Adaptations vs Continuations

We could create a simplistic typology of adaptations based on what they retain of the original.  Faithful adaptations, like the pious miniseries that BBC produced in the 60s and 70s, try to retain as much of the original as possible.  Then, on the one hand, we have adaptations that attempt to recreate the original narrative in a different setting (CluelessRomeo Must DieSparkhouse); and on the other hand, we have are things like unofficial sequels, retellings with different endings, and parodies of various sorts that diverge from the narrative structure of the original but retain a link to it through things like setting, personality of characters, and, more generally, the “world” in which it is set.

I’m not sure that this scheme will hold up to scrutiny.  The problem is that the “world” of a novel often seems to carry particular expectations about how the plot might unfold.  This is especially apparent in the trailer for that Jane Austen movie, in which the main character seems to believe that Jane Austen’s “world” has a distinctive narrative logic that dictates what types of stories might be told there.  The heroine always gets married at the end—and even if she doesn’t, that turn of events will be judged against the expectation that she does.  I am particularly interested in how this plays out in fanfiction.  The attempt to write not just a novel that was inspired by Jane Austen, but a new Jane Austen novel—as many have effectively attempted to do—would seem to involve following a set of rules that have been abstracted away from Austen’s work.  My question is, how do people determine what they can and cannot do in an attempt to imitate a particular author?  And is this different from the way people write original novels?

5 thoughts on “Adaptations vs Continuations

  1. I think Jeff’s comment could very useful to our constructing a typology. In fact, I’m going to be starting on Tues with examples of works (and interrelationships) that stretch the very idea of adaptation: Jane Gardam’s “Crusoe’s Daugher” (cover already posted) is obviously (from its title) related to Defoe, but it’s not so much and adaptation as an infiltration, with the heroin’s obsession with RC seeping into her own narrative; then there’s Wiggins’ “John Dollar” which picks up from both RC and “Lord of the Flies. One review of the Wiggins referred to her/her book as “Lady of the Flies.” More of this sort of thing. Responses to Jeff??

  2. I think that part of what’s difficult with faithful adaptation is that it’s far too easy for an audience to be overly critical, especially in our multimediated, WiFi world. I guess as a postmodernist, I’m most interested in what I’d like to call fractured adaptations – like the Gardam and the Wiggins – because they go beyond the original work. I’m really interested in how Jeff’s question about imitation and “rules” applies in this context.

    “Shakespeare’s Star Wars” seems like a good test case, in part because the “rules” of writing Shakespeare (at least in terms of language) are so much clearer than the “rules” of writing Austen. (In fact, Aya and I got in an interesting conversation yesterday about using the act of writing like a canonical author as a writing exercise.) Or, to take my chosen text, “R&G are Dead.” One of the things I’ll want to explore is how Stoppard manages to evoke and make fun of both Shakespeare and Beckett while staying true to his Stoppardian self (something I imagine a lot of fan fiction doesn’t care to try to do).

    • One of the things that struck me about “Shakespeare’s Star Wars” (from the Amazon preview) is how it seems to naturalize concepts from the Star Wars world that would have been unfamiliar to the initial audience of the film. The dramatis personae calls Obi-Wan Kenobi “a Jedi knight” as if this required no further explanation. This could be in part because the Shakespearean play format provides no obvious place to put such an explanation, but it also could be motivated by a consideration of the audience that is really being addressed – pretty much everyone who reads the book, I would assume, already knows what a Jedi knight is. Because of this, as much as the story has been moved into Shakespeare’s world, the imaginary William Shakespeare who wrote the play seems to have been transplanted into the “Star Wars” world – or at least into a world in which the basic concepts of Star Wars mythology are as familiar as, say, words like “fairy” were to the original audience of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

      • A very astute comment. One of the main problems in the theory of annotation is trying to steer a course between frustrating your reader by not providing information he/she needs to understand and annoying the reader by telling him/her stuff that is already well known. As the survivors of my 795 class who are in our current course will recall, one of the major embarrassments of a recent Yeats edition was its decision to annotate all proper names in the poems but not other allusions (on the theory that Yeats’s allusions were just that–allusions). But in practice the principle meant that when Yeats mentions “Christ” the editors dutifully supply an annotation “According to the Christian religion, the son of God,” and for a mention of “Ophelia” and “Hamlet,” the note “Characters in the play “Hamlet,” by British (!) author William Shakespeare”. Jeff’s argument that the play has shifted its audience from one context to another is very valid, but so is the point that the conventions of the renaissance dramatis personae would not have allowed a fuller explanation. For “Prince of Denmark” would we need an account of what “Denmark” would signify to a contemporary audience? And note that while “Claudius” appears as the name of the king in the dp, nowhere in the text itself does that identity appear. If you were just watching the play, you would never know what was the name of the “king.” A related problem occurs in Stoppard, where the script uses speech heads for R & G (so the actors know what they’re supposed to say), nowhere in the actual playing is it clear who is who: in fact, that’s one of the ironies.

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