Tag Archives: characters

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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A Place Which We Call The Twilight Zone…

14 May

I’ve been in Havana for a week and one of my most pressing goals for this trip was to see my old ballet teacher, Daniel. Some of you may remember my other posts about him—I’m not sure if I mentioned this or not, but once Daniel realized he would never make me cry in his class, we became great friends, and I couldn’t wait to see him and catch up.Image

I went by the ballet school yesterday and was directed to find him in the main Ballet Nacional building, where I asked the gap-toothed lady at the front desk where he was. She looked at me like I was crazy and carrying some kind of communicable disease.

“You know…Daniel? He teaches the international students?”

I tried every combination of words I could think of to get the message across, but she kept giving me a very terrified look and adamantly insisting she had no idea who I was talking about. I understand the terrified look accompanying talking about Daniel, but since she didn’t seem to know him, I was a little confused.

I felt a bit deflated, so I decided to just sit outside of the building and wait for him to come out. A minute later, my former landlady, Jessie, a gorgeous principal dancer in the Ballet Nacional ran out, gave me a huge hug and kiss and I asked her where he was. She kindly led me through the crowds of dancers stretching and talking in the breezy courtyard and pointed me upstairs. I stole a peek at the dancers rehearsing a scene from the upcoming performance of “Coppelia” and made my way to the back studio, a narrow pink hallway of a room that seemed to have plywood for floors. Daniel was sitting in a chair at the front yelling at his only student for the day, a Colombian guy who was doing a complicated series of petite allegro.

I stood for a minute and he turned and looked at me. He took ten seconds to process that it was me and smiled.

“No kidding!” he wrapped me up in a huge hug and then pointed to the stairwell. “Sit. We have to talk.”

I took a seat and watched him put the boy through his paces.

“Mejor!” he shouted at the Colombian, “When you first came, I thought you were a disaster and I wanted to kill myself, but you’ve gotten better.”

I suppressed a laugh and watched the last 15 minutes of class. At one point, Daniel was explaining the physics of a pirouette and was telling the boy to not wind up too much with his arms. To prove his point, he stood up, prepped the turn, and proceeded to execute an octo-pirouette, turning eight times before neatly finishing the turn.

Show off.

The class finished soon thereafter and Daniel turned his attention to me. I gave him the Reader’s Digest version of my life right now and then asked about his.

“ I am so happy now!” he exclaimed, “I have made many changes in my life to be much happier.”

“Such as?”

“I am separated from my wife!” he announced triumphantly, with the type of smile that usually accompanies an announcement like “I won the lottery” or “My favorite team won the playoffs,” not “I’m getting divorced.”

“But it’s not an official divorce yet. It’s very difficult to get divorced here in Cuba.”

I called bullshit on that. I’ve heard that it costs something like 90 Cuban pesos to get married and 45 to get divorced and that it’s just a matter of getting some papers signed or something.

“Well, it would be easy, but I have to get a piece of paper first that proves I was married. And the problem is that I can’t get the paper because the office is only open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 to 12:30, and that’s when I have to work.”

It was such a typical Cuban problem—offices being open during erratic and inconvenient hours and a pile of bureaucracy that prevents him from sending an emissary to pick up one piece of paper.

“People will ask me ‘How long have you been married?’ and I will say ‘Fifty years,’ and they’ll say ‘Oh that’s great’ and I’ll say ‘Yes, but I haven’t seen my wife in forty years,’” Daniel said and began cackling.

I knew he was a writer as well and asked him about his work. He’s written five novels, has a few of them published, and is working on another one. He proceeded to explain the premise of his books and I swear they are a Cuban version of “The Twilight Zone.”

In his books, people live in “The City,” and have supernatural abilities or find strange things happening to them. “The City” is a character in itself and is a metaphor for God or the Universe (OR THE TWILIGHT ZONE!). It’s neither good nor bad, but everywhere, and functions according to certain rules. He spent a good 15 minutes explaining the premise of one of his stories wherein a man discovers that he is a character in a novel and can hear the voice of the author writing out his story. The character goes to the tundra and leaves behind his world to go to “reality” and find the author of his story. When the character find the author, the author tells the character that reality is just what you make it to be, and that the author is a character himself in someone else’s story.

It was all very meta and Twilight Zone-y. After talking for an hour, I told Daniel to wait a minute while I went to grab my friend Grace, a fellow American ballet student. When we came back upstairs to the studio, Daniel was shirtless in front of the mirror doing Tai Chi to Madonna music.

“I always wanted to be a ninja. But I got stuck with ballet,” he said while gracefully moving through a Tai Chi sequence. “Also Madonna is very good for Tai Chi.”

Grace and I couldn’t handle Daniel anymore, so we bid him adios and went on our way for lunch, until, a few drinks later, we called Daniel and convinced him to come to lunch with us. It started raining and we were stuck in a bar with Daniel for a few hours talking about his relationships, but that’s a story for another post…

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Steve the Exterminator

11 Apr

    A vital component of living in Downtown Charleston is adequate and regular pest control. Otherwise, your living space will be overrun with “palmetto bugs” and other less-than-savory visitors.

            This morning was our scheduled quarterly fumigation, and Steve the Exterminator visited our apartment at 8 am. In Nike running shorts and, what I later realized, a backward t-shirt, I greeted Steve and chatted with him while he went about his work and I made the transition from zombie to human being with my morning caffeine hit.

            I’m pretty sure I had a brush with genius in talking to Steve.

            For starters, believe it or not, pest control guys make a pretty decent living. He said he can make anywhere from $500 to $2,000 in a days work, since he does a lot of commercial accounts, like office buildings and restaurants, and has a good reputation.

            But more interesting than the economics of pest control were Steve’s comments about how he occupies his brain.

            “I was watching that Enterprise show and they did that cloaking thing, and I was thinking about how you could do that with your clothes,” he said, as he stood against the mantlepiece. “You’d just need some clothes that had some fiber optics that could blend in with the background.”

            True Steve, that’s one way to do it. I’m pretty sure the US military already has something like that in operation.

            He said he likes to do math in his spare time, and will occasionally call up a brother-in-law if he gets caught up on a complicated physics equation.

            “That guy is like Sheldon from that Bang T.V. show my wife likes to walk,” he told me, “He’s still sour because I beat him in chess a few weeks ago. He said it was like a fifth-grader beating a college professor.”

            Probably my favorite part of our exchange was him talking about how he studies the bugs themselves.

            “I’ve got a pile of books about insects and microbes and all that stuff. My wife calls my pile of books the command center.”

            I just imagined Steve, a little taller than me with salt-and-pepper hair, in a wing-backed chair plotting his attack against household pests. It was like a real-life Ender’s Game. Him trying to get inside the Buggers’ heads so he could defeat them and defend humankind from certain xenocide. Getting inside the enemy’s head so he could completely annihilate it.

            Steve also spent a good deal of our conversation trying to convince me to get into pest control, because the money is good and having a college degree doesn’t really mean anything in this day and age. I have been considering a bit of a career transition, and I’m sure Steve would be willing to mentor me in commercial bug extermination…