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Old characters must never be revived by new authors

What hapens when your favourite characters are revived by new authors?

brunch Updated: Nov 23, 2013 16:53 IST
Kushalrani Gulab
Kushalrani Gulab
Hindustan Times

For the last few months, I’ve had some very ferocious thoughts about Sarah Waters, Amitav Ghosh and Vikram Seth.

All three are authors whose books I adore, none of them has had a new book out for ages though each one has a work in progress, and by now my patience has been completely exhausted.

By now, what I want to do is chain these authors to their desks and stand behind them with a very large stick till they finish writing their books so I can read them NOW.

And while I’m reading these three new books, I expect Ms Waters and Messrs Seth and Ghosh each to begin their next book so I don’t have to hop impatiently from foot to foot all the time, snarling, come on, come on, WRITE FASTER. you can see, when it comes to favourite authors, I’m the world’s most impatient person. Once they’ve addicted me to their creations, I read everything they’ve ever written, and then I want the next book at once. So you can imagine the depth of my frustration with favourite authors who happen to be dead. Chances are I’ve read every book they’ve ever written, but much as I jump up and down in frustration, there’ll never be any more by them for me to read.

Which is why I think I may need a psychiatrist, because this year, the characters originally created by no less than three of my most favourite dead authors are being revived in fresh stories by other authors, and am I excited? Far from it. My only reaction is, "Noooooo! The horror, the horror."

Out this month are Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks and Asterix and the Picts by Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad. And in September next year, Hercule Poirot will return in a book by Sophie Hannah. These are characters originally created by PG Wodehouse (only the greatest humourist and writer of all time as far as I’m concerned), René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo (only the creators of the greatest comic book series of all time as far as I’m concerned), and Agatha Christie (only the queen of crime), respectively. I’ve read every last book about them, knowing full well that they were literally the last books, and I thoroughly dislike the idea of these characters making a comeback.

Why? There are two reasons. The first is purely emotional. I love these characters because they were created by authors I love. Authors I grew up with, whose work ensured I understood that I’ll never have a dull moment as long as I have a book, any book, in my hands. So I hate the idea of other authors mucking around with them.

The second reason is similar to the first, but more rational. These characters were the creation of individuals. Jeeves, Asterix, Poirot were carefully constructed and brought to life by Wodehouse, Goscinny and Uderzo and Christie respectively, and these authors brought their own sensibilities to the characters. If we know who these characters are, what they do, how they speak and act and react, it’s because of their original authors who gave birth to them. The original authors and their characters share DNA.

Other authors writing about these characters, however, are at a huge disadvantage, because they only have a list of characteristics for the protagonists, and a bunch of formulas for the plots. Though they may themselves be enormous fans of the original authors, they know these characters only as readers, not as writers. Which means that however hard they try, what they’ll come up with will be, at best, a pale imitation, and at worst, almost a parody.

This doesn’t mean that books like these will not work for everyone. Chances are they could work for casual readers – meaning readers who never were obsessive fans of the original authors in the first place. Where the fans of the original authors will be primed to spot errors of style, plotting and characterisation, casual readers will read these books just as they read other books. Which explains why books like these keep on being written: Sherlock Holmes still saunters into mysteries though his original creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, died in 1930. James Bond still has his licence to kill, though his original creator, Ian Fleming, died in 1964. And even Enid Blyton’s the Famous Five are having a wunderbar time, with 21 new books in Germany.

For all I know, I may like the new James Bond novel, Solo, by William Boyd. I’ve never read Fleming but I do like Boyd, so this book may just work for me. I know I loved The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes by Jamyang Norbu, which starred both Conan Doyle’s Holmes and Rudyard Kipling’s Hurree Babu from Kim. But when it comes to my own favourite characters, here’s a warning for their new authors: Muck around with them, and I will break your face.

Follow Kushalrani Gulab on Twitter @HappyQueenRose

From HT Brunch, November 24

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First Published: Nov 22, 2013 16:01 IST