Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Improving the Classics

Good afternoon. You are all aware, I assume, that this blog is written and maintained by the author of such accomplished works as the horror novel This and its sequel These, as well as numerous monologues such as How Much is a Hero?, among many other works. If you’re not aware of that, well, I am. Knowing this as you do, your civilian mind might figure that this is plenty, that no mind could be so creative and perceptive of the world around him as to ever wish to – never mind be capable of doing so! – branch out yet further from this already full and foliose artistic tree. I excuse your ignorance, because what would you know of the creative life? But know this now: stagnation for one such as myself is akin to death. To avoid this, I am forever exploring new avenues, or “branches”, of the aforementioned tree, or “city”; I constantly plumb the depths, or “roots”, of my demiurgic well, or “tree”.
With this in mind, I would like to now announce a new literary project. Although, to be honest, it’s not really “new”. You may be aware of a new genre, these “mash-ups”, I suppose you would call them, wherein a contemporary writer takes a classic piece of fiction and, while keeping said classic intact, adds new characters and narrative possibilities that result in, for instance, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Naturally, everyone has collectively agreed that this is a marvelous idea, and I am no different. In fact, I am so not different that I’ve been doing this for years, for positively ages, long before it became the going thing. My feverish pen has improved upon any number of classics, so that the world can now enjoy The Great Gatsby and Dragons, The Time Machine and Manticores, Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things and Ghouls, La Dispiration and Extraterrestrials, Frankenstein and Ghosts, The Best American Short Stories of the Century and Spiders, and so on. As you can see, my hands have hardly been idle! Granted, not all of these have been published, because I’ve learned that the original novel’s copyright having transferred to the public domain is essential, but rest assured that they’ve all been written and are simply awaiting that great day. Those works which I’ve transformed that are in the public domain are, I promise you, “making the rounds”.
In the meantime, I’ve been hard at work on my next literary improvement, and just recently completed same. Once known by the fairly pedestrian title Moby-Dick or, The Whale, Herman Melville’s masterpiece of madness, obsession, and cosmic rage will soon be available as Moby-Dick or, The Whale and Wolfmen. Again, the idea here is to take the original text and present it in full, but interspersed throughout will be new material, written by me, which will provide new twists on favorite characters, such as the whale, and the guy who hunts the whale. But it's not all about looking at the characters through a newly-ground lens -- it's also about adding fresh occult subplots about hunting wolfmen. Moby-Dick is in need of a punch-up, is my point, some new juice, some zaz, which will bring young readers and modernize Melville's themes. Genre fiction, specifically wolfman fiction, has a tendency to upend our beliefs, to subvert what we think we know, to teach us truths we thought hidden. This never even occurred to Herman Melville, but, fortunately for him, it did to me.
I suppose at this point some excerpts would be in order, to whet the appetite of my readers (or wet their appetites, if you will, because of the ocean). So let's begin at the beginning, and please note how seamlessly I'm able to incorporate my own work into Melville's.
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago -- never mind how long precisely -- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. Would there be wolfmen around? Probably so, because if there's one thing Dr. Von Armbruster taught me in Vienna when I was studying about wolfmen, is that those things are everywhere. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen (and now I'm talking about sailing again), and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off -- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. And any time I see a wolfman, I just kill it, because otherwise my status as the world's leading wolfman hunter would be in jeopardy. That's my main job -- killing wolfmen.
You see? Seamless. Moby-Dick is known for being a very digressive novel -- a hundred pages can go by with no advance in the plot at all, while Melville dithers around talking about whaling law or colors or some such nonsense. This made the task of revamping this particular book especially challenging, but you know what? I was up for it. Take this section, for example, taken from the beginning of the chapter Melville titled "The Whiteness of the Whale", and which I have renamed "The Whiteness of the Whale and the Brownness of the Wolfman":
Aside from those more obvious considerations touching Moby Dick, which could not but occasionally awaken in any man's soul some alarm, there was another thought, or rather vague, nameless horror concerning him, which at times by its intensity completely overpowered all the rest; and yet so mystical and well nigh ineffable was it, that I almost despair of putting it in a comprehensible form. It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me. But how can I hope to explain myself here; and yet, in some dim, random way, explain myself I must, else all these chapters might be naught.
And that's to say nothing of the brownness of the wolfman! Any time I see one of those guys, and how brown they are, I just about pee myself. "Why brown?" I always think. It's just so creepy, and it makes me think about how mad I am at God sometimes. And Ahab -- don't even talk to him about the brownness of wolfmen. One time while we were eating dinner on board the ship the Pequod which we were sailing on so we could hunt Moby Dick the Whale, I said to him "Captain Ahab, this meat we're eating is brown, now that it's cooked. You know what that color makes me think of? Wolfmen." And Ahab jumped out of his seat and said "You shut up about wolfmen! Their brownness appals me! Even more than the whiteness of Moby Dick, which I'm starting to think isn't even the point of all this anymore! Whatever else I may be talking about, you can bet your last nickle that what's really up my nose is those damn wolfmen! Why, if we ever happen to come across a wolfman on this trip, I'll just about bust! The thing about those things is..." And so on. It made dinner really awkward, but it's not like he didn't have a point. But anyway, back to the whiteness of the whale. I think the deal there...
No need to go on there -- I think you see how it works. I bet if you've read Moby-Dick before, right now you're probably casting your mind back to that first (and, let's face it, only) reading, trying to remember if there were any references to wolfmen that you just missed at the time. Well, there weren't, but after reading Moby-Dick, or The Whale and Wolfmen you'll realize there should have been!
But all this is just talk. No one's going to buy this book hoping to find nothing more than talk about wolfmen -- people are going to want the real thing. Initially, Moby-Dick was a commercial disaster for Melville, and I think that's because he didn't realize that nobody wanted a philosophical, metaphorical wank-job -- they wanted another Jaws! That's probably what he told his agent he was writing, but that sure as shit isn't what he delivered. Well, boy, I'm not making that same mistake. As you can see...
I have hinted that I would often jerk poor Queequeg from between the whale and the ship -- where he would occasionally fall, from the incessant rolling and swaying of both. But this was not the only jamming jeopardy he was exposed to. Unapalled by the massacre made upon them during the night, the sharks now freshly and more keenly allured by the before pent blood which began to flow from the carcase -- the rabid creatures swarmed round it like bees in a beehive.
And right in among those sharks was Queequeg; who often pushed them aside with his floundering feet. A thing altogether incredible were it not that attracted by such prey as a dead whale, the otherwise miscellaneously carnivorous shark will seldom touch a man.
But a wolfman will, and that's just what happened, because Balthasar, our wolfman stowaway who you may remember had been secretly terrorizing the crew even while he pretended to be all nice and not a wolfman whenever Ahab or Starbuck was around, jumped out of the boat and changed into a wolfman again and attacked Queequeg! So what Queequeg did is he jumped on one of the sharks and started to ride it, but then Balthasar jumped on another shark and started to ride it, and the two of them were going all over the ocean like that, fighting each other with their sharks. Luckily, Queequeg still had that mysterious gun that shot knives that Professor Ludwig gave him from before.
And I'll stop there! To know what happens then, you'll have to buy the book! But listen: you guys know me. You know that this isn't about book sales. I take my writing very seriously, and I take my ability to make Moby-Dick better more seriously still. In the original book, the power of Ahab's rage at God, and his misplaced aggression towards the white whale is not lost on me. I certainly have no intention of taking that aspect of the book and "heaving it overboard". It's just that when I read Melville's words, I think, well, you know, wolfmen have that effect on me too, sometimes. And maybe wolfmen are just a better metaphor -- I think they are! So Ahab's thunderous end is not gone, it's just recontexturalized:
"...Ho, ho! from all your furthest bounds, pour ye now in, ye bold billows of my whole foregone life, and top this one piled comber of my death! Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale (and don't think I've forgotten about you, Balthasar!); to the last I grapple with the two of you; from hell's heart I stab at first Moby Dick, and then with my other hand I stab at the wolfman; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at all white whales and all wolfmen, who, together, have made a mess of my life. Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool! and since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing you guys, though tied to thee both, thou damned whale, and thou damned wolfman especially! Thus, I give up the spear! Take that, Balthasar!"
In stores soon.


