Re-Imagining Characters: Finding Familiar Faces in New Places

It was exciting to watch the Steampunk Holmes: Legacy of the Nautilus Kickstarter counter climb from around 57% funding to 147% in the last 50 hours of the drive.  With the additional monies, Richard Monson-Haefel hopes to bring the second book of the series, Steampunk Holmes: Frankenstein (working title) to readers a year earlier than projected, that is, by December 2012.  It’s amazing what excited readers and writers can do when given the opportunity.  Every person contributing to this project should be proud of his or her part in making it happen.  Remember to check on the progress of the new book at the official Steampunk Holmes website.

I’ve also been enjoying the PBS Masterpiece Mystery Sherlock series, although I wish they would air more than three episodes in a season.  Bringing Sherlock into the twenty first century, and writing John Watson as a wounded, traumatized war veteran remolds the original Victorian-era characters into people today’s readers and viewers can relate to.  Yet, the characters lose none of the idiosyncrasies that made them so popular when Arthur Conan Doyle first put pen to paper.  Benedict Cumberbatch plays Sherlock with manic intensity, eyes flashing with the arrival of revelation, unfocused as he gathers and sorts data in his computer-like brain.   Martin Freeman’s John Watson brings a reliable practicality to the relationship, while remaining more than ready for the next chase to test Sherlock’s latest forensic theory.

The exceptional scripts written by co-creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat bring a more human Sherlock to the series than the one I found years ago in the original novels.  In these updated characters, Holmes respects the experience Watson has derived through his military service, and calls on his friend’s varied talents to share in solving each mystery.  Watson, fascinated by the enigma that is Sherlock, observes the constant play between sociopath and genius in his new friend.  Both actors slide comfortably into the skins of Doyle’s creations, and then give them a personal twist.  Cumberbatch’s eyes spark with mischief, and his Holmes is not averse to practical jokes.  Freeman’s portrayal of the war-weary Watson reveals a man both physically and mentally exhausted by what he has seen and experienced, yet fearful that he is past desiring new experiences in a life gone flat with disillusion.  Until, that is, he appears to apply as a renter at 221BBaker Street.

This new version of the Doyle stories takes away nothing from the original.  Rather, it delivers these classic stories to a new audience, one more comfortable with a texting detective, than with the need to send young boys running across town to deliver messages in the course of an investigation.  An audience that can relate to a fast-talking, social-media savvy beyond Mensa-level detective unexpectedly finding a best friend in a quietly dangerous veteran as efficient with a medical bag as with a deadly weapon.

There is much to be said for re-imagining past treasures, especially if done with respect and love for the original creations. 

There is no limit to the classic tales that invite re-imagining – perhaps by you.  The Syfy channel has visited new interpretations of Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and just this past week, Treasure Island.  As I watched these new versions, I wondered how many viewers had never read the original, receiving their introduction to these classic novels through the medium with which these younger generations are most familiar.  And if even one viewer seeks out a hardbound copy of the original stories, then how wonderful is that?

So are you inspired yet, to try something different with a well-known and loved character?  Have you decided how far you want to push the envelope?  Which character from a classic do you want to reinvent?  I’ll have to think a while on which tale I would pen anew – it’s so hard to declare a favorite.  Leave a comment and inspire the rest of us with your choice and a small peek at your vision.

2 thoughts on “Re-Imagining Characters: Finding Familiar Faces in New Places

  1. Great post, Suzzane! Here’s a scoop for your blog: How about Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Benedict Arnold in a new steampunk adventure in an alternative Revolutionary War setting?

    1. Hi Richard, good to see you again. Okay, newspapers used to “scoop” the competition and break a story before anyone else. Can we hope you are giving us a hint about another new book in the Steampunk Holmes series? The mind races with all the adventures these characters could find in a steampunk Revolutionary War world. Bring it on!

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