Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.
I thought i'd share, my sister just informed me that the furor - at least in some quarters - around JK Rowling's shipping thing has much less to do with questions of reading practice and authority over the text, and more with the fact that this has brought to light explosive new information about a once-vicious shipping war. It's the Nuremberg trials of Great Harry Potter Shipping War.
Yeah, to me it felt like H/Hr finally had something to lobby back against the infamous "delusional" comment (which wasn't actually from JKR, but the sentiment still stood). She's not saying H/Hr were canon, but she's giving some validation to the H/Hr shippers who thought they were a better couple than R/Hr.
Er, that's not to say that there weren't also death threats and the like, because you can't shut those down entirely on the internet. But the 'mainstream' protest did a good job of being civil. It helped to give their cause more legitimacy. I wasn't particularly enthused by ME3 personally, but the reaction to the game and the protests were incredibly fascinating for me.
Cupcakes? (Still just planning to play ME2 sometime soon.)
Rather a lot of people were unhappy about the ME3 endings, and as a form of protest, some fans sent a delivery of cupcakes to the developers. (No major spoilers in the link.) Honestly, as far as game-related protests go, it was pretty civil.
To rethink a bit, I think i'm actually not ok with authors taking back their oopsies. (I mean, I'm not campaigning here, do what you like and all that, but as a matter of personal taste.) If we strip all the weird, personal, awkward, uncomfortable, kinky, wish-fulfillment, working-through-stuff, evindence-author-is-not-a-flawless-human-being aspects out of art, we might have technically more even art, but a lot of it is probably going to be a lot less interesting. Or maybe that's just wishful thinking.
I think that's the heart of it. *Any* experience of a song or a play is automatically a performance, even the original. In a book, meanwhile, the reader (or the player of a game, I guess) *is* the performer. The interpretation of the text lies almost entirely between me and that text. I can allow things like knowledge of the authors biography or genre conventions or whatever to intrude, but that's still something i'm bringing - or not bringing - to it. I read, say, Meiville's The City and the City differently from someone who hasn't read a lot of SF/F, (and probably differently from someone who didn't grow up in Jerusalem, while i'm at it) and that's my "performance" of it. If the author comes back and starts shifting it around, while still trying to retain it as the original work, that just gets confusing.
It's interesting, though, how the conventions vary from one medium / form to another about what kinds of reworkings are allowed.
I think there's also a distinction to be made between complete remaking an older story and changing the older story without remaking it, if that makes sense?
I mean, no one stresses out if Disney's The Little Mermaid has a different ending to Hans Christian Andersen's, because while the former is clearly an adaptation of the latter, it is still perceived as being a different work. Conversely, if J. K. Rowling published a Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Revised Edition where Harry gets together with Hermione, I think there'd be a sense that Rowling was trying to invalidate the previous work.
It's remakes versus retcons. I can't help thinking of the ME3 ending controversy in this light as well. There's an expectation that certain sorts of texts will be static. Plays and popular songs inhabit this amorphous realm of constant interpretation and reinterpretation, since plays and songs only exist in performance. A book, or in ME3's case a game, is perceived as having a more concrete existence.
And that isn't even beginning to consider the intersection of musical genre, production values, viability of home recording, and the expanding range of electronic instrumentation available and how that affects music.
People do remakes of films all the time; also TV shows, theatrical adaptations and new versions of songs. Why do books have to be different?
It's interesting, though, how the conventions vary from one medium / form to another about what kinds of reworkings are allowed. Plays and films are a very clear example: they're really quite similar artistic forms, but when you do a new production of a play you're expected to keep the dialogue pretty much exactly the same but change the cast, the style, the blocking, often the setting, and even the whole interpretation and emphasis of the work. But to re-make a classic film without changing the script would be almost unthinkable. With films you sometimes get director's cuts; a stage director will rarely revive their own previous production with minor tweaks (except in the case of some big musicals). In painting you get both approaches: Van Gogh did several different versions of his own sunflower painting, and equally various other people have done their own more or less faithful variations. Pop musicians cover each other's songs all the time, and as with plays it's relatively rare for the lyrics or melodies to be changed but it's expected that the instrumental arrangement and style of performance will be different from the original. Novels seem to be at the more untouchable end of the range in that it's rare for either the original author or anyone else to publish new versions of them, either slightly tweaked or completely overhauled. Though it is becoming increasingly common for someone to write a new addition to a series of novels started by someone else.
