John Green, award-winning author of Young Adult fiction, such as The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns and co-founder of Vlogbrothers, Mental Floss, Crash Course, DFTBA.com, The Project for Awesome and VidCon, is forever repeating the line “books belong to their readers”.
The Fault in Our Stars is a novel about sixteen-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster in her fight against cancer. The novel was made into a film, which was released in the summer of 2014, directed by Josh Boone. The story ends with Hazel reading her eulogy, written by Augustus Waters, her lover who has recently lost his battle with Osteosarcoma. However, Green’s fans are all asking the question: what happens to Hazel after the book ends?
In TFIOS, Hazel meets the author of her favourite novel, An Imperial Affliction, Mr Peter Van Houten, an American recluse living in Amsterdam. She also has her own questions about the fate of those left at the end of the book, but is shocked when Van Houten asks her ‘how familiar are you with Swedish hip-hop?’ and continues to speak in cryptic and erratic riddles, eventually concluding that it is ‘childish’ of Hazel to seek answers about fictional characters.
Although John Green is no sweaty, alcoholic recluse, he does bare some similarity to Van Houten, as when he is asked about the future of his characters (beyond the novel), he consistently protests, saying ‘I DON’T KNOW. I have access to the exact same text that you do. I do not have access to any information outside of that text, because then it would just be me speculating about what might happen’. To date, Green has not written a sequel for any of his books.
The only stark difference between Van Houten and Green’s approaches to this subject is that the ‘real’ author encourages fans to consider how their Hazel lives after the book. ‘I love fanfiction and I love it when people imagine worlds outside of the text for the characters’ writes Green on his website. Fanfiction about TFIOS includes Hazel finding out that she is pregnant, falling in love with Isaac and an alternative ending where Hazel dies instead of Gus.
If I were to write my own ending for after The Fault in Our Stars, I would start with Hazel’s death. We know from the beginning that Hazel’s cancer is terminal, and that the success of Phlanxifor in controlling her illness is unexpected, making her like ‘a grenade’, us all waiting for her to explode. Mrs. Lancaster has had to stop her studies in order to look after Hazel, but manages to get her qualifications and start practising as a social worker after Hazel passes away. The Lancaster’s marriage becomes difficult, with Hazel’s father struggling to move on from Hazel’s death, but they stay together, always trying to make it work. Isaac gives up support group, but takes up an instrument, maybe the piano, and makes a career as a musician, giving him the confidence that he needs, as well as a healthier emotional outlet than smashing trophies. His cancer never returns, but he eventually takes over from Patrick in ‘the literal heart of Jesus’. Van Houten writes another novel, which he dedicates to Hazel and Augustus, donating all of the proceeds to cancer research charities.
But where does this idea come from?
The idea that “books belong to their readers” appears to have come from Roland Barthes’ Death of the Author. In this book, Barthes describes how, in the same way that an author is born when they begin to write a book, each author dies once their book ends. The reason is that each reader experiences something different, even when they appear to be reading the same book. As a result of this, readers themselves become the author, recreating the story for themselves. Barthes uses this to argue that aiming to decipher a text is ‘quite useless’, as each reader’s interpretation is valid, more valid in fact than the intentions of the author. If Green is in fact referencing Barthes’ idea, he is acknowledging his own death, supporting the idea of readers as authors, and acting like a phoenix every time that he writes a book.
Is this the correct way to view your work as an author, or do you remain the God(ess) of the universe within your book? I guess we’ll never know.
Other works by John Green include:
Will Grayson, Will Grayson
Let It Snow
An Abundance of Katherines
Looking for Alaska
This Is Not Tom (online only)
You can buy most of them here, in a box set.