Congratulations to contest winners Heather, Lara, Christine, and Mark! We’ll be in touch with you about your books.
Pride & Prejudice. Gone with the Wind. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Gulliver’s Travels. Frankenstein.
We know these classic stories and their beats, and can’t imagine them any other way. But some authors who can are part of a trend focused on reimagined classics. You only have to look at the recent surge of rebooted TV series to imagine why readers love them: They build upon characters we already know, and because spending time with those characters in the past was a positive experience, we lead with our plates, hungry for more.
Frankenstein is arguably one of our most iconic stories, but this monster has been born, yet again, thanks to two new books.
The first is through John Kessel’s novel of speculative fiction, Pride and Prometheus, which marries characters from not only Frankenstein but Pride and Prejudice. About John:
John Kessel teaches American literature and fiction writing at North Carolina State University where he helped found the MFA program in creative writing and served twice as its director. His speculative fiction includes the novels Pride and Prometheus, The Moon and the Other, Good News from Outer Space, Corrupting Dr. Nice, and Freedom Beach (with James Patrick Kelly). His fiction has received the Nebula Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, the Locus Award, the James Tiptree Jr. Award, and the Shirley Jackson Award.
The second is a 200th anniversary edition of Frankenstein itself, part of the Classics Reimagined series by Rockport Publishers. Acclaimed artist David Plunkert courts a 21st century audience with this classic work through fantastical new art, and with a fresh interpretation of Mary Shelley’s text. About David:
David Plunkert is a graphic designer, illustrator, and cartoonist, and co-founder of Spur Design in Baltimore, Maryland, with Joyce Hesselberth. His posters have been exhibited worldwide, and collected by the Library of Congress and the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum, among others. His illustrations have been internationally published, and his 8.28.17 cover for The New Yorker was named cover of the year by the Association of Magazine Editors. “Frankenstein: The 200th Anniversary Edition” is his 2nd illustrated hardcover for Rockport Publishers.
Below, we’ve woven together interviews with John and David, including their insights into reimagining classic works. We’ll also be giving away both books to commenters on today’s post, including 3 copies of Frankenstein, the 200th Anniversary Edition, and 1 copy of Pride and Prometheus. (Comments will close for the purposes of this contest on Tuesday, and winners will be announced shortly thereafter, following a random drawing.)
Q: John, what inspired you in the direction of Frankenstein, and made you feel there was story there yet to tell?
John Kessel: I’ve taught the book for many years and was very familiar with it. Despite the fact that it is such a well-known story, in fact almost every adaptation I have ever seen distorts it drastically. There are lots of things in there that will surprise people who are not familiar with the book. I am interested in the characters of Victor, Henry, and the Creature; I felt that there were things to think about in their personalities and motivations that have been unexplored.
The juxtaposition with Jane Austen also excited me. Even though the two novels were published only five years apart, I could hardly think of two books more different than Pride and Prejudice and Frankenstein: Austen is the grandmother of the realistic novel of manners, and Shelley is the grandmother of the science fiction novel. But the monster, like the Bennet sisters, is in search of an appropriate mate. What would happen if I crashed the two worlds together?
It was hard to find the right voice—the book alternates between the points of view of Mary Bennet, Victor, and his Creature. But that provided opportunities, too. In a way my novel is about a well-bred Austen heroine falling into the middle of Frankenstein, and how she reacts to the gothic melodrama around her that does not appear in Austen’s world.
Q: David, can you speak to the ability of art to freshen a story or even re-launch a story? We see this time and again when new covers are applied to books. What is the power of art? Do you think it’s under-utilized in the industry for novels?
David Plunkert: I don’t think it’s under-utilized generally on new fiction. Classic literature often gets shorted with the reuse of old paintings and the like for covers. New imagery allows the story to be better viewed with fresh eyes as opposed to just some old story. The cliche is true that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover but the cover is still an important spur to get folks to pick it up in the first place.
Q: John, how did you seek to stretch your protagonists beyond their known traits? Did you meet up with any resistance, and if so, how did you get beyond that? [Read more…]