Classic Spinoffs

Have you read any classic books? Even if you haven’t, you can still enjoy the books on this list. These are inspired by classics as they tell the stories of supporting characters, are prequels or sequels to the classic stories, or even retell the classics themselves. Read them all!

gertrudeandclaudius Gertrude and Claudius by John Updike  
This prequel to Hamlet tells the story of Gertrude Queen of Denmark before the action of Shakespeare’s Hamlet begins. Updike brings to life Gertrude’s girlhood as the daughter of King Rorik, her arranged marriage to the man who becomes King Hamlet, and her middle-aged affair with her husband’s younger brother.

 

MadameBovarysDaughter Madame Bovary’s Daughter by Linda Urbach
This continuation of Flaubert’s classic Madame Bovary finds twelve-year-old Berthe cast off by society in the aftermath of her mother’s suicide and sent to live with her impoverished grandmother, from where she eventually rises through the ranks of Charles Worth’s famed fashion empire.

 

thebeekeepersapprentice The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, or, On the Segregation of the Queen by Laurie R. King   
In 1914, a young woman named Mary Russell meets a retired beekeeper on the Sussex Downs. His name is Sherlock Holmes. The Great Detective is no fool, and can spot a fellow intellect even in a fifteen-year-old woman. So, at first informally, then consciously, he takes Mary as his apprentice.

 

julietsnurseJuliet’s Nurse by Lois Leveen   
A new telling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, from the perspective of Juliet’s nurse. In Verona, a city ravaged by plague and political rivalries, a mother mourning the death of her day-old infant enters the household of the powerful Cappelletti family to become the wet-nurse to their newborn baby. As she serves her beloved Juliet over the next fourteen years, the nurse learns the Cappelletti’s darkest secrets.

ruthsjourney Ruth’s Journey by Donald McCaig
A prequel to one of the most beloved and bestselling novels of all time, Gone with the Wind. The critically acclaimed author of Rhett Butler’s People magnificently recounts the life of Mammy, one of literature’s greatest supporting characters, from her days as a slave girl to the outbreak of the Civil War.

 

revenge Revenge by Stephen Fry  
This brilliant recasting of the classic story The Count of Monte Cristo centers on Ned Maddstone, a happy, charismatic, Oxford-bound seventeen-year-old whose rosy future is virtually pre-ordained. Handsome, confident, and talented, newly in love with bright, beautiful Portia, his father an influential MP, Ned leads a charmed life. But privilege makes him an easy target for envy, and in the course of one day Ned’s destiny is forever altered.

thehistorian The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
A woman discovers that the past of her family is connected to the stories of Vlad the Impaler, the man who inspired Dracula and must decide whether to follow her father in a hunt that nearly brought him to ruin years ago, when he was a vibrant young scholar and her mother was still alive.

 

deankoontzfrankenstein Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein: Prodigal Son
This is a retelling of Frankenstein set in New Orleans. In the 19th century, Dr. Victor Frankenstein brought his first creation to life, but a horrible turn of events forced him to abandon his creation and fall away from the public eye. Now, two centuries later, a serial killer is on the loose in New Orleans, and he’s salvaging body parts from each of his victims, as if he’s trying to create the perfect person. But the two detectives assigned to the case are about to discover that something far more sinister is going on…

widesargassosea Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys  
Jean Rhys brings into the light one of fiction’s most mysterious characters: the madwoman in the attic from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane EyreSet in the Caribbean, its heroine is Antoinette Cosway, a sensual and protected young woman who is sold into marriage to the prideful Rochester. In this best-selling novel, Rhys portrays a society so driven by hatred, so skewed in its sexual relations, that it can literally drive a woman out of her mind.

monsignorquixote Monsignor Quixote by Graham Greene
When Father Quixote, a local priest of the Spanish village of El Toboso who claims ancestry to Cervantes’ fictional Don Quixote, is elevated to the rank of monsignor through a clerical error, he sets out on a journey to Madrid to purchase purple socks appropriate to his new station. Accompanying him on his mission is his best friend, Sancho, the Communist ex-mayor of the village who argues politics and religion with Quixote and rescues him from the various troubles his innocence lands him in along the way.

There are many, many more books that are inspired by the classics. Sometimes even classics are inspired by other classics! What are your favorite classic spinoffs?

Front Row Seating

“The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”     – Hamlet, Act 2, scene 2

Back in the 80’s, when we still had a Shakespeare Theater down in Stratford, CT, there was a performance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth that was put on for all the high schools to come and see. Of all the plays, Macbeth seemed like it would be the most interesting, with witches and murder and blood, and big velvety Elizabethan costumes. I was excited – anything for a field trip and a day out of class. Until we got there. Some idiot had decided the best way for 1,500 rowdy high school kids to understand Shakespeare was to imagine it, with a play that had no scenery and no costumes – the entire set was draped in billowing soft blue nylon fabric, like the green-screens of modern movie-making, and the actors all wore tight-fitting outfits of the same blue, as if they’d just escaped from some monochromatic ballet. That was it. It was a total disaster. The audience was so bored and riled you couldn’t hear the dialogue for the catcalls. That is NOT the way to introduce children to Shakespeare.

