Go Set A Watchman, Harper Lee’s prequel/retelling of to To Kill A Mockingbird is considered highly controversial, in part because of the way some readers consider this a betrayal of their version of the character Atticus Finch.
This is far from the first story re-telling that readers or viewers have deemed to be somehow “wrong”, writing over their own version of events. One of the first presentations Keidra and I did was at MIT – about the difference between canon (what is actually in the work itself as produced by the author or copyright owner) and “fanon” (what fans consider the story to truly be – filling in gaps, jumping over discrepancies, and shipping (oh, the shipping!).
A much older (and now well-known) occurred during the eight years when the character Sherlock Holmes was “dead” – any fanfiction written by fans in the interim was subsequently overruled. In that case, the fans were mostly just happy that there were new stories by the original author.
And in some ways, the views of this retelling/continuation of the story in Maycomb is a sideways version of the new canon of Star Wars. After all, now not all previously authorized work, such as the expanded universe, is canon. Instead, it is in a nebulous state of former canon (or even more honestly, it is now fanon).
But there is an even more interesting parallel to the continuation of the story of To Kill A Mockingbird – and one that continues to emerge – that of the anime Dragonball. The series Dragonball GT continued on without the story guidance the creator of Dragonball, Akira Toriyama. This month, there is a new show, Dragonball Super that supersedes what happened on GT. Many fans are happy about this retelling, as they felt the characterization in GT was watered-down compared to the earlier shows.
Interestingly, both the Dragonball and Mockingbird re-tellings/continuations show father/child relationships that are different than what was previously shown. Fan favorite Vegeta, who previously spends a significant chunk of DBZ beating up his time-traveling adult son in an attempt to train him in martial arts, spends much of GT driving his teenage daughter around for shopping. (I will not even touch here on the dumbing down of Bulma in GT). And in Go Set a Watchman, Atticus Finch is shown to be a racist segregationist, despite defending an innocent African-American defendant earlier in his career. It is still yet to be determined whether Vegeta will be driving Ms. Bra, but the new branch or retelling of the Dragonball story seems to be hitting the right note with fans.
However, Mockingbird doesn’t seem to make fans happy in the same way. Even the New York Times has wrote a think piece about the disappointment of people who have named their kids Atticus rethinking it after the publication of the new book. As long as authors can change the story, those that have “decided” what the canon or official story should be always run the risk of being disappointed. After all, The Wizard of Oz was originally viewed as a political allegory. If we would accept – even for a moment – that the first book was a story about America and powerful forces, Baum was perfectly capable of changing the story into a fantasy/fairy tale, thereby allowing for multiple sequels that would be more amenable to a larger market.