Reimagining Characters in Literature

Lindsay Pearce as Elphaba in the current Broadway production of Wicked. (Photo by Joan Marcus.)

After seeing Wicked on Broadway last Sunday, I thought about how interesting it can be when characters in literature are reimagined.

The long-running musical — inspired by Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel — features the Wicked Witch from L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and 1939’s iconic movie The Wizard of Oz. In Maguire’s novel and the Wicked play, the allegedly evil Elphaba is given a back story that shows why she turned “bad.” In fact, Elphaba/the Wicked Witch is depicted as not evil at all. 

It definitely makes one ponder things when a one-dimensional character is reimagined as three-dimensional.

While watching the excellent musical, I immediately thought of how the mostly not-nuanced “madwoman in the attic” of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847) is given quite a psychological makeover in Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea (1966). That Jane Eyre prequel is much more sympathetic to Bronte’s “madwoman,” giving her a fuller personality and explaining how she became what she became.

Speaking of Jane Eyre-related books, Jasper Fforde’s 2001 novel The Eyre Affair features a “prose portal” in which literary detective Thursday Next enters Bronte’s novel and meets characters such as Edward Rochester, who’s portrayed somewhat differently than he was in 1847. 

Then there’s Zorro, the 1919 character creation from writer Johnston McCulley. In Isabel Allende’s 2005 novel Zorro, she fleshes out the swashbuckler’s personality and gives him a fascinating origin story. 

Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad (also 2005) gives Penelope a more prominent — and more feminist — role than she had in Homer’s Odyssey, the ancient epic poem. 

I haven’t read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 take on Jane Austen’s 1813 novel. I imagine (and reimagine) I never will. 🙂

Do you have any literary reimaginings you’d like to mention? What do you think of the concept?

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 “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com every Thursday. The latest piece — about my town’s township attorney getting an ill-deserved continuation of pay after resigning over a racist remark — is here.

143 thoughts on “Reimagining Characters in Literature

  1. I once read somewhere that Bridget Jones Diary is a modern reimagining of Pride and Prejudice. It’s not quite as clear to me as some of the others, but after reading that it’s a reimagining, and with enough squinting, I believe I can see it, too 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Endless Weekend!

      Interesting — I didn’t realize there was a connection between those two works. Or, rather, a possible, hard-to-see connection between those two works. 🙂 Drolly stated by you. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Disney’s “Pocahontas” reimagines an actual historical figure rather than a fictitious character. The historical Pocahontas was about 11 years old when John Smith first landed in Virginia, not in her late teens as in Disney’s version, and she and Smith never fell in love according to historical sources. Her real story is actually much grimmer and more tragic than in the movie (no surprise there).

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    • Thank you, Tony!

      Yes, Disney has never been much for historical accuracy, though I suppose they’ve been a little more careful in recent years…

      Things rarely ended well for real-life Native Americans back in the day. 😦

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  3. Dave there are so many versions of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847 ), excellent book to read and surprising to notice it was written so many years ago. There were so many versions of the movie..
    My favorite would be the more recent one starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender . Another attraction was Judy Dench , and then the mad woman at the attic.

    Then there is Jack Palance as Count Dracula Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1974 film), as I have watched it decades ago on PBS and the after effect was several sleepless nights. Mr. Palance was that good.

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  4. Merry Christmas Dave and a belated Happy Thanksgiving. Interesting that I checked out this post right after watching 2019 version of A Christmas Carol and/or a reimagining of the same. I also read the book Wicked quite some time ago, and was both angry and heartbroken, having grown up with L Frank Baum’s books. I must say that I absolutely loathe this move toward reimagining great literature. Since the authors are long dead the individual/s who have these little fits of reimagination have plenty of leeway to really muck things up. In the movie I just watched tonight, my husband had to endure my rants concerning everything that was left out such as Dickens observations re: his characters as well as the consequential lack of development of his characters including new ones being thrown into the mix in those reimagined pieces. It leaves no room for the reader to envision time, place, person, etc. since reimagination simply put is “re” vision. I realize I’m talking movie not book so there’s that. Yet I can well understand why Stephen King was so angry with Stanley’s Kubrick’s version of his novel, The Shining. In a world where we have lost so much understanding of real historical events, it comes as no surprise that literature might head south as well. Consider all those nutjobs waiting in Dallas for JFK Jr to arrive and reinstate Trump as President. Just an aside: I remember discussing Dracula in a literature class and pointed out that Dracula was all about the fall of aristocracy and another student remarked that he thought it was just a story about a vampire. Geezaloo, thank you Twilight. Never did I ever think that one day there would be an Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, ha, which covers both my points re: history and literature. I have no problem with campy, but using the original to promote a certain kind of trendiness just feels creepy to me. Why do we need to know how the witch came to be so wicked, as Vonnegut pointed out “we are trapped in the amber of the moment, there is no why.” Better yet, we are trapped in the green amber of the moment,… ha. Voltaire said “Writing is the painting of the voice.” Consequently, I don’t like the author’s voice being erased either incrementally or in certain cases on the whole. And so it goes. Susi

