Monday, November 19, 2012

Covering the Same Ground: Can You Do a "Remake" of a Popular Novel?

We've seen it time and again in Hollywood--remakes of the same story with new actors, a new director, and (hopefully) a slightly new take on the story. Some movie goers (I assume) enjoy new takes on old stories. Others roll their eyes and groan. "Another Spiderman movie?!?!"

I was intrigued to hear about Anne O'Brien's next venture, to write the story of a woman who has already been immortalized in a very popular historical novel. O'Brien goes into the project fully aware of the enormity of the challenge. In a recent post, she writes:
I have decided to write the story of Katherine Swynford and John of Lancaster, to be released in Spring 2014.  Am I mad to do so?  What is it that has made me take on such a sacred subject, to step onto such hallowed ground?  
Katherine, that beautiful love story written by Anya Seton, was first published in 1954.  It is considered to be a classic novel of its kind, read and adored by all aficionados of historical fiction.  I read it in the 1970s and was entranced, carried away by the vivid depth of accurate historical detail and the sheer romance of the relationship.  I could not envisage a better historical novel.
This praise of Seton's novel is something with which I can agree wholeheartedly. Katherine is one of my top five favorite historical novels, and if I can ever write something half as good, I will consider my authorial career a success.

With Seton's book being universally acknowledged as a triumph, is there room for another work on Katherine Swynford? Or is the canon closed on John of Gaunt's famous mistress?

 So what made me decide to place my head on the block and write about these most famous of 14th century lovers? Certainly not a desire to do a better job than Ms Seton.  I would not presume. But perhaps to write something different.... [I]t seems to me that the relationship between John and Katherine was far more than just a simple love affair.  How could a simple falling in love cause this unlikely couple to cast aside all they knew, accepted, and believed to be morally right....   
...I consider it to be a tale of compulsive desire and need, sweeping all before it with the force of a tsunami, and so much stronger than love. I have to write it.
And in the end, isn't that the most important consideration for what subject you choose for your novel? Even if someone else has already told the story, if it speaks to you in such a way that you "have to write it", I think there's room for one more version of the tale.

Mary, Queen of Scots, is one oft-depicted character whom I would like to explore in a future novel. I may not do a better job of those that have gone before me, but I would certainly do something different. I have not gotten to the point yet where I "have to write" her story, but the desire has been growing incrementally over the years.

Are there any stories already told that you would like to tell again in a different way?


  1. "Are there any stories already told that you would like to tell again in a different way?"

    I think that "The Red Badge of Courage" addresses man's inner conflict with fear by utilizing an insightful character study of Henry Fleming. Unfortunately, many people would rather get a tooth pulled by an unlicensed dentist rather than tackle the task of reading a classic novel. I believe it dredges up memories of books they were forced to read in school before they were mature enough to appreciate the content.

    That being said, I felt more readers would be open to reading Crane's masterpiece if it were rewritten as "The Dead Badge of Courage" and zombies were added to the mix. The bulk of the novel is intact as the message is too important to change. As to the success of that idea, time will tell, but if a few people read it they may gain an appreciation for Crane's work which will most certainly be a good thing to have happen.

  2. Red Badge of Courage, eh? Funny you should mention that one--it was one of my LEAST favorite books I had to read in high school. I'd be all for a remake of that one--although I'd be very curious to see how the message would be left intact with zombies thrown into the mix.

    1. The message was essentially how Henry Fleming deals with fear whether it is the Confederate army or zombies.

      The rationalizations of Henry are fascinating to me. First, he feels shame for having run. Then he feels scorn toward others who he felt ran faster - even though it was his intention to put as much distance between himself and his comrades as possible. He worries about being derided for cowardice but when he realizes that no one is the wiser, his shame disappears, It's as though if no one knows, it didn't happen; sort of a "what happens in Vegas" attitude.

      The thought processes of Henry are typical of many people and it seems little has changed regarding human behavior since Crane's time. You can interchange the elements of fear, but fear and man's reaction to it still remain the same regardless of the cause.


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