Why Harper Lee’s “New Novel” is the Literary Equivalent of Greedo Shooting First

People love pretending that there is a new novel by Harper Lee, available in stores now. But we all know there isn’t.

I’m not going to go into all the details of it, because there are enough articles that already do, but basically: it’s likely that Harper Lee is being exploited, her supposed new novel is really just an early draft of the famous novel everyone has already read, and lots of highly questionable things have happened in this whole situation.

The main reason that I’m not going to read it is simple. I like To Kill a Mockingbird, and I don’t want to ruin it for myself.

Society has one simple trend: whenever something can have more money squeezed out of it, it will have more money squeezed out of it. Oftentimes, this takes the form of toys, food, spin-offs, sequels and prequels. But sometimes it takes a more sinister form.

What's next? Boo Radley action figures? Atticus Finch style guides?
What’s next? Boo Radley action figures? Atticus Finch style guides?

Of course, there are times when Director’s Cuts are needed. Blade Runner is a great example. The original film is so chopped up and bizarrely edited that the story lacks continuity and swims with nonsense. The Director’s Cut, for the most part, fixed those flaws.

But in this case, Go Set a Watchman is the opposite. It’s a first draft that, when treated like a prequel or sequel or whatever they are pretending it is, taints the existence of an already great novel. And if taken seriously, it severely alters and garbles the original story and characters of To Kill a Mockingbird. And the thing that this most resembles, to me, is Star Wars.

The Star Wars universe has never been the same since George Lucas decided to start messing with his own work. He took one of the most important scenes in the first Star Wars film and turned it into something completely different. Originally, Han Solo killed a bounty hunter in a bar, shooting Greedo under the table because, well, he felt like it. Han was a rogue, a smuggler, an anti-hero. Sure, Greedo was threatening him, but Greedo wasn’t shooting at him. Lucas went back to his best film, twenty years later, and changed it, using the special effects of the 1990s, so that Han Solo killed Greedo for no reason other than self-defense. It changes not only that scene but the entire original Star Wars trilogy.

Greedo had it coming.
Greedo had it coming.

The trouble is that what’s happening with To Kill a Mockingbird is even worse. At least it was George Lucas who compromised George Lucas’s work. Here, an old woman is being exploited by the publishing world so that they can make money. And just like Han Solo never being the same after revisionism made Greedo shoot first, we are seeing Atticus Finch’s character and identity compromised and washed away.

Readers now have to choose whether to believe that the Atticus Finch of Go Set a Watchman is the same Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird, just like you have to decide whether to believe in 1977’s Han Solo or the Special Edition Han Solo who surfaced in the ’90s.

It’s not that there is something wrong with prequels or sequels. But there is something wrong with bastardizing an existing work, especially one that is widely loved and revered, just to make another dollar.

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