Aging In Fiction

Written By: Dawn - Jun• 24•15




While the world awaits the July 14 release of Harper Lee’s follow-up novel to her masterpiece To Kill A Mockingbird, I find myself not wondering if her writing is as good as ever (I have no doubt that it is), but whether or not the world is ready to hear Scout’s grownup voice.

Aging in fiction is a tricky thing. While some characters and stories follow a linear  narrative that allows the reader time to adjust and delight in the passing of the years, others freeze the moments of the story in an iconic timeline that remains satisfying for decades or, in some cases, centuries.

Many of us delighted in following the life journeys of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Harry Potter and had no trouble watching those characters grow throughout several books. (I’m always pleased that while they grow older, Fred and George Weasley never really grow up mentally.)

On the other hand, some child or teen narrators told only one story; one with the scope and depth to be enough over time. Think David Copperfield, Holden Caulfield, Ponyboy Curtis and of course, Scout Finch. (So we thought!)

As an avid reader, I have followed many characters through the years in series, retellings or continuations by other authors. The results are mixed. In the case of two historical series I enjoy, the delightful Amelia Peabody series by the late Elizabeth Peters and the humorous Roman sleuth Marcus Didius Falco by Lindsey Davis, the authors follow real time and allow for the limitations of aging to have their effect, but not in a way that is depressing or  compromises the integrity of series. They work with it, not against it.

In the case of my favorite Jane Austen tale, Pride and Prejudice, I find that I love modern retellings (Bridget Jones Diary by Helen Fielding being a favorite) and detest continuations in all their forms- Death Comes to Pemberly, Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife and the like. The reason? I want the happiness of Lizzie and Darcy set in stone. It is so satisfying I don’t need to know if they have children or the best grand parties or even if they finally came to their senses and ban Caroline Bingley from the house forever.

When I still worked in the high school library, S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders never stayed on the shelves for long. Think about that. Here’s a tale from the sixties, with no smart phones, no social media and clothing descriptions- madras for goodness’ sake- millennials have no context for, that still draws teen readers in.

I’ve read the book at least four or  five times, I own it, I love the movie. What I don’t think I’d love? Seeing Ponyboy with a beer belly washing his minivan in a driveway. No thank you!

I had the same trouble revisiting Bridget Jones in her last incarnation, 2013’s Mad About the Boy. The 52-year-old (52!) married, widowed and now a mum Bridget sounded a bit too much like the Singleton Bridget and I couldn’t relate at all. I stopped reading at chapter three.

Like many of you, I’ll rush to buy Go Set A Watchman because more than anything, its publication is a major literary event. Who would have guessed that Lee’s second book would come out when our nation is facing serious racial tensions that are only escalating.

Scout’s voice rang true before, I cannot help but hope it does again.

Stay gold Scout.

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