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A glimmer of immortality

August 10, 2008

Authors are not immortal.  They die.  Characters on the other hand, are near immortal, continuing long after their creators have shuffled off this mortal coil.  Sherlock Holmes (despite Arthur Conan Doyle’s best efforts) has spawned a cottage industry of pastiches and parodies.  Johnston McCulley’s Zorro has been reinterpreted recently by Isabel Allende in her Zorro: A Novel.  And Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler reignite their love affair in Alexandria Ripley’s Scarlett, a sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind.

Sometimes a character is ruined by such works.  It is rare for a much loved character to reappear, in the hands of another artist, and to be received well, let alone seen to be superior to the original treatment.  This is a problem that also occurs when translating one medium to another.  Think of any number of recent novels adapted to books, and the various reactions of those fans who were disappointed that favourites scenes were dropped, favourite characters were not as envisaged, or the exigencies of the film industry and the limits of the medium force the dreaded “creative changes”.

But sometimes, rarely, it happens.  Sometimes you witness something that makes you realise: the new artist understands the character far better than the original artist.

And this example, is The Dark Knight.  In two and a half hours, Christopher and Jonathan Nolan demonstrate a superior understanding of the motives, desires and essence of Batman, that far surpasses any such understanding demonstrated by any other writer, artist, or director of the various films, comics and television series – even the (at the time) outstanding handling of the character demonstrated by Bruce Timm in the animated Batman series.

For a fuller appreciation of why this film succeeds, I invite you to read this review of The Dark Knight (and I will admit the shameful nepotism, the reviewer concerned is a professional comic book artist, and also happens to be my brother…)

I watched The Dark Knight in awe.  When the end credits had finished, I had two comments to make.  Firstly, that if I ever wrote anything as good in my life, I would be quite, quite happy.  Secondly, that some people simply do not deserve their own characters.  With Batman Begins and The Dark Knight the Nolans have shown that they understand the character even more than Bob Kane, the creator of Batman.  Kane will always be the creator of Batman.  But for me, from now on Batman will always belong to the Nolans.

We as writers hope to leave something behind, something that will live on when we are gone, for which we will be remembered.

Do you feel comfortable with the idea that someday, someone may begin to reinterpret our characters, presenting them in new situations, perhaps reacting to events in ways you would not suppose?

Worse yet, what if they handle your character far better than you ever could?

  1. August 10, 2008 6:46 am

    Not concerned for the dear Captain are we? ha ha…

    on a more serious note – you are right on the money with the fear that some wirtiers may have about characters taking on a life of thier own and being interpreted in different ways and guises. Its very like being a teacher though – it *aught* to be every teachers wish that thier students excel far beyond what they have been able to teach them.. however, and especially within the martial arts, there is always the secret technique that is never shared – and dies with the master. This is sad for everyone – as things which are lost are very often lost for ever…. thus – it *aught* to be a writers dream that someone has loved thier character so much, has invested so much passion, thought and love into them that they have breathed life into the character far beyond the realms of the first author. Its a true honour, a privillage.. immitation is the highest form of flattery as they say..

  2. August 11, 2008 8:09 am

    Film adaptations of movies are always prone to mutation and certain levels of defilment from the original. Made worse I guess by the fact that everyone who has ever read the book, will have an opinion on what should have been included that wasn’t. I’m waiting to see what they do to our much loved ‘Time Travellers Wife’ which they are currently making.

    It’s a bold and rather audacious thing, to think that you can recreate someone else’s character. Isn’t there a plethora of really bad fan fiction infecting the internet? Perhaps these authors chose to do it becausethe author had died (in the case of the books that you mention) and they are less likely to have the author come after them with a hatchet. Which is something I keep in the forefront of my mind – when writing about the Captain.

    When it is someone else’s character something is owed – not only to the creator but to the character themself. Maybe it is possible to hear the voice of another’s character and bring them to life … if you can side step your ego? Or perhaps the Captain just has a megaphone and you can’t help but hear the story?

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