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.