Should You Mess With a Classic?

Recently I borrowed the audiobook Huck Out West by Robert Coover, and I chose it because it is a sequel to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. I was intrigued to discover how Coover envisioned the continuation of Huckleberry Finn’s life. All the pertinent characters are there, Tom Sawyer, Becky Thatcher, and Jim, plus he refers to others from Twain’s original and, introduces new ones. The plot twists are interesting, and at times surprising, and I have found myself wondering what Mr. Twain would think of Coover’s tale.

Of course, this is not the first or only continuation of a classic that was not written by the original author. A sampling includes: Susan Hill’s sequel to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca titled Mrs. de Winter; Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley is the sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind; there is even a sequel to Les Miserables titled Cosette: the Sequel to Les Miserables by Laura Kalpakian.

If there are sequels, you know there must be prequels, too. Ruth’s Journey: The Authorized Novel of Mammy from Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind is a prequel that shares the story of Mammy’s life (People really like Gone With the Wind!); to know what happened to Anne Shirley before living with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, you want to read Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson; even the crazy lady locked up in the attic in Jane Eyre gets her say thanks to Jean Rhys who wrote Wide Sargasso Sea

Not only are there sequels and prequels, but there are classics that have been written through another characters eyes. Caroline by Sarah Elizabeth Miller is the retelling of the Little House stories from Caroline’s perspective; Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig is Gone With the Wind through Rhett’s eyes; Grendel by John Gardner allows the monster in Beowulf to tell his side of the story.

These lists are certainly not exhaustive, and I may not have mentioned one that you love, or perhaps hate, but it’s something to get you started if you are so inclined.

I’m still not sure what I think, but questions about whether stories can actually be “owned”, what purpose stories have in society, and what happens when you change something so familiar are questions worth thinking about.

What do you think?