The Pen Pal Project
A selection of questions sent to a wide array of fictional characters as part of the Pen Pal Project – and the responses our ghost-writing team sent in return.
Earlier this year – in partnership with the Digital Writers’ Festival – we set people up with the literary pen pal of their dreams.
What would people say if they could write to their favourite literary character? What advice would they offer to Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights or Toru Watanabe from Norwegian Wood? How would they convey their love to Hermione Granger or Atticus Finch? And what would these characters write back?
We opened up our inbox to queries addressed to these fictional figures (and more), with a team of brilliant 2018 Wheeler Centre Hot Deskers acting as the project’s official pen-pal ghost-writers – taking on the personas of our letter-writers' chosen characters. We were thrilled with the response, receiving an extraordinarily large number of letters. While we unfortunately could not respond to all of them, we are now able to share a few examples of our literary back-and-forths.
Thanks to everyone who took the time to write to their literary pen pal, and thank you to Ra Chapman, Melissa Manning, Fiona Murphy, Ella Skilbeck-Porter and Jem Tyley-Miller for diving into the minds of characters and writers across a range of genres and forms.
Professor Lupin from the Harry Potter series
Dear Professor Lupin,
I know this may not be a great time, considering you're in the midst of The Second Wizard War with Voldemort and the like, but maybe you can give me some advice. I'm quite frightened of the world at large, as it too is currently being run by an evil monster, and it seems like despair is growing all the more around me. How do you manage to keep fighting? Is it possible to clear the world of evil?
Thank you for your letter, I'm so very glad that you reached out. Even though I am battling Voldemort there is always time to talk about feelings.
Silence can be suffocating, by not naming evil we wasted precious time in confronting Voldemort. Avoid labels like 'evil monster' and instead call them out, name and shame them.
Despair can lead to disconnection – I encourage you to continue to talk about your hopes and fears on a regular basis. I know I found great strength in forging friendships and participating in the wizarding community.
And please remember that seeking joy and happiness is absolutely paramount in defeating evil. As my good friend Professor McGonagall once told me – 'Dumbledore would have been happier than anybody to think that there was a little more love in the world.'
Amy from Bananas in Pyjamas
I'm writing to you because I'm most concerned about your relationship with Morgan and Lulu. I have a daughter named Amy and, like you, she is very clever. It seems to me that you are the most sensible of your siblings and yet it seems they often don't take your advice. Does this frustrate you? Morgan especially seems to go off with his random ideas and ignore your more conservative guidance. What do you think you could do about this?
And secondly, those bananas. I mean really, two less intelligent fruit never graced my bookshelf or tv screen. Lovely – certainly. Kind – no doubt. Humorous – often. But clever? No ma'am. How do you stand spending so much time with peers who so frequently get themselves into unbelievable situations? Amy, don't think you think it's time you struck out on your own?
I must say I am very glad you have noticed how sensible I am. It can be challenging keeping a level head when everyone around you enjoys a perpetual descent into chaos, but for the most I do manage to keep my chin up and remain cheery. After all, we can’t choose family, can we? I love Morgan and Lulu even if I have to parent them. And you are right, there are probably better ways of helping them make better choices, but I don’t have any role models I can follow other than Rat in a Hat, who is clever but not always nice. Please let me know of some of the suggestions you have given your daughter Amy.
I do wonder sometimes, though, if everyone doing as I suggest would make things more boring. It’s difficult to bring age-appropriate conflict into our lives that also keeps us entertained. If I’m honest, I hope the long-term silliness of these situations don’t turn me into a passive-aggressive teddy or even worse, see my fluffy hide stretched out across the opening to the front door as a mat. Please be assured I do take time out to practise self-care well away from the Bananas. We used to have kiwi fruits as neighbours and they were a much crazier influence on daily life other than the Bananas.
Alice from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Firstly, let me just say that I love your name. So much so that I named my first daughter Alice. We had an Alice in Wonderland tea party for her first birthday. She's now three and, like you, she loves wearing dresses and has blonde hair and a bow. But I have to be honest with you ... I'm hoping she makes a bit better decisions in life than you did.
I mean, what were you thinking following a white rabbit down a rabbit hole? Haven't you heard that curiosity killed the cat? You're lucky it was a magic rabbit hole and not just your average one or you'd have just been stuck in the dirt. Were you happy with Disney's characterisation of you? I'm not sure Lewis Carroll would have approved, do you? What happened to you when you grew up Alice? Did you continue only seldomly following your very good advice?
Thank you for your letter. I hope your young Alice is a curious creature. While my curiosity led me to nonsensical places, I am so pleased that it did.
Even though many years have passed since I fell down the rabbit hole, I feel as young as ever. I'm still growing and will continue to do so as I'm still excited about the world around me. Life would be so very drab if we plotted and planned everything. Take risks and don't fear the sea of tears!
P.S. Lewis Carroll wasn't too upset with the adaptation, it furnished him with a rather flush bank account.
Dear Mr. Pynchon,
How are things today? Taken any selfies – haha?! I hope this finds you well and in good humour. I admire the fact you are recently published (once more! congratulations!) and therefore; writing as a living for many years now. What is the daily scoop on that? Living and writing as you do? Can you tell me a few details of your day? An average day? Any day? Be as brief or as expansive with detail as the mood takes you.
