Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tarting Up the Classics

By Hilary Davidson

Back in high school, when I read Jules Verne's classic novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, I remember thinking, "This book would be perfect if only Jules had added some Fifty Shades of Grey-style sex!" And now, a British press called Total-E-Bound Publishing has done it, launching a new imprint called Clandestine Classics. Thanks to Mr. Verne's new coauthor, Marie Sexton, there's a "sexy and temperamental harpooner" aboard to mix things up. Ahoy, matey!

Truth be told, it hurts my head to imagine classic novels being used — and abused — like this. I love it when someone reinterprets a classic novel in a fresh way — or even a twisted way — in film or theater.  But the concept of having a new writer hack apart the original book, insert some sex scenes, and stitch the whole thing together feels like a literary Frankenstein monster. (What do you want to bet that Total-E-Bound Publishing has Mary Shelley's Frankenstein on deck next? Because what that book lacks is a solid monster-on-scientist spanking scene.)

According to the founder of Total-E-Bound Publishing, Claire Siemaszkiewicz, "We're not rewriting the classics. We're keeping the original prose and the author's voice. We're not changing any of that. But we want to enhance the novels by adding the 'missing' scenes for readers to enjoy."

Enhance? Enjoy? There are fine examples of writers taking works created by another author and doing something wonderful with them. Robert B. Parker took four chapters of an unfinished novel by Raymond Chandler and created a book, Poodle Springs, with them. More recently, Ace Atkins wrote an original novel based on Robert B. Parker's own immortal detective, Spenser. Hell, I'm still planning to read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. But the idea of a publisher pawing at classic books, tarting them up and making them turn tricks, is downright creepy. Trading all of the sexual tension in Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice for a "sexy and temperamental harpooner" is as unsexy as it gets.

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Huge, heartfelt congrats to two friends with new novels that are out today: Megan Abbott with Dare Me and Sean Chercover with The Trinity Game. Both books belong at the top of your must-read list!


Steve Weddle said...

They put zombies in them.
They put seamonsters in them.
They put sexxxy time in them.
Seems they all sell.

Chris said...

I'm just pissed I can no longer use "sexy and temperamental harpooner" as my Twitter bio.

Hilary Davidson said...

Thank you both for stopping by!

Steve, I think the reason that zombies being added to Pride & Prejudice didn't bother me was that no one was trying to pretend it was still Jane Austen's original prose and voice. It was a literary mash-up, kind of like a musician sampling an old melody in a new song. But adding so-called "missing scenes" to a classic work makes me feel ill. It doesn't matter whether they're sex scenes or dinner party scenes or philosophic discourses, they just don't belong in the book. (PS I really, really hope they don't sell.)

Chris, I think I just fell off my desk chair laughing. Maybe you can sue the publisher for infringing on your trademark?

Meredith Cole said...

I hope they don't sell, either, Hilary. But I'm afraid they will. And who knows what other books are next on the list! Ack.

D. D. Syrdal said...

The Jane Austen rip-offs were bad enough. What I want to know is, why doesn't this crap fall under the heading of 'fan fiction'? I guess it doesn't matter since the classics are out of copyright. Let he who has no imagination copy, I suppose.

Stevie said...

"What do you want to bet that Total-E-Bound Publishing has Mary Shelley's Frankenstein on deck next? Because what that book lacks is a solid monster-on-scientist spanking scene."

Don't give these people any ideas. They'll do it.

Thanks for a great post.

Chris said...

Y'all are gonna get a little tetchy tomorrow when I come out in favor of this project in my post, aren't you? (No, really -- I do.)

Hilary Davidson said...

D.D. Syrdal makes a fair point — this really is fan fiction. I think what's new is that a publisher thinks she can make money from it. Given that there are countless free websites devoted to fan fiction, I have my doubts. (Though some of the fan fiction that's out there is really creepy. I just did a quick search on Google, and let's just say that I now feel sorry for certain Harry Potter characters.)

Thanks to Meredith and Stevie for your comments! I can't wait to see what Mr. Holm argues tomorrow. For now, I'm betting that Clandestine Classics bribed him by putting him on the cover of the revamped Jules Verne book as that "sexy and temperamental harpooner."

Steve Weddle said...

I don't have a problem with this, I don't think.
But, honestly, this doesn't impact anything for me.

Many, many people are lousy readers. They spend their time on terrible books. If they want to read VILLETTE, they still can. Or they can read VILLETTE AND THE VERY ENDOWED VINTNER.

They're not altering my copy. They're just providing something else for those people who read 50 SHADES and TWILIGHT and all the other pr0n and children's books that adults like to read.

I see many, many people sitting around reading lousy books. This is just something else for them.

Add zombies. Add panties. Whatevs.

Reece said...

I guess what goes around comes around. Fifty Shades is supposed to have gotten its start as Twilight fan fiction. So what's next -- erotic zombie fiction?

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

The words (or suggested image) "solid monster-on-scientist spanking scene" made me spray my coffee across my computer screen. And who is to say those scenes are "missing?" Maybe the "missing scenes" committed suicide after realizing publishing has hit rock bottom.

Alan Orloff said...

I'm with you, Hilary. I shudder to think what they might do with the Curious George books!

Laura said...

I probably shouldn't mention my 50 Shades of Grey / Metamorphosis crossover, then.