Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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When to stop fiddling and leave it alone

Via The Passive Voice blog, I noticed this, linked from The Legal Artist: Why J.K. Rowling Should Walk Away From Harry Potter Forever

We revere authors and creators of valuable intellectual property. We assume they know what’s best when it comes to their work. And sometimes that’s true! …But as fans, I think we’ve been burned by too many Special Editions/ Director’s Cuts/ sequels/ prequels/ sidequels/ reboots/ and preboots to feel anything but trepidation when a creator remains involved for too long with their own work. …Remember too that history is replete with authors who aren’t the best judges of their own work; George Lucas is a prime example of how far from grace one can fall simply by sticking around for too long. And I want Rowling to avoid that fate.

All evidence indicates that she’s not stepping away. …

To my eyes, the seams are already showing. Three years ago, Rowling publicly stated that she wished she had killed Ron out of spite and that Hermione really should’ve ended up with Harry. The fact that she admitted this publicly is problematic enough – it shows a tone-deafness to the effect her words have on the fan-base (which is surprising considering her generosity to her fans). It also suggests that she might not have a full grasp of what makes the story work (i.e. that Harry’s arc isn’t about romance). 

This is interesting. I haven’t been following events regarding the Harry Potter universe because I don’t really care. I liked the books fine, I saw one or maybe two of the movies, but I did not hit this series at a particularly impressionable age and so that’s pretty much the sum of my reaction: it was fine, might re-read the series sometime, maybe not, I’d put Tui Sutherland’s Wings of Fire series well above Harry Potter, moving on.

But it makes me think of some of the information that dribbled out about Peter Jackson’s LotR movies, about the kinds of ideas he entertained while making the movies. Things like: Hey, and then Sauron can come out through the gates and fight Aragorn! Really terrible ideas that show he did not get some of the most central themes of the novels.

The difference is, Jackson was not the author. It’s impossible to imagine Tolkien himself coming up with an idea like that.

Or almost impossible. I gather in an early draft, “Strider” was a Hobbit called … something undignified … oh yes, “Trotter.” And the name remained “Trotter” for a shockingly long time.

It only goes to show.

Anyway, sure, there are times when it’s best to look politely away when the author is making clearly untrue statements about her own work, and Rowling is certainly known to make such statements from time to time. No, Hermione should not have wound up with Harry because yes, Harry’s character arc was not essentially a romantic arc.

The author of the linked post, Greg Kanaan, suggests that after your book or movie or whatever has become a major cultural artifact, it’s time for the author to stop messing with it. He has a good point.

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8 Comments When to stop fiddling and leave it alone

  1. kootch

    I’m not a Harry Potter fan, being too old when the books came out, but this reminds me that I wish Lois Mcmaster Bujold stopped at “Cryoburn” and left the Vorkosigans alone.

  2. Pete Mack

    Kootch–
    Aral Vorkosigan was (very) loosely based on Lois’s father*, who died in 1986, shirtly after she started writing the series. It is no wonder that she decided to include Aral’s death as a bookend–and as a shock.

    *metallurgy engineer Robert McMaster

  3. Rachel

    I always thought LMB should have gone backward and done prequels — or waaaay forward and made Miles’ children the protogonists of a new linked series.

    I really liked Ivan’s book, though.

  4. Mike S.

    The way people talk about it in Bree (or Aragorn himself when he says it will sound “not so ill” in Elvish) suggests “Strider” is supposed to sound less dignified than it comes across to American ears. (It actually made more sense when I found out it had originally been Trotter.)

    Re Miles, ISTR at one point Bujold had a plan for a single book “where Miles gets married and Aral dies”. Obviously she changed her plans, but it’s pretty clear a Betan-length life was never in his future. (Though given the family’s access to the sort of offworld tech and expertise that brought Miles back, it would have been easy enough to change that plan if she’d wanted to.)

  5. Craig N.

    Tolkien had some bad ideas, but he does seem to have got rid of them during the creative process. My impression is that Trotter is largely an artifact of the transformation of LotR from “the new Hobbit” into what it became. (Peter Jackson — well, we really dodged a bullet that the LotR movies turned out as well as they did.)

    The phenomenon of creators who should walk away is certainly a thing: I suppose it’s just as well that neither Star Wars nor Harry Potter is a fandom I care much about.

    For my part, both of LMB’s later Vorkosigan books feel more fanfic than canon to me, though I like CVA a lot and have read it more than once, while GJ&tRQ put me off before I actually read it.

  6. Elaine T.

    I disagree with Kanaan about when to stop messing with it. Not when it becomes a major cultural artifact, but if a book – or tightly linked set thereof – once published.

    I don’t know how an author can tell when they need to stop a series, though. I thought the last couple Vorkosiverse books I read felt phoned in, and never bothered with the last.
    Don’t follow Rowling, except what’s unavoidable cultural osmosis sort of knowledge, but have gathered she’s said some pretty off-the-wall stuff about her world and characters. however the Teen who reads lots of fanfiction has reported that all the good Potterverse writers just stopped with that universe when the 2nd Fantastic Beasts movie came out. As if it was so very very bad it retroactively wrecked everything. I don’t think any creator would want to have that effect on fans. But how to tell when it’s about to happen?

  7. Rachel

    It is hard to tell, isn’t it?

    Maybe when a lot of fan fiction is appearing set in that world, it’s time to assume the world has taken on a life of its own and step away.

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