Wednesday, July 7, 2010

What The Author Intended

I recently saw a copy of an illustration by Norman Rockwell. The work is entitled “--And Daniel Boone Comes to Life on the Underwood Typewriter”. I think the illustration captures a number of ideas for both readers and writers. Like many people who read I feel that while the writer of a book provides the reader with their own idea(s) of the characters and events that make up a story, it is then up to the reader to make the work real to her/himself. Even when a writer is very good and provides the necessary description to bring the tale to life in the readers mind, the reader still needs to do the putting together. And to also put things together in a way that is not only appealing but also acceptable to the reader. Not an easy task. Sometimes this means the reader has to suspend disbelief or credibility for a bit to make things work. That’s okay. This idea of the reader being a crucial part of the process is the main criticism of why movies are different and not as good as books. The reader does the work of putting things together not the director, actors or production teams. But do we always put things together as the author meant? I’m not sure. Two people can have very different ideas as to what a character will look like and what the primary motivations of that character are. Hopefully as we learn more about the character some of that ambiguity fades. But that is still up to the reader.

This also brings me around to a second idea. What happens when we learn too much about a character? I’m talking non-fiction here. I’ll continue using Daniel Boone as my example. A number of years ago I read Boone A Biography by Robert Morgan. I really enjoyed the work. I thought Morgan did a great job of not only informing the reader but I also felt that I traveled with Boone during his entire, eventful life. Here is the rub: I also found out that during the Revolutionary War Boone spent most of his time wandering around in what was then the wilderness and that he was not a strong advocate for American Independence. I also discovered that Boone was an ardent slave holder his entire life. Now how do I reconcile the “Opener of the West” the arch-typical American frontiersman, the hero of generations with these two facts? I can’t.

And maybe that was one of the things that Morgan intended with his work. Interesting books, much like interesting people, usually don’t fit into tidy letterboxes. Maybe one of the hallmarks of a good read in fiction is that the author gives you only just enough information so that there is some confusion and you as the reader have to deliver the goods yourself. In Morgan’s non-fiction work maybe one of his goals in writing about Boone was to shatter some of the stereotypes that have grown up around Boone and to let us know that historic figures are really strikingly similar to current day people. These people are a reflection of the times, for good or ill and that they are, like us responding to events that surround them. Of course, some respond with a greater impact then others. These characters are rarely simple, one dimensional characters and that they can lead complicated, rather messy lives at times. Just like you and me.

See you at the Library,


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  2. Nice site you got there. Thank for showing it to me.
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