Friday, January 29, 2010

Death of a Character: The Show Must Go On

It's been a while since I touched on this topic. I've covered a bit of ground in this little ongoing theme I have here. I've dealt with replacements, the "really really truly we're not kidding they're completely dead," and resurrection. Yet there's another kind of character resurrection, and that's when an author dies but his most beloved creation lives on. Which is why it seemed appropriate to dust off this last little bit I had to say on it in the wake of an author's passing. Robert Parker died earlier this month, and I for one shall miss him.

Parker's most iconic creation was, of course, Spenser - spelled like the poet and no first name ever given. (Except maybe once, but I think perhaps that was a typo in one of the early books.) Much has been written elsewhere about that, and he penned other characters as well, most of whom I liked and enjoyed. I have read all the books, and read that there were, I think, two more books ready for publication. I will look forward to them, and be sad when I finish the last one knowing it is the last one, but I must also say I hope that's where it stops.

Ironically, Parker himself took on another author's creation post-mortem. He finished Raymond Chandler's Poodle Springs and then wrote one more Marlowe book based on Chandler's notes. However, he didn't keep going after that, and if any author can be said to be a reincarnation of another one, or a reinvention, then Parker was that to Chandler. Spenser wasn't Marlowe, but he was a Marlowe for his times. And he had the good sense to let Marlowe rest in peace once his creator's ideas were done.

Other characters have not been so fortunate.

James Bond is an example, so too now is Jason Bourne. Neither character ever died, but with the death of their creators I think they should have been allowed to. On paper, anyway. I love the Bond and the Bourne movies. Just not as fond of the later books, even though I like Lustbader, who has taken over the Bourne helm. The Bond books are another story altogether. There were (perhaps are) rumors that there was a final "Travis McGee" story, penned by the author in anticipation of his eventual passing. To the best of my knowledge that's just a rumor, and thankfully McGee's been left alone. Sherlock Holmes has also been penned once or twice by other authors.

Never successfully, in my opinion. Not for the caliber of writers that have attempted it, mind you, and not because they weren't good stories. Some of them were very good stories. But they weren't quite Holmes and Watson. Close, perhaps, and an excellent imitation, but never quite the real thing.

Bond, Bourne, and Holmes were all resurrected for one simple motive: money. The series are money-makers, and the new Bourne books didn't appear until Matt Damon built a franchise. I suspect for that reason there won't be any rush to hand Spenser's reigns over to someone else. (The Tom Selleck CBS movies based around one of his other characters are different. Like the Robert Urich Spenser for Hire series, they have established their own universe, more of a "based on" than anything else. There is apparently one more Jesse Stone book, and I shall mourn him after putting down his last tale, too.) There isn't the oodles of money to be made from it that there are with the others.

I do think, however, that characters like that ought to be left alone. There is no way to capture the original voice of their authors, not completely, and so they come off as the imitations they are. When the only reason not to come up with your own character - as Lustbader has done in the past - is money, while I can't begrudge an author for taking a pay check (heck, I'd take it), I wish the powers that be behind it would have the good sense not to offer it in the first place.

As the horror cliche says, sometimes it's better to let things rest in peace.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

Good post.

I used to like watching Spenser: For Hire with Bob Urich.

I like the Jason Bourne character, but not Bond. I think the movies are so unrealistic. Who can get shot at 10,000 times and not die?