve your goal.” The problem comes when readers and critics misinterpret or ignore the authors intent and add their own meaning to the text.
In University I had to write lots of reflective essays explaining what I was trying to prove with my work.(*) It annoyed me that when reading essays from academics, they would completely ignore the author’s intention or twist the authors words to prove whatever point they were trying to make. They either didn’t understand the text or were being deliberately disrespectful. A famous example of this is the allegory of the Ring from Lord of the Rings and the Atomic Bomb as seen in the video below.
Can you see the authors point of view in this argument? Imagine spending twelve years writing a fantasy series to spread a message of peace only for people to read it and think you are glorifying war. How infuriating must that be? Another example if Robert Frost’s poem The Road not Taken, as I discussed two weeks ago.
When we read a piece of text we each have a slightly different vision in mind. This is a problem many directors have when adapting from a novel to a film, viewers are upset they are not seeing their version of the character. Now it is difficult read the Harry Potter books and not think of Daniel Radcliffe. Another character who varies from their literacy counterpart is Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. In the films Aragorn is seen as hesitant and unwilling to lead, in the novel he faces no such problems. In the Ted-ed video below You can see how The Wizard of Oz can be seen as a scathing criticism of American economic policies.
Since my university days I’ve changed my mind. I believe that Authorial Intent does not matter. I don’t agree with the post modernists who say the author is dead but I do believe that the author has minimal impact when someone is reading their work. It doesn’t matter if the author is trying to argue that the repetition of fireworks foreshadows the death of a character or not. What matters is the reader having that idea. The book isn’t there for the author to read, it’s for the reader to read and they should enrich their experience by taking any ideas they can intentional or not. Many books are left deliberately ambiguous so the reader can form their own ideas and theories.
What do you think? Does authorial intent matter? Do you need to know the background of the author when reading their work? Let me know in the comments down below and I’ll see you next time.
(*)I didn’t always agree with this question, sometimes I wrote a piece of work just to have something to submit. Why does anyone write? Not everything has to have meaning. Sometimes writers write because they want to and readers read because they want to be entertained, sometimes it is that simple!