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Writing - The Meaning of Write

I can almost still hear it today. My English Lit teacher was stood at the front of the room. We were going to be reading ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as one of the set books.

Note to self – and English teachers everywhere: One of the best ways of ruining a book, play or other piece of writing for somebody’s life is to make them focus for a year on memorising quotes and dissecting the damn thing – as opposed to reading it.

I digress :-).

Anyway. There I was, and there he was. And I remember him saying:

“We’re going to be reading Romeo and Juliet. And what I’d like you to remember while we’re reading it is the meaning behind it. Shakespeare was saying that there are many types of love, but that in the end they’re all blind and almost inevitably lead to disaster.”

And I remember clearly, to this day, having a near vision of said William of the Shaking Spear stood behind him saying:

“Buggered if I did! I was just trying to sell tickets, laddie!”

Well, if young (or, given he’d been dead for rather a lot of years at that point, old) Billy had been standing behind Mr Twigg, he’d probably have used a few more ‘yea verily’-s. Maybe even a ‘forsooth’. Likely he’d have drawn the line at ‘prithee’. Or at least I hope he would :-). But that, natheless, would just have been Billy being Billy. So why do I remember that today? Or, perhaps more relevantly, why am I telling you about it :-)?

Mostly so I can get to the point of this post. Yes, there is one. Really. And you knew I’d get to it eventually, right :-P?

Whenever a writer is, um, writing, they have things in their heads. Those things can be deeper meanings they want the book to convey, a conviction they want you to adopt, or leave behind. And to some, that may indeed be the purpose of the book. To convey to the reader what the writer wants to say. Yes, maybe even that love is a sure ticket to a big lawyer bill. Or a potion drunk in a dark and silent tomb, so someone else can get serious with a dagger.

But, and I mean this most sincerely folks, should we give a #@$%^?

Oh. Sorry. I meant ‘we’ as in ‘we as readers’. Pretend I’m not a writer for a moment :-).

Actually, don’t. Let’s say I’m still a writer. A writer of comic fantasy. Well, it is if you laugh :-). Let’s say that when I was writing A COMEDY OF TERRORS I was trying to show how the fundamental simplicity of Everyman can accomplish things that heroes can’t, and that…

It’s OK :-). Don’t worry. I wasn’t. Trying to say anything of the sort, I mean :-P. But just for now, let’s pretend I was.

Should you, as the reader, give a flying rat? Should I, as a writer, want to insert myself into your head, and somehow twist your thoughts? Or should I just want to somehow make a diving board for you? One on which you can bounce to your heart’s content, happy nobody else is there to see, before springing as high as you can and plunging into your world? A world that may not be the one I had in mind. A world that never heard of Everyman, and wouldn’t give a flea’s left armpit if it did, but one that… I don’t know what ‘that’. Because it’s yours, this world. Or these worlds. Worlds I never saw, never imagined, created in each reader’s head and, if I as a writer take any credit at all, only triggered by the wardrobe my book makes for each reader?

Truly, I don’t know. When Billy wrote Richard III, and made Richard a man of crooked back, a murderer of children (one of which is almost certainly untrue, and one of which may well be untrue), he might have been trying to get a political point over. He might have been writing a smear job paid for by those with their own views to sell to the masses. Or maybe he just wanted someone for the groundlings to hiss at, to boo.

Maybe he was just trying to sell tickets :-).

But when you pick up your next book, which would you rather do? Would you rather have the writer present some bold, grand idea for you to decipher, to mull, and maybe to argue with?

Or would you rather climb the long, tall ladder? Walk gingerly along the seemingly thin plank? Bounce, first gently, then harder, higher? Then jump. And plunge down into a pool filled with water from drawn from your own head, even if poured, the tap turned, by words of mine? Water that didn’t exist until you jumped?


Kal K's picture

Hmmm, it really depends on the book. When I am reading Susan Cooper or Phillip Pullman, I most certainly detect meaning and message, a deeper context and something to try and wrap my brain around. However, when I am reading Dan Brown or Star Wars/Star Trek/Doctor Who (etc etc) fiction, all I want is a good entertainment, any subliminal messages and deeply-layered ideas be damned. Does this make sense?

Graeme's picture

... and thus, once more, the only answer that ever really counts - it depends :-P.

But which do you prefer, if either?

Kal K.'s picture

If I am to choose, then I'd see the deepest satisfaction I get from books which have layers of meaning to uncover. Books with none such are perfectly good entertainment, yet they do not conquer me as fully as the ones which make me dig and think and analyze....

DM's picture

I'd rather just sit back and get drawn into the book by the book's magic. And no one did magic to his/her works better than Shakespeare.

Graeme's picture

Well, apart from Romeo and Juliet :-(. My appreciation for that play was severely damaged after it being English Literature-d :-P.

I'd better not tell you the sequel titles I have in my head for 'A Comedy of Terrors' - young Mr Shakespeare would come back to haunt me :-).

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