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    • Thank you, Susi! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you, too!

      Very eloquent and impassioned argument — with apt examples — for how reimaginings are not fair to the deceased authors whose works are being changed and how that can also be very annoying to living authors. I definitely see what you’re saying.

      Yet I have liked some (not all) reimaginings, especially when they make certain characters more nuanced and give historically marginalized people (women, people of color, LGBTQ, etc.) more three-dimensionality. The original “of their time” novels still stand, and usually remain better than the reimaginings, even if the original novels have flaws. Of course, writers can also try to rectify historical wrongs by creating their own original works…

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      • I guess that’s really my argument re: reimagination, and//or revisionism. It’s good and fine but its works both ways. Recently, my nephew in law passed away from Covid, October of this year,, left behind 3 small children and his wife. But he and his wife, my niece, were antivaxers, believed that science was bunk and were Qanon followers. It’s so tragic. No concept of realness of historical events or appreciation of man’s abilities re: scientific advancement etc. In fact, my niece was intent on writing children’s books with altright themes and I told her to keep her mitts off changing any of my favorite books cause thats where reimagining falls off a cliff. I guess I want to believe there are some things that are still sacred and that we will forever be charged with the painful work of accepting the incomprehensible –the there is no why part of the story. How can we evolve as a species and/or heal until we can approach the honest work of a good man who sets out to tell a story he hopes will address the suffering in this world. That evil is evil and good is good, and our struggle to remain in the light is a constant. “I hope that real love and truth are stronger in the end than any evil or misfortune in the world”. Charles Dickens

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        • So sorry about your nephew-in-law, Susi. 😦 And he and your niece not being vaccinated — a real shame. 😦 That’s definitely real-life rearranging of facts and common sense on their part. 😦

          The idea of rewriting children’s books to give them alt-right themes? That’s just disgusting propaganda without any intent to do a mature rethinking of well-known works. Glad you argued against that.

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  5. I read that in the late 17th Century a playwright by the name of Nahum Tate rewrote “King Lear” to give it a happy ending. In his version both Lear and his loyal daughter Cordelia survives, Lear is restored to the throne and Cordelia gets married. This version was the only one performed on stage until the 1830s.

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  6. Literary re-imaginings of characters can take place for reasons convenient to politics sometimes– the historical plays of Shakespeare come to mind. In the case of Richard III, the account of his rise and reign and fall derives mostly from the Holinshed Chronicles. Can’t say really how much of Josephine Tey’s “The Daughter of Time” theses about Richard holds water with academics overall ( thanks KatLit for recommending this book!), but it seems settled that those chronicles were heavily weighted to the Tudor side of the ledger, and biased against the House of Lancaster.

    A convenient and well-chosen source for the playwright, and perhaps the only approved one, given the Crown’s constant interest in the theater of the day, in that the source served Elizabeth’s uses. A more honest theatrical account of monarchical history, Richard’s and his successors, might have found favor and praise in ages hence, but would have likely gotten the theater shut, if not all theaters, as happened several times for various reasons during Shakespeare’s lifetime.

    Fun Fact Bonus:

    1564– the year of Shakespeare, Marlowe and Galileo were born, and Michelangelo died. Of these four men of genius, only one was rumored to have been killed over a bar bill.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, jhNY!

      Such a good observation that character reimaginings “can take place for reasons convenient to politics sometimes.” Those reasons can be not so good, or positive — as when there’s a feminist reimagining of a way-too-patriarchal story.

