With 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and even Star Trek, the notion of transformative work has been a particularly hot topic these past few months. Transformative work not only plays havoc with intellectual property law, but also with the audience as storytellers take our familiar, beloved characters and then subvert them entirely. Holden Caulfield is 76 years old and on the run from a nursing home, Elizabeth Bennett defends her family from hoards of zombies, and James Tiberius Kirk finds himself without a father and a long way to go before he can become captain of the USS Enterprise. The result is all the more shocking and enlightening given the juxtaposition of the transformed work with our knowledge of the original work.
It’s a compelling artistic endeavor. And transformative work is nothing new. Fans of Homer’s The Odyssey and The Iliad wrote their own books based on his works. Cervantes’ Don Quixote saw more than a few unauthorized published sequels. John Gardner’s Grendel, a re-telling of Beowulf from the monster’s point of view, was published to great acclaim (which, being one of my favorite books, I definitely recommend you giving it a read). Gregory Maguire’s best-selling Wicked, an alternate take on The Wizard of Oz, is now one of Broadway’s biggest hits. You get the idea.
But what about fan-made transformative works? While there are countless pieces of fan fiction and fan art out there, in which fans take their favorite characters and merely continue their stories, genuine transformative works are far less common. But as few and far-between as they may be, their stories really resonate.
After the jump, a short list of lesser-known, but by no means lesser-quality, fan-made transformative storytelling that challenge the old adage “there are no new stories.”
When Batman: Ashes to Ashes debuted this past May, reactions were polarized, to say the least. Some people absolutely detested the film, which featured graphic violence and a demonlike, malevolent Batman. Others praised writer/directors Julien Mokrani and Samuel Bodin’s unique reimagining of Gotham and its hero, as well as their moving depiction of the film’s morally dubious protagonists.
Photographer Dina Goldstein was intrigued by the adoration little girls held for Disney fairy tale princesses, having lived abroad and never been exposed to them herself. In her photo series “The Fallen Princesses,” Goldstein honors the Brothers Grimm’s original, more gruesome telling of these classic stories and places Disney’s picture-perfect princesses in modern-day scenarios. Goldstein says, “in all of the images the Princess is placed in an environment that articulates her conflict. The ‘…happily ever after’ is replaced with a realistic outcome and addresses current issues.”
Some More Fallen Princesses: Behind the Scenes
Talented young photographer Rosie Hardy takes the “fallen princesses” concept in a slightly different direction. Rather than depicting fairy tale princess’ possibly devastating futures, she imagines a darker side to them, and in several photos discusses a social or political issue. Little Red Riding Hood unleashes a fearful creature on her grandmother, an ugly sister wants to reconcile, Belle has a drinking problem, and Dorothy is banned from Oz due to immigration discrimination.
Tomorrow’s Memoir, written and directed by Jim Cliffe, follows an elderly gentleman who has withdrawn from society that he believes has deceived him. As crisis develops in his city, flashbacks reveal that this man has led an unusual life. He is bitter, regretful, full of secrets, and actually a superhero you know very well (but we won’t tell you who—you’ll have to watch the rest of the film to find out).
In this remixed narrative by Jonathon McIntosh of RebelliousPixels.com, Twilight‘s Edward Cullen meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. McIntosh says: “It’s an example of transformative storytelling serving as a pro-feminist visual critique of Edward’s character and generally creepy behavior. Seen through Buffy’s eyes, some of the more sexist gender roles and patriarchal Hollywood themes embedded in the Twilight saga are exposed—in hilarious ways.”
Honorary Mention: James Potter and the Hall of Elders’ Crossing
OK, so this is really more of a derivative work than a transformative work. But I think a 360-page (!) web novel based on the Harry Potter series, which has been commended for being actually quite good, deserves a mention on any list. Composed in 2007 by computer animator George Norman Lippert, James Potter and the Hall of Elders’ Crossing takes place 18 years after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. James is starting his first year of Hogwarts, and even though Voldemort isn’t around anymore, boy oh boy does chaos ensue.
If you want to create your own transformative story based on your favorite characters, and especially if you plan on distributing it (even just for free), I’d recommend brushing up on intellectual property law. The Organization for Transformative Works has some helpful resources, and of course, Wikipedia always works in a pinch. And finally, if your transformative story requires costumes or props and eBay isn’t satisfying your needs, check out the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company, online purveyors of high-quality crimefighting merchandise such as capes, secret identities, gadgets, and lairs (and also home of 826NYC).
What say you: are there any fan-made works we failed to mention?