Everyday Ethics

Everyday Ethics

JD Salinger CATCHER IN THE RYE Sequel–Whether He Likes It Or Not?

JD-Salinger-in-1951-002.jpgWord is spreading that reclusive author JD Salinger, author of the seminal book “The Catcher in the Rye,” filed suit in U.S. Federal Court in Manhattan yesterday over an anonymous author’s unauthorized so-called ‘sequel.’ The writer, going by the name John David California, planned to publish “60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye” through a Swedish publisher–that is, until 90-year-old Salinger filed the suit, claiming the writer doesn’t have the right to use his famous character, Holden Caulfield.

There are, naturally, all sorts of intellectual property laws, copyright laws, and the like at play here. But what about moral and ethical considerations?


Everyone knows Mr. Salinger is notoriously protective of his work. He’s never allowed his writings to be turned into films, has indeed sued in the past to keep private letters, well… private.
So how can someone with even the most remote understanding of the character of Holden Caulfield–himself painfully private, even if he longs to be understood–ever dream of betraying Caulfield’s creator in such a fashion? It’s one thing to fantasize about a Caulfield all grown up, grown elderly, as this book purports to do. It’s another to actually put it out there. Perhaps this writer should have done as Salinger has done since he decided to retreat from public life. Write for the love of writing, not try to profit off someone else’s creation.
As a writer myself, I understand that, once published, my ideas do exist in the public domain. However, that’s what copyright laws are for–to limit others’ use of my ideas and characters. And I acknowledge there’s a long tradition of piggy-backing on classic writers’ genius, both to make a point and to make a profit (one of my favorite plays is actually Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which plays off Shakespeare’s Hamlet brilliantly). Yet when the author’s still alive, and his wishes are so well known, isn’t it unethical to do something like what John David California’s book purports to do?
Artistic license or unmitigated chutzpah? You make the call.
Photo: AP

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posted June 2, 2009 at 2:29 pm

I understand JD Salinger’s desire to maintain the literary integrity of his work, but amongst the more popular works in movies, TV, and literature there is a huge fan base that enjoys creating spin offs and mash ups. I see this as a homage to the original work rather than a insult. Some of the material created by fans of movies or TV serials is even incorporated into sequels or future episodes.
What would Jane Austin say about “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?” Would she be honored ir outraged?
Whether publically honored or outraged JD Salinger should be quietly grateful. John David California created a piece of fiction that brings the original work back to the surface, making it relevant for consideration for something other than the “required school reading” table at Barnes and Noble. I might consider re-reading “The Catcher in the Rye” in order to read the “sequel” if it is ever published. Otherwise why would I bother?

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posted June 3, 2009 at 2:42 pm

KES–do you not reread great books? Ever? or no other reason than the pleasure of reading a well-told tale and great writing?
I think it is outrageous that this so-called writer even considered it, let alone went ahead. I think it shows a complete lack of respect for the thoughts and feelings of a fellow-artist. Of course, I’ve said that, and now it dawns on me that I loved The Hours (the book and the movie)… Maybe I have no idea how I feel about this. I guess I feel something very unfair–only if you’re a spectacular writer who can truly do the original justice should you be able to go ahead with something like this.

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posted June 3, 2009 at 11:30 pm

I rarely re-read novels because I have so many other books I would like to read for pleasure that I don’t really have the free time to go back. (I do refer to relevant sections of reference books or textbooks for work-related purposes.)
(While I realize that many people feel “The Catcher in the Rye” is a fantastic piece of literature, I am not one of them.) My point was really that this new piece of literature may spark renewed interest in the original. Without that spark I’m not sure many people will necessarily be motivated to pick up that specific title again.
I didn’t find “Pride and Prejudice” very interesting, but I would consider reading “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” to see if the “new perspective” made the novel more interesting to me.

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