      Re your last paragraph, 1564 was quite a consequential year!

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          • Just tried to ‘like’ this one–twice– for moment a small screen appears, but it’s blank, then gone.

            If it took, I can’t tell. At least I managed to retain my moniker through the travail, and maybe I’ll be able to attach a pic in place of the pattern supplied by the site.

            I will get the hang of things, if I haven’t already.

            MERRY CHRISTMAS, DAVE, TO YOU AND YOURS!

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  7. (Spoilers) Disney’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” gave Quasimodo and Esmeralda happy endings even though they do not marry each other. In the original Hugo novel both protagonists die and in the end of the book their skeletons are found entwined together.

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    • You’re right, Tony, about that being quite a reimagining. Unfortunately not super-unusual, given that screen adaptations and theatrical adaptations of novels are too often given happier endings. (“The Grapes of Wrath” and “The Natural” movie versions are two of many examples.)

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      • Also Disney’s Quasimodo is kinder than Hugo’s conception of the character and the cartoon’s Esmeralda is older and more mature than the one in the novel. The novel’s Esmeralda is kind but also rather foolish and emotionally shallow. Esmeralda seems to appear in more scenes of the novel than any other character to the best of my recollection while the film seems to concentrate more on Quasimodo.

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        • All good points, Tony! (I haven’t seen the Disney version, but I saw a “Hunchback” play a few years ago at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse that was based more on the Disney version than the Victor Hugo novel.)

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  8. As I sit here preparing for Christmas, the character that comes to mind is a re-imagined Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life. Maybe it has been written and I’ve missed it. But the thought of reading a backstory powerful enough to change popular opinion from immense dislike to empathy for this despicable character is intriguing. Don’t you think?

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  9. “The Return of Munchausen”, by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky qualifies as dissident literature of the early Soviet period in Russia, and as germane to the week’s topic on re-imagined literary characters.:

    “An old spinner of impossible yarns finds himself pressed into contemporary service by the clamor of the times, but in the end retreats literally between the pages of his “Adventures”, defeated by his discovery that the USSR is somehow “a nation about which one cannot lie” when his entirely confected report on his imaginary tour of the USSR was proved, by Soviet readers, to have contained only descriptions of fact.”
    (I wrote this description when the topic at hand was shorter fiction in October this year.)

    Ironically perhaps, the Baron began his literary existence as a real baron, Hieronymus Karl Friedrich, Freiherr von Münchhausen., a retired military officer who told tall tales of his purported exploits to dinner guests. One such guest, Rudolf Erich Raspe, found the tales to be so outlandish and ridiculous that he wrote some of them down, though fearing libel action, he published his collection anonymously in 1785 as “Baron Munchausen’s Narrative of his Marvelous Travels and Campaigns in Russia”.

    from wikipedia:
    “The fictional Baron’s exploits, narrated in the first person, focus on his impossible achievements as a sportsman, soldier, and traveller; for instance: riding on a cannonball, fighting a forty-foot crocodile, and travelling to the Moon. Intentionally comedic, the stories play on the absurdity and inconsistency of Munchausen’s claims, and contain an undercurrent of social satire…Raspe’s book was a major international success, becoming the core text for numerous English, continental European, and American editions that were expanded and rewritten by other writers. The book in its various revised forms remained widely read throughout the 19th century, especially in editions for young readers.”

    I was such a young reader, 55 years ago, my edition illustrated by Gustave Dore.

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    • Thank you, jhNY!

      A VERY engrossing history of the “Munchausen” work and the various permutations it went through.

      One can’t help but love this Wikipedia line you cited: “The fictional Baron’s exploits, narrated in the first person, focus on his impossible achievements as a sportsman, soldier, and traveller; for instance: riding on a cannonball, fighting a forty-foot crocodile, and travelling to the Moon.”

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  10. HI Dave, I read this post earlier today, but I needed to think about what reimaged stories I have read. The ones that immediately spring to my mind are the retellings for children and teens of a lot of the Norse and Roman myths and legends. My boys were crazy about the Percy Jackson book by Rick Riordan. He also wrote the Heroes of Olympus series and the Magnus Chase books. I read my children all the junior versions of the classics, Chaucer, and Shakespeare’s plays but those aren’t reimaged, more simplified and made accessible to children. I have read modern versions of some of the Jane Austin novels, Sherlock Holmes, Pollyanna, and Frankenstein, but none of them have made much of an impression on me so I can’t remember much about them.

