I’m not going to lie. I’m torn about this one.
If you haven’t already heard, reclusive author J. D. Salinger is suing “John David California,” aka Fredrik Colting, to stop the U.S. publication of his novel, Sixty Years Later: Coming Through the Rye. It boils down to these issues:
- Salinger claims that Sixty Years Later is a “rip off” of his classic Catcher in the Rye and filed suit to stop it’s publication in the US citing copyright infringement on his character (Holden Caufiled) and story.
- Salinger has famously guarded the use of the story since publication and has even put a stop to film versions suggested by Spielberg and Zemeckis.
- Salinger claims that Sixty Years Later is an unauthorized sequel to Catcher in the Rye, and therefore infringes on his copyright.
- The text of Sixty Years Later features an elderly “Mr. C” escaping from an institution and wandering around the streets of New York and visiting locations that Catcher in the Rye fans will undoubtedly recognize, along with a few characters from Catcher, but also many new ones.
The problem here is that Colting has filed his own 33 page defense, claiming that his Sixty Years Later is not a sequel, but a parody of the original and an examination of the interaction between creator (Salinger) and the creation that became the obsession for the majority of his life (Holden Caulfield). At one point, “Mr. C” escapes after alluding to his past in a mental institution (ala Catcher in the Rye) and wanders around the streets of New York… when he starts to hear the typing of his creator who is seeking out ways to kill him off.
Uhm… Stranger than Fiction, anyone?
Regardless of whether the writing is good or not, Colting is arguing that his work is protected under the 1st Amendment. Currently a judge is reviewing the text to decide whether it bears enough weight and difference to be deemed a “parody” or whether it will be stopped in the U.S. because it infringes on Salinger’s copyright of the story, and of the character Holden Caulfield–a notion that isn’t all together set in stone in terms of the law. Formerly copyrightable characters were primarily visual, and it will be up to this judge to decide whether or not Holden Caulfield is a distinguishable enough character as written by Salinger, to be considered covered under copyright.
I desperately wish I had my hands on a copy of this book, but it’s not available in the U.S. and it’s already sold out on Amazon in the UK.
Should a new novel that takes a meta-commentary perspective on the interaction between an author and his most notable creation be squashed? Salinger has succeeded in killing other projects that had to do with Catcher, so why not this one too?
This differs greatly from the J.K. Rowling debacle (which she won, by the way), in that Colting’s work is another work of fiction… a stand-alone work of fiction (but one could argue that Sixty Years Later, in fact, couldn’t stand alone without the subject matter having existed). The descriptions of Sixty Years Later portray the text as a far more intellectually challenging, almost academic, look at the relationship between author and character, but does that give him the right to use a character as well known as Holden Caulfield (even though he never actually names him)?
Part of me understands exactly why Salinger intervened. I would be angry too if someone took one of my characters and just started writing away without my consent. That’s why Fan fiction bothers so many authors. If Colting were writing an academic analysis of the relationship between Salinger and Caulfield, I would say that Salinger has no place stepping forward to stop it. But that’s not what Sixty Years Later is about. Is there really that big of a difference between analysis and creative writing? Should there be?
What about works like the Wind Done Gone, Wicked (any of his adaptations, for that matter), American McGee’s “Alice” video game? What about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead? Should it matter that the author of the original has been dead for hundreds of years? Or that copyright expired? There needs to be a definitive clarification…
I still don’t know where I stand, even after thinking it through. What’s your perspective on this issue?
Tags: Another author lawsuit, book news, Book World News, Books, Salinger