The cursed interpretation
Catherine Owers | Monday, February 15, 2016
About two weeks ago, I had a 3 a.m. existential crisis. It wasn’t induced by a missed deadline. It wasn’t induced by the absence of Mediterranean night in South Dining Hall. It wasn’t even induced by forgetting my black jacket at Finni’s.
No, I had an existential crisis because I was re-reading my favorite Irish detective fiction, the second novel in Tana French’s excellent Dublin Murder Squad series. And this book is so, so good. “The Likeness” expertly incorporates standards of the genre, but intensifies these themes so as to break new ground, revitalizing a genre that can at times be very self-limiting.
Anyway, I was reveling in the last ten pages of French’s masterpiece, when I discovered a major detail that’s not explicitly stated but implied. This detail doesn’t change my entire interpretation of the plot, but it does play a crucial role in understanding the psyche of the main character. All I could think was, “How on earth could I have not seen this before? I’ve read this book at least three or four times and never noticed it.”
It wasn’t until the next day that I began to process this information, and came to a rather startling conclusion: we, as readers, ultimately provide the definitive interpretation of the work we encounter. Perhaps this is an obvious statement. My English professors are always emphasizing that an author’s statement of intent should be taken not just with a grain of salt, but the whole shaker. (I don’t say this to denigrate the efforts of the author, for they are the ones crafting the words on the page, but merely to suggest that the message they seek to impart will always be different from the message extracted by the readers.)
And so it was with this realization that I reacted to the news of the publication of an eighth Harry Potter story, due this summer. J.K. Rowling has been careful to emphasize that she has not written an eighth novel — rather, she has worked with playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany to create a play that will premiere on London’s West End, and this book is a compilation of the scripts. And while many people have reacted ecstatically to the news, there also seems to be a substantial amount of concern that Rowling will “ruin” the series, diluting the characters or altering essential themes.
I’ll read the script book for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts I & II” because, quite simply, I want to find out what happens next. But I also realize that another story can’t ruin the series for me because my love for the existing seven books has already been established. Details about the characters, 19 years after the conclusion of the final book, will certainly be interesting, but they cannot alter my interpretation of the series as it stands. The characters I know aren’t simply the characters Rowling created — they’re the characters as I’ve interpreted them, as I’ve loved them.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.