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    • Thank you, Robbie!

      I’m glad that you brought up children’s literature. The retelling of myths and legends as well as the simplifying of classic literature are both reimaginings in their ways. The examples you offered are much appreciated.

      I’ve read very few adult-oriented reimaginings in modern lit (other than the ones I mentioned in my post) but I’m not surprised that some aren’t that compelling.

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  11. Crazy! I can think of many characters from books and real life, that have been imagined for film or theatre. However re-imagined is completely different.
    How about “Hamilton”? It’s based on a book, although non-fiction, but does use many black actors. Alexander Hamilton was white, and had slaves. Yet, is portrayed by a black man, and there are many actors of colour in the production.

    So, after I read this, I had to ponder while doing errands.
    For crying out loud…Duck Dodgers of the 21st Century, played by Daffy Duck popped into my mind as the re-imagining of a super hero. Yet, which one?
    I was screwed at that point. It’s amazing I thought of “Hamilton” as I was typing this.

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  12. I was taken back when I noticed this article because I was thinking at work yesterday how incredible it is that they truly brought out the humanity of a stereotyped character. Wicked is, with no composition, my favorite musical ever and it is so easy to get stuck on the original 1 dimensional character such as the wicked witch of the west. I’m saddened I never got to see a stage production of it, but this album was my personal theme in college when I discovered it back in 2008.

    What really got me thinking, and annoyed, wasn’t necessarily any of main cast, but the munchkins themselves. In today’s society especially, it becomes painfully obvious how we follow the crowd unknowingly and throw labels and hate on anyone that goes against the status quo. In the 1930s movie, we discover that the “wizard” is a fake. Having not seen this musical, or read the novel, I can only imagine how the scenario that plays out: he’s exposed, Elphaba calls him out, and the people of OZ are angered that someone dares to defame the image of their precious wizard and is ostracized from the rest of society.

    She was made green because of a poor choice from one of her parents and she had to suffer for it by being labeled as an, “ugly, disgusting, and unlovable” character. Then after she runs away from OZ after her beautiful “defying gravity” number, she’s labeled as: green lizard with an extra eye that can shed her skin as easily as a snake, and can be easily killed by splashing water on her. That last bit I found curious because realistically she would have had to take a shower at some point, but I digress.

    To make a long rant short, I find myself identifying so much more with her than anyone else because I was the social outcast in high school surrounded by all the pompous munchkin like mindsets that were portrayed. I also felt so sorry for bock because he loved the pretty girl and was tossed to the side and was tricked into asking out Nessa just to get him to leave her alone so she could be with the classic male heartthrob of Fierro.

    This is such a beautiful story. Thank-you for mentioning this musical.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, LightKeeper!

      You touched on many important points of the “Wicked” musical (and I assume the “Wicked” novel) in a skillful and heartfelt way.

      Yes, one feels much sympathy for Elphaba — how she was labeled, what she had to go through, the way she was “done wrong,” and more. She is definitely the major “Wicked” character, and one that we deeply admire and respect. (Many people who were social outcasts in their younger years can indeed identify; sorry you had to go through that.) Impressive how Elphaba was transformed from a one-dimensional (albeit memorable) evil presence in Baum’s work and the 1939 movie. I wonder what Margaret Hamilton, the film witch who was reportedly a very nice person in real life, would have thought. Probably would have been thrilled!

