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Reader’s Shelf

The Next Generation: Books Inspired by Great Literature


Adrianna Ibrahim

Humans are creatures of habit. We find comfort in the familiar, so we return again and again to our favorite restaurants, movies, vacation spots, and not surprisingly, books. The dog-eared pages and well-worn spine of a book will tell you which stories and characters we hold closest to our hearts. Sometimes we find that, even with the perfect, time-tested classic, we are left wanting more. This does not necessarily mean we desire a sequel or a different ending, it simply means we want to create a new experience with an old friend. Below are some books that do just that.

Of all the books in the public domain to choose from, writers seem to find the most joy in reworking the wistfully romantic tales of Jane Austen, in particular Pride and Prejudice. There are countless books (and series even) that happily pick up where with Miss Austen left off, continuing the story of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. Out of the sheer amount of glorified fan fiction, there are two that stand out.

The first is Bridget Jones’ Diary (Penguin. 1996. ISBN 9780140280098. $15.00) by Helen Fielding, widely popularized by a film of the same name. The book, written in the format of a personal journal, follows Bridget as she navigates life as a 30-something, single Londoner. She tackles a smattering of vices, a floundering career, and relationships with two men--one of whom is actually named Darcy--all the while maintaining a humorous take on her life.

The second is by far one of the more inventive products of this genre, reinterpreting the world of Netherfield Park and Pemberley Estate through the lens of a zombie apocalypse. In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Quirk Books. 2009. ISBN 9781594743344. $12.95), Seth Grahame-Smith creates a mash-up of original text from Miss Austen (about 85%) and zombie lore. Though it may sound like an odd pairing, with so much of the story intact, P&P feels like a natural fit in this land of the undead.

A great work of fiction in its own right, Wide Sargasso Sea (W.W. Norton & Co. 1966. ISBN 978-0393310481. $13.95) is a prequel to much beloved Jane Eyre. Jean Rhys creates a story and a life for the "mad woman in the attic" before she arrives at Thornfield Hall as Mrs. Rochester. This postcolonial novel chronicles Antoinette Cosway’s life in the Caribbean and provides a deeper understanding of the woman many readers know as Bertha Mason.

Though somewhat overlooked compared to English literature, American literature inspired a number of parallel novels. One that also focuses on a rarely seen, secondary character is March (Penguin. 2006. ISBN 9780143036661. $15.00). Geraldine Brooks looks to Little Women for her protagonist: the oft-absent father Mr. March. An abolitionist and clergyman, he joins the Union army as chaplain before being assigned to work as a teacher on a cotton plantation. The letters exchanged between him and his family coat a cheerful surface onto their respective hardships. Brooks largely based the character of Mr. March on Louisa May Alcott’s father, Bronson, as well as various source materials from the Civil War.

Another American parallel novel flows from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and develops the character of the escaped slave Jim. In My Jim (Broadway. 2006. ISBN 978-1400054015. $12.95), Nancy Rawles makes it clear right from the start who the protagonist is this time around. Jim’s wife, Sadie, tells his story of love, hardship, family, and an eternal quest for freedom. Rawles, a history teacher, carefully researched slave narratives and culture to inform her writing of the bitter time in history.

Reinterpreting literature is not confined to novels. Shakespeare’s stories have inspired an endless number of novels, poems, movies, and even other plays. Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Grove Press. 1994. ISBN 9780802132758. $14.00) focuses on two minor characters from Hamlet. Outside of the main action of Shakespeare’s play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern spend much of their time ruminating on the events that occur around them, of which they know little

While the classic literary styles, such as Romanticism and Victorianism, are all well and good, there is nothing quite like revisiting an old childhood favorite. Gregory Maguire has a penchant for revitalizing fairy tales, such as Snow White and Cinderella. His novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (Harper. 1995. ISBN 9780061350962. $7.99) follows this whimsical trend. Maguire presents Oz and its characters from a revisionist perspective. Truly a novel for adults, the story follows the life of green-skinned Elphaba before she becomes the Wicked Witch of the West. Wicked was the basis for the Tony-award winning musical of the same name.

June 21, 2011
Vol. XV Issue 3

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