I’ve been wondering. What happens when a character becomes more famous than the author who created them? There is a sense of the author losing ownership of that character, as they become a household name. Sherlock Holmes is a prime example. Holmes is legendary, and has long since been taken far beyond the original works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. That’s not a huge problem, as such, as Doyle is long dead. What about similar famous characters, however, where the author is still alive?
Recent years has seen a massive growth in “fan fiction“. Some of this leaves much to be desired, in quality or originality terms, but some is excellently written. There is also a great deal of artwork based on the personal conceptions of characters and locales by artists who have become fans of literary characters. Then, of course, there’s film and TV, where the famed characters are brought to life on the screen, big or small. All are tributes to the author, in the sense that they have created a character who has captivated a very large audience.
It has to be said that many famous characters are more abused than used by people other than the original author. It must be intensely disheartening to see a carefully crafted story being altered to fit the mediums of film and TV, even if the author is involved in the production to some degree. From what I’ve seen of some productions, it would be a serious mistake to assume that the presence of the author’s name in the credits guarantees that they have been able to adequately protect their creation.
I guess most writers would be delighted to create a character who gains fame beyond all expectation. I wonder, though, if we could resist the potential profit in allowing our creations to be remade for film or TV? Would we even want to? Do we, in some sense, give ownership of our characters to our readers? By creating such a popular character, we provide our readers with a new person in their lives, somebody who really matters to them. It’s not unlike soap operas which involve some viewers do strongly that the death of a character causes genuine grief. People have been known to send tokens of that grief. Equally, some such deaths have caused real anger amongst the fans of the programme, even to the point of the producers being forced to contrive the reinstatement of the character!
As an author, I would probably feel genuinely honoured to have a character achieve such fame. I would be less happy, I suspect, to have that character taken over by all and sundry.