Death of the Author

Fans love to interpret Harry Potter, and meta and headcanons are an important part of fandom. But what does J.K. Rowling herself think of all these interpretations? And does her opinion really matter? According to a concept from literary criticism called Death of the Author, it doesn’t.

Death of the Author doesn’t refer to a literal, physical death. It just means that when a reader is interpreting a work, the author’s intentions and biographical influences don’t matter. To explain further, by calling on Death of the Author, readers can interpret the literature as they see it.  They don’t have to worry if their viewpoint matches what the author would say about their ideas nor try to use the information they know about the author to try to guess what the author was trying to do. This is especially useful when the author is dead, and it’s impossible to know what they might say about other people’s interpretations hence the name.

However, while Death of the Author is a convenient freedom when dealing with works where the author truly is dead, J.K. Rowling is not. Also, with social media, she’s able to respond to fan interpretations and offer extra information about the series regularly, something not previously possible. So then, how does Death of the Author function when an author is still actively engaging with their work?

Some fans have argued that these tidbits do count as part of published canon, especially the ones on Pottermore that are fully fledged pieces. To believe that would mean the Word of God, or facts said by the author, needs to be considered in interpretations of the series, holding the same weight as the text of the books. But is it even possible to collect all the information J.K. Rowling has disseminated over the years, especially since many times she released that information through scattered social media posts? So in order to keep track of all the new revelations, you would have to go through each of her Twitter posts and carefully note down each piece of information given and keep a master post of all those new facts continuously updated. This is part of the reason Death of the Author is used, so that people trying to interpret literature don’t have to hunt down everything the author said about their work.

Therefore, it’s also possible to call upon Death of the Author, making everything outside of the books become irrelevant. Death of the Author would only look at the canon of the books, with all the other information shared afterward falling under the category of the author’s intentions and interpretations. This would mean that the various tidbits she’s given out in interviews and on Pottermore would not count as official canon. Including the time she revealed that prior to modern plumbing, wizards relieved themselves where they stood. I don’t think I’d mind disregarding that piece of information, and furthermore, Death of the Author does make it easier to keep everything straight. However, some of the other information she’s shared helps to make the world richer, and to discount it would be to lose that richness.

Thus, neither of these options is perfect. However, one possible compromise between the two is that we can use Death of the Author to relieve the burden of considering every new fact released by J.K. Rowling, with only the actual books being undisputed canon. But instead of also completely dismissing the Word of God, it could still be studied and talked about, not necessarily as canon, but perhaps as a starting point to go back into the books and find new interpretations. That allows the freedom of interpretation Death of the Author provides while still being able to honor J.K. Rowling’s ongoing engagement with the series.

Mikaela Renshaw

I picked up a Harry Potter book for the first time when I was six years old and promptly fell in love. However, it didn’t take long for my love of literature to go beyond just Harry Potter and I am now working towards my PhD in English. Outside literature, I love Irish-dancing, D and D, going to the beach, attending Comic-Con, and playing with my dog.