One of the things that seems to be trendy in literary theory is the idea that a book is open to interpretation by the reader, and that the intention of the author is unimportant or unknowable. While I agree that often any writing, especially fiction, can take on a life of its own, since the reader does bring in their own life experiences and beliefs, the author’s intent should have prime consideration, after all, it’s their story.
For me, a book, or really any writing is like having an extended conversation with an author. Writing is the communication of ideas by an author in a permanent way by using written symbols which convey the thoughts of the author to others. The reason why the author took the trouble to write down the thoughts is so that they could share with others a story or ideas. In many ways, this is like an extended conversation between the author and the reader, albeit with limitations. Modern literary theory that discounts an author’s intent seems offensive to me, almost like having a conversation with someone and yet completely ignoring what the other person is trying to say, and instead importing your own meaning into their words. I know of very few people who would continue the conversation if that occurred. I may not like what an author is saying, either the story or the ideas, but it is what the author wants others to know.
This seems myopic to me, and more than a little self-absorbed. An author who writes something down has usually given it a lot of thought. By ignoring, or discounting what an author intends we also ignore the thinking behind it. I have often been encouraged and helped by the thoughts of another person, and is usually why I’m reading it By having their thoughts written down, it allows me to think through the ideas presented whenever I want, without needing their physical presence. It also means I can read the thoughts of people miles, or centuries away, and the ability to enjoy the thinking of some of the greatest minds that have ever lived.
I suppose as a Christian this is one of the greatest pleasures of a book, and especially those who write of their experience in their own communion with God. It is being able to compare notes you might say, which helps me in my own relationship with God because I find in others experiences familiarity with my own, and yet with the author’s life experiences added. In the telling of a story it also prepares and inspires me for experiences I might still have and wisdom I need to gain.