      Funny observation about showers. 🙂

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  13. Another great post inspired by your trip to Broadway. I hope you had a lovely time! Now, by coincidence I was meant to be seeing ‘The Nutcracker’ yesterday (Saturday) at London’s Coliseum but we decided, on balance, that it wasn’t worth the risk. I love the ballet, there’s something so magical about it. Whilst this doesn’t strictly fit into your post this week I mention it because Gregory Maguire also wrote ‘Hiddensee: the tale of the once and future nutcracker’ – a reimagined version of how Klara came to receive the nutcracker. I will admit to not enjoying it very much, but I just don’t think I really understood it. It was beautifully written but just not for me. Hopefully though I’ll get to the ballet again and maybe we can try again next Christmas!
    I was trying to think of other books that fit your theme and I was a little stumped. ‘Death comes to Pemberley’ was mentioned which I thought was quite good fun….I read ‘House of Silk’ by Anthony Horowitz. A new Sherlock Holmes that, I believe, was approved by the Doyle estate. It was good fun although certainly didn’t have the wordy style that Conan Doyle has….and that was all I could think of!! Everyone has great suggestions of course. ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ has been on my TBR pile for quite some time now though. I’ve read a couple of books based around Dickens and his writing ‘a Christmas carol’. They’ve been ok but people aren’t prepared to delve into the darker side of his relationships with women – although I suppose it wouldn’t be very Christmassy then!
    Talking of Christmas – do hope you – and everyone here – have a good holiday celebration and you all stay safe and well!

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    • Thank you, Sarah!

      Seeing the play was indeed enjoyable. My New Jersey apartment is only about 15 miles from Manhattan, so I should take advantage of Broadway more often. But the ticket prices…

      Sorry you weren’t able to see “The Nutcracker” this time. The new COVID variant is definitely making things dicey. 😦

      I appreciate the mention of several works that fit this week’s theme.

      “Wide Sargasso Sea” is definitely worth the read, if you get to it.

      Yes, Dickens definitely did not treat/relate to women the right way.

      Happy Holidays to you, too!

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    • The Nutcracker has an interesting history– its original source a ETA Hoffmann story “The Nutcracker and Mouse King”– but the more familiar source is a Alexandre Dumas’ retelling in French, “The Tale of the Nutcracker”. The Dumas version, simplified, served as Tchaikovsky’s inspiration.

      The 1892 ballet itself was not always the perennial favorite we assume it to be either– it was first performed in its entirety here in the USA by a San Francisco company on Christmas Eve, 1944– though some if its music was familiar to Americans, especially “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies”, as seen in Disney’s 1940 animated feature “Fantasia.”

      https://time.com/3640792/nutcracker-american-history/

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    • Hi Sarah, it seems Tchaikovsky is another love we have in common. I am a huge Nutcracker fan and have been listening to the music all week. Our ballet was closed this Christmas season due to covid but I have booked for my family to see a musical on 16 January. The theatre will only be about 33% full with the social distancing so it should be very safe. Jonathan Roxmouth is one of South Africa’s most well known “Broadway” music singers (he was Phantom in Phantom of the Opera and Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar) and it is his first show in two years we are going to see.

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  14. I don’t know if this is reimagining characters, but some literary characters have become so well known that they have become a part of popular culture. These include Sherlock Holmes, Romeo and Juliet, Scrooge, Robinson Crusoe, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, maybe a few others. They are familiar to most people, even those who have not read the original works.

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    • Thank you, Tony!

      That’s an interesting perspective. Yes, some characters are so famous they kind of transcend the books they came from.

      Speaking of Romeo and Juliet, it’s fairly widely known that they to some extent inspired characters in “West Side Story.”

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      • from brittanica:
        “Shakespeare’s principal source for the plot of Romeo and Juliet was The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, a long narrative poem written in 1562 by the English poet Arthur Brooke, who had based his poem on a French translation of a tale by the Italian writer Matteo Bandello.”

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          • And speaking of reimagining Shakespeare, try the sophomoric but entertaining “To Be Or Not To Be – a Choosable-path adventure by Ryan North, William Shakespeare, and YOU.” You can choose whether to read as Ophilia, Hamlet, or the King of Denmark. And you have choices like 1) “Insult him under your breath by saying you’re more than kin […] (turn to page 317), or 2) “Say ‘You’re not my real dad!’ and storm out of the room (turn to page 98). “

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            • Thank you, Donna!

              Ha! 🙂 Funnily put. 🙂 “…sophomoric but entertaining” can be wonderful sometimes. And Shakespeare plays and characters have definitely been reimagined multiple times (including set in modern times in some cases).

