Don’t Degrade Classic Material, Expand It

What not to do with a Classic, image courtesy of Warner Bros

I went to see “Wrath of the Titans” with a buddy of mine the other week. To be frank, it was a pathetic movie. Poorly written, poorly conceived, and poorly directed. To make it worse, it absolutely butchered Greek Mythology, hence this post.

We are surrounded by superior stories composed of powerful archetypes that have survived for hundreds, even thousands, of years. The mythos of our forbears, the brilliance of Shakespeare, the ballads of legends, and the tales of folklore. These are great stories! Passed on for generation to generation they have survived, for the most part, undisturbed. But for some reason that I can’t comprehend, recent authors and screenwriters have been obsessed with “deconstructing” and further modifying these stories, almost to the point of being unrecognizable.

Wrath of the Titans is just the latest in a long line of defaming works, both versions of it’s predecessor “Clash of the Titans” were equally corrupted (Perseus had the winged sandals of Hermes, the hero Bellerophon rode Pegasus! Come on!). The BBC’s Robin Hood series had Maid Marion as a vigilante ninja, for God’s sake! Whyte’s Arthurian work portrays Lancelot as a cowardly braggart, and don’t get me started on the ridiculous Camelot series on Showtime or the wretched mash-up of First Knight. And don’t get me started on the utter mash-up that was “Troy.”

I could go on and on, but I think you’re getting the picture.

When using classic material as a source for a new work, I think writers need to adopt a form of the Hypocratic Oath: “First do no Harm.” The legends are just that — legends, and, as such, there is a lot of wiggle room. Most only cover very specific events, after all. So, you have the time between adventures to fill — and, I feel, it is in those spaces where reader’s imagination truly lies. What was it like for these heroes to grow up? What happened when they got old? What happened in the time between Ballad 1 and Ballad 2? What lessons did they learn from their extraordinary adventures?

This is the very tact I’m taking with my own work, Lancelot. The Vulgate cycle, Le Morte D’Arthur, and the Idylls of the King provide incredibly rich course material, but still leave tons of gaps in the stories. The Lancelot books wedge themselves into a couple of those gaps, looking to explore the great knight’s childhood in the land of the fey, as well as the events surrounding his role in the fall of Camelot. There are a ton of stories to tell, just in those two areas, that remain in line with existing works, and expand the stories we love instead of trampling on them.

The bottom line: History has shown that these great stories and legends are strong enough to withstand the test of time and inspire millions with their words and ideas. Who are we to change them? Instead, seek to enrich them, and us, with your own contribution. Not as a censor or editor, but as a literary explorer uncovering new treasures.

About Rob McClellan

Rob is the founder of ThirdScribe, a unique author services platform and social network. As a naval officer and diver, he spent a majority of his career doing a lot more than you would think with a lot less than you can imagine -- a skill that has proven extremely valuable in the start-up world. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

3 Responses to Don’t Degrade Classic Material, Expand It

  1. I felt that way when I met you. You just needed a little cleaning up is all, never want to change you..don’t mess with a good thing, just give him an eyebrow wax and new haircut.

  2. You have spelled out my pet peeve about historical fiction. Biblical fiction. Mythological fiction. Using an established frame that already registers with the audience is a great tool, and makes for works that will explore more deeply a thought pattern already established. But like math, the frame should be treated as the constant! I love fiction that explores the gaps with a proposed storyline, but incorporates the known facts intact. THANK YOU.

    • Profile Cover Art

      Lisa, love the mathematical-literary connection! Pass this post along — maybe we’ll be able to start a groundswell of like-minded people and writer’s will take the hint. I love that people want to tell so many interesting and fascinating stories, but there’s no need to twist an existing legend in the hopes of making it more appealing to a larger audience. Seems disrespectful. I liked Fuqua’s King Arthur movie for the story, but I failed to see any need to have the King Arthur legend involved in that story — it’s almost as if it were a marketing ploy. Too many examples to count these days, it’s just a trend that needs to end.

      Thanks again for swinging by and commenting!

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