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Friday, March 05, 2010


More great stuff in Newsweek, this time about books:

Fun, scolding piece about knock-offs of Jane Austen. Here's an excerpt:

For too long, even orthodox "Janeites" have blithely accepted the appropriation of Jane Austen's books, so long as it meant more to greedily gobble—a far cry from strict constructionists of Shakespeare or, say, the Bible. Modern Austen pastiche is practically an industry, and business is booming. Quirk Classics saw a surprise sales coup (1 million copies in print) with last spring's "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," which naturally has given birth to a sequel—actually a prequel: Dawn of the Dreadfuls, out March 23. In theaters next year, Zombies will star Natalie Portman as a nunchuk-wielding, undead-slaying Lizzy.

. . . The publishing momentum is too great to stop—not that critics are trying. They chortled with Zombies, not at it, and the book sold out on the strength of flattering coverage in Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times, and beyond. To be fair, Quirk's covers do promise some zippy intellectual gamesmanship. The front of Zombies—a serene Regency woman with a bloody, half-eaten jaw—is a very credible ad for Duchampian wit. Unfortunately, the 320 pages murder the joke. But a funny cover is to books what a good trailer is to movies—more than enough. As the cash poured in, Quirk broke out its finest vintage of grand pretense, claiming it was doing no less than reviving young-adult reading.

[It ends with this call to arms] . . . Yet, in a mashup marketplace, familiarity with authentic Austen seems on the verge of fading—unless someone speaks up. So where are you, harrumphing English teachers with Austen-filled syllabi? Old boots with poodles named Darcy? Crazy person who paid $11,000 at auction for a lock of Jane's hair? Consider this your conscription notice.

And really terrific piece discussing Alice in Wonderland. The whole article is great, but this is the part I found myself thinking about most, especially since I work a few blocks from the Syracuse Stage, where the current show is based on guess-what-story, called "Looking GLass Alice."

This [Burton's very "literalized" interpretation] is especially disappointing when you consider how elastic Alice's imaginary Wonderland has been over the years. Her story has been made (and remade) into ballets, puppet shows, an opera, and even a pornographic musical. It's also been the template for any number of children's tales. L. Frank Baum changed Alice's pet from Dinah the cat to Toto the dog and transported her from England to America to create The Wizard of Oz. (In the book, Oz isn't a dream, but the 1939 movie version even swipes that from Carroll.) Children's author Maurice Sendak has a photograph of Alice Liddell, the girl who inspired Carroll's tale, in his studio. Is it because Where the Wild Things Are is a variation of the same story with monsters? The rabbit hole is replaced by an oversize closet in the Narnia books and a train platform in Harry Potter. Grown-ups liked her too. She helped give voice to John Lennon's trippiest lyrics and gave John Mayer his most popular song (Mayer haters, you can blame his fame on Alice). It's not an exaggeration to call Alice in Wonderland the most influential children's book of all time.


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