Thursday, 15 March 2018

Re-imagining, rebooting, retreading - Why do classic books need to be treated in this way? This week's ReadItTorial

This week's ReadItTorial all started with an email. A promotional email announcing the exciting news that none other than Sir Michael Morpurgo was about to respin a VERY well loved classic children's picture book into a middle grade novel.

Eyebrows were raised, exclamations were uttered but we shrugged and sighed - mostly because this isn't exactly a new thing, and this year we've seen quite a few classic books either get a 100,000 mile re-tread, sequels, prequels or new books inspired by the original story or stories.

This is probably the first time we've ever seen a wordless picture book turned into a middle grade novel though, and despite the talent involved (and, seemingly, Raymond Briggs' blessing - or at least his appreciative wallet) it's led to something of a Twitterstorm.

Most people seem genuinely excited for any new offerings by Michael Morpurgo (rightly so, he's an extremely talented author whose books are enjoyed by all ages - even my mother in law who is in her 70s). Quite a few shared my view though, and it's a view partly tilted not only by the unmatchable original tale of a young boy who makes a snowman, and goes on a magical night-time adventure - but possibly by a lot of happy memories of the peerless animation that appeared on Channel 4 right at the beginning of that channel's existence.

Childhood memories of the original aside (and it is a book we've revisited and enjoyed with our daughter) both my wife and I thought the same as many other Twitterfolk, that turning a book that tells its beautifully constructed tale purely through illustration would take a heck of a miracle to work as a middle grade text.

We've got till October to find out how that'll work, but in the meantime "The Snowman" isn't the only classic being revisited this year. We've also just reviewed "Return of the Railway Children" by Lou Kuenzler, following on from the original E Nesbit book and ushering in the 50th (aaaghhh) anniversary of that sublime slice of railway-based escapism.

The new book does a pretty good job of capturing the essence of the original, but it also made me think the same as the above idea. These are essentially new books treading on the toes of the originals to cash in on nostalgia, purely aimed perhaps at adults who would buy a book they'd loved as a child for their kids, and certainly try something new that followed the same stories and characters.

Recently C has been engrossed in the Mallory Towers novels by Enid Blyton. She read through the original books voraciously, and has now moved on to Egmont's recent additions to the series, making quite a few pointed comments about the differences between the original novels and the new 'updated' ones.

Do we really need to constantly spread that rich butter of classic stories so painfully thin over new plots though? Are these books rising to the surface while truly ground-breaking new and original stories sink to the bottom? I think that's the saddest aspect of all this for me, that struggling debut authors are not going to get their chance purely because a well-established 'bankable' author wrote a treatment of someone else's original idea, and that's going to grab the marketing and editorial slice for that given release window.

We'll see come October I guess but in the meantime if you want to join in the Twitter debate, here's the original Twitter link: