COVID Causes Comical Fiction Revision

Is that a big syringe rather than a harpoon Queequeg is holding?

We’re sure to see many future novels that are about COVID or at least mention COVID. Until then, we’ll have to make do with revising the plots of classics…

Moby-Dick, pandemic edition: Captain Ahab learns that M-D the whale has contracted the coronavirus, and embarks on an obsessive sea voyage that enables harpooner Queequeg to hurl a huge Moderna-vaccine-filled syringe into the flipper of said whale.

Middlemarch, pandemic edition: Dorothea Brooke gets her first Pfizer shot in February, and, in an effort to remember that her second shot is scheduled for the 15th of the following month, successfully lobbies local leaders to change the name of her town from Earlyapril to…

Bleak House, pandemic edition: Things get kind of…bleak when characters from every Dickens novel have to quarantine together in a…house after an ill-advised American tour led by Martin Chuzzlewit. When the group orders food online from FreshDirect, Oliver Twist tells the deliverer: “Please, sir, I want some more.”

Crime and Punishment, pandemic edition: Raskolnikov denies killing two people, claiming they died of the coronavirus after flying Anachronism Airlines from St. Petersburg to Trump’s COVID-protocol-ignoring White House. Sonya starts to wonder if Raskolnikov is capable of redemption.

A Farewell to Arms, pandemic edition: After Hemingway’s protagonists say goodbye to their upper limbs, they have no arms left for getting jabbed with the COVID vaccine. But they still have legs to run with the bulls in Pamplona, where one never-stationary bull earns the nickname “A Moveable Beast.”

Their Eyes Were Watching God, pandemic edition. But their noses and mouths weren’t doing much of anything behind those light-blue disposable masks.

Of Human Bondage, pandemic edition: Philip and Mildred get tangled in one of the aforementioned masks and live unhappily ever after.

Far from the Madding Crowd, pandemic edition: Being far from ANY crowd makes it easier for Thomas Hardy’s characters to social-distance, even as the mayor of Casterbridge allows restaurants and fitness centers to reopen too soon.

One Hundred Years of Solitude, pandemic edition: The ultimate in social-distancing, lasting a century.

The Yearling, pandemic edition: Life in 1870s Florida gets more exciting for young Jody Baxter and his fawn when the National Basketball Association moves its COVID-truncated season to a “bubble” near Orlando, after which LeBron James and the fawn shoot a beer commercial.

Anne of Avonlea, pandemic edition: In the first Anne of Green Gables sequel, Anne Shirley experiences some frustration teaching online after her school closes due to COVID. Anne lives in the 19th century, so barely half of her students have WiFi.

The Count of Monte Cristo, pandemic edition: Edmond Dantรจs escapes the Chateau d’If island prison and sets out to wreak vengeance against the men who framed him for the theft of Napoleon’s laminated vaccination card.

Any pandemic-related revisions you’d like to suggest for famous novels?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning โ€œMontclairvoyantโ€ topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest piece — which has an April Fools theme befitting its April 1 publishing date — is here.

100 thoughts on “COVID Causes Comical Fiction Revision

  1. These are hilarious, so clever and witty!! I don’t how I missed this post earlier. I just glanced at my bookshelf and two obvious titles were “Things to Do When You Turn 60” and “The English Patient.” Or we could adjust the title of another one to “I Caught It in the Rye.” Pretty weak, I know. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  2. A Gentleman in Moscow would have been quite different if heโ€™d been forced to stay in his room due to lockdown. Can you imagine if Katy and Clover Carr from What Katy did at school had to stay in their room and study on-line. At least Stephen King wouldnโ€™t need to change The Shining because they were isolated anyway or The Stand because everyone was in the middle of a pandemic anyway. A great post, Dave, lots of fun to think of alternative pandemic endings.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Robbie! Glad you liked the post! ๐Ÿ™‚

      I appreciate the mention of several books, both in the adult and children realm. And interesting angle involving novels — such as “The Shining” — that wouldn’t have to change, or change much, to be pandemic-relevant.

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  3. Howzabout we do one in reverse?

    I refer, of course, to Daniel Defoe’s “Year of the Plaque”, in which a retiree is lauded for his long service to his company and community at a series of public celebrations and presentations, during each of which the retiree is given a memento– some in plywood, some in bronze, one in deeply figured mahogany– by his grateful co-workers and fellow citizens.

    Had it not been written so many many years before, Defoe’s work could be considered as a kind of sequel to Sinclair Lewis’ “Babbit”.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Bebe! I’ve read about that series. Seems to be really well done, and Hemingway of course is both an impressive and problematic subject. Ken Burns and Lynn Novick never disappoint.

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    • Thank you, Bill!

