The print edition of today’s Boston Globe tells me something I hadn’t known: Tolkien had to retroactively change The Hobbit to make it fit with the plot he subsequently created for The Lord of the Rings:
When Tolkien first wrote “The Hobbit,” he didn’t know Gollum’s “birthday present” would take on such significance in his sequel. He had to fix future editions of “The Hobbit” to better match the story arc.
So, I’m currently at work at a novel set in the world of Dover Beach and The Distance Beacons. Writing about a world you’ve already invented, with some of the same characters you’ve already invented, certainly makes things easier for an author in many ways: you’re earning a return on your creative investment. On the other hand, you do occasionally find yourself hemmed in by the choices you’ve already made.
In particular, I find myself missing a character I killed off in Dover Beach. I realize now that this was a somewhat gratuitous act of violence; the novel would not have been harmed if I had let the poor guy live. But I was younger then and thought I knew what I was doing. And now . . . now I can’t imagine the novel without him dead at the end of it. So there will be no Tolkienesque retroactive fiddling. What’s done is done. Life, and art, will have to go on without him.