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  15. I enjoyed reading Maguire’s novel before I saw “Wicked” on Broadway in 2013 and was intrigued by the book and the redefinition of Elphaba even before seeing the show, which I absolutely loved. Another book I appreciated for the in-depth and riveting character studies was “The Mists of Avalon” by Marion Zimmer Bradley, which explores the Arthurian legend from the point of view of several women, including Guinevere (Gwyhefar) and Morgan le Fay (Morgaine), the two most familiar of the four she includes. Written in 1983, it now strikes me as a book ahead of its time, since Bradley presents the women in the story as strong figures who have a great deal of influence over the men and the events. It’s long but beautifully written and well-worth the time to read, especially if you are, as I am, fascinated by that legend. And I seem to occasionally enjoy working my way through a “tome.” This one I highly recommend. Bradley’s approach is fascinating.

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    • Thank you, Susan!

      Nice that you really enjoyed both the “Wicked” book and the “Wicked” musical.

      And “The Mists of Avalon” sounds like it skillfully reimagines several Arthurian-era characters and gives some women a fairer shake. The book is very well-described by you. It has been on my to-read list for a while. 🙂

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  16. When authors run out of material there’s always fanfic. When they die or get old they have children and research assistants take over the family franchise. Hindsight is 20/20 when “fleshing out” good them, bad them, peripheral them. Sad that Imagination challenged Hollywood has run downhill into “lit”. But on the bankable side, there can be no failure with a known quantity. Hell, even Nelson DaMille plumbed the Travis McGee well. All of this explains why there are pages of bakers and librarians and ex boxers on the cozy mystery site. But hey, the Global Trend is rewriting history, so here we are.

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    • Thank you, Phil!

      I hear you. There’s a certain lack of originality when an existing character is reimagined rather than a new character created. But some writers do the reimagining thing well. And many of them — such as Atwood, Allende, etc. — also create their own characters in many other works.

      Sadly true that “there can be no failure with a known quantity,” or at least less chance of failure.

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      • I think highly of Atwood, and thought her one transgression more of a paean than a cop out. Like Robert Parker finishing “Poodle Springs.” There should be no awards for fanfic and those who participate need to call it what it is, character plagiarism. Like “Variations on a theme by —-“ in the title😎.

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        • I think Margaret Atwood and other writers were asked if they wanted to update/rewrite ancient myths, and Atwood chose what became “The Penelopiad.” So it wasn’t the usual self-starting, organic approach to coming up with an idea for a novel.

          “Character plagiarism” — that’s a memorable phrase!

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  17. Like you, Dave, I have not read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, although I did watch the movie. YIKES!!!! Quite entertaining and certainly gives great powers to the sisters! But I think that I will skip the book as I have so many other books that are crying out “open me! Open Me!! OPEN ME!!!

    In my humble opinion, the most interesting character that has been reimagined over the years, is our dear friend, Sherlock Holmes. Think of all the many reinventions of Sherlock Homes. I just learned that J.M. Barrie was a good friend of Conan Doyle. He wrote the first known pastiche in 1883 title “The Late Sherlock Holmes.” The list of famous authors goes on and on and on – Anthony Burgess, Neil Gaiman, Dorothy B. Hughes, Stephen King, P.G. Wodehouse – even A.A. Milne. Now we have the daughter of Sherlock Holmes. At present I am reading The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons which brings Sherlock Holmes and Henry James to solve the mystery of the 1885 death of Clover Adams, wife of the esteemed historian Henry Adams. Jeremy Brett will always be my favourite Sherlock Holmes, but Basil Rathbone, Christopher Lee, Stuart Granger, Peter O’Toole, Ian McKellen, and Benedict Cumberbatch were also amazing. And there are many many more. But perhaps the greatest movie reinvention was Michael Caine in “Without a Clue.”

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    • Thank you, Rebecca!

      Sherlock Holmes has indeed been reimagined a number of times, as your information-packed comment thoroughly documents. Terrific mention!

      And I loved the trailer you linked to! That movie looks absolutely hilarious.

      Speaking of funny…your line “I have so many other books that are crying out ‘open me! Open Me!! OPEN ME!!!'” That’s the frustrating truth for any avid reader. 🙂 😦

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    • Then there was 1974’s “The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother”, a film directed and written by Gene Wilder, starring Wilder, Madeleine Kahn and Marty Feldman. In reviews it was described as “charming” and “tedious”, though not by the same reviewer. I felt the latter pronouncement to be more accurate, a shame really, as it’s Wilder’s debut as director, and the next thing he did after “Young Frankenstein”, itself, of course another bit of re-imagining.

