Friday, August 23, 2013

Taking What We Like: The Benefits of Remixing Literature

by David Field

Somehow, I don't think this
is what Jane Austen had in mind.
Why are we so fascinated by adaptations? From Heart of Darkness to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, from Jane Austen’s romantic classic to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, writers and artists today seem obsessed with taking old stories and making them new. Modern retellings of myths and fairy tales have been popular for years and show no signs of disappearing anytime soon – just look at shows like Grimm and Once Upon a Time. Classic mythology, too, is still very much alive in our modern culture, and you don’t have to look far to find it. Some titles that spring to mind right away are the new Clash of the Titans remake, the Percy Jackson series for younger readers, and the Coen brothers’ Odyssey-based satire, O Brother, Where Art Thou? The list goes on, and it’s an extensive one. But why is this? Why are today’s creative thinkers so fixated on the stories of the past?

Coppola adapts Heart of
Darkness to the horrors
of the Vietnam War.

There are any number of reasons, but I believe it’s simply because these stories have stood the test of time. They embody universal themes and establish archetypes that never seem to go away, no matter how many years it’s been. For example, Alice in Wonderland gives us a girl struggling to find her way in a world that just doesn’t make sense. The extraordinary voyages of Jules Verne and other science fiction writers give us men who push boundaries and make sacrifices in the never-ending pursuit of knowledge. And we never get tired of the classic hero’s quest, the triumph of the good and righteous over the wicked and corrupt. It’s a plotline that stretches all the way back to mankind’s earliest myths and stories, and it’s still inescapable in today’s pop culture, as seen in massive franchises like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. In some capacity, all of these classic tales tap into the wishes and worries that are still so prevalent in our world today, which is why so many creative minds turn to them for inspiration.

Linda Bamber’s upcoming collection, Taking What I Like, is chock full of these types of stories. She constructs fresh, original narratives around characters and written works that most readers will recognize right away. The short story “Casting Call,” for instance, features Desdemona and the rest of Othello’s dramatis personae, who have been plucked from the streets of Venice and placed in a university English department. (You can find a free download of the story here!) Bamber’s story is not a Shakespeare imitation, however. She uses a cast of characters that resonates with readers to construct a story with a powerful social message about race and minority empowerment, a message that couldn’t be more relevant in our society today. The familiar faces give us ground to stand on. Bamber’s expert storytelling then lets us stride across that ground and find new paths, new interpretations that go beyond the original text and reveal significant truths we never would have spotted otherwise.

Shakespeare himself was no stranger to adaptations. Many of his plays were based on the lives of real historical figures (Antony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Richard III, etc.) while others were heavily inspired by legends or stories his audiences would be familiar with (King Lear, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, etc.). The bard looked at these classic tales and knew they had more stories to tell, so he created new characters and gave them voices. And as writers like Linda Bamber have proven time and time again, there’s no shortage of stories left in these timeless works of art. Taking What I Like is available starting today; you can find more information about the collection here.

What’s your favorite modern adaptation? How did it stack up to the original? And what new insights do you think the remix brought to its classic predecessor? Share your comments with us here, or join us @GodinePub on Twitter!

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