Authors don’t get mulligans

At the beginning of the year, The New York Times reported in a brief article that Annie Proulx regretted “Brokeback Mountain.” She didn’t regret what she wrote. “It’s a strong story,” Proulx said in the Times piece. What she regrets is the attention the story got after it was turned into an Oscar-winning movie. Proulx said, “I wish I’d never written the story.” Many fans of the movie hate that the story (and I mean the plot here) has a sad ending. Proulx goes on to say:

They can’t bear the way it ends — they just can’t stand it. So they rewrite the story, including all kinds of boyfriends and new lovers and so forth after Jack is killed. And it just drives me wild.

I happened to read the Times report just today. (I’ve been cleaning out the articles and such I’ve been saving via Pocket since the holidays.) As I read it, I recalled articles about J.K. Rowling’s regrets about her series (“J.K. Rowling Regrets Pairing Hermione With Ron Instead of Harry Potter” and “J.K. Rowling Only Regrets Killing Off One ‘Harry Potter’ Character).

I’m not going to defend fans who pester authors with alternate versions of their stories. They’re obnoxious and they need to recognize that, as much as they love the characters and the stories, these things don’t belong to them.

What I want to write about is the difference in the stances that Proulx and Rowling take. Proulx stands firm on her story. For her, “Brokeback Mountain” couldn’t have ended any other way without losing its impact and meaning. Rowling, however, in her frequent interviews about Harry Potter and his world, seems to be re-writing her stories by sharing how she would have written things given another chance.

Unfortunately, once a story is out in the world, it can’t be recalled for rewrites—especially in the Internet Age. There are no mulligans. What Rowling’s interviews do is put fences around her stories and cut off avenues of interpretation. Unless you make a point of ignoring the author, that is.

The way I see it, once a story is published, it becomes independent of authors and readers. We can all say what we think it means, but no one’s interpretation is absolutely definitive. Some interpretations are more convincing than others, sure, but all interpretations that can be supported by the story are valid. What none of us can do is rewrite the story to support our pet theories and wishful thinking.

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