Adaptations and Inspirations

A reader sent me some interesting feedback in response to last week's column. He said that books told from the perspective of the madwoman in the attic in Jane Eyre bore him blue, that original fiction, no matter how wild, is more interesting than that which poaches on other writers' preserves and asked what's next, a Sherlock Holmes sequel or prequel? While part of me agrees with him, it is difficult for new writers to live up to our love of old stories and beloved characters, the majority of me thinks he is dead wrong. Some of my favorite stories, books and films are inspired by, or take place in universes created by, other authors. From new takes on fairy tales to interesting combinations of characters (Sherlock Holmes and Dracula anyone?) there is tons of well written, fun and intriguing "derivative" material out there.

As far back as I can remember I've been fond of fairy tales, the dark ones, the real ones, the original ones where Cinderella's stepsisters cut off part of their feet so they’ll fit into the glass (or fur) slipper. Imagine my delight when I discovered an entire genre of retellings, new twists, or adult/modern versions of fairy tales. (For my own take on Cinderella and what happily ever meant, click here.) Jane Yolen's Briar Rose is a beautiful, moving story based on Sleeping Beauty that takes place in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. I know, I know, that may sound less than promising but trust me. I read this book more than a decade ago and it still haunts me. I cried until I got the hiccups and it ruined me for other books for a bit. When I finished it I couldn't read anything else because nothing else lived up to it. It's that good.

Freeway is a graphic, bloody, hilarious, dark comedy starring Reese Witherspoon (Legally Blonde, Walk the Line) as Vanessa Lutz, aka Little Red Riding Hood. A juvenile delinquent who's been in trouble after trouble, she's just trying to get to her grandma (who lives in a trailer park, natch.) Unfortunately she catches a ride with a serial killer with a taste for underage girls called Bob Wolverton, played brilliantly by Kiefer Sutherland (24, Lost Boys.) Ms. Witherspoon is riveting in this role, completely believable as a tough, angry, smart, streetwise teenager who will do whatever it takes to get to her beloved granny.

The Baum Plan For Financial Independence by John Kessel takes place in Oz, not Australia, but the land invented by L. Frank Baum. Starring a young man called Sid who is fresh out of prison and in love with a young girl called Dot, it's the story of what happens when they break into a house and discover a mysterious subway system built into the recesses of the vacation home and take a ride to an unknown destination. I like this one so much I've read it three times.

Sometimes I wonder if there's anything Neil Gaiman has written that wasn't influenced, in at least a small way, by the incredible amount of mythology, folklore, fairy tales and legends he's been absorbing since he was a small boy who learned he could get out of class and spend the day in the school library by pleading a headache. You can listen to the online version of Seeing Ear Theater's presentation of his story Snow, Glass, Apples by clicking here. In this interesting take on Snow White, Bebe Neuwirth (Liberty Heights, Cupid & Cate, Cheers) plays the Queen, a woman whose stepdaughter has terrible secrets that force her stepmother to do terrible things. I first read Snow, Glass, Apples in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Twelfth Annual Collection several years and was very excited to find the dramatization of this very creepy, masterful story.

There are a billion more that merit discussion, including at least million retellings of Shakespeare's work, like West Side Story, which is of course Romeo and Juliet, but we're just about out of space so we may just continue this theme another time. Before I say adieu, we must have our famous one sentence review, which comes from me. I watched a new show on TBS this week called My Boys and have this to say, "It's not actually a television show, it's a big old commercial for an online dating site. " Have you got a one-sentence review? Send it in to me and I'll run the best ones. You can reach me at