Saturday, June 27, 2009

Owning Your Characters

An aritcle in the June 22, 2009 issue of Publishers Weekly about the Catcher in the Rye case -- a Swedish writer wrote a book based on J. D. Salinger and his famous character, Holden Caulfield, at age 76, which he claims is not a sequel despite the publicity to the contrary. What the author, Fredrik Colting, says in the article:
"My only intention was to explore the relationship between Caulfield and Salinger." ... "I wanted to explore what happens to characters. When a book is finished, do the characters cease to exist, or do they live on somehow."
Isn't that what fan writers do? Isn't that the core issue for fanfic writers for tv shows no longer being produced, movies already made, books already written? The whole "further adventures" thing? Even if there are official sequels?

And is it realistic of Salinger, who, according to the article, has refused over the years to ever allow any adaptations of the book, because, as explained by his agent, Phyllis Westberg,
"He feels strongly that his fiction and his characters remain intact as he wrote them."
How does that reconcile with classroom discussions of Catcher in the Rye, which is a longstanding staple of school reading lists, and book discussions groups, where readers will bring their own interpretations of the characters? Who really "owns" the characters once they're released into the wild and find an audience? Legally, it's the author? But emotionally? Spiritually? The readers. Like it or not, the reality is that characters become a collaborative entity of the creators and the audience. Who I think Caulfield is and who Salinger thinks he is and who Colting thinks he is, and who any other reader thinks he is might be very different or similar yet subtly different characters. And for many in the audience, the character doesn't cease to exist when the book is already read, the movie or tv show viewed. They live on in our minds, our hearts, our imaginations. And some of us write about them.

It'll be up to the courts to decide if we have the right to distribute those works. In Colting's case, if he has the right to distribute them in the US.

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