There and Back Again

By Julia

After reading H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, I wanted a sequel. Or a spin-off. Or a retelling.

And, after looking at the Wikipedia page for the novel (I LOVE WIKIPEDIA) I saw that many authors must have thought the same thing, because the book has inspired several movies, spin-offs, sequels, and books influenced by characters and plotlines from the original book.

What is it about classic stories that make readers go crazy and say, I want more?

belletardis
TARDIS, Time Machine, second star to the right and straight on ’til morning, doesn’t matter the answer is YES (image source: Karen Hallion)

Remediation is a HUGE trend in media—and retellings of classic stories have been popular since stories were invented. Over break, I heard one of my brother’s friends saying that he was annoyed that every movie lately seemed to be a retelling of a book or comic, and no one was making anything new.

Financially, this is a smart move, because move makers know that films based on popular stories like Marvel comics are guaranteed to be a box office success. But I think our obsession with remediation goes deeper than that.

First of all, in classic stories, there is often little interiority. For example, take fairy tales: we have no idea what’s going through Rumpelstilskin’s head when he makes a deal with the miller’s daughter. Why the heck does he even WANT her firstborn baby? It’s a pretty random request—one that we don’t ever get to understand in the story. And in Cinderella, why does she have a fairy godmother? Does the fairy godmother like her job, or is she wishing she could have a shot at the prince herself? Retellings of these classic stories give readers answers to the question of interiority.

Secondly, classic stories follow well-known story structures (like the Hero’s Journey). Who can resist a quest? These structures lend themselves to remediation, because they can be told through so many mediums. It’s entertaining to watch a quest in a movie, because there are so many visual opportunities. It’s entertaining to read about one, because often quests involve character development for a hero that is described in beautiful language. And it’s entertaining to experience the quest for yourself by playing the story in a video game.

Lastly, I think stories that become timeless have another thing in common—deep, resounding themes. By stripping a story of character interiority and relying on historically developed story structures, legendary tales explore deep themes about human nature, relationships, and, in the case of this story, what the future holds.

If you can’t tell, I love story retellings. Sometimes as a writer, it’s easy to get frustrated and say WHY BOTHER. EVERYTHING HAS ALREADY BEEN WRITTEN. But then, if it’s already been written, that makes our job easier…we can just write the same thing again. And maybe the second time, we’ll discover something new. After all, the Time Traveller goes back again…

“I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else.”

-Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane

🙂 My Shakespeare retelling:

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