Maybe it is just my inner English nerd speaking, but for me some of the most fun that can be had is following the travels of your favourite characters through their stories. Be it literature, film or television, once I’m am introduced to character who gets under my skin I obsessively race through anything I can find that will help me learn:
- what happens to them
- how and why they are the way they are.
Characters that I have obsessed over in my time include John Jarndyce (Bleak House), Severus Snape (Harry Potter), Henry Scobie (The Heart of the Matter), King Lear, Christopher Foyle (Foyle’s War) the list goes on. And yes, even Tom Barnaby from Midsomer Murders has occupied many of my precious reflective minutes. And perhaps some other day we’ll figure out why they are all middle/late aged men with mysterious and frustrating personal lives.
I know I’m not the only one who does this, because there are hoards of people all over the world who queue to get the next novel in a fantasy series or download the latest episode of some tv show because they can’t possibly wait for a tv station here to air it; not to mention the hoards of people who obsessively write fan fiction in order to delve deeper into the universe of their favourite stories. Fan fiction is an often-ridiculed past time, but I see no problem with it, in fact, as English teacher I often ask my students to think about issues from a perspective that comes naturally to anyone who writes fic. And yes, among authors and composers of frequently “ficced” works there are mixed feelings, but there are also plenty of well respected authors who write what is essentially fan fiction. Anthony Horowitz, P.D James and Geraldine Brooks spring rapidly to mind.
I mention fan fiction at this point, because it introduces us to the term that is most helpful to the thought currently floating around my mind. I ask in the heading of my post “who owns the canon? and we will get to that, but quickly a tour of what the canon actually is. Broadly and traditionally speaking, the “literary canon” refers to those stories that are consider iconic and representative of the best that literature has to offer within a particular context – perhaps from a certain era, context, culture, or very broadly speaking maybe the best of literature ever. Fanfic writers offer us a different use of the term ‘canon’, however. In FanFic, ‘canon’ refers to the details, boundaries, facts set by the initial story. The canon of Harry Potter is what actually happens in the novels, as written by JK Rowling. Then there is the film universe, then there is the fic universe. It is certainly helpful to have an active knowledge of this if you are getting into the realm of fan fiction, but certainly even fandom. It helps to understand that a film and book are two different things. That they each have qualities to be appreciated, quite independently of the other. It also helps to know that there is always a sort of “reality” (canon) attached to the story, but that part of understanding, coping, coming to terms with it all is wrestling with the what-ifs that any plot point might throw up.
Who owns the canon is an interesting topic, in either sense of the word. The question of with who’s authority a work enters the “Literary Canon” is one of the great political aspects of literary criticism. But who owns the canon as fan-ficcers describe it – the original detail of the story – really sparked in my mind when reading an article about Mad About the Boy, the latest installment of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones series (itself arguably just a piece of AU – alternate universe – Jane Austen fic).
This next bit is a piece of information that has been pushed by Fielding herself in discussing/promoting her new work, but in the interests of fairness I would like to flag that it is also a GIANT DIRTY SPOILER. So, if you don’t want to know…look away pretty much for the rest of this post.
It turns out that Mark Darcy, much loved romantic hero and lover/husband/partner/whatever of Bridget Jones is dead. You heard me correctly. Dead. Deceased. Popped his clogs. An ex-character, as Monty Python would have it.
Not surprisingly, the fan reaction is varied, but the land of the internet reveals some typically hysterical reactions. I’m going to quote a few below, but I would like to acknowledge that they were conveniently gathered for me by BuzzFeed in this tremendously convenient post. If you’re unconvinced, there are equally outraged bits of feedback in any news story you find about this.
I don’t want to live in a world where Mark Darcy and Bridget Jones aren’t living happily ever after. Too far, Helen Fielding. Too far.
If Mark Darcy is dead then I hate Helen Fielding. FOREVER
Why the fuck would you kill Mark Darcy oh my god this is the worst news ever
Or my personal favourite, because this person doesn’t even know there were books before movies:
Finding out Mark Darcy is dead in the third Bridget Jones film has already turned my day into the worst ever.
It is traumatic when a much loved character dies. Honestly, I still haven’t recovered from when Joyce died of perfectly mundane, natural and wholly un-defeatable causes in season 5 of Buffy. Buffy fans know what it means to be bereaved by the death of a fictional character. It’s a tv show that deals with mortality in a very stark way. My point here, is that I understand. Sort of. But only sort of, because what is with the hating on the author? Surely there is some level of authority they they have over the life of their characters? I don’t think it is fair to hate on Helen Fielding for her authorial choices for a book that most people haven’t read yet because it isn’t officially published for another 8 days. I think it is probably the duty of any informed reader to reflect on these details. I have my own theories, of course, and they’re coming right up, but I’m not going to know until I read the book what my ultimate comment will be.
Narratively speaking, I suspect Fielding has some sound reasoning for killing of Arsy-Darcy. A lot of the intrigue and energy that is generated in Jones’ story comes from her uncertainty and fear about being alone. A lot of what sustains reader interest is their optimism that she will find some way of being herself and very hopefully with someone else. We could all cope with the continuation of her journey after her romance with Daniel Cleaver because we all knew that he was the wrong man. She had to keep looking for the right one. And then she found him, and we all lived happily ever after knowing that once again fiction offered us a comfortable and convenient vision of how the world works.
Could Fielding follow their lives into the land of the “smug marrieds”? I don’t think so, not with any real integrity, after all, such characters had been Bridget’s enemy for two novels. Bridget is an endearing character. She has naivety, bravery, sincerity, uncertainty. She has desperation and self respect in equal but at times hugely conflicting measures. And most of all she has hope and strength and a messed up, dysfunctional life, with weird parents and odd friends and an evolving sense of what she wants from her career and her life. She might be someone we recognise if not in ourselves, in someone else. Let’s give her a chance to cope with this development. And not hate on Helen Fielding, without reading her book, for her ‘artisitic’ choices. Like the saying goes, if you have a better story to tell, go tell it. Or at least wait to whinge about this one until you’ve read it.