The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Pondering The Forgotten Characters

Posted by BigWords on July 4, 2009

Having (finally) posted something in the book review blog I started, I was thinking on old characters whose popularity had died out somewhat. In the research I have done on Victorian characters (don’t ask and I won’t yell) I found Captain Kettle, a formidable seaman with a pointed red beard. The stories were pure adventure fantasies written for an audience desperate for excitement, and they are still quite readable even today. But, unlike his contemporary Sherlock Holmes, Kettle has not had such a remarkable career since his creator, C.J. Cutcliffe, died in the mid-‘forties.

There are dozens of similar cases, where a character who held the public’s attention seem to slide off, never to be heard of again. I’ve had a few ideas, along the lines of the Wold Newton universe, but have never had the time or inclination to mess around with characters whose origins are tied to other hands. If anyone wants to write a book with characters culled from the magazines, pulps and turn of the century novels, then I’ll be first in line to buy the novel, but I’m not sure I could do it myself.

Is it a weakness or a strength that I need to mark my territory? That I have to have full control of characters? Is it an aspect of my OCD? Damn, I’m not sure if I could even participate in a series of novels and short stories like the Wild Cards books without imposing a whole bunch of rules and restrictions on what comes after me. I’m used to having a free hand at writing, and anything which appears to rule out developments that I may (though not necessarily will) take, kinda defeats the purpose of playing god. Anyway… if a character who is free for the taking is available to all, then would novels by other hands rule my work into, or out of, canon?

I’m probably the only person concerned with the veracity of character usage, as many derivitive works are flooding the market at the moment, taking characters who have slipped into the public domain and rebreathing life into their lungs. I’m not so sure that the trend is a positive one, for readers or writers, as it dilutes the market for original and unforeseen ideas that may – if proper care is taken – herald new writing concepts. If people are so concerned with making sure that their work doesn’t contradict previous novels, will they be paying enough attention to their prose?


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