Thursday, September 18, 2008

Jane and Hercule Sittin' in a Tree...

I’ve got a question – and apparently Agatha Christie has the answer.

My question is who owns the characters I love? The author who created them or the audience that sustains them?

According to a story in Monday’s edition of the New York Times, Mathew Prichard, Dame Agatha’s grandson, recently discovered 27 audiotapes, recorded by the legendary author as she prepared material for her autobiography (published in 1977). In it she responds to the repeated requests she had received about her characters: “People never stop writing to me nowadays to suggest that Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot should meet. But why should they meet? I’m sure they would not like meeting at all. I shall not let them meet unless I feel a really sudden and unexpected urge to do so.”

First, I agree with Dame Agatha. The concept of Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot working on a case together is, as undoubtedly my grandmother would have answered, just plain meshuganah (Yiddish for crazy).

But for those familiar with the fanfiction world, crossovers are a well-respected staple. In that genre, Miss Jane Marple might not just collaborate on a baffling whodunnit with the Belgian detective, but could be having his baby as well.

I know, I know – blasphemy. Mea culpa.

But in some ways, it’s a chicken and egg question. Dame Agatha – and Evelyn David, for that matter – is perfectly within her rights to decide what happens to her characters, including ***spoiler alert*** killing off Hercule Poirot when she saw fit. But like Arthur Conan Doyle, it is folly to ignore your readers when they are clamoring for a different outcome. Doyle took the "great hiatus," as his fans referred to the period after he published The Adventure of the Final Problem, where Sherlock Holmes disappeared over the Falls and was presumed dead. The detective's wondrous resurrection eight years later was motivated by many reasons, not the least of which was…$$$$

The collective Evelyn David has created backstories for all the main characters. These histories help us determine the motivations for Mac, Rachel, even Whiskey (it was hard being the runt of the litter…). So while you can do whatever you want with your characters – should you? Do you, the author, know them better than your readers?

The answer is: probably, sometimes, or it depends. Dame Agatha was undoubtedly correct that Jane and Hercule were destined never to be together. But like our real-life children, sometimes we need a fresh perspective. Our readers offer that. It may not change my decision on how a character will develop or change, but it will make me at least think through why I’m doing what I’m doing – and that’s never a bad thing.

Do you have a favorite character -- in books, television, or movies -- that you think was derailed by its creator?

Evelyn David

1 comment:

  1. I wouldn't call them favorite characters, but I've seen lots of TV characters change through a series' lifetime, and not all for the better. The Fonz on Happy Days gave us the phrase "jump the shark." On the other hand, the cast of CSI have gone so many personality changes, they could start a new spinoff, just to find who they used to be.

    In books, oddly enough, the first character I thought about was Tarzan. He didn't exactly evolve through the 20+ novels, but he didn't stay as primal as the first. He just became less of a man and more of a superhero.