Literary twists and tastes

Blenheim Palace

Hey, was that Mr. Darcy I just saw strolling around the corner? Blenheim Palace image courtesy of Jewels, Pixabay.

In the comments section of my Library of Congress post recently, my blogger buddy Elisa and I got into a fascinating conversation. I mentioned a current trend in modern literature, which is to take a classic novel and give it a new twist by mashing it up with something else such as vampires, zombies or other creatures.

I saw a revised version of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre in a library I visited. At first, I rolled my eyes at it and didn’t want to have anything to do with the book, since I’m a purist for the most part.

It’s not that I’m against all vampires or adaptations. Far from it. I find TV shows such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” are entertaining due to the witty writing and talented acting. (Joss Whedon — genius writer!) And I’ve loved adaptations such as the movies “Scents and Sensibility,” “Clueless,” and “Lost in Austen,” both of which stayed reasonably faithful to the Austen storylines while introducing their own modern twists. “The Jane Austen Book Club” is fun too — some of the characters in it have their Austen counterparts and it’s interesting to figure out who mirrors their literary character.

The revised version is called Jane Slayre, and the authors are Charlotte Brontë and Sherri Browning Erwin. After the online talk with Elisa, I thought I should give the book a fair trial, so I’m reading it. It’s still the same basic Jane Eyre story, but the Reed family are vampires, Ms. Temple and Jane Eyre are slayers and some of the students at Lowood School are zombies. Hmmmm.

The book strikes me as a mix of modern Buffy and classic Jane Eyre. I’m up to the part where Rochester has met Jane (she saves him from being a snack for three vampires after his horse falls on road ice). She’s taking tea with him while he checks out her qualifications.

So far the other characters at Thornfield seem okay…but then there’s Grace Poole…and the mysterious laughter from the attic…

I’m still not sure why classic books need to be given such twists. Is the writer just appealing to the current fad for mash-ups or trying to stand out from the scores or other writers out there?

I like Jane Eyre because she’s an intelligent, gutsy person despite the fact that she’s plain and poor. She stands up for herself, even if it means going up against someone who ranks higher than her in society (Edward Rochester). I also enjoy The Count of Monte Cristo because it’s satisfying to see Edmond Dantés fight back against the people who wronged him when he was younger and naive.

The Austen novels entertain me because they often poke fun at the cultural norms of the time and I like the family relationships in them. Jane Austen wrote her novels in an era where women had a rigid role: make a debut in society, find the wealthiest husband possible with the help of your parents (or guardians, or chaperones), have the guy ask for your hand, get married, have kids and manage the household.

Then Jane Austen came along and pointed out that people should marry for love instead because it tends to lead to happier lives. Her sense of irony about marriage even starts off Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

But in the end, everybody’s going to have different opinions on the same books. Some people don’t like certain authors because they’re too sentimental, melodramatic, gory, explicit and/or profane. Others don’t mind these qualities because they like the plots and characters.

I guess I’ll have to judge my adaptations on a case-by-case basis. It might even be entertaining to see the Bennet sisters as modern bounty hunters capable of kicking demonic you-know-what. (If somebody hasn’t thought of that already, I wouldn’t be surprised if they do!) We’ll see.

Blog readers, ponder and comment: What are your thoughts on adapting classic novels with modern twists? What are your personal standards for good books and bad books?

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24 Comments

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24 responses to “Literary twists and tastes

  1. My daughter read one of those, but she thought it was pretty boring because they didn’t change up the story too much and she just thought it was a fill in the blank type story where the author put zombies or vampires in for certain characters and let them go crazy. I get a kick out of the covers, but that’s as far as my interest goes. If I want a zombie story (which I don’t really look for ever–that’s my husband’s thing), I want a completely new story–like that Warm Bodies movie. That was funny and unique.

  2. I tried to read the one with sea monsters (I think it was Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters), but didn’t make it through it. However, I loved Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter! The book, that is. The movie was just okay.

  3. Loathe such adaptations. And, with a few honourable exceptions, I hate it when Shakespeare is given a modern or other setting.

  4. I like a modern adaptation, if it is done well. Mash-ups of original stories in their settings seems a difficult thing to do well. Do the supernatural elements really add to the story? My brother read a book recently that had Sherlock Holmes investigating Dracula – that mash up worked because both books are from a similar era.

  5. I’m against remakes, sequels, whatever on principle. Surely there must be something new to write? Can we really be so completely out of ideas? The redos are almost universally — at best — not as good as the originals and more typically, embarrassingly awful. There are occasional exceptions, but not many … and I can’t think of any in literature, only in movies. I live for a few fresh ideas. One of the worst things about reviewing new books is how bad so many of them are. How dull, predictable, unoriginal. Is it that no one is writing anything better or that publishers aren’t publishing anything better?

    • I’m thinking the publishers are publishing what they think appeals to the market. But that may not necessarily be what people want to read. I remember the example of J.K. Rowling — her first Harry Potter manuscript got rejected over and over, but in the end, someone did publish them and they became wildly popular.

      I think some people are writing better things but are having a hard time getting published because publishers don’t want to risk it. When I heard David Baldacci speak, he pointed out that it took him about 11 books until he got published.

  6. I’ve read commentary that there are no new stories, just new ways in which to tell them. In other words, the human condition carries on much as it has in the past. A writer’s craft expresses the story as it is now, his or her creative version. I suppose this expression may include make-believe monsters of all sorts. I think, though, if someone intends to rewrite a story, they should truly rewrite it. Hybridization tends to ruffle purists’ feathers. My own dismay is keenly felt whenever a book reader or film viewer doesn’t even know that the story existed prior to it being retold. This happens with music and lyrics as well.

  7. Frankly I’m shocked no one has tried to do a zombie Huckleberry Finn. It’s the perfect vehicle for the genre. Huck and Jim ride the current on a raft to escape the antebellum undead. Damn, the thing writes itself!

  8. I’m not against adaptations in general, often they bring great books to a whole new readership and can be really fun, but great book- insert monster here- type things always strike me as cheap and I never bother.
    Then again, I have taken Jane Eyre well and truly to my heart since reading it for the first time a few weeks ago,so perhaps i’m just being protective.
    Gwen

  9. It is a truth universally known there is no book that cannot be made worse. My favorite adaptation these days is Sherlock. Mostly the writers do a good job. The redo of some of Christie’s mysteries leaves much good material on the cutting room floor…like the original plot. I agree with you Clueless was not!

  10. The mashups when done well are wonderful. It’s finding one, that seems to be the problem.

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