Friday, January 13, 2012

Let's write a sequel! Or a re-imagining! Or a parallel novel!

Some thoughts and definitions:

Let's take a book we all know--Frankenstein.

Let's write a sequel: maybe the monster survives and gets involved in someone else's family; or returns to finish off the Frankenstein family; or Victor leaves the experiment notes to Walton, who, his hopes blasted by a failed arctic expedition, decides to become a pioneering biologist. We all know what sequels are.

Of course, we could write a less direct sequel--take a hundred years or more off and see where the story is then. (In a way, Young Frankenstein takes this route.)

But why would we write a sequel? Is there some part of the story that needs concluding? Is there some theme that we want to explore?

Eh, sequels are boring--let's write a re-imagining: we'll pretend that the Frankenstein story didn't take place and we'll move the basics of the story to another time or setting. During World War I, a crazed surgeon decides to solve the problem of war with a super-soldier. During the 1990s, a hacker creates an AI that gets out of control. Etc.

Or let's play with re-imagining the story for a different genre: mix Frankenstein with Cinderella for a fairy tale of making a true love; mix in some slapstick comedy for Young Frankenstein; mix in some Western material and you have a monster running amok or destroying the railroad or fighting off US cavalry. Etc.

(Of course Frankenstein's monster would fight for the Native Americans--he's obsessed with them in the original.)

But do we really need another re-imagining? Let's write a parallel novel: let's re-tell the original story from a different POV. Some examples: John Gardner rewrites Beowulf as Grendel; Gregory Maguire rewrites Oz as Wicked; Alice Randall rewrites Gone with the Wind as The Wind Done Gone.

So let's tell the Frankenstein story from Elizabeth's POV--how'd she feel when her beloved brother/husband goes off to play with dead things? Or what about William or Ernest, the little Frankenstein brothers? Or Clerval, Frankenstein's put-upon friend? Or maybe Robert Walton's crew has something to say about this crazy dude they picked up off the ice?

But do we really need that?


  1. So, on my own blog I've bitched numerous times about how I feel that pretty much everything out there these days is glorified fan fiction. As a children's librarian I have seen probably 3 or more "re workings" of Cinderella, for instance, a year. However, out of all of them I will admit that 2 in particular were so very clever they really made me smile. On the other hand if you look at something like say, the Marvel or D.C. universe, they are constantly rebooting it, for better or for worse depending on who you ask.

    No, I cannot really compare classical literature like Frankenstein to the D.C.U., but since I am a children's librarian, lets look at Mythology and Grimm's Fairy Tales. Every other author these days seems to think they can update both of these things. Both of these things. For every hit like Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (which is a lot of fun and well versed in mythology) there are about ten awful needless adaptations of greek mythology that do not respect the source material. When they hit they draw young readers to the source material with a vengeance.

    Its interesting that you mention Young Frankenstein since I debate if I consider parody part of my "glorified fan fiction" theory. Anyway my point is, people have been updating and reworking classic stories for years and years before media made it wide spread. Most of the time these come off as pretentious and unoriginal but sometimes you get the gems that are so well done they respect the source and remind you why the original is so great at the same time. So, do we really NEED them? No. But I think they can be enjoyable.

  2. Doesn't MIchael Chabon say that all/most literature is fan fiction? Homer's riffing off pre-existing tales when he composes the Odyssey, etc. (I haven't read the essay that he makes that claim in, but I remember reading about it. Which is part of the problem that I think you diagnose here: people riff off things that they haven't really read/understood/wrestled with, just as I did with Chabon.)