The View from My Chair: Who owns the Universe?
My attention was directed to this video today http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aoc3roT81nU
This got me thinking, when it comes to the Universe created by one individual but loved by a very large group of fans, who actually “owns” the universe? In the legal sense the universe is “owned” by the copyright holder. I cannot go around writing stories about space battles in far off galaxies and call it “Star Wars” without some lawyer showing up and issuing me a cease and desist. I cannot write stories of young wizards named Howie, Don and Chermoine saving the universe from the evil Tromedlov without somebody notifying J.K Rowling. If I want to write detective stories about a 19th century detective I’d better not name him Sherlock Holmes or I’ll be hearing from the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. At least I’d better not write anything like that and expect to sell it to others.
I’m not going to delve into the legal realms of “Fair Use” or how much can I write about these situations and steal from the original idea while still making it seem like something new. Rather I want to look at the serious fan and their disagreements with the original authors about the nature of “their” universe.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle grew so disenchanted with his creation, Sherlock Holmes, that he killed the detective off in “The Final Problem”. As the author, this was Doyle’s right to do so. The public however had other ideas. The outcry over the “death” of the great detective led Sir Arthur to resurrect his creation in the “The Adventure of the Empty House”, in this instant the “ownership” of the universe changed hands. No longer could Sir Arthur lay complete claim to his hero. Yes, legally the Sherlock Homes universe is still owned by the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but it was the fans who forced the resurrection.
The Harry Potter universe is another instance of certain fans being at odds with the author. My sister has undertaken a re-writing (in fan-fiction of course) of Harry Potter 7. According to my sister (and a few of her friends, a few of mine, and nearly half a million writers at fanfiction.net) J.K. Rowling screwed up the Harry Potter universe with book 7. “Harry should have married Hermionie,” “Harry should have died,” the list goes on of the supposed “wrongs” that Ms. Rowling has done to “their” universe. Now I cannot claim to be a reader of the Harry Potter novels (my kids are) but I have seen the first six movies. Great cinema? not really but they are nicely done movies. My point is that the fans have taken a very possessive view of the universe. The universe if J.K.’s to do with as she pleases. If she had wanted to end book 7 with the magical equivalent of the atomic bomb, killing every magical being in existence she certainly could have. Would have made the fans happy? probably not. But the fans need to be aware of the fact that this is Ms. Rowlings’ universe, she only invites us in.
This brings me to George Lucas and the universe that he created. Star Wars entered into the public’s collective conscious in 1977. I was 10. I was enamored with the story being told on the big screen. I collected the comics. I played with the toys. I gained an interest in science fiction that has never gone away.
When Mr. Lucas re-did the original trilogy in the 90’s, I brought my family to see Lucas’ vision. The redone effects made (in my opinion) a good film better. Did Han need jump out of Greedo’s way before toasting him? Maybe not, but this is Lucas’ universe not mine. George can do with this universe whatever he wants. It is his house, he is only inviting us in. Now, Mr. Lucas has been more than generous allowing folks to rummage around and play in his universe. The Expanded Universe of novels, comics, games and whatnot have added to an already rich tapestry.
I do not understand the vehemence folks use when discussing Jar Jar Binks. Do I like the character? no. Do I wish Jar Jar had been one of Anakin’s victims on his slide to the dark side? yes. (Meesa no wanna die Annie). Does that change the fact that George Lucas can do whatever he wants with the character? no.
I don’t remember where I read it but I recall this interview with George Lucas. He states that he had always intended to kill Jar Jar off but kept him around simply because Star Wars is his universe and won’t be dictated to by the fans. If I am remembering correctly and this is the reason Jar Jar didn’t die, then I applaud Mr. Lucas for sticking to his guns.
The question remains. Who owns the universe? Answer the creator. We should be thankful that we’re allowed to play inside.