The literature of childhood, filled with resonant characters, plots, and settings, can be a rich mine of inspiration for writers. Fantastical books such as Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz seem to lend themselves particularly to dark or twisted retellings, as can be seen in titles like Gena Showalter's Alice in Zombieland, The Lost Girls by Laurie Fox, Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Wicked by Gregory Maguire or in recent television shows like Once Upon a Time. Other authors have turned their enthusiasm and affection for childhood favorites into charming romances with a familiar flavor.
Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped gets a sex reversal and the old Harlequin title treatment to amusingly become Kidnapped: His Innocent Mistress. Nicola Cornick sets her homage fifty years later than the original and avoids the political aspects of the plot (which is kind of a shame, since having the romantic hero be the narrator's original companion, the dashing Jacobite Alan Stewart, could have been awesome for fans—though seriously complicated by the fact that Stewart was a real historical personage.) But like David Balfour, our Scottish heroine Catriona is kidnapped and shipwrecked; since she has the good fortune to experience both in the company of Neil Sinclair, a young man she's very attracted to, being stranded on a desert island takes on a whole different flavor:
Neil was extraordinarily gentle as he plied the comb, patiently teasing out each curl and tendril, loosening the knows. The sun was hot on my back and the rum was warm in my blood, and I felt soft and melting and breathless beneath his ministrations.
As you can see, Kidnapped: His Innocent Mistress also borrows the original's first-person narrative style and the fashions of descriptive chapter headings: “Chapter One, In which I meet the hero, as all good heroines should.”
Sandra Schwab's intensely angsty historical romance Betrayal has an unexpected genesis: the German children's book Das doppelte Lottchen, which is most familiar to Americans as the source of the lighthearted Disney movie, The Parent Trap. The original story is about two look-alike girls who meet unexpectedly and discover they're actually identical twins who were separated; one lives with their mother, the other with their father, and neither had any idea they had another living parent and a sibling. Although Schwab's homage naturally focuses more on the romantic elements of the separation between the parents than on the children, she fills her version with numerous small parallels to delight those who know the original; the contrasting personalities of the twins (now teenaged boys) are similar, as are the amusing mistakes they make when they secretly trade places with one another.
Thank You, Mrs. M. by Kate Rothwell comes closer to an actual rewrite, using the basic plot of Jean Webster's Daddy Long-Legs in a way which captures its essential spirit but also creates something intriguingly new.
In the original story, an orphan named Judy is sent to college by an anonymous male benefactor. Judy is required to write a monthly progress report, but her loneliness and love of writing lead her to send frequent chatty letters, which become a form of confessional for her as her adult life becomes more complicated; she doesn't realize that the unknown man she nicknamed “Daddy Long Legs” is falling in love with her. Rothwell's version is about former chop shop worker Ben, who records his “letters” for the woman he dubs “Mrs. Moneybags” in highly colorful language—but it does more than simply update the story and reverse the sexes. Although both narrators are highly intelligent, Judy's orphanage upbringing left her woefully ignorant about almost everything, while Ben has had to painfully learn street smarts. Judy is completely alone; Ben is the mainstay of his younger siblings. And while Judy's education is initially an act of careless philanthropy from a powerful man; Ben's benefactor has more personal motives.
What's common to both of them is the intellectual excitement the characters find in their unexpected education, their determination not to remain dependent, and the joy they feel from realizing that someone is actually listening and cares about them:
Ben grabbed up the recorder before he even dumped his knapsack and helmet.
“Shit. The hospital called. I don’t know if I want to kick your ass or kiss it. You paid off the fu—effing bill. You really do listen to this stuff I say? Honestly? What the hell for? Some poor shit babbling about his life? Why do you care?”
He shrugged off the pack, sank onto the couch and stared down at the recorder. “I guess I forgot I wasn’t just talking to myself. It’s bizarre to understand that you actually exist. Mrs. Moneybags."
Rothwell's story is wonderful in its own right, but it also added something new to my understanding of Daddy Long-Legs. Ben's sweet protectiveness with his love at the end of the story makes it clear that despite money and class differences, he isn't feeling a power imbalance. Similarly, the penniless, dependent orphan Judy has gained tremendous personal and financial power by the end of her story, something which is often left out of interpretations of it as just a Cinderella story.
Do you enjoy reworkings of your childhood favorites? Do they ever add to your appreciation of the original?