When I was in sophomore English class, my teacher Ms. Barnes hit us with a revelation: The Author Is Not The Narrator.
I had never considered this possibility before.
In our essays, we got red marks against any phrase like, "The author believes," or "The author states that," correcting it to "The narrator states."
"In fiction, you cannot assume the opinions in a book are the author's, only the narrator's."
This is more obvious in a first-person narration. The narrator of Catcher in the Rye is Holden Caufield, not JD Salinger; the narrator of Jane Eyre is Jane, not Charlotte Bronte. But things get murkier with third person. Some third-person narrators are invisible, channeling only what the main character sees and knows. Some take a small step back, seeing and understanding a bit more than the main character can. Some go even further back, switching back and forth between two or more characters' POVs. Others are omniscient, understanding everything at once. Some, like To The Lighthouse, flow in and out of characters' consciousnesses. And still others are unnamed and yet have a presence and clearer personality.
The latter kind is the kind I write with for my adult novels: Austenland, Midnight in Austenland, and The Actor and the Housewife. I love the style and humor available to me with that narrator.
I assumed that everyone had a Ms. Barnes who cleared up the narrator/author thing in 10th grade, but I continually hear from adults who are confused.
"I can't tell if the opinions are Jane's or the author's," a reader of Austenland might complain.
The answer is: neither. The opinion is the narrator's. Unless it's stated in dialog, unless the narrator says it's the character's opinion, then the only thing you can be sure of is that it's the narrator talking. I am no more the narrator of my books than Julia Roberts is Erin Brocovich or Heath Ledger is the Joker. I am the artist channeling a character. All the characters, including the narrator.
It's not accurate to assume that the opinion of any of the character's is the author's opinion. Same of the narrator. The narrator is always character.
The narrator of Princess Academy likes to slow down and savor moments. She stays close to Miri and only reports what she knows, but uses words in a way Miri wouldn't. The narrator of The Actor and the Housewife has a lot of opinions. That narrator wants to laugh, sometimes with the characters and sometimes at them. The narrator of Book of a Thousand Days is Dashti, the main character, reporting in the very moment the action happens, though translated from her native tongue into English by an unknown narrator who had license with word choice and expression. The narrator of my book coming out next year is the main character, told in retrospect from a point after the action occurs. The narrator of the Books of Bayern is close to that of Princess Academy with a desire for richness, the dramatic, the imperative of each moment.
It is as fun for me to write different narrators as it is to write different characters. And my narrators are as much me as are all my characters. Ani and Selia, Ungolad and Geric, Miri and Dan, Tegus and Khasar, Rapunzel and Jack--they came from the same place as my narrators, and yet all speak with a different voice.
What books have you read that have an unnamed third person narrator with a prominent personality? I think of Just So Stories and The Tale of Despereaux. Others?