One more thing: don’t spend too much time merely reading. The best part of this work is the play, so play and enjoy! - Gary Gygax
In another life, I took what literary theorists said seriously - seriously enough at least to disagree with many of them and consider them a blight on humanity; very well educated but fundamentally not-very-intelligent people are responsible for a lot of what's bad in the world. George Steiner in particular always struck me as a very eloquent and very widely read fool, but I reserved a special place in hell for Roland Barthes, a man I considered not far removed from Satan. I was a very angry and far-too-intellectual-for-my-own-good 20 year old. (One of my favourite quotes is by the writer Jonathan Franzen, who said that he spends around ten minutes a day fretting about the fact that, when he was in his 20s, he used to spend ten minutes a day fretting about things like the fact that Americans have substituted medical products for genuine psychological healing. I understand what he means in a very deep and meaningful sense - why was I so serious about things like that?)
Anyway, these days I'm a lot mellower and I think I can see a little bit of what Barthes was getting at, especially regarding Death of the Author. This was a famous essay by him in which he basically argued that in interpreting a text, it is the text and the reader's understanding of it alone which matters - not the author's intent. As soon as the author has produced a piece of writing he no longer owns it and no longer should be seen as having any relation to it - it is not his or her history or views which inform analysis of it, but the reader's. And each new reading by each new reader, or even each re-reading, is a new interpretation of a new text with a new meaning.
We can see this process in Dungeons & Dragons, you see. When Gygax and Arneson and their circle created the game, they had an idea of what they wanted to do, and a whole history of reading and playing and thinking behind that idea - a witch's brew of Tolkien, Moorcock, Howard, Leiber, Avalon Hill and a thousand other cultural artefacts from their own experiences. But if we interpret that in light of Barthes, where the author has 'died' the minute he has produced the text (and I should say straight away at this point that I refer to this in a purely metaphorical sense which has nothing to do with Gary Gygax's actual regrettable and very sad death), we should really throw all of that out of the window and ignore it. The text of Original D&D and 1e are for us to take meaning from for ourselves, irrespective of the intentions of the authors; if we want to use it to play games utterly different to what they envisaged, then we can do so. In fact, it could be argued that we ought to do so.
This is one of the reasons, really, why I'm not a great fan of stick-in-the-mud-ism when it comes to 'old schoolers', although I've never previously thought to articulate it in reference to Roland Barthes! The vast majority of old schoolers are, of course, creative individuals who just like to play. But there is a certain section who seem unduly wedded to what the orginators intended and to their vision of the game. Indeed I wrote a long rant about the very topic back in June, which I still mostly agree with, even if the painful stridency of the piece irks me. (I think I tend towards the painfully strident a little too much.) Gary Gygax and his generation created a great game, but it's not theirs anymore; they were the 'scriptors', to use Barthes' term, but we are the readers, the interpreters, and the ones who give the game meaning for ourselves. If we want to use the OD&D rules to play a campaign about mutant monkeys invading the star ship Enterprise at the edge of the universe, or about heroic halflings saving the world from the Dark Lord, then we should just go for it and devil take the hindmost.