      “The Seven Per Cent Solution”,a 1974 novel by Nicholas Meyer re-imagines Holmes by way of a rediscovered ‘lost’ Doyle manuscript. Holmes foils an international plot to embroil the world in war, after first overcoming his cocaine addiction. The book was the ninth best seller that year, and was made into a movie (which I have never seen) the year after. Meyer subsequently wrote “The West End Horror” (1976), “The Canary Trainer” (1993), and “The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols” (2019), all of them employing the Holmes character.

      1974 was also the year RHW Dillard published “The Book of Changes”, a Holmesian mystery, though the character’s name was Sir Hugh Fitz-Hyffen,not Holmes. A review in the Washington post compared it favorably to “The Seven Per Cent Solution”, but sales were less than brisk. That year, Dillard’s wife Annie published “A Pilgrim At Tinker’s Creek”, which was a runaway best-seller. When I met RHW Dillard that year, he mentioned he was working on a new book, tentatively titled “The First Man on the Sun.” I thought at the time he was making a sardonic self-referential sort of joke, but no, he published it in 1983.

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      • I forgot all about “The Severn Percent Solution”. I never read the book but I did see the movie although I have forgotten the plot. Professor Moriarty was played brilliantly by Sir Lawrence Olivier! It was a huge cast including Vanessa Redgrave. https://youtu.be/CxzoWxT2E2Y

        I am keeping your comments, jhNY for future reference. A wonderful collection of books/authors. Many thanks.

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      • I remember that film about Sherlock’s smarter brother, jhNY, though I never got to see it. The actors/actress you mentioned in that movie were all in “Young Frankenstein” — as you noted, another reimagining. I did see “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution,” though I never read the book. Seems like Holmes was one of the most reimagined of all literary characters. Not hard to understand why. 🙂

        Nice anecdote/memory re Dillard! “The First Man on the Sun” titles reminds me of H.G. Wells’ “The First Men in the Moon” — a pretty good novel.

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        • Also Fritz Lang’s 1929 silent film “Woman in the Moon”. The plot drags the movie down more than a bit, but there is a disquieting and unforgettable bit of anachronism on display: the rocket’s general shape and appearance is eerily reminiscent of the V-2 , later manufactured and employed during WWII by Werner von Braun to terrorize England and kill thousands.

          from wikipedia:

          “Rocket scientist Hermann Oberth worked as an advisor on this movie. He had originally intended to build a working rocket for use in the film, but time and technology prevented this from happening. The film was popular among the rocket scientists in Wernher von Braun’s circle at the Verein für Raumschiffahrt (VfR). The first successfully launched V-2 rocket at the rocket-development facility in Peenemünde had the Frau im Mond logo painted on its base.”

          “Frau im Mond” is the German title for the Lang film.

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            • I should have mentioned up the thread that the Dillards divorced in 1975– the year before had to be hard for the man who wrote a Sherlockian novel eclipsed by another, the same year his wife and former student came out with her own best-seller. Perhaps it was a bit like living on the sun: impossible.

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                • I was here in NYC in 1976 when the tall ships came in, and everything about the celebration, including the flags, seemed to be sponsored by corporate America. It’s my unofficial mark of the beginning our national decline into sorta-fascism.

                  But that’s another story.

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                  • I hear you, jhNY. It would have been nice if that celebration were done more organically, less corporately, and less hyper-patriotically (with much more reflection on America’s many grievous flaws). But the power structure of the United States would never allow it. 😦

                    I was a reporter back then in my first post-college job, and wrote about some aspects of the celebration and its planning. With the threat of a lot of car traffic from New Jerseyans trying to see the tall ships, one of my story leads was “Operation Sail might become Operation Snail.” A bit cringe-worthy. 🙂

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  18. There seems to be quite a trend for giving ‘hidden’ (especially female) characters a new voice and I love it! Circe by Madeline Miller is a good example, as is The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. I am currently reading the excellent LearWife by J R Thorp which focuses on the story of the one character who does not appear at all in Shakespeare’s King Lear, but who is the only family member left after Lear and his three daughters are dead. I really enjoy the imagination behind these re-creations. Oh, and the new film A Boy Called Christmas sounds like a very heartwarming take on how Santa grew up to be Santa…. 🎅🏻🎄

