Maybe Some Stories Are Too Revered for Their Own Good


To Kill a Mockingbird was never my favorite book. I liked the book. I liked it a lot. And I loved Gregory Peck in the movie. He was perfect. But I never considered naming any child of mine Atticus or Scout. They’re great names and more power to you if you picked either of them for your own kids, but when I sat down list possible names, they didn’t occur to me.

But okay. Whatever.

But the story is much beloved and admired. Is it any wonder people would sigh and say something about how it was the only book Harper Lee ever published. It seemed sad, didn’t it?

Have you ever loved an author so much, you were sad when you realized that this author had no more books out in the world for you to read? A friend of mine was like that about Charles Dickens. She read all of his works except one. She didn’t want to live in a world where she didn’t have one more Dickens story to look forward to.

This is a fundamentally different way to see the world. I would be devastated if I were hit by a bus before reading everything I could. This is how I am. People ask me, “Why do you vote early?” And I answer, “Because what if I die before election day?”

Possibly that is morbid, but at least my vote is counted!


If you like books, you can’t have missed the kerfuffle (one of my favorite words!) over Harper Lee’s book, Go Set a Watchman. What do you think?

Is Lee of sound mind?
Does she really want this out there?
Should it be out there?
What does an author owe fans?
What does this mean?

Oh, I wish I were taking a literature course right now!

I can’t find the quote, but I believe that Neil Gaiman said something about how awesome fans were and how authors should respect them and appreciate them and all that, but that it was the author who decided the story.

Lee has the right to tell whatever story she wishes.

Oh, but it hurts to have Atticus torn down.

But does she owe it to us to keep Atticus saintly?

I can’t decide. I want to write what I want to write, and yes, some readers may be upset (though I am no Harper Lee, that is for sure). But if she had a story to tell, should she not tell it the way she sees fit?

But is she of sound mind? Does she mean for this to be out there? Does that even matter?

We have works of literature (Kafka, right?) that we wouldn’t have if certain individuals had respected their last wishes. Some authors say, “Burn the lot!” and maybe that wish is followed and maybe not.

It still pains me every time I think about Ted Hughes burning pages of Sylvia Plath’s diary. NO! I want to shout. Of course, she didn’t ask him to. He was protecting the children.

And then there is the story of Hemingway’s wife losing a suitcase of his work. I’m not even a massive Hemingway fan, but this makes me sad every time I think about it.

But maybe some things are meant to be lost. If an author looks at something and thinks, “This doesn’t measure up,” shouldn’t we listen?

Oh, but Lee gave her blessing for this. Right?

What a mess.

When I ask people about their favorite literary father, Atticus Finch wins hands down. It’s hard to think of any other father in all of literature people love as much. Can you? Who?

Imagine if we didn’t know about this new tale. What if when Harper Lee dies, we learned a manuscript was discovered? And what if we were told, the publisher has decided not to publish it? Would we clamor, no! We have a right to see it! Please, let publish it! Please!

Or what if we were told that now that Lee was dead, they could publish it? Would we be aghast? No! Don’t! She didn’t want us to see it!

I rather wish Go Set a Watchman didn’t exist. I’m sad to lose the Atticus Finch I admired, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

But more than that, I wish I knew what Harper Lee was thinking. Was this what she wanted?

2 thoughts on “Maybe Some Stories Are Too Revered for Their Own Good

  1. I recently heard a long excerpt of Go Set a Watchman read aloud on the radio and got so bored I had to change the station. What a disappointment because I love To Kill a Mockingbird. It would be a shame if the release of Go Set a Watchman(actually written before Mockingird, from what I understand) diminished To Kill a Mockingbird or Lee’s reputation in any way.

  2. “…what if I die before election day?”: LOL.

    One extra layer of complication also relates to the order-of-composition point which E.B Messenger brings up above: Lee evidently didn’t tear Atticus down off his pedestal for ‘Watchman’; she sanitized him — put him on the pedestal — in ‘Mockingbird.’

    This suggests that either Lee or her editor(s) (and maybe other parties) may have “prettied up” Atticus’s character, for reasons unknown but possibly because readers back at that time just got too uncomfortable with characters with obviously repellent qualities. “I’m worried about the A-bomb, and the Communists — don’t bother me with unpleasant people, especially fictional/pop-cultural ones!” (In a way, and much though I love them, Scout and Atticus from ‘Mockingbird’ are really just Beaver and Ward Cleaver in different settings.)

    So which interpretation, really, is the “right” one? Who knows? I’m just so glad to be able to keep ‘Mockingbird’ where it is in my mind. The “What if I die before reading ‘Go Set a Watchman’?!?” panic will, happily, never beset me!

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