Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Pondering the Ctrl Alt Delete

By Bethany Maines

Date night this weekend involved going to see Star Trek: Into Darkness.  For those who have managed to enjoy the inundation of movie previews, the original Jim Kirk era of Star Trek was given a “reboot” a few years ago, and Into Darkness was the sequel. I’m enjoying this iteration of Star Trek, but it got me to thinking about the entire concept of reboots.

The current reboot fad seems to have come mostly from the comic book world, where characters must evolve with changing times and changing teams of writers and artists and no one person “owns” the character the way a novelist owns their inventions. However, anytime the words “comic book” get uttered, people seem to become dismissive of whatever information surrounds the words in that sentence, so let’s look at the example of Sherlock Holmes. It’s been estimated that he’s the most prolific character in the history of cinema. He’s been old, he’s been young, he’s been a cucumber. (Yes, a cucumber – InVeggieTales of course.)  The character of Sherlock endures across the iterations and seeps into our collective consciousness.  But how does it work?  How can we, the audience, accept a new Sherlock, or a new Spock? 

I think the number one reason audiences will accept a new version of our favorite characters is that we love them.  It’s just that the original series of Star Trek only lasted 3 years, and Sir Doyle only wrote four novels and a handful of short stories about Sherlock. I think we all would like more about our favorites, but “more” literally doesn’t exist.  Of course, if you screw up the reboot we will hate you forever for messing with our favorite characters. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Halle Berry, worst Catwoman of all time.) At the end of the day, a reboot is only successful if it stays true enough to the character to feel right to the audience.

Now here’s the question I’ve been pondering: Can reboots work in literature?  Novels based on the work of other authors has been not just panned, but hated.  Nancy Drew, our favorite Titian-haired heroine, with her rotating cast of Carolyn Keene’s has been rebooted a few times, but I would say that she is the exception rather than the rule. Perhaps reboots only work when a character belongs to a corporation or is transferred to a new medium. Are there any novelists who have rebooted their own characters?  What character from literature would you like to see rebooted?


  1. I don't think it's as much the corporate ownership (although that's a very good point) or the difference in medium per se. I think a big part of why written word fiction doesn't tolerate reboot is that it's on a different scale of and a different kind of creator-to-audience work.

    A novel is YOU, the writer, maybe you and a partner working on one vision. Maybe you have a good umbrella influence, fairly invisible to the reader of a good editor. But, get down to the consumption and it's writer-to-reader, alone.

    A filmed work is lots more people communicating to lots more people. It's screenwriter, director, producer(s), editor, set designer, costuming, sound, music, and on and on. The consumption does happen with that work to one person, but it's also often designed to be and enjoyed as a "plus one" or even bigger group "reading" of the work.

    For good or bad, one is a shared experience more than the other, so I think audiences are more primed to share in and accept other iterations and versions. Novels are intensely personal, for all concerned. And, that bit of privacy and even intimacy is very dear to all concerned.

    That said, there's a good reason why lots of movies are adaptations of books. The characters and stories are already vetted and cherished and films can capitalize on that audience with an accepted expansion of it all. And, sometimes that doesn't work. People reject the transformed vision sometimes, and sometimes they just pack it away with their own personal movie they made while reading the book!

    I can't think of a "rewrite" I'd like to see, or by extension a re-read I'd like to make. But, I can think of lots of characters and places I'd like to read more about.

  2. Well, to use your example of Sherlock Holmes, Bethany, a fair number of those reboots have come in books. I think, first of all, of Nicholas Meyer's The Seven Percent Solution, which was a novel before it became a movie--and there have been many others. Currently, a number of mystery writers are rebooting Jane Eyre, Elizabeth Bennett, and many other Austen characters in novels. In literary novels, it's also common. Think of the recent novel (made into a film)The Hours that was essentially a reboot of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway.

    Interesting post with lots to think about. Thanks.

  3. Hmm, what a fun idea, Bethany! Mine's a nobrainer, but I'd love to see Miss Scarlet resurrected! Of course, another tale on any classic character lends itself to all kinds of interesting ideas!