In exchange, I will offer you some of my day today. The morning, which is my favourite time of day – warm and bright. Summer is a six month affair where I currently live. The morning is rampant with multiple birdsong – lorikeets, currawongs, magpies, a lonely as hell sounding stone curlew, noisy miners. A vinyl record, by Wild Billy Childish and the Spartan Dreggs entitled Forensic RnB – that my husband ordered arrived in the post today. It's a great record. The song lyrics reference a lot of geographical terms in regards to English moor topography. And it rocks!
I am currently sweating on a police check for work. I have no criminal record. I don't know why it is taking so long. I have nothing to be paranoid about! But here I am, wondering if I am in the unwitting process of getting framed for something I didn't do ... aaaagh. I look forward to hearing back from you, and thank you in advance, for your time. Be good to you!
You’ll be the first person I’ve corresponded with for a while now. Surprise. I’ve been layering a lasagna, garlicking some bread, tearing up some romaine leaves, mixing a twilight whiskey sour. I don’t know if I’ve got much to offer for a daily scoop, nor would I want to share it. December cold has really snapped.
In response to your concerns with authority, the paranoid chills hit us all. Chills, howls, shakes, depending on your temperament. Don’t sweat it, Anita. The paranoia sweats itself out. That’s what the writing’s for anyway.
Betty Cooper from Archie
Hi Betty from the Archie comics (and Riverdale),
How is life being in both a T.V. and a comic book? I am such a fan of you and I think you are the coolest character in the town Riverdale!! I have a few questions! first up, do you like cats or dogs better? And also do you like pizza? I just wanna let you know that my friend Gwen says hi (she is sitting next to me) :D I think my favourite scene in Riverdale is when you start liking Jughead! Hope you got my email and say hi to Veronica!
To be honest it’s been quite a shock! To go from a 2D comic character for so many years and then being thrust into the unpredictable and often scary world of being in a TV show, has really turned my world upside down. There are things that I have experienced in Riverdale that I could never in my wildest dreams have thought were possible back in the Archie Comics. Things in TV land move so fast and it all gets dark and intense pretty quickly, in the comic world I felt more stable and had more routine, and even when I did have a fight with Archie or Veronica, it was over such a little thing and the next time I saw them it was like it never happened and everything went back to normal. Now I don’t think anything will ever go back to normal. I have the feeling things will never be the same again.
But even though it’s been a tough time for me, I am beginning to feel like it’s all been for the best. I’m so glad you like the scene when I started to fall for Jughead. With all the crazy stuff going on at Riverdale, it was so amazing to have someone I could rely on, I don’t think I could have survived it all without him. I used to think his name was funny too, but now I’m so used to it and it’s totally him.
Cats or dogs? Don’t make me choose! I love both, but there is something about cat’s that I really admire. They seem to not care what other people think of them. I wish I could be more like that. Now onto pizza … Who doesn’t love pizza! My favourite is Margherita. I’m going to meet Veronica at Pop’s later so I’ll let her know you say hi. Tell Gwen I say hi too and thanks to both of you for watching my show :)
Jane Bennet from Pride and Prejudice
You've been in my thoughts a lot lately. It used to be Lizzy that I wondered about, and worried about. It used to be Lizzy that I looked up to, and admired. But recently I've felt that it's you that I should be learning from and emulating. Your kindness and empathy are traits that I wish that I had. I'm too much like Lizzy, or maybe Lydia – a gossiper, an attention-seeker, a holder of grudges. Life is very different where I live, but when I remember the way that Lizzy teased you for the way you always look for the good in people, I think that perhaps nothing at all is different. We too have trouble valuing compassion, and patience, and selflessness.
Jane, how do you do it? How do you remain so loving in the face of so much indifference? How can we help ourselves be more like you? Perhaps what I wonder about most of all is how you can forgive so easily. When I think of the way Bingley left you, with no farewell or apology, when I think of how easily he was persuaded against marrying you, I want to hate him. I am filled with such rage at the arrogance and heartlessness of men, at those who take what they want and leave brokenness in their wake, and I desperately wish an unhappy ending upon the man who caused you such pain. But you forgave him. You married him. How, Jane? And, does it make a difference? Or does a sliver of that betrayal still remain wedged between you?
With fondest regards,
Thank you kindly for your words about my life and the way I have lived it. I can assure you, no sliver of resentment remains in place to wedge Bingley and myself apart. Ours is a happy marriage and whereas Charles is sometimes prone to worry too much about what others think, he mostly comes to his senses to do what is best for both his heart and his head. Underneath, I can assure you, he is a very thoughtful and kind-hearted man. Easy to forgive and I have done so completely many times. I could not imagine myself ever loving another. I think it very important to forgive people, even when they commit grave wrongs, for I do truly believe people only do what they believe is best at the time, even when leading them in unkind directions.
You question how I am able to see the best in people? I am no saint. When you are the eldest of five girls and your fate, as well as the rest of your family’s depends upon you securing the right marriage, you become rather attuned to the shortcomings of others. You learn quickly it is much safer to hold any doubts in check. I must confess there have been times when I wished to express my sadness at events, or my frustration at people’s actions, but I do not think this would have helped. Besides, I have Mamma and Kitty and Lydia and even Mary to share their thoughts on any situation no matter how small. I find I hardly have the need to say a thing. And when a pressing issue requires moral consideration, I can always rely on Lizzy to speak her mind.
But I have learnt over the years, that in order to be happy, bickering, cursing and holding grudges does not help. I do hope you are able to forgive others their follies, Miss Good, to let the weight drift from your heart so you too can find happiness wherever you are in time and place. For surely the virtues of forgiveness are timeless and will always remain unchanged.