So this week I finished reading Heartless by Marissa Meyer, it’s the story of Alice in Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts before she became the Queen of Hearts. I enjoyed it, and I’ll be posting a review in the next couple of days but it got me thinking about other books that either retell a story or act as an unofficial prequel or sequel to a well known tale.
I’m sure the idea of retelling a story, or re-imagining the life of a popular character isn’t a new concept. Gregory Maguire first published his novel Wicked in 1995, and while this is the first example I’m aware of, I’m sure it’s not the first. Obviously the musical adaptation of the novel became a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic in the early to mid 2000s, and I’m not sure if there’s a correlation between the success of Wicked and an increase in the number of this type of story being produced, or if the success of Wicked just made me more aware of this concept and so I’ve noticed them more in recent years.
Some examples of the well publicised works in this genre I’ve noticed post Wicked include P.D. James’s Death Comes To Pemberley, which takes the characters of Pride & Prejudice and throws them into a who-dun-it in a sort of sequel, the BBC then turned it into their big Christmas drama in 2013; Disney released Maleficent in 2014, and I remember the BBC producing modern retellings of selected Shakespeare plays and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Hogarth are currently releasing a series of novels which are Shakespeare’s plays reimagined, I’m looking forward to New Boy a retelling of Othello by Tracy Chevalier which is due to be released in May this year.
I’ve never really thought to much on on the implications of this sort of story, I’ve just happily read them, but over the past few days I’ve found myself wondering what’s the proper etiquette from writing such a novel, is anything in the public domain fair game? If the original work is out of copyright and the estate or any living relatives can do nothing to stop the publication of a new story does it really matter what Jane Austen’s estate think about the addition of zombies to Pride and Prejudice, or if Lewis Carroll would have agreed with Marissa Meyer’s origin story for his Queen of Hearts? I wonder if I was a published author how would I feel if someone else picked up my characters and took them in a direction I never would have, or created an history that didn’t match my carefully planned, but never published, notes for a character. But then again under British copyright law I would have to be dead for 70 years before it fell into public domain, and I guess by that point I wouldn’t really care…
How do you feel about re-tellings? What do you think when you see a new book released that takes one of your favourite characters from a classic novel and gives them a new backstory? Are there any books that fall into this category that you’d recommend? Let me know in the comments!