Let’s face it, who doesn’t have To Kill a Mockingbird on their classic favorites list?
Were-vampires with bad taste, that’s who.
But in all seriousness, To Kill a Mockingbird is the Calvin and Hobbes of the literary world: a classic without sequel and with a mysteriously hermit-like author. However, it appears no author’s an island for long. Just like Bill Watterson’s shocking guest appearance in the interesting (and hilarious) Pearls Before Swine comics—shocking because he’s known as the “bigfoot” of the cartooning world–Harper Lee’s announced a sequel to the legendary To Kill a Mocking Bird.
When I first saw the announcement in my PW Daily newsletter, I was ecstatic! A sequel to one of the classics? Scout and Jem all grown up? Shameless fangirl questions pinged around in my skull, so I happily traipsed off the rejoice with my fellow literary fanatics on twitter–and that’s where I encountered another opinion. What if Harper Lee is being forced into this?
Whether or not she or he’s right, a fan raised an interesting point: is this really what Harper Lee wants?
Harper Lee is now 88 years old, and this entire time, she’s withheld this already written sequel since 1960, when To Kill a Mockingbird was first published. That’s over 50 years of refusing to let Go Set a Watchman, the title of her sequel, as well as any other manuscript to go to publication. Fifty-five years of adamantly not wanting anything else published. HarperCollins is set to publish Go Set a Watchman with an “initial run of two million copies” Joanna Walters from the guardian reports, but beyond this happy news, a fearful doubt lingers around whether this beloved 88 year old author living in a assisted-living facility is, to be blunt, in her right mind.
It was a well-known fact how reclusive harper Lee was, and nearly legendary how much she resisted further publication. I mean, 50 years! She said “no” for half a century! That doesn’t sound like someone who’s “happy as hell,” for Go Set a Watchman’s publication like Lee’s official statement says.
Then again, maybe after 50 years of fighting and the rediscovery of an old, beloved work, Harper Lee’s ready for the next step. It is possible, after all, that the initial loss of Go Set a Watchman is what drove her to quit publishing, and that without it, she simply didn’t want to continue as an author. That’s just a theory of course, but with so much dispute around Lee’s actual feelings on the matter, there’s little else for fans to do but theorize.
Regardless of circumstances, I can’t help but be excited for Lee’s coming novel. Seeing Scout grown up is going to be like meeting an old friends, since she was one of the first characters I identified with so personally and so well growing up. Like Scout, I’ve grown up struggling to navigate a world without answers to what makes a culture good or bad, what makes a human’s worth, and what in my world is right and wrong (whether anyone admits it or not). Something we sometimes forget is that, in To Kill a Mockingbird’s setting, there were no easy answers for what was happening at the time. Much like Harper Lee’s situation now. It’s easy now to look back and say “Uh, duh that’s horrible!” but I’m sure seventy years from now people will say the same thing about us. One of the great things about this book is how it makes you analyze what you’ve been taught and pick the good from the bad. As a halfie (race-wise), I’ve spent much of my life like Scout, searching to understand my world. I had to pick from my two cultures, as well as my American one, and decide what is right and what’s wrong with the way I was raised. That’s what this novel taught me to do, and that’s what we all admire so much about Harper Lee.
In a way, this controversy guilts every fan looking forward to a creation they hope will once again lead them to question, and eventually realize, things about their world. But while I’m sure we’ll look back on the Lee commotion with just as few answers as we have now, we can still take something from it, and hopefully make something good come of it.
So, as for the sequel itself, is it a good idea? Is it fair, is it okay? Is this a money-grabbing move or a new classic well overdue? Honestly, there is no stable answer, just like there was no easy answer for the situation in To Kill a Mocking Bird. Inevitably, we’ll just have to see, but whatever happens, what’s most important is to look at the messages these literary pieces have to offer and grow from them. After all, that’s what writing is all about—communicating human understanding and, hopefully, bettering ourselves from them.