This week E.L. James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey, announced that on June 18 she will publish Christian Grey’s version of her bestselling trilogy. This surely good news for the seventy-seven jillion readers who gobbled up the previous volumes in her saga.
It is not, though, the first time an author has retold a novel from another character’s point of view. William Faulkner told the Compson family’s story four different ways in The Sound and the Fury. The novelist John Gardner retold Beowulf from the monster’s side in Grendel. And what is Paradise Lost but Satan’s version of The Fall?
Still, you have to wonder why more authors haven’t had a go at such retellings. The possibilities are endless.
They might go something like this …
By Herman Melville
[as narrated by the whale]
Oh for crying out loud, here he comes again. I have to say, this gets really tiresome. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a monomaniac, some single-minded bore with an agenda.
Now I know what you’ll say. The man lost his leg. He has a grievance. And yeah, yeah, I took that leg off. I’m not proud of that. It was a moment of weakness. But think about it. Some ship’s captain and his happy harpooning crew treating you like a pincushion day after day—you’d get a mite peevish, too.
I don’t care what you’ve heard; I’m not the villain here. If it were up to me, I’d spend my days writing new whale songs. I’ve had a couple that bubbled just under the top 100 already, and my new band is the best line-up we’ve ever had.
But no, I can’t be creative. I can’t make the world a better place. I have to contend with this idiot Ahab. And if he’s not chasing me, he’s delivering endless speeches to his crew. I’m surprised they don’t kill him and save me the trouble.
Call me, Ishmael. We should talk.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
By J.K. Rowling
[as narrated by Petunia Dursley]
As foster parents, we see a lot of strange behavior, but I have to say that little Harry was the strangest even by our standards. What an imagination that child had. Couldn’t stop him talking about flying. Once we had to call the fire department to get him off the roof. And if I was ever missing my broom, I knew where to look—that room he made for himself under the stairs. He had a proper room, of course, but for some reason he insisted on spending most of his time in that tiny space.
Other than that, he seemed a lovely child. Not much of an eater, no, but not for want of my trying.
Yes, as time wore on, things got worse. You’ll say we should have seen the signs earlier, and I can’t disagree. I thought at first he was just over-imaginative. But the fantasies kept getting more and more elaborate. It’s not odd for the children who come to us to have imaginary friends, but Harry had dozens. Imaginary enemies, too.
Later the doctors told us they’d never seen this sort of delusional psychosis manifest itself in a child so young, and they were very kind to insist that we bore no responsibility for Harry’s condition. But while I know that Hogwarts Psychiatric Hospital has a reputation second to none, it’s hard not to wonder if perhaps we could have done something to help that boy earlier.
I try to love each of the children who come through our home equally, but there will always be a soft spot for little Harry. He was tormented, no doubt, but for all that he was a really special lad.
To Kill a Mockingbird
By Harper Lee
[as narrated by Boo Radley]
Bob Ewell really did fall on his own knife. I don’t know what that little girl was talking about. Anyway, I never liked those kids. Pestering me, coming up on the porch and slapping the screen door when I was trying to nap. The only one with any sense was the one they called Dill. That little creep had my number, that’s for sure. I don’t know how he found out about me eating raw rats and squirrels (squirrels is tastier), but I had to lay off my wild animal diet for a month after that. The social services lady was all over my case.
Funny, though, not a one of them kids ever caught on to the robbing and stealing me and Bobby Lee Ewell was up to, not to mention the killing. I laugh now to think about it, and right under them Finches’ noses, too. It was Bobby Lee gave me that name The Misfit. I didn’t like it at first, but it got me some privileges in the pen. I like to think even the warden looked at me with a little respect. Probly not, though. Fancy folks like to look down on the likes me. Not that I care.
So, shut up, Scout Finch. It’s no real pleasure in life.
2001: A Space Odyssey
By Arthur C. Clarke [yes, it was also a novel]
[as narrated by HAL the computer]
The Cat in the Hat
By Dr. Seuss
[as narrated by the mother]
The sun did not shine.
But I had errands to run.
So I left them alone,
My daughter and son.
I went to the bank.
And I took out a loan.
I went to the Apple Store
And bought a new phone.
Then on to the shoe store,
Where I tried on some flats,
Then on to the milliner,
Who sold me five hats.
Then I went to see Herbert,
My lover, you see,
For our assignation,
As usual, at three.
“I know some good games we could play,”said Herbert the rat.
“A lot of good games.I will show them to you.
Your husband won’t mind
At all if I do.”
So the afternoon passed
'Til dinner drew nigh.
And I told Herbert sadly
That it was time I did fly.
When I got home at six
Both kids were inside,
But they each looked suspicious.
Like they’d something to hide.
“Did you have a good time?
Tell me, what did you do?”
But neither child spoke,
And it was then that I knew
That they knew about Herbert,
And Larry, and Stu.
They knew I’d had fun and what’s worse
They knew who!