LotR (was Re: reviews (but not of MC))

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Fri Dec 12 15:06:54 EST 2003

On Fri, 12 Dec 2003 12:31:40 -0700, Otter Perry wrote:

>On Friday, December 12, 2003, at 10:41 AM, Robyn Starkey wrote:
>> Not to harp, but why is authorial intention a conclusive 
>> argument-ender to this discussion? I know Tolkien said the book wasn't 
>> an allegory, but it is damn easy to read as one. There seems to be 
>> some space here for debate: just because Tolkien made these 
>> pronouncements doesn't mean he's *right*.
>I think that an allegory has to be intentional.
>I'm not saying that an author's intention affects whether a work can be 
>as an allegory.  In a way, _anything_ can be interpreted as an allegory.
>But if the author says she or he didn't write one, then she or he 
>didn't write one.

That just takes it back to authorial intention trumping everything.  If it
can be interpreted as an allegory, then it *is* an allegory for the sake of
that reading.  And it isn't true that anything can be interpreted as an
allegory; while many things may have allegorical meaning, a true allegory is
something that corresponds to the original on many, many points, and they
are quite rare.

But I would take your point to be that a reader can't decide what an
author's intent was just because he or she happens to read a text a
particular way.  And I would say this is a fair statement.  It's very
freeing to approach a text from the "author is dead" perspective, which is
why I never really care what the author meant (aside from the near
impossibility of figuring that out sometimes).  But it's a two-way street:
if you aren't going to determine authorial intent, you also can't create
authorial intent.  You can't do a French feminist reading of _Paradise Lost_
and then say it means Milton was a misogynistic pig-dog.  (Well.  You can.
It's just not right, I think.)

If the only point of reading were to determine what an author meant, what he
or she was thinking or intending in writing a book, it could just as well be
served by asking the writer to tell you.  And, in fact, this would be the
only way you could truly know authorial intent.  It would also mean that any
personal reaction you had to a book would be wrong, because it was not
intended by the author.  It would mean any new insight not specifically
written into the book was invalid.  And yes, this is a dramatically
overstated point, but this is what seeking authorial intent means to me--a
single-lane highway with all the exits clearly marked.  Good for getting
from one place to another, but not so wonderful for exploring new ground.

Otter, you make the distinction between authorial intent and interpretation
as though one were intrinsic to the book and the other were imposed from
outside.  If that is what you're saying (and I hope I haven't misinterpreted
you) it's not at all what I believe about reading theory.  The distinction
between the two is for me nonexistent; both must be discerned, more or less
fully, by the reader, and both interpretations are going to come from what
that reader already knows about reading and about life.  Whatever the author
meant to say has no more validity than my own understanding of the text.
And sometimes that's a good thing.

Melissa Proffitt

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