Classic Literature

Retelling Other Writer’s Stories

???????????????Some of my favorite posts come out of Sunday morning conversations with my husband.  Yes, we do sit around on Sunday mornings reading the paper, drinking coffee, and discussing world events.  It’s old-school but I love it.

I saw a Tweet from writer John Scalzi about Ryk Spoor, who’s raising money on Quickstarter to publish a book called Polychrome, based on the original Oz series.  I went to the site, and my first thought was, hmmm, this guy sounds interesting.  He’s an already-published fantasy and science fiction writer, and he seems to love the 14 original Oz books as much as I do.  These books were important to his childhood, so he’s approaching the world with the reverence I would.

My second thought was this: I hate books that re-interpret other people’s creations.  I don’t want to read Wicked, and I don’t care for fan fiction. The world of Oz is – yes – sacred to me.  So thinking about anyone’s adaptation of it makes me cringe.

On the other hand, Polychrome is a great character to write about.  She’s peripheral to the Oz stories, so it’s not like he’s trying to rewrite major characters like Ozma or Dorothy.  Her world (she’s the daughter of the rainbow) was never explored in the books.  So maybe I’ll support this guy’s book.  Maybe.

When I first looked at Spoor’s page, I thought, this guy only needs $5 bucks.  I can swing that, and I’d even get a copy of the book.  I’m glad he’s doing something he cares about, even if publishers aren’t interested.  Since I let this blog post sit for a week, he’s raised 85% of what he needs.  He’s filled the cheap slots and is now looking for $35 and up.  I’ve never supported a Kickstarter campaign but I do like the concept.

I feel like this subject comes up a lot for me, whether it’s reading about fan fiction in Fangirl, reviewing The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, or ranting about the movie Oz, The Great and Powerful. So many books and movies involve taking someone else’s creation and re-envisioning it.  Is that a good thing?  Who should own these ideas?  I’m not talking about copyright law – the Oz books are in the public domain – just valuing the work of others.  Is a writer deserving of more respect if they create their own characters?

As the husband and I discussed this, it came down to two competing ideas.  On the one hand, these re-imaginings mean you get more of something you loved.  Like the Veronica Mars movie, also funded on Kickstarter, you get something new long after the beloved book/movie/TV show is over.

On the other hand, and this is where I usually come down, what you get is a pale or at best, different, version of what you loved.  I’d usually rather re-read or re-watch my favorites than see them remade in a weaker form.

I’m intrigued by what Spoor is working on, and I appreciate that he’s honoring the original Baum books.  Will I put in?  It depends, ultimately, on whether I want to read someone else’s vision of a character and world I love.  I’m definitely curious.

What do you think?  Do you have a favorite retelling of an older work, or one you love to hate?

One thought on “Retelling Other Writer’s Stories

  1. I know exactly what you mean. Part of me instinctively feels that it is cheating to use other people’s characters and worlds, yet re-imaginings or additions onto pieces of existing literature can be really great. I love The Wide Sargasso Sea, for example. I suppose it is not too different to historical literature written about real people. I try to remember that so long as the writing is good and the story is worth telling, it is ok! I do have to continually remind myself though…

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