This summer, Le Petit Prince, a movie based on the book of the same name by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry will be released internationally. When I heard this news, my heart fell a few floors.
I had read the book in my early teens in its original French and had been captivated by its strange and wonderfulness.
As a reader, I have found that we often get attached to characters, and the ones we love grow roots in our minds and hearts. Many live extra lives on the internet in the form of fan fiction while others reach cult status in the form of merchandise and tangible goods.
My reader-heart falls wholeheartedly in love with characters, and I admit that I love to fall in love. I’m that person who feels upset and betrayed when an actor who plays a character that I love turns out to be a jerk in real life. I’m also that reader who feels anxious and reluctant when a beloved character is revived and given new life (such as a story and character that seems meant for the page being turned into a movie).
As a writer-in-transition, I keep this reader in mind as I become a writer.
Recently I was talking to some published and aspiring-to-be-published writers. At one point I was telling Kekla Magoon something I really enjoyed about one of her novels, The Rock and the River. As I was admiring a craft aspect of how she approached the story and described a particular effect her story had on me, I stopped. It occurred to me that what I was describing may not even have been her intention. I became self-conscious of the fact that I was giving my interpretation of a story to its author.
Kekla quickly stopped me from veering towards the apologetic. Her perspective was that once she had written a story and sent it out into the universe, it was out and open for the world to receive, interpret, love, hate, or whatever. The many ways that it impacts each reader is part of the art itself. The way she described it, it was as if she was setting the story free, acknowledging that it was not just hers anymore but the world’s to react to it (or not). Not only was she acknowledging that each reader would have her interpretation, she was validating all of those interpretations.
(Many authors who have read even just one tepid or negative review of their work will tell you that it is difficult to maintain that kind of acceptance.)
Kekla’s words stay with me in so many ways as I write. Some days I have fears of how a reader will react to a particular plot point. Other days I write for myself and remember Kekla’s words and consider my act of writing it to be one part of the story and its reception and interpretation a part that the community builds on to it, a valid and necessary part of the story’s life. Still other days, I see the (often negative) impact that online platforms can have in their harsh criticism of a story or a writer, and I realize how difficult it is to separate ourselves from how people receive our stories.
In the next few months, the original draft of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, titled Go Set a Watchman, will be released, Dr. Seuss’ recently-discovered manuscript What Pet Should I Get? will come out, and Le Petit Prince, the movie, will play for its most critical audience, the French.
Will readers give these characters, stories, and authors permission to evolve?
Will I, as a writer, evolve to a place where I can wholly let go of a story and its characters and just be at peace with how readers (all readers) receive them?
We’ll see, we’ll see.
When I reluctantly watched the French trailer for Le Petit Prince, I was convinced that it would break my heart (not in a good way) by betraying the heart of the written story. Let’s just say that I was surprised at my own evolution.