Kim Newman, whose latest book, Johnny Alucard, is out now, tells us: “In the Anno Dracula series, I’ve made use not only of characters and situations appropriated from Bram Stoker’s novel but a host of other preexisting fictional folk to populate the next-door-but-one world where Dracula defeated Van Helsing and became a dominant power in the 19th and 20th centuries. I didn’t invent this approach – in the wholesale borrowing of other authors’ creations, I was mostly inspired by Philip José Farmer’s interlocked series of books and stories which did something similar. Here are my favorite ten novels built around other novels.”
Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys (1966)
The backstory of Mrs. Rochester, the madwoman in the attic in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, is the subject of this slender, exotic, pointed story, which involves voodoo in the Caribbean. Wide Sargasso Sea is not just an attempt to fill in a blank, but engages in a debate with the assumptions of the original book. I think this kind of approach is very fruitful. Rhys plainly admires Jane Eyre, but wants to make us think about the marginalized monstrous woman and wonder if the passionate, bipolar Antoinette is not as admirable and victimized as the meek yet determined Jane. It’s not a simple reverse view but a complicated, flavorful-in-itself engagement with what little we are told about Mrs Rochester in the original.