I suspect the answer to 'Why do books have to be different?' is that they don't have to be but, for a highly contingent set of historical, cultural, and copyright-related legal reasons they just are. In fact copyright is probably an important part of the landscape because in many cases the law will have taken these rather arbitrary and mutable conventions about who is allowed to mess about with what and solidified them into something rather stricter and less prone to change. But that's rather outside my expertise.
Then again, there are situations like the second edition of The Hobbit, where most people aren't aware that an earlier version even exists.
For example, changes in language. Something completely natural and harmless in 1930 might now read as clunky, stilted and even offensive because the way people talk and the meaning of certain words has shifted. Names (hello there Dick, Fanny and Titty!) can become completely chortle-inducing and distract from the story. It can throw you if you read the original version, but I don't really see a problem with an author changing things like that.
Bigger changes are more complicated. To a large extent I feel that if a book really needs substantial updating to be interesting or acceptable, then maybe you should just write another book. But writing books is hard. People do remakes of films all the time; also TV shows, theatrical adaptations and new versions of songs. Why do books have to be different? It seems like there's an awkward middle space: minor proofing fixes are laudable, rewriting the Mabinogion as an urban fantasy set in a Chicago high school is laudable, but doing a substantial rework of your own book is unacceptable. Unless you give the characters different names, change the set-dressing and call it something different.
I think for my part I'd be somewhat uncomfortable with a rewrite that substantially changed the actual plot and kept the title, but more or less indifferent to a rewrite that preserved the shape of the story but changed specific events, and especially so if cultural shifts mean modern readers will interpret the original events differently and get a different message. But it's going to partly depend on what kind of book it is, and what the reader is looking to get out of it.
There's also a related issue, in that if you care about your posterity and are now embarrassed about your early work, releasing a new edition that's not cringeworthy (for whatever reason) is a way of indicating your changing attitudes and/or improved writing skill, and a much more substantial one than publishing a statement somewhere. The new edition will probably reach more people and last much longer than an interview does, and it lets you demonstrate that you care enough to make the effort.
If it's just that the book is a bit rubbish, then it seems like overkill. But I still don't really see a huge problem with it, any more than with academics releasing a new edition of their book because they changed their mind about stuff. And it's not like the earlier editions are obliterated from the universe. Not yet, anyway... easier with ebooks of course!
If a text suddenly gets weird because an author was indulging wish fulfilment or something, that's for *me* to figure out.
I can sort of appreciate the sentiment, on the other hand if you take it that far then suddenly it becomes increasingly difficult for authors to say much of substance about their work at all aside from "please buy it, I worked very hard on it".
I think if you're dealing with a matter which you'd never have gotten from the text then the author should refrain from comment because you're shutting down the interpretive space, but if it's an aspect where people have actually said "hold on, there's something off here" I think it's fair to comment, otherwise you end up excluding authors from the conversation surrounding their work entirely (which is an extreme that I don't think Barthes intended*).
* Irony of citing Barthes' intentions is 100% intentional.
I am less bothered by this that I was by Gay Dumbledore and the like - insights into writing process are fair game, I guess - but it's still stuff being...blurry. If a text suddenly gets weird because an author was indulging wish fulfilment or something, that's for *me* to figure out.
I *am* bothered by edited versions, actually. There's no good reason for it, I just feel like a book should stand as what it is. If X was flawed, than it was flawed, and reading those flaws is part of the authentic experience of the thing and that's that. Any post-publication editing is cheating. It's more of an idiosyncracy than any firm opinion, but there it is. I also realize that in some ways "publication" is an arbitrary cutoff for editing, but it has to be something, and it's also a function of a book standing for it's time.
I was very annoyed by a copy of Childhood's End I found once where the cold-war prologue had been re-written for something more 90's. That was just wrong to me. Childhood's End is a product of 1953, and the assumptions of 1953 were cold-warish. Wiping that away did a disservice to the text. Likewise Moorcock - he was willing to put out a book in the 70's with a cure!rape, and then times moved on and he took it back? Not allowed, in my book. It happened, you were sexist and wrong - apologize, by all means, but don't try to wipe the slate clean or "fix" the story.
This was a story that was originally written as leading up to a rape. Childhood's End was rooted in Cold War logic. I think it's not just a disservice to the experiences of a contemporary reader in experiencing 1953 or 1978, the bits that are change are a disservice to the rest of the story, *even* if they're bad.
On the whole there comes a point where you have to stop fiddling with a piece because you're wearing down whatever made it good in the first place.