Firstly, I spent this morning doing some blog housekeeping (blogskeeping?) in which I have finally differentiated between categories and tags. Now you’ll see that the post categories are of a more manageable number, and are actually the literal categories of my posts. Shocking, I know! And then I went through and properly tagged things, which took ages. You will see there is now a delightful tag cloud on the right, with which you can now navigate my witty repartee.
Oh, procrastination. I love you so.
You’ll also notice that I finally linked to Philip Pullman’s official website, which I’d been terribly remiss in doing before. I’ve babbled about how much I love His Dark Materials often enough!
Having done so, I then took the time to look around the website and the very first page, he said something that made me go, “YES!”:
As a passionate believer in the democracy of reading, I don’t think it’s the task of the author of a book to tell the reader what it means.
The meaning of a story emerges in the meeting between the words on the page and the thoughts in the reader’s mind. So when people ask me what I meant by this story, or what was the message I was trying to convey in that one, I have to explain that I’m not going to explain.
Anyway, I’m not in the message business; I’m in the “Once upon a time” business.
I believe in this wholeheartedly.
I remember a lecture in one of my classes, I think it was Contemporary Fiction, when we talked about “reading as telepathy”. It’s a mental communication between the reader and the words, where you can read the minds of the characters and know their deepest secrets and desires, all without a spoken word. If you, the writer, have an agenda, then you’re controlling that communication and manipulating the reader to think your way. Instead of telepathy, it becomes telepathic possession!
J.R.R. Tolkien said something to that effect, in the foreword of an edition of Lord of the Rings (which I bought at a charity shop many years ago, enthralled as I was by the cover illustration of a windswept Gandalf, robes billowing oh-so dramatically). He says:
As for any inner meaning or ‘message’, it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical. […] But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and have always done so since I was old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.
And so when I write about my Wollstonecraftian feminism, the conflict of the patriarchy and those who flout the system, I’m not trying to make any kind of point or convey any specific message. I’m just telling a story, as best I can. I leave it to you, dear readers, to do the rest.
And you really don’t want to find yourselves possessed by me. Exorcism doesn’t come cheap.