If you’re anything like me, you’re a sensitive mofo who eats up any adaptation, sequel, retelling, or reference to your favourite show/book/character/movie/fictional husband/wife. If you’re not like me, you close a book, finish a movie, and don’t think about said book or movie again, and certainly don’t connect spiritually to any of the characters. Well, to you, I say… what’s that like? Honestly, kinda seems boring, bit strange to be so unattached and unemotional about the things you consume. Or maybe I’m the weird one. Hmm, there’s a can of worms we should never open.
Back to the point.
I’m sure you’ve read the title of this piece, and have a semblance of where it may be leading, so we’ll just get straight to it.
Ten years ago, I read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time, and loved it entirely. It’s an important story, about important people – the kind of people you want to know, or be, or marry. Come on, I know I’m not the only one who thought Atticus Finch was the measure of a man. He’s practically perfect, in every way – sorry Poppins. Add in Gregory Peck’s portrayal of him, and his appeal increases tenfold. But of course, Atticus isn’t the only good thing about the story. It’s about race and the justice system, and if you do a Google search, you’ll find essays written about it by people much smarter than me. I have other things to talk about.
Four years ago, Go Set a Watchman was released. A sequel to TKAM?! 50 years after the masterpiece was first published?! I was beside myself. If you remember, I’m the kind of mofo who eats up blahblahblah. I was understandably excited. And then the buzz kind of fizzled, and so did my interest. Yeah, I know I said I eat that stuff up, but I was busy back then. I was becoming a teacher! Anyway, three years later, I found a hardcover copy for $3, bought it, and a year later – I finally read it.
My heart broke in less than three hundred pages.
I don’t know what I was expecting with this book. Not much, probably. I was just excited to come back to these characters and see them all grown, living life. I thought it would feel like visiting friends, nay family, I hadn’t seen in years. And, for the first 100 pages, that is what it felt like. Jean-Louise (aka our favourite Scout) was clever and snarky. Atticus was witty and loveable. Jem was … well. Poor beautiful Jem. The banter was great, the writing was beautiful, it was giving me all the feels.
And then the 100 pages were up, and everything was literally flipped on its head.
Characters I thought I knew became complete strangers. Not only strangers, but evil ones at that. TKAM was about race and justice, and GSAW was too, but it’s like they were written by completely different people, because the views in them were opposing one another. Where Atticus was a just man who fought for what was right, no matter the colour of a man’s skin, he now was a selfish white man who humoured the Klan (!!!) and hated on the NAACP. And Scout – she mirrors my abject horror in the beginning, yells and feels physically ill, but then her own views are horrendously base and offensive too.
I don’t pretend to fully understand the history of race in America. I know it’s complicated, and still incredibly sensitive to this day. And I understand Harper Lee wrote this book in a different political climate, and that she wrote it before TKAM. I also know that there are reports she had no say in the publication, which honestly makes sense, because if I were her, I would hate to have my masterpiece tarnished by this money-making garbage.
That aside, I don’t see how any decent human being can read this book and understand, sympathise or empathise with any of the characters’ points of view. It’s horrible and dangerous, and it boggles my mind that any publishing house would choose to publish it in this century. But of course, when money talks…
Now, to the point of this post – the sentimentality of fiction (did I say we were going to get straight to it? Whoops). I wouldn’t have read this book had it not been for TKAM. I was wholly invested in that book, and its characters. And to know that Lee wrote a future for them made me so happy, because oftentimes – okay, more often than not – I close a book and I wish I could read more about my favourite characters. Some people think authors and moviemakers squeeze their work dry, and that sometimes its best to just let things go.
Before this, I would have disagreed. I’d say there will always be an audience for remakes, sequels and adaptations. Hollywood takes it a bit far, let’s be real, but in most cases, the more of my favourite characters, the better. However, now that I’ve read GSAW and Atticus Finch was basically mutilated and destroyed, my worldview has been disrupted, and I felt actually sick when I realised where this book was going. I didn’t want to continue, because I didn’t want to see one of my favourite characters become a villain.
But continue, I did. And become a villain, he did. All of them did, really. What a horrible bunch.
“Do you want your children going to a school that’s been dragged down to accommodate Negro children? … The Negroes have made terrific progress in adapting themselves to white ways, but they’re far from it yet.” This is said by Atticus Finch! Can you believe it? I wanted to throw the book across the room, I was so livid.
And the thing is – if I hadn’t grown so attached to the characters, I wouldn’t be feeling so distressed at this turn of events, at this being their future. I think the point of the novel is for Scout to see her dad less as someone to worship, and more as a person. And maybe that’s the point for the readers too. That’s almost poetic. But honestly, could Lee not have made him do something less unforgivable? Make a mistake that’s not super bad, but just humanises him a little? Why’d she have to go and take his morals and twist them until he became completely unrecognisable? It hurts to remember it. I feel like I’ve lost a friend.
I think this experience has taught me that nothing lasts forever, and nobody can be perfect for long. And maybe I should stop getting so attached to paper-and-ink people. Because if they’re all going to disappoint me this much, it’s probably better to save myself the stress.
And then came Scrubs season 9. I recently re-watched all nine seasons of Scrubs, and laughed and cried like a – you guessed it – mofo. It’s the perfect show, with the perfect balance of comedy and drama and hospital stuff. Yes, I also re-watched season 9, and to be honest, I liked it. I know people say, “omg that’s the worst season evER” and “SCRUBS IS ONLY EIGHT SEASONS!!!” To them I say, you need to calm down, take a chill pill. Sure, it’s a bit different, the jokes don’t hit as hard, some of the characters are a bit douchey, but it has the same heart. The new MC, Lucy, is as sensitive, and clueless as our beloved JD, and it still has that fantasy element that set Scrubs apart from the beginning. It only lasted a few episodes though, so maybe I’m wrong, and it actually is trash.
But honestly, where Scrubs went right was with its original characters. Though they weren’t around for the whole season, when they did show up, they were principally the same people. The writers didn’t flip the script, and turn JD into Dr. Cox, like they so easily could’ve. They didn’t make Dr. Cox forget all his original ideals or fix all his issues. They were the people the first eight seasons established them as.
That’s why I’m so pissed off about GSAW. I came back to that book, as I’m sure everybody did, because I wanted to be welcomed and comforted by the people I thought I knew, characters I’d studied, who’d gained my trust. I didn’t even care about a plot. I’d read a book of them just talking. But instead they were all gathered up, turned upside down, and dangled over a pit of alligators, so they could be chewed up and spit out into completely new things.
Poor Atticus Finch. He has the best name, and the worst future.
What do you guys think?
If you’ve read the book, am I exaggerating? Do your opinions differ? Do you think GSAW was a good book? And do you agree that it is the responsibility of writers of all mediums to keep characters consistent and sensical, lest they be the target of rambling posts like this? Especially when what they’re adapting, or retelling, or making a sequel to, is so beloved, important, and speaks to such important themes?
I think this is all the fault of the publishing house, because they thought shock value would make them the most money. Well. I don’t know how much money it made, but it was definitely shocking. It’s been weeks, and I’m still reeling. So, they can take comfort in that, I guess.
Good job, HarperCollins.
As Hermione says to Ron in that scene in Goblet of Fire, “You ruined everything.”