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Uh oh! The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is now Public Domain!

January 6, 2021

A prequel/sequel to The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is such a bad idea that I’m glad I didn’t think of it first. Unfortunately, this is what happens when a famous creative work hits public domain.

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Every year, as we leave one behind and enter another, a new batch of literary works enter the public domain. That means the copyrights, which protect books from replication and adaptation for a certain number of years depending on when those books were published, expire, allowing creators to adapt or reimagine these works for free without dealing with the original authors’ estates. “And all of the works are free for anyone to use, reuse, build upon for anyone — without paying a fee,” Duke University law professor Jennifer Jenkins explained to NPR. Now that we’re in 2021, copyrights for books published in 1925 are lifting, including ones on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

It’s no coincidence that author Michael Farris Smith is publishing Nick, a Great Gatsby prequel novel about Nick Carraway, a few days from now. According to Time, new additions of the original novel are being printed with fresh introductions by author Min Jin Lee and culture critic Wesley Morris, and January will also bring an illustrated edition from Black Dog & Leventhal.

For more, read ‘The Great Gatsby’ and other works from 1925 are now public domain.

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Just so you know, the article’s use of the word additions instead of editions was the article’s mistake, not mine. Maybe it’s been fixed by now.

To be fair, the novel Nick by Michael Harris Smith might be a decent novel. It might be well-written. Maybe the good reviews are sincere and NOT pre-written. But no matter how good it is (and it probably isn’t very good at all), the book will be about a wealthy guy who just happens to be named Nick Carraway.

It’s not THAT Nick Carraway, if you know what I mean.

When authors who are not Sir Conan Arthur Doyle write Sherlock Holmes stories, they’re just writing stories about some high IQ drug addict who happens to be named Sherlock Holmes. When authors who are not Alexandre Dumas write stories about the Three Musketeers, they’re writing stories about three pawns of the old royal social hierarchy who just happen to be named Athos, Porthos, and Aramis (and maybe D’Artagnan too).

When authors who are not Bram Stoker write stories about Dracula, they are writing about some guy with funny looking teeth who just happens to be named… aw, you get the idea.

Authors write these books because there’s a market for them. That’s fine. I’m not angry at these authors or at the readers who buy the books. I’ll just point it out and do my own thing. I promise, I will never write a sequel to The Great Gatsby. I will not call it Carraway or Jay or The Formerly Great Gatsby or The Once and Future Great Gatsby.

But look out when The Catcher in the Rye becomes public domain! That damn Holden Caulfield kid whines like hell. Damn whiner.

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But enough about me! What do you think? Should authors mess with public domain characters just because they can? Which famous character would you like to mess with?

5 Comments
  1. I find it lazy of writers who write prequels or sequels to other writers’ stories. Get your own ideas!

    • It’s at least creatively lazy. I have to give the lazy author credit, though: he had that book ready as soon as The Great Gatsby became public domain.

      That took a little bit of hustle… or a lot of grift.

  2. I would never want to write a prequel or a sequel to someone else’s book, but I’ve always wanted to rewrite a classic book. Kind of like they remake movies, it would be fun to rewrite one of those old classics. I’ve often wondered why no one does that.

  3. An author’s characters are his own. No one else should have a right/write to them, even years later.

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