9 Authors Who Regretted The Success of Their Work
By Rudie Obias
These authors found that success wasn't all it was cracked up to be—and sometimes even regretted writing their books in the first place.
1. Lewis Carroll
In 1891, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass author Lewis Carroll—who was born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson—wrote a letter to his friend Anne Symonds about the pitfalls of fame. "All of that sort of publicity leads to strangers hearing of my real name in connection with the books, and to my being pointed out to and stared at by strangers and being treated as a ‘lion,’” he wrote. “And I hate all of that so intensely that sometimes I almost wish I had never written any books at all.”
2. Alan Moore
Alan Moore has written some of the most influential and iconic comic books of all time, including V For Vendetta and Watchmen. The author is deeply opposed to seeing his comics adapted for the big screen, but because of their success, movie studios and filmmakers continue to turn to his work for future movies and television adaptations. He has gone as far as turning down millions of dollars and film credit just to keep his name out of the movie industry. "If we only see comics in relation to movies, then the best that they will ever be is films that do not move," he stated in the documentary The Mindscape of Alan Moore. "So in a sense, most of my work from the '80s onwards was designed to be un-filmable."
3. Annie Proulx
Annie Proulx wrote the short story "Brokeback Mountain" in 1997, and Ang Lee adapted it for the big screen in 2005. Although the film received a lot of positive attention from critics and general audiences alike, Proulx hated all the fan fiction she received over the years. "I wish I’d never written the story. It’s just been the cause of hassle and problems and irritation since the film came out. Before the film it was all right," she told The Paris Review in 2009. "[People] can’t bear the way it ends—they just can’t stand it. So they rewrite the story, including all kinds of boyfriends and new lovers and so forth after Jack is killed. And it just drives me wild. They can’t understand that the story isn’t about Jack and Ennis. It’s about homophobia; it’s about a social situation; it’s about a place and a particular mindset and morality. They just don’t get it."
4. Peter Benchley
Despite the commercial success of Jaws, its author, Peter Benchley, deeply regretted making the great white shark into a deadly villain; the novel and movie triggered a widespread fear and panic during the '70s. "Knowing what I know now," Benchley wrote in 2006, just before his death, "I could never write that book today. Sharks don't target human beings, and they certainly don't hold grudges." Later in life, Benchley became a shark conservationist and oceanographer. He wrote many books to dispel the myths about sharks, including Ocean Planet: Writings and Images of the Sea and Shark Life: True Stories About Sharks and the Sea. Unfortunately, the books were never as popular as Jaws.
5. A.A. Milne
In the 1920s, British author and playwright A.A. Milne wrote the Winnie the Pooh stories for his son Christopher Robin Milne, who was a toddler at the time and the inspiration for the stuffed bear's owner. Although the success of Winnie the Pooh allowed Milne to become a writer, he regretted creating Pooh because he felt the character overshadowed his other stories and books aimed for adult readers.
Christopher Robin Milne also grew to resent the stories because he was always associated with Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin. He claimed that his father “had got where he was by climbing on my infant shoulders, that he had filched from me my good name and left me nothing but empty fame."
The Milnes weren't the only ones who hated the bear: E.H. Shepard, the artist who illustrated Milne's stories, grew to hate Winnie the Pooh because it eclipsed his career as a political cartoonist.
6. Karl Ove Knausgård
In 2009, Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård released the first volume of his autobiographical novel, My Struggle, which centered on his relationship with his family. Readers and critics loved the work and showered Knausgård with numerous accolades: Norwegian newspaper Morgenbladet named it Book of the Year, and Knausgård took home the Brage Prize for Literature for the book. But Knausgård hated the attention; some of his family and friends were deeply offended with how they were portrayed in the book series. Knausgård's ex-girlfriend of four years told the newspaper Bergens Tidende, “It was as if he said: Now I'm going to punch you in the face. I know it's going to hurt, and I will drive you to the hospital afterwards. But I'm going to do it anyway.”
As a result, Knausgård moved with his wife and children to a small rural village in Sweden to get away from the controversy and attention. “Nobody cares about literature around here,” he told the New Republic. “It fills me with sadness every time I talk about [my book's impact].”
7. William Powell
In 1971, William Powell wrote The Anarchist Cookbook, which details how to build explosives and make illegal drugs, as a way to protest the Vietnam War. Starting in 1976, the book has been connected to a number of school shootings and acts of terrorism.
Powell was just 19 when he wrote the book, and got most of the information for it from military manuals he read at the New York Public Library. He no longer advocates anything written in the book—after he converted to Christianity and became a philanthropist, he asked for the book to be taken out of print, but he doesn't own the copyright. Those who do have no plans to take the book out of circulation. "Over the years, I have come to understand that the basic premise behind the Cookbook is profoundly flawed," Powell wrote in The Guardian in 2013. “The central idea to the book was that violence is an acceptable means to bring about political change. I no longer agree with this.”
8. Octavia E. Butler
Science fiction author Octavia E. Butler despised her third novel Survivor because it featured some of the worst clichés of the genre. "When I was young, a lot of people wrote about going to another world and finding either little green men or little brown men, and they were always less in some way," she told Amazon.com. "They were a little sly, or a little like 'the natives' in a very bad, old movie. ... People ask me why I don't like Survivor, my third novel. And it's because it feels a little bit like that. Some humans go up to another world, and immediately begin mating with the aliens and having children with them. I think of it as my Star Trek novel."
After its initial edition, Butler refused to bring Survivor back into circulation.
9. Anthony Burgess
In 1985, Anthony Burgess wrote about how much he hated A Clockwork Orange, mainly due to numerous misinterpretations of the book's themes that were worsened with the release of Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation. "The book I am best known for, or only known for, is a novel I am prepared to repudiate," Burgess wrote. "It became known as the raw material for a film which seemed to glorify sex and violence. The film made it easy for readers of the book to misunderstand what it was about, and the misunderstanding will pursue me until I die. I should not have written the book because of this danger of misinterpretation."
A version of this story ran in 2015; it has been updated for 2022.