Saturday, 20 June 2009


I confess I'd never heard of Swedish writer Fredrik Colting before I read this editorial in the New York Times.

The piece strikes me as rather odd. It seems to be arguing that there are certain characters who should be left alone. That is to say that writers might be able to write "fan fiction" or sequels/prequels based on some fictional characters but not others. Why is that?

I guess I don't get why writers shouldn't have the freedom to write about whatever -- and whomever -- they want. I understand issues of copyright, but I nevertheless don't see why writers shouldn't be able to find inspiration wherever it strikes, even in a copyrighted text.

I'd love to hear what others think about Colting, his work, and this issue.


David McDuff said...

I think the Svensk Bokhandel interview with Colting gives a pretty good idea of the motives behind his "Salinger project".

Re whether literary characters can be resuscitated in new works of fiction: it hasn't been done very much, probably for the reason that an author's identity and his characters are thought to be coextensive. In a sense, for the reader, Tristram Shandy is Sterne, Louis Lambert is Balzac, Huck Finn is Mark Twain, Castorp/Settembrini/Naphta are Thomas Mann, and so on. "Resuscitating" these characters or creating "sequels" to them would be tantamount to impersonation and/or plagiarism.

On the other hand, historical characters do appear in works of drama and fiction by different authors - one could think of Dr Faustus in Marlowe, Goethe and Mann, Napoleon in Tolstoy (War and Peace) and Orwell (Animal Farm) - so perhaps it's a question of historical archetypes versus original creations. Though it's noteworthy that even Shakespeare didn't imitate the Greek tragedians in his choice of characters, but looked largely to English and Scottish history for his subjects.

Eric Dickens said...

Hi BeeJay.

I'm always pretty cautious and sceptical about new names that turn up out of the blue. Coolthing could be an American called John David, or a Croatian immigrant to Sweden, or Jan Guillou's alter ego. Who knows? People claim to do all sorts on the internet, where no one can check up on their background. From my experience, there are a number of people who enjoy spinning myths about themselves just for kicks and padding out their "existence' with articles.

The pseudonym of a pseudonym of a non-existent person is a popular ploy. When I find photos of him at various ages, plus a convincing biography, I'll begin to believe that the elusive Fredrik Colting exists.