There’s been a lot of hand wringing going on in the media – last night on PBS, today on CNN – about the effect that the release of Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman is going to have on her classic (and only other novel), To Kill A Mockingbird.
“Will this change the way Mockingbird is viewed?” they are asking, with the same anguish as if they had just seen The Phantom Menace or the second and third Matrix movies. “Will this change what it means to us? Will it keep its impact on us?”
People, this is a novel. And an unedited draft at that. Before the wheels of publication began to turn, Lee was offered the chance to have the novel edited and she declined. Today, that’s only afforded to massively bestselling authors like Stephen King, Tom Clancy and Jean Auel, whom editors are either too afraid or too busy to edit — okay, maybe that’s not such a big deal right now.
To catch you up if you haven’t been following the story. Once upon a time, a young Nelle Harper Lee wrote a novel called Go Set A Watchman about a young woman looking back on her relationship with her lawyer father. It made the rounds and one interested editor – or maybe it was an agent – suggested the story would be better if it was narrated by the protagonist at the age she was at the time the events in book took place, as opposed to looking back after a decade or so. She did some rewrites and the book we know as To Kill A Mockingbird was born.
And something likely happened to the story line along the way. The perception of the relationship passed from a knowing one, from the view of a young woman who was a newly minted adult. It became more idealistic, a view from a little girl who worshiped her Daddy.
Meantime, the first draft of the book disappeared, thought lost by the author, who was busy not writing other novels. Until it was recently discovered and put into motion as a real book, to much excitement… until folks found out what it was about.
Apparently Watchman shows a view of Attacus Finch as a separatist and possibly even a racist – perhaps a less idealistic view of a man as seen through the eyes of a now-adult daughter. This the cause of all that angst in the literati – like the release is going to undo all of the advances in civil rights and race relations that have been made since Mockingbird was released. Welcome back, lynching and Jim Crow laws! Like the first book was single-handedly responsible for all of that to begin with.
Is there nothing else going on in the world right now worth losing sleep over? Is it a slow news week?
Or am I the only one who understands the concept of a first draft?
Just in case I am – here’s the answer to this non-story:
Go Set A Watchman will not change To Kill A Mockingbird. Mockingbird will be the same book, the beloved classic it deserves to be.
If you don’t believe me, photocopy a random page of the book, put it in envelope, and check it after Watchman comes out. I’ll bet a large amount of cash or chocolate pudding that none of the words will have changed. Or better yet, open up that favorite novel of yours that was made into a wretched, forgettable waste of a movie and read a random chapter. It hasn’t changed. Just like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn wasn’t changed by Tom Sawyer Abroad or Tom Sawyer, Detective, two cash-in novels written by Mark Twain, both of which were written in the voice of Huck Finn.
And as far as I know, Lee isn’t pulling a George Lucas and issuing a revised director’s cut of Mockingbird where, among other things, the rabid dog shoots at Attacus first.
If Harper Lee made any mistake in issuing Watchman, perhaps it was in leaving the names of the first draft intact, not understanding the attachment we’ve developed over the years to the version that was published. It would have been an easy thing, once the book was put into a word processor, to do a global search and replace to change the names from the revered ones to something a little more generic. Nobody would have been the wiser.
Yeah. As if something like that would ever become a best-seller.