In 1967 French literary critic Roland Barthes published a hugely influential essay titled 'La mort de l'auteur', or 'The Death of the Author'. In it he denounced the idea that every book could be reduced to a single, unequivocal and authoritative meaning, instead emphasizing the role of the reader in interpreting a text's often fluid message.
"To give a text an Author" and assign a fixed interpretation to it "is to impose a limit on that text". Therefore, meaning does not lie within a novel's author, but within its reader, or, as the big man himself said:
A text's unity lies not in its origins but in its destination.
Now, I may have only showed up to around a third of my college Literature classes, but I'm pretty certain that what Barthes was getting at here was the irrefutable validity of online fan theorists.
In fact, he might as well have been talking about the contents of this very article, for this is a celebration of the whackiest, most batshit insane theories to have ever come out of literature, the meaning of these novels wholly conceived by readers (and not in any way endorsed by those damn 'know-it-all' authors).
So let us celebrate the death of the author alongside the birth of the fan theorist! And remember what Barthes taught us: however crazy your ideas may be, as long as you believe them then they're probably right.
1. Harry Potter Made the Ultimate Sacrifice By Becoming Immortal
Book: Harry Potter 1 - 7
(Deceased) Author: J.K. Rowling
Though this particular theory is rather 'out there', there's certainly reasonable grounds for believing it to be true. It comes from the following line discussing Voldermort and Harry's intertwined destinies:
Either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives.
Though on the surface it may simply be referencing the inevitable final showdown between the two rival wizards, some took it to mean that each can only be killed by the other, and no one else. Thus, with the dark lord dead by the end of book seven, no one remains capable of killing the boy who lived, effectively rendering him immortal.
Though this might sound like great news, invincibility actually carries some pretty morbid side-effects when you think about it. For one, Harry will witness all of his children die before him, as well as every loved one he knows for that matter. This climactic moment suddenly becomes a heck of a lot more emotional to watch now knowing just how high the stakes are:
What i think is kind of awesome about this theory is the fact that Harry made the ultimate sacrifice to rid the world of Voldermort, knowing the price was having to stay alive for the deaths of everyone he knows and loves. It's a sombre and extremely powerful image.
2. Jay Gatsby Was Posing As A White Man
Book: The Great Gatsby
(Actually Deceased) Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald's morose depiction of the flashy, vacuous elite tells the tale of Jay Gatsby - a hopeful pursuer of the American Dream who ultimately fails to transcend his class status. But what if we've been misinterpreting it this entire time - What if it was in fact a tale about a man who succeeded at overcoming his racial status instead?
That's right, this theory posits that Fitzgerald's protagonist hid his real black lineage and was just 'passing' as white all along. There are a number of sections used as evidence for this claim, including:
- Nick, the narrator, describes him as having "tanned skin".
- Tom likens Gatsby's affair with Daisy to interracial marriage.
- Gatsby associates himself with New Orleans and jazz music, two bywords for being black in 1920s America.
- Gatsby has 40 acres of land, supposedly corresponding to the “40 acres and a mule” that freed slaves were granted.
- Gatsby was given a medal by Montenegro, which contains the word 'negro' and translates to black mountain.
Black men and women during the era were occasionally known to pass for white, so this theory is certainly plausible. Though if it is true, I'm not sure Leo was quite the right man to play Gatsby in the movie...
3. The Catcher In The Rye Is A CIA Brainwashing Tool
Book: The Catcher in the Rye
(Actually Deceased) Author: J. D. Salinger
Censored from many American schools and libraries between 1961 and 1982, Salinger's novel about teenage angst and 'gaddamn phonies' remains one of the most controversial books of all time, with its sexual content and liberal use of profanity the source of much ire for reactionary parents and teachers.
Though the novel has now been acknowledged as the great classic that it is, some still believe The Catcher in the Rye to be something much more sinister than a simple work of fiction. After Mark David Chapman murdered John Lennon he was seen reading the book just feet away from his victim's lifeless body; a copy of the book he had purchased just that day, leaving a message inside that read:
To Holden Caulfield, From Holden Caulfield, This is my statement.
John Hinckley Jr. also admitted to being obsessed by the book after his attempted assassination of President Ronald Raegan. This has led some to speculate that Salinger was in fact a CIA operative, his book acting as a 'triggering device' to initiate post-hypnotic suggestion in individuals, thus awakening sleeper agents and instructing them to kill their targets.
I'm not so sure I completely buy this theory, though the very fact people believe the novel can brainwash people is itself testament to the great power and influence literature can have over readers.
4. The Tiger Who Came to Tea Is A Story about the Holocaust
Book: The Tiger Who Came to Tea
(Deceased) Author: Judith Kerr
This best-selling children's book tells the story of a rather invasive tiger who arrives at a little girl's house and begins to wreak havoc - but what is it really about?
Well, some are convinced that the Tiger is actually a metaphor for the German Gestapo police force, famed for their brutality and cutthroat interogation tactics under the rule of the Nazis.
Judith Kerr grew up as the daughter of Jewish intellectuals in Berlin. Her own father was put on a Gestapo hit list, before all of his books were burned in 1933; a traumatic and formative experience for Kerr, no doubt. Author Michael Rosen belives it was so influential, it came to influence this seemingly innocuos children's book.
He asserts that the tiger reflects those men who would freely burst into Jewish homes and do whatever they pleased. Suddenly, the book doesn't seem so suited for a jolly bed time story any more...
5. Bella Is Part Werewolf
Book: Twilight Series
(Deceased) Author: Stephenie Meyer
Okay, before you flip your shit hear this one out. The books contain repeated references to the fact that vampire powers are rendered useless when used in proximity to werewolves, with Alice struggling to receive visions being just one exmpale. If Bella was part werewold it would explain why these powers often fail to work on her, too.
It may also explain why she was able to be impregnanted by a vampire. I mean, Edward had been dead for many years, yet was somehow able to conceive a child with a mortal partner? Surely there's something supernatural kicking around in Bella's blood...
What do you think of these fan theories - are you convinced?