Finish the Book and Die18 November, 2015 04:29
“Pulling a Robert Jordan” while reading a 2011 New Yorker essay on George R.R. Martin and the treatment some of his fans subjected him to for taking seven years to come out with the fifth volume of A Song of Ice and Fire. “You better not pull a Jordan over us,” his fans emailed. Robert Jordan had died of amyloidosis before being able to finish his Wheel of Time.
It is as if Martin was expected to follow the “norms” of genre writers: dutifully pumping out succeeding installments of their sagas with unyielding punctuality. For if we cross the phantom barricades of genres and foray into the land of “literary writers” we'd notice it isn't that odd or outrageous to come out with a book after an extended period of time. Indeed, it can be called fashionable, for lack of a better word, nowadays to come back with a bang after everyone's already forgotten you're there. Most contemporary bigshots I adore seem to participate in this. Ishiguro brought out his latest novel this year after a decade. Donna Tartt does this on average. (This isn't to say there aren't those who do not indulge in the 'at least one book a year' rule. E.g., William T. Vollmann.)
Fans don't go crazy. This is because these books we are talking about don't have enormous fan-followings and are mostly standalone and not part of any larger series, and even in the rare cases when they are, authors, unlike George R.R. Martin, are given their space and left to take their time with their manuscripts. I waste so many words to say this because it seems only recently that genre writers are claiming their right to finish their books whenever they want to and not with a gun on their heads. Writers lead complicated lives and not everyone writes the same way. If a writer happens to write slow, even though what she's writing is a vast saga with hundreds of storylines interweaving and a massive invented history exposed in flashbacks that would need at least a dozen books to cover, there's really nothing we can do about it.
So here's a question: if a writer dies before finishing the story, should someone else continue it? Should it be finished at all and kept just the way it is, unfinished?
Well, before Robert Jordan passed away he did intend for someone else to finish WoT and left notes on how the series should end. Brandon Sanderson, commissioned by Jordan's widow to finish Wheel of Time, had what one reddittor over the internet labelled, “established an unprecedented precedent”. The circumstances that led to his finishing WoT were “unique” and “specific” but people took it as something “commonplace” rather than an “anomaly”. And so similar treatment ensued.
Stories need to end. It's up to the literary executioners (who are almost always family of the writer) to understand, when faced with this dilemma, whether the story actually needs another writer or not. Eoin Colfer writing the sixth volume of Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to Galaxy was nothing short of a disaster. Skimming through it made me realise how it was just another Artemis Fowl story with Adams's characters. Don't get me wrong. Artemis Fowl is decent YA but The Hitchhikers Guide to Galaxy is better off without Colfer's contribution. There was no need of this because “Mostly harmless” left the story with a perfect ending befitting Addams's eccentricity.
I don't see anything wrong with someone else finishing my story as long as the story is in need of one.