A federal judge ruled on Wednesday that Holden Caulfield, the precocious protagonist of J. D. Salinger’s most famous work, “The Catcher in the Rye,” will exist at least a little longer solely in a state of permanent adolescence, unburdened by the cares and recriminations of old age.
It seems that Salinger has won this round - and his wanna-be/nemesis Frederick Colting, Swedish author of a work titled "60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye," (a projection of Caulfield as an old man) has lost. In this little battle of preservation versus permission to project onto/amend or expand another's work, what has become clear is that people want things to stay the way they are. They want their heroes to remain heroes (do not tell them that Obama was a smoker) and their adolescent wanderers (Caulfield) to remain adolescent wanderers. Beyond that, they want permission to keep their own versions of Caulfield alive in their minds, without having to compromise them with Colting's versions; however imaginative Salinger's nemesis may be, he will be stealing the stories that they wrote, and they will feel robbed of their own projections of Caulfield's future. In other words, he will no longer belong to them.
Much like the sequel to a good movie, or the reality of a place that you imagined in your head as picturesque but then discovered to be bland, an expansion of a work of art or literature can leave the viewer/reader feeling unimpressed and even undermined. The maker of the second work believes that everyone will be as impressed by his work as the original, that he may even surpass the original maker. He also believes it is a part of art to add onto and develop previous works. What he forgets is that the viewer has stake in the character's story as much as he does, and they want to call on that character in that story to make them feel a certain way; when they want to imagine youth, they will call on Holden Caulfield.
I take comfort in Judge Deborah A. Bates' decision to side with Salinger on this one- however crotchety and anal and reclusive and old-school he may be - because it means that authenticity, something that is quite rare in the days of post ironic irony, is being safe-guarded. Although I believe wholeheartedly in drawing from original works, expanding on them, and collaborating with them to make new work (no one can deny how good Nelly's reinvention of the childhood jump-rope rhyme was in Country Grammar back in 2000), I secretly want my own favorite works to be kept private and safe from tampering. I want the books I love to be kept in glass cases, to be yellowed and to smell like libraries, to be perfectly preserved, and to be mine. I find solace in the solid, unchanging nature of a work of fiction, knowing that I can find it in the same form ten years from now as I can today, and knowing that it will stay young when I grow old. Most of all, though, I want to reserve the right to make up my own endings, my own versions of the future, for my fictional friends. Otherwise I'd just hang out with my real friends instead of reading, which might be easier on the eyes.
I think maybe Judge Deborah knows what I mean about this - she may hold young Caulfield's innoncene close to her own heart, or she might just be old fashioned like I am, want things to stay the same as they always were, permanently permanent, permanently young. Because isn't that what fiction can do that nothing else can? Way to go, Deb.