He was everything I hoped he'd be. A kindly old gentlemen with a michevious twinkle in his eyes that befitted his more lop-eared characters, and he told tale after tale of getting into trouble in his youth, like the time he and a friend (sibling?) snuck into the theater and threw a cat down into the audience from the balcony. He teased me when I handed him my favorite book, Taggerung, because it already had my name scrawled into it in a childish font. "This book already has a name in it!" he exclaimed, before signing it with a smile.
I still have that book, and those memories. My sister, my friend, and I sang him a version of one of his songs in a book, about pudding, and he seemed delighted. It was something I won't forget anytime soon.
But what happens when you meet an idol of yours, and they're not all you thought they'd be? What if the reality of their character destroys the image you had of them? What do you do then?
Margo Rabb of the New York Times wrote in her article "Fallen Idols," that she had discovered unpleasant realities about a favorite poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, and his character. In the end, she says that she wishes "she hadn't." She ran across the poet's biography online and discovered that he was, as she puts it,
"a selfish, sycophantic, womanizing rat"Not the most glowing of endorsements. Do we feel crushed when we discover someone we thought was so nice is actually not as shiny and pretty as we thought? Do we shrug it off as reality? Do we even go searching? Perhaps we, as invested writers, should avoid learning about authors in a form of self-preservation. Rabb quotes Laurie Anderson, who
"feels that biographies can make authors lose their luster. 'A book is like sausage,' she told me. 'You love the end product, but you don’t really want to know how it’s made.'"I for one enjoyed immensely the biography of one of my favorite authors, J.R.R. Tolkien. It was an intriguing history about an intriguing genius who created the backbone of modern-day fantasy. I felt closer to the author after reading it, even a little bit.
But what if he had been a horrible person? Selfish, jealous, greedy, lazy? Would I have felt poorly about him, about his books, about myself for being 'taken in' by a self-induced glaze of authorly glory?
Perhaps we put too much of an author's books onto their character, forgetting that the two don't necesarilly go hand in hand. Rabb agrees, saying,
"Falling in love with a book is a unique and sometimes strange experience; it’s not hard to make the leap from adoring a novel to adoring its creator."Author Justin Cronin agrees, saying about authors (and about himself) in general,
"When you read a book, you spend hours in intimate contact with the mind of another person — it’s an intense, but one-sided relationship. If any reader knew who we really were, it’s guaranteed they’d find us disappointing."It's like the celebrity crush, as Rabb puts it, or the Facebook syndrome. You feel so much closer to a person who you actually have no clue about. And having that closeness broken hurts.
Sometimes, however, it's good to remember that our idols are real people too. Some people, Rabb says, enjoy discovering the bad sides of their favorite authors, because it helps them with their own failings. Or maybe they're just reality-tv-watching readers who love the dirt. I like dirt, but usually the kind with more...soil...in it.
In the end, it's important not to fan crush on an author because their book is so good. When you read something, you don't know anything about the author. You know something about their imagination, which may be a whole lot nicer than they are.
Rabb concludes by saying that,
"Writers and their books will always be inextricably connected, but the relationship between them isn’t simple."