7 Literary Mashups We Need Somebody to Write Right Now
If you’re having trouble finding new ideas, remember: there are plenty of old ones you can smush together!
If you enjoy reading Electric Literature, join our mailing list! We’ll send you the best of EL each week, and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming submissions periods and virtual events.
Every writer (and reader!) eventually encounters the worry that there are no new ideas, and that everything created or consumed for the rest of time is doomed to be a retread. (It’s especially easy to feel this way at a time when Twin Peaks and The X-Files are on the air and Ghostbusters and Trainspotting are recently in theaters.) There are a couple of ways you can go with this fear. You can dedicate yourself to chasing the dragon of innovation, making sure you’re breaking ground in a way nobody’s ever seen before — or you can really lean into it.
The upcoming book Pride and Prometheus is a stellar example of the latter approach. The premise: Elizabeth Bennet’s sister Mary falls in love with Victor Frankenstein. “Sure,” this book seems to be saying, “maybe there are no new ideas. But there are definitely two old ones.”
This got me wondering: What other classic books deserve a mashup to make them feel fresh? If you’re suffering from the anxiety of influence, here are seven derivative—and yet brand new!—ideas to get you started.
On holiday from Oxford, a young Jay Gatsby — post-war, pre-West Egg — runs into Clarissa Dalloway as she bustles through the streets of London getting ready for a party. Already something of an entertainment savant, he gives her advice on party planning and helps her pick out flowers. They bond over feeling ill at ease in their upper-crust lifestyles and still being in love with girls from their respective pasts. Clarissa leaves her husband and Jay never goes back to the U.S.
The Master of the Baskervilles
The giant demon-cat Behemoth gets wind of a giant demon-dog haunting the English moors. Intrigued by the prospect of a canine partner in crime, he flies to Baskerville Hall just in time to see the dog unmasked as a perfectly normal animal coated in phosphorescent paint. The dog is ashamed at the revelation, which touches Behemoth’s usually haughty heart. He grants the Hound infernal powers, including speech, flight, and glowing by itself, and the two of them go on to terrorize a swath of Europe and Asia running from Siberia to the British Isles.
Expelled from school, the nameless narrator of Ralph Ellison’s novel travels to New York in the hopes that someone will credit his letter of recommendation enough to offer him a job. While there, he is directed to a mysterious English gentleman named Griffin. Though Griffin sees that the young man’s document is actually a poison pen letter, he takes a liking to the former student, and employs him as an assistant. The youth gradually opens up to Griffin about the experience of black men in America, and Griffin, forced for the first time to reckon with what was white privilege when he had skin, offers to use his invisibility for the betterment of society. The two of them become partners in violent anti-racist revenge, with the young man as the brains and Griffin as the muscle. They are never caught.
To Kill a Predator
As they road trip across America, Humbert Humbert tries to avoid drawing attention to his teenage captive—but he can’t escape the gimlet eye of Atticus Finch. Finch sees the pair in a diner, recognizes that something is off, and alerts the authorities. Usually a defense lawyer, Finch chooses to represent the prosecution in Humbert’s trial. After winning the case, he adopts Dolores Haze and raises her alongside his own children, dealing kindly and frankly with her trauma and offering her unconditional support. Also, Go Set a Watchman never happens.
One Brother to Rule Them All
Big Brother and the Eye of Sauron meet on an alt-right message board. At first, all they’re doing is trading tips and tricks for complete domination—but is there something more blossoming between them?
Of Rabbits and Men
Lennie’s reputation precedes him when he stumbles into the California field that is the latest home of the rabbits of Watership Down. (Blackberry figured out how to work a much bigger boat this time.) None of the rabbits want to let him get anywhere near them—until Bigwig volunteers. “If General Woundwort couldn’t kill me, I’m not afraid of this embleer piece of vair,” he says. Bigwig turns out to be the strongest, most robust rabbit Lennie has ever handled—and, as it happens, he really likes being petted. The two become stalwart companions until they both die of starvation because it’s still the Great Depression.
Instant Club Hit of Solomon
“Milkman” Dead and the Dead Milkmen leave troubled family histories behind and instead go to the Philly Pizza Company and order some hot tea.