icecoldramblings asked: Hey Neil, my english Teacher keeps insisting that there are underlying themes and meanings to books and i don't think they are intentional. Do you have any opinions when it happens to your books. When literary critics attempt to put motives and personal agendas behind your works?

Sometimes they are intentional, and sometimes they aren’t intentional. 

But once a piece of art is made — and a story or a poem or a novel is a piece of art — it doesn’t belong to the person who made it any more. It belongs to the people who read it or see it or listen to it. And all of their opinions are right (that’s the joy of opinions, after all).

I may have one idea of what a poem or a story was about, and then find someone who was moved and changed by that story who feels it’s about something totally different.

It’s absolutely true that sometimes there are underlying themes and meanings. Sometimes the author is the last to notice a theme, or notices that there’s an overall theme about the same time as she finishes writing the book. It’s also true that sometimes the underlying meaning is, if you ask the author “I thought it was interesting story,” or “it made me laugh to write it” or “I don’t know”, but that other people all see the same things in a story.

And it’s just as true that teachers can be absolute idiots and incredibly lazy readers (it’s baffling how many English teachers try and teach LORD OF THE FLIES now as World War Two fiction, rather than as the near future World War 3 fiction it actually is), and equally as true that you can read critics who disagree so profoundly about something you’ve written that there is simply no common ground.

Either way, don’t let your teacher put you off reading or enjoying stories. When I write a story whatever else is going on what I want is for a reader to enjoy turning the pages, and to get to the end and feel like the time spent in the story was not wasted. I didn’t write books to be taken apart and examined like dead things. Remember that stories are alive.

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