Should characters exist outside of their novels?

27 Jul

Most people who know me will know that I am a huge Harry Potter fan. When I say huge, I’m not exaggerating—when I was in third grade, I was sent to the principle’s office for an “intervention.” I just kept reading the first three Harry Potter books (the only ones that were released at that time) over and over again. My teacher got worried and sent me to the principle’s office. (I did walk out of there with “A Wrinkle In Time” so I guess it was a good trip).

I recently finished re-reading the seventh and final installment of the Harry Potter series because I saw the buzz that J.K. Rowling had recently released a new Harry Potter story on her Pottermore site. As I commented to a friend, I skipped the epilogue of the seventh book as any sensible human being would do, and I also have to say, I didn’t particularly care for the recently released Harry Potter story.

“Why?” you may ask, “would a diehard fan like yourself not relish every bit of new information about your childhood heroes?”

Because, although I’m still forming a full opinion about this, I don’t think that characters should necessarily continue to exist outside of their novels. The novel is a snapshot, a look at a set of characters at a specific time, and more importantly, within the context of a specific story. We loved Harry Potter because we were engrossed in his seven-year battle against the darkest wizard in history. His story, and the backstories tied to his story, was important, interesting, and meaningful, because they all existed within the context of the larger story being told. Now, J.K. Rowling is essentially writing a tabloid about fictional celebrities, dropping nonessential tidbits that, while interesting to hardcore fans, aren’t contributing to the development of an engrossing new story.

Pottermore is a little bit much for even me. I don’t REALLY need weekly coverage of the 2014 Quidditch World Cup…

I look to two of my other favorite authors to discuss this issue: John Green (of “The Fault in Our Stars” fame) and Margaret Mitchell (Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Gone with the Wind”).

John Green puts it so well on his website when asked about the fate of the characters in TFIOS:

“It’s not my book. It’s your book. I don’t make decisions about things that happen outside the text of the book; I can’t read something that isn’t there any more than you can. 
Anyway, there is no definitive way to end it or any other book. No story is ever over, because every human life ripples into every other one, and there is no way to end a story definitively and the search for a definitive end is (imho) the wrong search.”

A good author, I think, inspires your imagination and leaves a story open enough so that you, the reader, have the power to decide how it really ends. Or doesn’t end. A good book will stick with you—you’ll hash out various endings in your mind and ultimately, you are left with the most beautiful gift the author could have left you: choice. The story leaves a stronger impact because you are given partial responsibility for its continuation.

One of my favorite quotes from "The Fault in Our Stars," illustrates this point I'm trying to make so well.

One of my favorite quotes from “The Fault in Our Stars,” illustrates this point I’m trying to make so well.

Or perhaps it sticks because it reminds you of real life. Nothing in life has a neat ending, a tidy epilogue. We are all constantly in the process of writing our own stories and there are endless possibilities for how the tale goes. A book that’s left open gives you hope—hope that those characters can continue on in their lives, in their struggles, in their relationships and triumph again. Hope that they have learned from what happened in the story and will apply it to the rest of their lives.

Personally, I think that’s why “Gone with the Wind” endures. Margaret Mitchell said she never hashed out a “real” ending for “Gone With the Wind.” But we all hope that Rhett and Scarlett have learned from their mistakes, from what went wrong between them, to either fix their relationship, or move on and use those lessons for the “next one.”

I love this—Mitchell is quoted as saying, “For all I know, Rhett may have found someone else who was less—difficult.”

Though people have been wanting to know for 75-plus years if Rhett and Scarlett get back together, that was not part of the snapshot that Mitchell chose to put on display. Would “Gone with the Wind” have stuck around this long if the ending if there had been a neat epilogue where Rhett and Scarlett go to marital counseling, make up, and live “happily ever after”? Even stories that end “happily ever after” let you decide what that “happily ever after” looks like.

I think the ending lines of “Gone with the Wind” are perfect and leave us just what we need to know to continue our imaginings of the rest of the story… “After all, tomorrow is another day.”

Of course we all want them to get back together! It's Rhett Butler, immortalized by Clark Gable. But the decision is yours.

Of course we all want them to get back together! It’s Rhett Butler, immortalized by Clark Gable. But the decision is yours.

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4 Responses to “Should characters exist outside of their novels?”

  1. dimitrichernyshov July 29, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

    There is a very interesting episode of Star Trek “the next generation” which takes this idea to it’s furthest exploration – a fictional character is brought to life and given his freedom. If you’ve never watched the series, it may be hard to catch on to the technology that allows it. But it’s a fascinating concept.

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship_in_a_Bottle_(Star_Trek:_The_Next_Generation)

    • gschrubbe August 2, 2014 at 10:36 am #

      Cool! I haven’t watched a lot of “Next Gen,” but one of my Bucket List things is to become a Trekkie.

  2. Jeyna Grace July 29, 2014 at 10:56 pm #

    True, I’m one of those fans who don’t read new information either. I like what the novel has set up already.

    • gschrubbe August 2, 2014 at 10:36 am #

      Exactly! And too much more is just kind of tedious.

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