News: Classic Novelty

2012-07-03 22:08:PM ago by nicole.boyce

In recent months and years, the book community has seen a rash of classic books reimagined in novel ways. From Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, there seems be an increasing focus on romance literature, parody, and creatures that eat brains. With this in mind (and with commercials for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter in heavy rotation) I got to thinking about contemporary books based on classic literature: how ‘literary’ are these new (l)iterations, and which ones are worth reading? Are they a valid part of the contemporary canon, or just something to chuckle at in the bookstore?

Chuckles or not, the popularity of these books is no joke. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies made it to number three on the New York Times bestseller list. The book has already inspired a movie, a graphic novel and a video game. If novelty’s the game here, people love playing it.

So what do you think of think – where’s the line between reimagined literature and novelty fan fic? Which of these new versions are relying on gimmicks, and which are creating something fresh and provocative?

Take Jane Eyre, for example. A popular target, reboots include Jane Slayre (horror) Jenna Starborn (science fiction) and Jane Eyre Laid Bare, an upcoming erotic rendition by Pan Macmillian. Wild Sargasso Sea – a widely acclaimed postcolonial prequel – is also inspired by the classic novel, telling the story of Mr. Rochester’s misunderstood attic-dweller. Sloane Hall sets the story in 1920’s Hollywood, casting Jane Eyre as a silent movie starlet.

Jane Eyre proves that there are many approaches to re-imagining a book: a genre switch, a new time period, an exploration from another character’s perspective. Whatever the approach, the value seems to be in the execution – the author’s ability to diverge from the classic story and use this story to explore alternate themes. Wild Sargasso Sea, for example, uses a classic premise to reckon with new questions about race and power. Jane Eyre Laid Bare sets out to give the book an ‘erotic makeover.’ And though erotica is a flourishing genre, is the addition of sex scenes enough innovation to justify a new book? At what point are you just researching 14th century lingerie for your Canterbury Tales slash fiction?

On the other side of the coin, some authors are combining classic characters with contemporary stories. Fifty Shades of Louisa May: A Memoir of Transcendental Sex looks at the popular Fifty Shades of Grey franchise through the eyes of Louisa May Alcott. This vein presents some tempting possibilities (Twelfth Night World, To Kill a Mockingjay), and I wouldn’t mind seeing how Bram Stoker feels about Twilight, but are these novels just fleeting entertainment, or important social commentaries? At the end of the day, which of these books are worth reading?

Your answer probably has as much to do with personal preference as anything else, but if you’re looking for guidance, Flavor Wire has created a list of 10 Contemporary Novels Based on Classic Lit That Are Actually Worth Your Time. Whatever your picks, happy reading!


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