Wednesday, July 22, 2015

You Got It Right First Time

Classics are rare in literature and the cinema. If you write a classic the temptation is strong to write a sequel. You shouldn't. You should tie yourself to the mast and resist. 
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I have just read Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee as an ebook. This is a bit of a special case. The circumstances surrounding the publication of this quasi early version of To Kill A Mockingbird are pretty dodgy. Harper Lee wrote Watchman in the late 1950's. It's the story of Scout Finch returning to Alabama to visit her father Atticus Finch, a once noble, brilliant and wise lawyer who has now become an unlovely, boring old racist without an ounce of charm. Back in the 50's Harper Lee's editor suggested that she ditch the homecoming story and tell the tale of Scout Finch as a young girl in the 1930's and thus the classic To Kill A Mockingbird was born. Allegations of "elder abuse" "publishers greed" and "editorial malfeasance" have abounded with the publication of Go Set A Watchman. It would have been better if it had never been published. If you enjoyed To Kill A Mockingbird my strong advice is to not read Watchman. Yes its competently written and it is interesting as an artifact. But To Kill A Mockingbird is a cultural touchstone. To Kill A Mockingbird was for a time the conscience of an entire culture - the American South - and it remains a school classic all over the world. Watchman completely ruins the character of Atticus Finch, one of the great heroes of twentieth century literature. In the postmodern cynical age we live in we already know that our heroes have feet of clay and we (or at least me) don't need it rubbed in our faces. 
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Other disappointing sequels/prequels to masterpieces that I have read so that you don't have to: Closing Time, Catriona, The Amber Spyglass, Rabbit Redux, Dune Messiah, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Women etc. etc. And don't get me started on the movies, I'm looking at you: Alien 3, The Two Jakes, Jaws 2, Blues Brothers 2000, Speed 2, Terminator 3, Godfather 3....