Knowing When To Shut Up

In light of my last post, I've been doing some thinking about when authors should shut up. I was all "ooh, extras like on DVD" and then I thought about how, sometimes, with shows or movies I really like, I don't actually watch the commentaries (although I do usually watch the deleted scenes). Why? Because I love those shows, and I'm afraid knowing too much about how they work will ruin them for me.

I'm the same way with celebrities - if I love their work, I will try to avoid knowing anything about their personal lives. For example, I was an X-Phile for a long time (that's a fan of the show The X-Files, for those of you who aren't nerds like me :) ). And I loved the character Fox Mulder, so I made it a point to avoid everything I could about David Duchovny, who played Mulder. Didn't watch him on talk shows, didn't read interviews, didn't look him up on the internet - nothing. Because I was afraid that if I did, he would ruin Mulder for me. (Turns out, I was right. In the intervening years since The X-Files went off the air, I've seen Duchovny in some things for other projects. He seems like a cool enough guy - smart, witty, whatever, - and I'm happy he's having some success with the new show, but he's no Fox Mulder.)

But anyway, back to my original topic, which is that sometimes authors should shut up. Sometimes, an author talking is a like pulling the curtain back in the Wizard's throne room - you realize that everything you thought was magic is just some little guy in the back pulling levers.

A recent example of this would be J.K. Rowling and her inability to stop talking about Harry Potter and his friends after the end of the last book.


Full disclosure - I stopped reading HP around book four. I know, I know, SACRILEGE, blah blah blah, we'll talk about my reasons some other time - but I read the Wikipedia entries so I've got a general idea what happens.

First, the epilogue, in which Rowling ties all her characters up in neat little bows. I'm generally against these as a rule - they take all the "what if" out of the ending of a story, in my opinion, but hey, I didn't write the books single-handedly responsible for reviving children's literature, so what the heck do I know?

No, my real problem comes with the outing of Dumbledore. Apparently, Dumbledore is gay, which Rowling decided to tell everyone in the free world, despite the fact that she planted clues to this effect throughout her books. I thought that was authorial overkill. Like, it's there. Readers either get it or they don't, but if they don't, well ... keep your mouth shut. Either you didn't make the clues obvious enough or your audience isn't sophisticated enough, but pointing out things like this has always felt to me like the author is taking me by the hand and saying "look, right here! Look how cool I am that I put this secret part in." And, as Marge Simpson says, if you have to say you're cool, you're not cool.

On the other hand, though, I'm sympathetic to Rowling's plight. First, she's been involved in HP's world for years and years. It took up thousands of hours of her life. She's immersed. She loves this place and these characters, and she should. Second, she's got a universe of people, children and adults, begging and pleading to tell them more. They want to know what happens after the epilogue. They want to know how all the things int he world work. They want to know everything about everything - it has to be hard to resist that kind of demand for something that you can actually provide.

But still. Would I feel the same way if Rowling had released her drafts or deleted scenes? I don't know. I don't think so - I watch the deleted scenes on the DVDs, remember - because I think those things are somehow different. I read (or watch) a deleted scene and I think "oh, that's interesting. So that's how it could have gone." But I hear an author or director say "this is what I meant by this" and I think "yeah, I don't care what you think - you're interfering with my interpretation." It's something about the directness of the guidance, maybe. A deleted scene or a draft is an alternate version, something outside the text, but an author's commentary is an attempt to control my reading of the text. And the author already had the chance to do that. It's called a book.


Hi Jay,
the way it was reported here, JK didn't out Dumbledore as much as protest the handling of a script for an upcoming movie. When the script wrote something about his pining for an old girlfriend, she apparently scratched it out and said, ", he's gay." That's how we heard it here, anyway.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008 at 11:28:00 PM EST  

Hi Anne-Marie -

I think you're right, that that's how it started. But that's sort of the point - that she shouldn't have. But I do appreciate your point, that she didn't put out a press release on the fact or what have you. :)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008 at 7:47:00 AM EST  

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