Don’t mess with J.D. Salinger, even when he’s dead

I learned of J.D. Salinger’s death when I was in Costa Rica in January, and I wrote then that I felt an obligation to acknowledge his passing and credit him with having been my primary inspiration to write.

As I said then, though I always longed for more to read from him, I don’t begrudge his having stopped publishing his writing. That said, I have more ambivalent feelings about his legendary tight control over his work, his refusal to allow film or theater adaptations. (His estate, honoring his wishes, are currently trying to block the publication of a sequel novel to The Catcher in the Rye.)

One of the best classes I took as an English major at Rutgers, was called Film & The Novel. In that class, we read a selection of novels, and when we completed each one we watched a film adaptation of the book. Unfortunately, I don’t remember all of the films and novels, but I do remember that Stephen King‘s and Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining was one of them, and another was Wim Wenders’ The American Friend (1977) VERY lose adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley’s Game.

Anyway, the class opened my eyes to the legitimacy of adaptation and interpretation as true art forms. After all, would you call Jazz, a form of music that plays the same tunes over and over again, adapting them through improvisation, illegitimate art? Of course not.

I think it’s entirely possible that if J.D. Salinger had been open to a film adaptation, he could have secured a film deal that would have guaranteed that the screenwriter and director would work closely with him in order to honor and protect his vision.

But, that’s not what he wanted, and so I’m torn, because I’ve always felt that The Catcher in the Rye would make a great movie.

And yet, a sequel novel, written by a guy who is willing to drag Salinger’s estate through court, trying to force the publication of a book against their and thereby Salinger’s own wishes, it seems to me, is another matter entirely. Why would anyone do that? How will he sleep at night knowing that he ignored the wishes of a dead author whom he must have admired enormously if he was so driven to write this thing in the first place?


2 thoughts on “Don’t mess with J.D. Salinger, even when he’s dead

  1. Catcher in the Rye is so iconic. I have doubts that a film adaptation would capture the essence of the novel and all that Salinger wanted it to epitomize.

    Then again, I tend to enjoy a novel over the movie anyway. So, maybe I’m a bit bias. 😉

    1. I hear you, Rebekah, but, as I said, I’ve come to enjoy watching movies based on books I’ve read, to see how the books have been interpreted.

      I admit that sometimes I’m very disappointed, but it’s not like I then somehow can’t enjoy the book anymore.

      The other side of that coin, though, is a film adaptation that knocks my socks off and stands on its own as a great work of art, every bit as good as the book.

      One example I always think of is The English Patient. Loved the book, a VERY challenging novel with a narrative technique that seemed like it would be impossible to present in movie, and yet Anthony Minghella created an epic masterpiece with it.

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