The good thing is, you don’t have to be a Shakespeare scholar to enjoy a good play. Whether you’ve had to suffer through drudging high school productions of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town or been dazzled on Broadway by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan performing Waiting for Godot, a play is not a bad thing. Perhaps your only exposure to waiting-for-godot-ian-mckellen-patrick-stewarttheater has been dragging yourself through Oedipus or Antigone in school, not caring a flying duck about the role of the Chorus in Greek tragedy, just glad you scraped by and passed the test. The real tragedy of teaching plays as literature is that they are meant to be performed, not just read in a monotone like a stumbling seventh-grader who has no idea how to pronounce 15th century British comedies, let alone understand them. When performed, they come alive, like listening to a good movie on the television from the next room over. Even my five year old, with occasional explanations, could follow the movie version of Romeo and Juliet.

drama-collection_FRONT_349x349-300x300So if you’re a theater lover, or just a student struggling to understand Ibsen, Cheshire Library is ready to help! Our newest precious addition is a 25-volume audiobook collection of 250 plays and dramatic adaptions by L.A. Theaterworks. You won’t just hear the play, you’ll feel it, as you were meant to. The plays aren’t just read to you, but fully performed by an all-star cast of more than 1,000 actors you are probably familiar with – George Clooney, Calista Flockhart, Dan Castellaneta, Mark Ruffalo, Richard Dreyfus, Jean Stapleton, John de Lancie (who also wrote one of the Doyle adaptions), and so many, many more. Leonard Nimoy performing War of the Worlds with fellow Star Trek actors? Yeah, that’s in there too. Neil Simon, Chekhov, O’Neill, Miller, Shakespeare, Sophocles – they’re all here, ready to keep you entertained for a solid year of performances. Listen to one or listen to them all – you’ll be glad you did.

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I (Finally) Read “It”

I am not a fan of horror. I would not shut the shower door for ten years because Kolchak: The Night Stalker scared the daylights out of me. My father’s description of the movie Killdozer made me terrified of construction equipment – as if I wasn’t already, from a preschool nightmare involving dump trucks. I watched the original 1931 Dracula and got a bloody nose in sympathy. I won’t sleep in a room with a vacuum cleaner thanks to Zenna Henderson. I like sleeping at night, and I don’t need any more anxiety in my life. I have kids for that.

ZX0AYe8 It was my mother who got me reading Stephen King. I was about twelve, sick in bed, and Night Shift, his book of short stories, came out. Wouldn’t you know it, the light from the bathroom at night struck every knob on the dresser at just the right angle so each one looked like an eye staring at me, just like the cover story. I only dared read half of them, and never enjoyed going to the dry cleaners again. But I read The Shining (I will NOT go into a hotel bathroom without a light on), read The Stand (his best, I think), Cujo, The Dead Zone (more my style), Firestarter (I needed a book for the train back from Canada) and Christine (Like I didn’t suspect that already). One thing you can say about King without ever reading his books: he doesn’t write short volumes.

Jacket.aspxBut by Christine, I was Kinged out. The books were were getting to be too similar, and I moved on. That was how I missed reading It, the book everyone seems afraid of. I avoided it for the longest time, but it popped up in a series of references this year, and I decided the time had come to tackle it. I’d re-read The Stand, and The Shining, but nothing new of King’s in 30 years.

“It” tells the story of an evil presence that takes over4775612-3278691654-IT.jp the town of Derry, Maine, until a ragtag band of seven misfit children decide to take it on. Although the entity takes the shape of what scares a person most (werewolves, mummies, giant birds, etc), it often lures children to their deaths by taking the shape of a clown, Pennywise. I’ve never been afraid of clowns, though I understand the psychology behind it (like Daleks, you can’t read a clown’s frozen face, and it makes some people uneasy). I’m still not afraid of clowns; but I’m now nervous about balloons. Calling the evil “It” is a brilliant stroke of semantics – think of all the times you use the pronoun It: It was calling me. I tripped over It. It snuck up on me. I’m scared of it. You can’t help it; you can’t escape it. You talk about it all the time. Because you know it’s there. “It” can be anything, and you know it to be true.

But for everything anyone told me about the book, I think this is his worst that I’ve read. He’s written 55 novels, 200 short stories, comic books, films, has awards oozing out his ears – he knows what he’s doing. I don’t mind the back and forth nature of the story, bouncing between 1958 and 1985. The characters and style are classic King, but it is soooo long (1100+ pages), it really, really could have had sections of character description cut. It drags in places. It’s not the length: Game of Thrones is 1200 pages, scatmanbut I read it with more gusto. King’s name-dropping of characters from his other works grated on me. One is cool, but not several. Don’t stick Dick Hallorann in your book, a man with a strong sense of Shining (or, if you’re a Simpsons fan, Shinnin’), and have a catastrophe or a presence about that he doesn’t get ESP on. You laid Hallorann out in detail in The Shining; you let him drift in It. Sometimes the action is too cartoonish: having a victim’s head pop out of a box on a spring and go boing ruins my tension. I understand it might be appropriate to scare a child, but I’m not a child. Dolores Claiborne smashing my ankles with a sledgehammer makes me lie awake in a sweat all night. Cartoon boings don’t. I won’t tell the ending, but after fighting tooth and nail to wade through 1100 pages, I wanted more of a bang for my effort. The original Stand was 800 pages or so, and that ended with a nuclear explosion.

Yeah, yeah, I shouldn’t criticize King because he’s one of the most successful novelists images itof our time, and I don’t disagree with his talent. But perhaps he set his own bar too high. No one – not even Shakespeare – hits the nail of perfection every time. From the man who brought you Stand By Me, The Green Mile, Under the Dome, and so many, many wonderful tales, I just don’t think it’s his best.

What do you think is King’s best work – book or film?