      Ha! ๐Ÿ™‚ Huck and Jim staying on the raft would certainly be safest — with the bonus of them not interacting with Tom Sawyer as they did in the actual book. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  4. LOL these are hilarious. I’ll take a shot at a few!

    Pride & Prejudice – Lydia brings shame on the Bennet family when she is busted via social media for attending a super spreader ball.

    For Whom the Bell Tolls: Hemingway’s guide on how to hide in a mountain cave from Covid.

    The Alice Network: The finest ring of contact tracers you ever saw.

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  5. Of course, I will digress for you have sent me on another mini research project. My grandfatherโ€™s brother, who was 18 at the time, died within 24 hours of the 1918 Pandemic – it touched no one else. Which reminds me of the episode in Downton Abbey when Carson the butler, the Countess of Grantham and Lavinia Swire all came down with Spanish flu. It was the youngest, Lavinia, who succumbed because of the pandemic preferred young people. I read an interested Smithsonian article that suggested that, even through the 1918 ravaged the world, very few wrote about it in books. Which had me thinking about Shakespeare writing his plays during the Black Death and Marcus Aurelius writing โ€œMeditationsโ€ during a time of the Antonine Plague. I have just found Katherine Anne Porterโ€™s book which is a collection of three short novels by published in 1939.

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    • Yikes – I pressed the button before finishing. Anyway, Dave – your delightful and humorous post is a reminder that writers continued to write during times of uncertainty, with death ever present. Like you, they used humour, wit, compassion to bring their stories alive. I am forever grateful for their generosity of spirit, their determination to survive, even thrive. May we embrace their boldness and courage to engage in whatever creative journey that is before us. Sending many thanks for another great conversation.

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      • Thank you, Clanmother! I’m happy that you liked the post! Yes, sometimes we have to try to process things/deal with things via humor.

        Very sorry about your grandfather’s brother. Luck, or lack of it, is such a random thing. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

        You’re right that the late-1910s flu pandemic wasn’t referenced much in literature that came after — including in the 1920s. I guess many authors and readers were traumatized by, and wanted to try to forget about, that horrible time — which of course also included the carnage-filled/not-great “Great War” that would later become known as World War I.

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        • Insightful! I think that you are absolutely right, Dave! Many were traumatized! What Iโ€™ve noticed about writing during Covid19, is that we seem to be more willing to articulate our story because of advances in medicine where a resolution is possible. In 1918, there was very little that could be done.

          Liked by 1 person

          • A terrific point, Clanmother, and undoubtedly a significant reason why COVID will probably be mentioned in a lot of near-future literature. Plus we’re living in an age where things seem to be talked about more, via social media and elsewhere.

            Liked by 1 person

      • My grandfatherโ€™s brother died at the age of 2 years old from the Spanish flu. I wonder, Rebecca, if writers donโ€™t write about pandemics because escapism is needed at the time they are writing. From a COVID point of view, Iโ€™ve read some interesting journals by multiple people about life during lockdown ( it seems to be popular among the British who are wonderful recorders of history) but I havenโ€™t read any actually set during COVID.

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    • Re the Spanish Flu in literature, I have heard that too. AND then there’s Shakespeare as you say, where plague shut the theatres. Anyway Dave, great post, I suppose you could have the Man in the Iron MASK, I mean just look at this synopsis as it stands… without any help from anyone, ‘The three former Musketeers sneak into an island prison and arrange the escape of a mysterious prisoner: a man in an iron mask. They replace him with a corpse in a matching iron mask and, pretending it is plague ridden, burn it so the guards will not know the face behind the iron mask.’

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    • And during one iteration of plague, popular history has it that Isaac Newton, when his Cambridge campus closed, was forced to stay home– during which time off he invented calculus, for which he was subsequently damned by generations of math students.

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    • I wrote this when we were commenting on COVID’s frisson in the week of March 14th, but it applies here:

      This thought has been with me for some timeโ€“ that for all the writing and pontificating about the Roaring Twenties here in the US, there was surprisingly, perhaps somehow tellingly, nearly no emphasis on the possible effects of the Spanish Flu on the heedless and hedonistic impulses that have long characterized the period. After all, though the AEF suffered heavy losses in specific campaigns, overall the American troops arrived to finish the war, and suffered, by comparison to France and Great Britain (both having also gathered to themselves troops out of their colonies) far fewer casualties.

      Yet itโ€™s at the feet of the Great War, its debilitating effects on the morale and character of veterans, and the pent-up desires of a rationed public loosed after Armistice, that all cause is heaped. And of course, in those nations that lost a generation of its young men to war, the Spanish Flu came in after as well, killing as it could, and has enjoyed in those places the same degree of inattention as to lasting effects that worked their way through the following decade.

