rewriting the classics

The other day, I was skimming over the book reviews in the newspaper (yes, I’m probably one of the few people of my generation who still read newspapers in this technological age), and noticed that one of the books being reviewed was titled “Sense and Sensibility”. My first thought was that maybe this was some sort of special edition with new introduction and notes and stuff in honour of some sort of Austen anniversary. Fair enough. But then I looked at the author’s name, which turned out to be not Jane Austen (can’t remember the actual author’s name now – too much shock).

Two more thoughts occurred to me: This person was either doing one of those adaptations of a classic (like making the setting and characters all modern while keeping the basic skeleton of the story the same), or they were outright stealing the name of a famous novel for their own, unrelated novel.

The review started with a warning – something along the lines of “if you don’t like people re-writing classics, don’t bother reading the rest of this review or this book”. I stopped reading at the end of that sentence and turned the page.

Why would anyone want to attempt to rewrite a classic novel? They’re classics because they’re timeless and they should be read as they were originally written.

Ok, sure, the author of this new version is probably a hardcore Austen fan who probably wants to modernise the language a bit (or whatever – remember, I didn’t read the review) and make the story more accessible to current generations. That’s probably an admirable thing to try to do. But, even then, I still couldn’t stop the question playing over and over in my mind: Why would you rewrite a classic?

And then it occurred to me that people remake classics all the time. Well, they seem to nowadays. People are always remaking classic songs, giving them a new voice, a new beat, a new audience. The lyrics may be the same, or they may be mixed with other/new lyrics, but the original source is clear. Some of the songs I really like were remakes that I didn’t even know were remakes. “Summer rain” and “Boys of summer” are two examples just off the top of my head (probably just thought of those because it’s getting pretty hot around here).

I wonder if true fans of the originals approve of the remakes of those songs. It’s like how, several years ago, I heard a remake of a Savage Garden song (can’t remember which one – I think I’ve successfully blocked out that memory) and I really didn’t like it because I thought it was nowhere near as good as the SG version. And now I’m wondering, if some of the “classics” from, say, the mid ’90s to now were remade and re-released in 20-30 years’ time, would today’s fans be fans of those too?

Remaking classic movies seems to be a bit of a thing now, too, but I’m not sure that this is a good thing. I recently watched a remake of “Carrie” and found it to be a bit boring and predictable – not because I already new the story, but the whole thing just didn’t seem worthwhile. (But I bet it was original and exciting when it first came out…)

Going back to books, I just want to say that I am certainly not against those books that add zombies and random stuff into classic novels that are otherwise relatively voilence-free. I’m even ok with those parody books and people who write fan fiction and stuff like that. I can understand if people want to make a movie or TV mini-series based on classic books. But plain rewriting a classic? I can’t say that I’m entirely ok with that.