The recent revelation by J.K. Rowling that she regrets playing Cupid with Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger has gotten readers buzzing with dismay, inspiring a flurry of indignant tweets and jokes about other famous writers who might’ve wanted a mulligan. But Rowling is hardly the first writer to regret what she’d committed to print.
In his 1937 primer on Middle-earth, Tolkien gave readers Gnomes—among the wisest Elves, named after the Greek word for knowledge. Unimagined then was how the word would come to mean something else: pointy-hat-wearing yard novelties. Tolkien changed the term to “High Elves” in the early sixties.
“I perhaps made a mistake in not writing it in the first person,” Twain confided after the book’s completion in a letter to Atlantic Monthly editor William Dean Howells. Another anxiety (misplaced, it turns out) ran deeper than the narrative mode: “It is not a boy’s book, at all. It will only be read by adults.”
The Anarchist Cookbook
As an adult convert to Christianity, Powell regrets his youthful work. “The book … was a misguided product of my adolescent anger at the prospect of being drafted and sent to Vietnam to fight in a war that I did not believe in,” he wrote in 2000.
A Clockwork Orange
Initially pleased with the Kubrick film version, Burgess soured when its raw content stirred controversy. “I should not have written the book,” he said, furious that it “seemed to glorify sex and violence.”
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Eggers was so anguished about selling out his friends and family that he published an apologetic addendum to the paperback edition, titled “Mistakes We Knew We Were Making.” The original book included friends’ real names; subsequent editions gave them pseudonyms.
The Gunslinger and The Stand
Twenty-one years after publishing The Gunslinger, King decided he wasn’t really happy with the quality of the writing in his cult-hit creation. In the 2003 edition, he changed nearly every page. It wasn’t an isolated incident; in a later edition of 1978’s The Stand, he restored bits he’d initially excised.
The City and the Pillar
The 1948 book was the first mainstream American novel about an openly gay relationship—one that ended with a man strangling his lover to death. Vidal meant it to be a romantic tragedy, but critics saw it as a suggestion that all gay love was destined to end badly. In the 1965 edition, the pair fight, but no one dies.
In 2009, Kinder (inspiration for the character who totes a comically long manuscript in Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys) released a new version of Honeymooners, restoring about 100 of 3,000 pages. His mistake, apparently, was seeking commercial publication.
Arthur Conan Doyle
“The Final Problem”
After killing off Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle declared defiantly, “If I had not killed him, he would certainly have killed me.” But he lived to regret it—or caved to the pressure—and brought him back to life ten years later.
Have good intel? Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.