      I have concluded that people at the time, and after, were and are inured to war, even the horrendous costs in all categories that war entails, but then (and to some extent, now) were unprepared to recognize that a sweeping pandemic might do as much psychological damage as war, and cause as much social change. War is manmade, and theoretically might be stopped by man. Pandemic is beyond our control, in the making at least, and death by such unhuman forces may have been (and may for some yet be) too much to bear, for an age obsessed by the force and scope of human will and endeavor to comfortably contemplate, or fully take in.

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  6. Iโ€™m still chuckling and at some like Moby-Dick outright laughing ๐Ÿง๐Ÿ˜†. A terrific post, Dave, for me who finds laughter in near everything, to sanely survive our short life, in which real soul humour has to be worked at for every morsel. This your excellent post and the idea of it has given a fair size chunk of real humour, in preference to the usual Easter chocolate goodies. Thanks again neighbour! As to a pandemic related revision Iโ€™d like, forgive me for this slight curve, but how about, one of my early reading favourites, the Mickey Spillaneโ€™s detective, Mike Hammer? Hereโ€™s one whom in the process of trying to be serious, supplied a lot of laughable lines. Frank Morrison Spillane, better known as Mickey Spillane, was an American crime novelist, whose stories often feature his signature detective character, Mike Hammer. More than 225 million copies of his books have sold internationally. Spillane was also an occasional actor, once even playing Hammer himself. Wikipedia

    Jean-Jacques

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    • Thank you, Jean-Jacques, for the very kind words about the post. Much appreciated. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I’ve definitely heard of Mickey Spillane and his Mike Hammer character, but have never read Spillane. I didn’t realize he was a best-selling author at a 225-million-plus level. Wow!

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      • Spillane was a phenom in his day, and wrote crudely and quickly in a style purposely crafted to compare to earlier crime fiction, notably the work of pulp writer Carroll John Daly, whose character Race Williams, Spillane told the author, was the inspiration for his own character Mike Hammer. Sex and violence, not sex and violins, though the sheer shock value has worn off over the ensuing years since he first published in the late 1940’s. It is not coincidental that he spent some early years as a writer for comic books.

        Daly, as you might remember from an earlier comment or three of mine, is author of the earliest hardboiled crime fiction, predating everybody, Hammett included. A short piece of his fiction, “Three Gun Terry”, has been reprinted, and is worth seeking out, if for no better reason than being able to witness to the birth of a most durable category of fiction.

        Ralph Meeker plays Hammer in a 1955 film noir of Spillane’s “Kiss Me Deadly” with characteristic ruthlessness. Worth seeking out too– as it contains, or rather, is overwhelmed at its conclusion, by a truly frightening scene of burgeoning nuclear mishap.

        Sadly, Mickey Spillane is a hard fellow to like, having turned Mike Hammer from crime fighting to commie-hunting by the mid-1950’s, and having in Ayn Rand, for a time, a mutual admirer.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks for all that interesting information, jhNY! Carroll John Daly and subsequently Mickey Spillane sound like real pioneers/secondary pioneers in their genre. A shame Spillane went to “the dark side.” Him and Ayn Rand being mutual admirers for a while is kind of stomach-turning.

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  7. Funny,Dave. ๐Ÿ™‚Humor is the elixir of life. Really can help during trying times to calm nerves.

    I also just finished “American Dirt.” Certainly adds complications on travel yet thousands making an arduous journey to get to US Border despite the pandemic.

    Happy Easter and Passover to your readers. May religion bring us together,not separate us.

    Better days ahead for the world with vaccines to be more readily available.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Michele! Glad you liked the post! Humor does help during tough times…

      True that some desperate people fleeing poverty and violence are still trying to get into the U.S. despite the pandemic.

      Yes, the vaccines are offering a lot of hope for the future.

      Thanks for the holiday wishes! It WOULD be nice if religion brought people together. Sad that it often doesn’t.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh, my gosh, these are good! Love “A Moveable Beast!” I recently read “American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins. If the protagonist and her son were trying to escape the drug cartel in Mexico to reach the US during a pandemic, things would have been even more complicated than they already were! ANY novel that involves travel would be affected, of course.

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  9. You really have an amazing lot of fantasy, Dave, I am overwhelmed!
    I just thought of the book Shantaram, or more precisely Lin, the main character, who several time became a heroin addict, but could finally get defintely cured with the help of the Corona virus, because it completely blocked the said desire for the drug!

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  10. Pequod did fine on the first trip, but came to grief when they had to go out again three weeks later.
    “From Hell’s heart I stab at thee,” Ahab said as he tried to fill out the whale’s sodden, non-laminated vaccination card, “for hate’s sake I wish I’d gone with the J&J.”

    Liked by 6 people

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