I’ve been browsing through Bernard A. Drew’s Literary Afterlife. It’s essentially a bibliography of works in which one author has used the characters created by another. It strikes me that it might be fun to devote a book group meeting to reading such pastiches.
Don’t get me wrong. For the most part, these are not works of great literary genius. Bad pastiches (and in my estimation there are more bad than good) are derivative and fail to capture the spirit of the original works. The worst of pastiches not only fail to evoke their inspiration, they actively corrupt the qualities that made the original great. I think, for instance, of the dozens of Jane Austen pastiches that have none of the stylistic qualities of Austen’s work.
Still, there are dozens of characters that readers loved so much that they can’t help but respond to a chance to join them on further adventures, even if the reader has to create most of the magic for him or herself when the magic just isn’t on the page. I find that if nothing else, such works help me appreciate the unique genius of the works that inspired them.
Many of the most successful pastiches go intentionally in a very different direction than the original works from which they are derived. Christopher Moore turned King Lear into a bawdy romp in Fool, while Jane Smiley set the same work on an Iowa farm to great effect in A Thousand Acres. Geraldine Brooks focused not on Louisa May Alcott’s charming March sisters in March, but instead explored their difficult father. Louis Bayard looked at Tiny Tim in later life when detective work came his way in Mr. Timothy, another successful pastiche. Other pastiches I would recommend include Peter Carey’s Jack Maggs (after Dickens’ Great Expectations) and Sara Donati’s Into the Wilderness (after Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans).
What are your favorite works of pastiche?