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  19. Do you count those who became movie characters? In a similar vein, I loved Disney’s re-depiction of the wicked fairy who put the spell on Sleeping Beauty. In Charles Perrault’s writings, she was a reclusive fairy who the kingdom forgot to invite to the christening of the princess and so she cursed everyone. She was later trivialised as just an evil witch in the (silly, I thought) animation film, then only more recently given redeeming three dimensions in the live-action Maleficient. As a character she’s had quite the evolution.

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  20. I quite like to see the backstory on certain characters. Wild Sargasso Sea is a case in point. Or a ‘what happened after’ to one of the secondary characters.I’m trying to think of other ones I’ve seen or read. I sometimes think The Historian is abit of a grey area that way and i’m sure my mr read a book about Magwitch but i can’ remember the title. I’m not deeply into the likes of the endless variations on Pride and Prejudice. SO I am with you on the zombies although i did see a very good TV mini series called Lost in Austin which involves a bit of time travel, that I rather enjoyed.

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  21. To not have to re-imagine but to have a gentleman of character, our dear PRESIDENT,Joseph Robinette Biden, who stands on principles, who cares about the health, well being,financial, safety of us all,wants to continue social safety nets,infrastructure for people, not only roads,bridges,but internet access ++ is to live a dream rather than a nightmare from the former corrupt,twice impeached, vulgar, bully that is DT former Schmuck in chief. Attorney General of NY. Letitia James and soon to be retired Cy Vance,may you both facilitate the arm of the law to bite DT in tuckus!

    Federal government, catch up to DT for insighting insecurrection January 6th,for corruption to bribe election officials, to all white trash supremacists ,they should be fined and serve jail time. All complicit like Mark Meadows, Roger Stone,, slime balls like Steve Bannon, the truth will always prevail. DT is vile, President Biden is the antisesis in reality,not fiction in a book. Thank you President Biden, for saving us from villians, from amateurs not qualified in DT’s administration. If only they would save their own souls by speaking the truth. Truth sets one FREE.

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    • Thank you for the strongly expressed comment, Michele.

      I have very mixed feelings about Joe Biden re his past actions and his actions as president. Much too timid and centrist for more-liberal me. But I can certainly agree that he’s much better than Trump — who no one can ever reimagine as a decent person. If Trump and his past and present cronies don’t get some serious, deserved jail time, there’s nothing to prevent them from continuing to act the same way. But serious jail time is unlikely for the white/rich/male/powerful. 😦

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  22. Sad, disappointed but still staying hopeful for Broadway to be able to sustain performances moving forward. The vaccinations, booster shots are GIFTS,if only millions more people would realize that they are. Then we can,as a collective, move forward, otherwise the variants and there can be a myriad of them , enable the pandemic to sadly be with us all for a long time. 😔

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    • You’re right, Michele, that the new COVID variant has put Broadway shows and various other things in a riskier situation now than a few weeks ago. And it indeed doesn’t help that a portion of the population has not vaccinated.

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    • Thank you, Elisabeth!

      I agree that reimaginings of fictional characters can be compelling if done well. And glad you enjoyed the “Wicked” novel! As I mentioned to Liz below, I’m not sure whether I’ll read it or not now that I’ve seen play. Hope you get a chance to see it! There have been productions of it in many places; hopefully there’ll be one near you someday.

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  23. I’ve read both Wicked and Wide Sargasso Sea–and loved them both! I greatly admire writers who can pull this off. I heard Gregory Maguire give the keynote address at a writers’ conference a few years ago in which he posited that fairy tales are more important for adults during these our troubled times. I don’t remember the details of the address because a man went into cardiac arrest during lunch and we spent the next twenty minutes watching various people try to get his heart started with CPR and a portable defibrillator. It was awful. (The paramedics were able to bring him back.)

    Here is a retelling of LIttle Red Riding Hood by Luanne Castle that I think you might enjoy, https://feralpoetry.net/what-happens-in-the-dark-when-its-cold-outside-by-luanne-castle/

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