July 20, 2015

Horse 1941 - Don't Let A Watchman Kill A Mockingbird

I suspect that for vast majority of people who read this post (leave a comment below - it's okay, I don't bite much), that they will only be familiar with Harper Lee's novel "To Kill A Mockingbird" because they were forced to read it in high school. Practically anyone who has studied secondary school English literature will have come across it at some point.
I didn't.
Unlike that great majority of high school English students, I didn't have to read "To Kill A Mockingbird" in school. I went to a selective high school where I'm convinced that the English faculty was getting back at their old high school teachers through us as some kind of proxy. I'm pretty sure that the books that we were set in high school were as a result of some faux intellectualistic attempt to make the English teachers feel better about themselves and the choices that they made rather than an attempt to give us an enjoyable experience.
As a result, I didn't end up reading "To Kill A Mockingbird" until I was in my mid 30s; by which time, I'd acquired the skill of reading fiction for pleasure, after having that skill forcibly beaten out of me in school. Without the pressure to have to analyse the book or write essay questions on it, I quite enjoyed the book for what it was and for that reason, I do not want to read Ms Lee's brand new release "Go Set a Watchman".

In Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is different to a lot of characters that you'll find in a lot of novels because he does what he thinks is right and acts quite nobly whilst doing it. He doesn't appear to be conflicted by angst or turmoil and his aloofness and calmness is kind of different to what you'd usually expect from a protagonist of a novel. There's kind of a literary deftness about viewing the world through Scout's eyes and even though Atticus is stern, Scout has a fondness for her father.
The biggest reason I suppose that I do not want to read "Go Set A Watchman" is that I do not want my impression of Atticus Finch to be tainted. If I never find out that he's a secret racist, or has had an affair or killed someone, or whatever it might be; if I never find those things out then I'm fine with that. Even though Atticus Finch isn't a real person, I'd still rather see the best in him, as I like to do in most people; however deluded and naive that might be.
Mockingbird is a book which I think has stood for so long precisely because there hasn't been a sequel.

In the music world, generally the third record by an artist or band is complete and utter rubbish. They will have written enough songs for the first album and enough stuff for a second one but by the time that the third album comes out, they're always invariably trying to recreate and capture something from before they were famous and it almost never works.
With novelists, unless they'd always intended for there to be a second or third novels as part of a trilogy, the second and third novel is often a hard grind. Going back and writing a sequel might be easier but it probably involves shortcuts; in which case it probably won't be as good. In that respect, I think that one of the greatest events in literary history was when Queen Victoria asked Lewis Carroll to dedicate his next work to her. He duly submitted to her request and his next work was a treatise on some mathematical concept; which failed to capture the public attention.

Think about Star Wars (in my house, everything eventually comes back to Star Wars, Elton John, The Lion King and number plates), the first three films (Episodes IV, V and VI) were always intended as a trilogy and were very enjoyable. The prequels (Episodes I, II and III) which were made many years later are mostly horrible.
I'm worried that in the process of writing "Go Set A Watchman", Ms Lee has either resurrected notes for decades ago and which were never good enough for publication in the first place, or that she's returned to something and can't recapture that spark from oh so long ago.

The other thing that I'm worried about with "Go Set A Watchman" is that this wasn't released for so long because Ms Lee's publishers didn't think it was good enough for publication. Admittedly, I'm hardly what you'd consider to be a literary genius but even these rather paltry and pathetic blurts are edited and changed. Mostly I'll start out with only a basic skeleton of what I want to write and the the finished product ends up markedly different to the first confused shouts into the void. To be honest, the first couple of hundred of these posts are embarrassing. If they were ever published in an anthology, I'm sure that I'd prefer that if was more heavily focused on later, rather than earlier posts. If Watchman is one of those sort of works, then maybe it's akin to a draft or proto work which just isn't as good.
I hope that Ms Lee hasn't been pressured into releasing something that she wouldn't have wanted to escape. Harper Lee is an 89 year old lady and I would feel terrible if I knew that she'd been bullied into publishing this work because the publishers had pestered her finally releasing this until she finally snapped.

I could of course be entirely wrong and Watchman might be a hidden work of rare genius. If that's true then there will be rave reviews and rampant fanfare. I might be tempted to read it under such circumstances but I think that the more likely scenario is as outlined above.

The title "Go Set A Watchman" seems more appropriate to me to be a good name for a cricketing novel; when it's half an hour before stumps and a wicket has fallen.

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