Breathing new life into old characters: a safe bet or a big risk?

By Nora Vasconcelos

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For 55 years, To Kill a Mockingbird, was considered not only a classic of modern American Literature, but also an inspiration for lawyers and readers who found in Atticus Finch, a role model and an inspiration to act with integrity no matter how hard and challenging the circumstances were.

Today, as the world is reading the “long lost” second part of this novel written by Harper Lee, they’re set to discover different faces of the personality of Atticus Finch, some of them which have already uncovered by the media, during the previous days.

Some readers have shared on social media their surprise on the new turn the beloved character takes in these book, Go set a Watchman, and some others have even asked if it was really necessary for the author to have written a sequel.

It’s said that, when the manuscript was discovered, it had been written even before To Kill a Mockingbird. One more mystery that remains about Lee’s works, as well as the recent news that say that it might be a third book written by the same author.

Either way, the appearance of this new novel has been the cause of many many book chats all around the world, and that has kept me thinking about the big chances that authors and publishers take when they create a new piece of fiction based on a well-known, and often beloved, character.

Not so long ago, the Algerian writer, Kamel Daoud, published his first novel, The Meursault Investigation, in which he shares the point of view of the brother of the “Stranger” who was killed by Meursault, in the famous novel by Albert Camus, The Stranger (also called The Outsider).

The story written by Danoud, is placed in today’s Algeria, and shows it through the eyes of his main character, who was seven years old when the original crime happened.

The novel was awarded the first prize by the French Académie Goncourt, last May, and it has received positive comments by the critics and the readers. In this case, things have gone all well for the author.

A complete different situation is the one that faces Pablo Katchadjian, an Argentine author who is currently dealing with a lawsuit, due to the work he has done with “The Aleph”, a fictional piece written by the also Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges.

Katchadjian remixed Borges’ stories, adding his personal writing, to compose what he called “The Fattened Aleph“, which has resulted now in formal charges of intellectual property fraud. According to Katchadjian, it’s work is only a “legitime experiment”.

In some other cases, developing new stories based on famous novels has been more and act of love for the characters and a deep curiosity of the readers, that takes them to complete unfinished stories, such as The Mystery of Edwing Drood, the last manuscript, left incomplete by Charles Dickens; or the many authors who have developed new mysteries, only for the pleasure for them to be solved by the famous Sherlock Holmes.

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Exotic and inspiring places for writers

Text and Photo by Nora Vasconcelos

Exotic by NVS

Just a few days ago, while traveling around some tropical islands, several thoughts came to my mind. First, looking at such exotic places with solid green colors and soft blues, the idea of Gauguin getting all fascinated by the Polynesia came to me in a very clear way, understanding all of a sudden, how the artist found this source of inspiration so great, as it was so different from his home town back in France.

Then I started thinking about how much the weather and the scenery influence writers and provoke them to produce pieces that they might not have written if they hadn’t gone through all these new experiences.

So, I remembered how Albert Camus wrote in his famous The Outsider, how the extreme heat was the cause of a violent act while in Algiers, which, the main character, Raymond Meursault, may not have committed otherwise.

I also thought of Beatrix Potter, famous for her lovely and colorful Peter Rabbit stories, as she spent a good deal of time writing, inspired either by her little pets and farm animals, as well as for the time she spent outdoors surrounded by the green British scenery.

Also inspired by his surroundings, Ernest Hemingway developed The Old Man and the Sea, one of his most famous stories in Cuba. It was a fisherman who lived there, the waves and the warm scenery, that made Hemingway came up with the story of old Santiago trying to succeeded with his last catch.

But cities also have a very big influence in writers, and I keep wondering how is it that some cities are (or seem to be) more inspirational than others?

Places like Dublin, Saint Petersburg and Prague seem to have a special magic that brings out most of the best and deep stories, like the ones written by the Czech author Jan Neruda, who, in his Tales of the Lesser Quarter, shows vivid descriptions of the local customs and what it was like to live in the 19th century Prague.

How this magic works is a question I haven’t actually find an answer for, but of one thing I’m sure, the most important thing for any writer or avid traveler (they usually combine) is to keep your eyes alert, your ears attentive and your heart wide open.

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