I ABSOLUTELY understand how reading can seem like a massive chore.
Living in the century of technology, gadgets and apps in which we find ourselves, reading a physical book with physical pages can appear completely unappealing and arbitrary. Why read when The Bachelor is on TV! Or better yet, Unreal…
ALTHOUGH, TRUST ME when I say that reading doesn’t have to be such an annoyance if the material is presented in a compelling way.
Being the book geek/nerd that I am, I’ve scoured the internet and curated the best, most fun ways for you to experience classic novels in updated formats. You’re welcome.
In the following list, I will outline several retellings of classic works presented in vlog, movie and episode form. While the overall presentation will be different, the themes, story arch, literary devices and characters will all essentially be the same. Who knows, maybe they’ll even cause you to pick up the original novel that inspired the updated version 😉
And hey- these novels are considered classics for a reason. Once you delve into the stories, you’ll see what I mean.
- The Lizzie Bennet Diaries – Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice retold in 100 2-8 minute vlog episodes on YouTube. Under the guise of recording a video blog for her grad school classes, the series primarily takes place in Lizzie’s bedroom. Many of the major plot points in the book occur off-camera in the series and are later retold or reenacted by Lizzie and the other characters that join her in her room. Especially thrilling about the series is seeing how Austen’s main characters are portrayed as 20s-something college grads/ students living in California. For example, in the novel, Mr. Darcy, a man of extraordinary wealth and high birth status, is a proprietor who meets Lizzie at a ball. In the web series, “Darcy,” just referred to by his last name, is in his late 20s and the heir to his family’s entertainment corporation, Pemberley Digital (you’d know why it’s cute that it’s called ‘Pemberley’ if you read the book – hint: read the book). He and Lizzie are introduced at a mutual friend’s wedding. (In the novel and web series, he is the romantic interest for Lizzie.)
- Something I admired about the web series was how thoughtful the creators were about making the characters in the story ethnically diverse. Austen’s novel takes place in 19th century England, and as you can imagine, all the characters are of the same ethnicity. In the web series, several ethnicities are represented nicely (and also because it takes place in California, which naturally has a diverse ethnic demographic). Mr. Bingly, the friend of Mr. Darcy, also of equal wealth and status, is now portrayed in the web series as Bing Lee (see what they did there?), an Asian med student who moves into the neighborhood. I appreciated the creators’ mindfulness in incorporating ethnicity into the web series, making the character’s ethnicities reflective of our society. Just check out the poster!
Now go watch it and get cultured!
2. She’s the Man – Shakespeare’s own Twelfth Night gets a reboot with this 2006 romantic comedy. What I love about the movie (besides all the shirtless soccer player scenes) is the way in which the theme of gender is played out in the film. Shakespeare’s play features the fluidity and ambiguity of gender. Twins Viola and Sebastian are separated after a shipwreck and Viola, believing her brother to be dead, dresses as a man and enters into the service of a Duke. With Viola’s character, Shakespeare illustrates how gender can be viewed as a socially constructed identity and with the right actor, gender can be “performed” or impersonated, rather than it being a fixed identity as society dictates. Just check out Caitlyn Jenner, eh?
- To make this even more trippy, back in Shakespeare’s day, the actual role of Viola would have been played by a boy actor, who is literally cross-dressed as the female character, who then disguises herself as a young man. DANG.
- In the film, the lead actress, Amanda Bynes is, as you know, an actual female, so that part of the metatheater is out. But she dresses as her brother to attend a private school and through mannerisms, use of voice and manly outfits convinces everyone she’s a (the?) man. The film brings up interesting questions regarding how we view masculinity/ femininity and made me rethink societal constructs of men and women.
3. