Required Reading: 11 Great Literary Spin-offs

Parallel novels are the alternative histories of the fiction world. They take the structure, setting, or characters of a different work of literature and retell them from the perspective of a different character: the monster in Beowulf or the slaves in Gone With the Wind retell the story in John Gardner’s Grendel and Alice Randall’s The Wind Done Gone. Orson Scott Card acted as his own parallel novelist when he wrote Ender’s Shadow, which shows Ender’s Game from the point of view of the main character Bean. Yes, the Star Trek books technically count, but you can do better than that. Here, our list of books that are just as worth a read as their parallel literary counterparts. Add to it in the comments!

Grendel by John Gardner (inspired by Beowulf)

You probably didn’t feel sorry for Grendel, the horrifying monster who wreaks havoc on the townspeople in Beowulf, on your first pass through the epic poem in high school. The dude eats warriors like pretzels. But John Gardner’s artful re-imagining portrays Grendel as a complicated force of nature, complete with mother issues. It gives Beowulf an interesting post-colonialist twist. Beowulf and his cohorts only show up at the very end, making the book act as a prequel of sorts as well as a parallel.


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