jryan said...

Dammit, I was soooo close to finishing my Moby Dick/Werewolf mash-up, too!!

Though I had a little twist that I thought was clever. In my version, when Ahab is thrown into the water with Moby Dick and the Werewolf pirates his legs turn into fins! He's a merman all along!!

Well, I guess I can finish Vampire Metamorphosis now.

bill r. said...

He was a stowaway, Joe, not a pirate. Come on.

Other than that, your merman idea is not without merit. It's just that I think it might be more fittingly applied to something by Joseph Conrad.

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Greg said...

Can't wait to read Philbrick's foreword. No one knows more about whales and wolfmen than he. Well, maybe you, but right after you, Philbrick!

Harold said...

If Harold Bloom hadn't already invented the word "seamless" for "Hamlet and Hobgoblins", he would undoubtedly have invented it for this.

bill r. said...

Greg - Philbrick knows his shit. I won't pretend to think that I don't give him a run for his money, but when it comes to the point at which whales and wolfmen overlap, the guy's pretty sharp.

Harold - I wonder if you are indeed Mr. Bloom himself. Either way, I thank you, kind sir. But I'd care a lot about your comment if you really were Harold Bloom. If you're not, then no offense.

Harold said...

Ah, sweet mystery of life--some things are better left unknown. But it is well known that Harold Bloom likes to refer to himself in the third person. Notice that, out of modesty, all his book jackets have "by Harold Bloom" written on them, rather than "by Me".

Ryan said...

I like the idea of taking Ayn Rand's Fountainhead and setting it the strange dystopian future of "Terminator 4." Maybe. I really like this post and it has just the right hint of humor and sarcasm. Personally, I've been getting into novels with a bit more ideas than just zombified themes. I checked out Kris Sedersten's Mojo, which deals more with the paranormal. It's actually a lot creepier than the undead. Keep up the great posts!

Frank B said...

Hold onto your hats. I'm gonna ingeniously reverse the trend by inserting a depressed suburbanite former high school athlete into Bram Stoker. I'll call it Rabbit, Run -- From Dracula!

Though odds are, Dracula will catch him. He's an undead supernatural vampire, you know.

Shit, I hope I didn't spoil it.

Neil Sarver said...

"I like the idea of taking Ayn Rand's Fountainhead and setting it the strange dystopian future of Terminator 4."

I think I'd prefer it be in a Spaghetti Apocalypse like my Enzo G. Castellari's The New Barbarians, but that may just be me.

Jeremy [Retro] said...

wolfman, awesome!

Anonymous said...

The Whale and the Wolf Men, eh? Sounds like a riot. Now if I could just figure out why none of the stores around me seem to carry it...

Wanted to let you know that I included a link to this post in my second "issue" of Spatter Analysis.

Check it out!