Sunday, July 04, 2010

Classic Upgrade?

Do the old classics really need an upgrade?

Take a look at Android Karenina to see what I'm talking about. By the same publishers who brought us Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Quirk Classics, Android Karenina takes brings cyberpunk to Tolstoy.

But some are bothered by this sort of attempt to "upgrade" the classics. Why would they need the upgrade? And who are we to think we can improve on them anyway?

I take something of a different view of it. I don't know that the idea behind Quirk Classics is to upgrade or improve on the older works. Their stated aim is to create "mash ups" of literary classics crossed with genre fiction. Not because it's better, but because it is different, and it allows us to explore the areas where the literature of today and yesterday might overlap.

Recontextualizing older tales has always been a part of the literary scene. How many of Shakespeare's plays have original story lines, after all? And how "faithful to the original material" were his retellings? We might think that this is something different. Shakespeare, after all, was Shakespeare, so of course he might think he could improve on the older stuff. But that's getting it backwards. He didn't get to do that because he was already the "institution" of Shakespeare, but he became this grand pillar of our literary world because of how amazingly he brought a new view to old works.

That's not to suggest that the Quirk Classics are destined to be in the canon of tomorrow what Hamlet is today. Rather, it's to say that explorations of familiar tales are always OK, and some can even be fairly well-done. And, while these that Quirk Classics have produced are getting a fair bit of attention, they aren't really the first to do such things. Adaptations to comic book, film (even cartoon), TV, and so forth have been going on for a long time. And in more the more "highbrow" world of literature, works like Heiner Müller's Hamletmachine consider the classics in a new light that seems more reflective of our new era.

I haven't read Android Karenina, and I don't know when (or even if) I will. But I can say that the idea behind it doesn't bother me at all. The way I see it, there's always room for another quirky take on an old favorite.

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