Classic, Classic

Who Wants to Rewrite a Classic?

By Jeff Salter

Topic: If asked to rewrite/modernize a classic novel, which one would I want to adapt?

This week’s topic was a real struggle for me. While I have, indeed, read and studied MANY classic novels over the course of my K-12 school years – and as a “Lit” major in college – I’ve arrived at several conclusions that interfere with a cogent response to this topic.

1. I find I’ve forgotten most of the fiction titles / authors I read — whether as class assignments or for my own enjoyment / enlightenment.

2. of the titles I do remember, I realize I cannot recall enough of their plots or characters to make a stab at how I might alter them now.

3. of the titles I do remember, have retained a bit of detail from, AND enjoyed at the time… I guess I can say I wouldn’t want to change much of anything. [A good example: “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. Loved the book, read it twice… but wouldn’t change a thing.]

So, as I sometimes do on Hound Day, I’m gonna fudge a little… and approach this topic NOT by the front porch entrance… but by sneaking through the garage door, so to speak.

What if I took a story like William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” and switched the characters from British boys to a group of American GIRLS? And instead of an uninhabited island… shifted the setting to a vast forest in the northwest U.S. Then I’d slide the timeframe from the early 1950s to, say, the early 1980s (before cell phones). [We could keep the scene with the wild pig.]

What if I took one of William Faulkner’s titles and EDITED those ponderous, convoluted, 200-word sentences… into intelligible dialog or simple declarative sentences? Instead of the reader having to struggle to comprehend what the heck Faulker’s narrator / character is trying to express, the reader could focus on the POINT / substance of their exchange!

What if I took one of Shakespeare’s plays and updated all that courtly Elizabethan English into modern conversational wording? Sure, we’d lose some of the beauty of the best speeches… but we’d also be able to hurry along those lengthy stretches where characters can’t quite decide what they’re going to do or what might happen when they do it. Imagine, for example, if I condensed Hamlet’s famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy into a simple sentence or two. Instead of all that irresolute hand-wringing, maybe it could read like this: “Hmm. Life really stinks, but death probably stinks as bad or worse. I don’t know which is nobler and I can’t quite make up my mind. Maybe I’ll just muddle along and see what havoc and misery I can cause.” My approach could transform a six-hour production into a 90-minute made-for-TV movie!

What if I took “The Beast in the Jungle” (by Henry James) and stripped away all the agonizing doom and doubt… and cut all the dreary anguish of that period’s societal mores? What if John Marcher simply accepted the possibility of a future catastrophic “end” to his life… and decided, “what the heck? I’m still alive and healthy NOW. Maybe I should hook up with May Bartram and we can enjoy at least a few years together.” What if John and May had simply “opened up” to each other, in plain language, and expressed their fears and doubts… and feelings for each other? At least that would’ve cleared the air and perhaps alleviated some of their oppressive guilt and regret.

Obviously, most of the above is tongue-in-cheek. Although I did fall out of grace with a college lit professor who ADORED Henry James… when I basically said to her what I wrote here about “The Beast in the Jungle.” She was so aghast at my heresy that she was momentarily speechless. And my grade that semester clearly reflected my heretical views on her literary idol (James).


What about YOU? Which classic book would you like to overhaul? What would you change?

[JLS # 555]


About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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12 Responses to Classic, Classic

  1. I’m ready with mine for tomorrow. I had to grab one rather short one that I had just heard on audiobook last month with all that is going on, but I understand the ponderousness of some books.
    I read a lot of Russian literature when I was a teen but I have to admit that it could be quite wordy, but even so, I could never get past the beginning of any Dostoyevsky. If someone would update him, I might ‘get’ what everyone always admired about his works.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jbrayweber says:

    Like you, I can’t remember the titles and plots of the classics I had to read. That was years ago! The only ones I remember anything at all about are The Great Gatsby, a few Robert Frost shorts, and Tennesse Williams’ A Street Car Named Desire. Maybe I would adapt an Edgar Allen Poe story to use more modern wording (like you would with Shakespear). Or maybe I would adapt Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery to a more modern time period. Cell phone technology sure does muddy up the waters, so (also like you with LOTF) I would likely set it in the 1980s.

    Great topic!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Yeah, some of Poe’s work could certainly do with a bit of revision. I found some of his poems to be so repetitive that it was almost tedious. He was good building up tension in some of his stories, but even those seemed (to me) to be over-played in dramatics.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As I mentioned before, I wouldn’t think of changing any of the classic works. But I’m not surprised at your comment on “The Lord of the Flies.” 🙂 That’s basically what you did with the movie “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.” LOL But don’t you dare touch my Shakespeare. Not one line of it, Jeff. Don’t get my Irish up. (narrowed eyes, stifled giggle)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Elaine Cantrell says:

    I love your take on Faulkner. Someone really does need to do that.


  5. Patricia Kiyono says:

    A female version of Lord of the Flies would be interesting. And your other suggestions would make several of these titles easier to digest. Have at it!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love your ideas for Lord of the Flies. Instead of a rewrite it is more of an inspired by novel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Yeah, somewhat like new novels in which Sherlock Holmes has a great niece or a granddaughter who takes over the detecting business and solves high profile crimes.


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