Dead Writers’ Society

According to blogger Ray Cha, the new Robert Ludlum novel isn’t by Robert Ludlum:

Currently, a campaign for the new book in the Jason Bourne series is plastered on many of New York’s subways. . . . After seeing the ad many times, I finally noticed the wording, “Robert Ludlum’s” in the title, which . . . implied that he didn’t write the book. The actual author Eric Van Lustbader is listed [in smaller type at the bottom of] the ad. As it turns out Ludlum died six years ago. What is the implications of having other writers take the helm of a character after the original author dies?

Though the branding of Ludlum seems a real coup for his estate, Cha predicts that readers might start caring less about the original author regardless of whether the contracted books are better or worse than the orignal authors’.  If better, readers might say: what’s so special about Ludlum anyway?  If worse, they might start turning to fanfic.

This author-as-authorizing-brand trend might lead to new crackdowns on fanfic, if the estate has a sense that fanfic will steal away readers from its chosen elaborator of the original story (or re-vivifier of characters).  I suppose the story also shows how a particularly successful author may have the power of a publisher.  His name effectively starts working like the publisher’s trademark, assuring the standardized quality of the franchised fictional fare. 

A quick question: might the presentation of the title amount to a misattribution of authorship?  I think there’s some argument that the odd phrasing of the poster (Ludlum’s [novel name] by von Lustbader] amounts to a suggestion of co-authorship, while in fact Ludlum could not have coauthored the book.  But perhaps there is a “hand-off,” if not collaboration in the strict sense, here: Ludlum created the characters, von Lustbader has taken them in new directions.

3 thoughts on “Dead Writers’ Society

  1. IP owners, unsurprisingly, are seeking other ways to monetize the fan relationship through things like FanLib.com and starwars.com, with associated controls imposed on what fans can create. By authorizing some, possibly the hope is to be able to authorize all, though I think that hope will prove hard to realize.

    The blogger’s observation that this occurs in genre works is certainly true, but there’s much more: VC Andrews is the obvious example, as Lastowka points out, but there are also long traditions of jointly authored worlds in sf/fantasy, sometimes created by people working at about the same time (Thieves’ World, Wild Cards) and sometimes involving later additions (H. Beam Piper’s Fuzzies), not to mention all the tie-in novels (Star Trek and Star Wars being the biggest examples, but it extends much further, from Beauty & the Beast to V). Superhero comics, of course, have had multiple artists, writers, and pencillers for decades, and the form supports auteurism among fans even without a one-to-one author/world correspondence. The idea of romantic authorship is too useful to die; what it is that the romantic author is responsible for, however, may change over time and genre.

  2. How different is this from the legal treatise tradition? There are many examples of “X’s Treatise by Y” published long after X’s death. Sometimes these are merely updates with new material included in brackets or footnotes, but often they represent complete revisions and rewritings of the original work. Scholars like Wigmore and Prosser have been brands for decades. (Incidentally, Wigmore’s first evidence treatise was a revision of Greenleaf published as the latter’s 16th edition.)

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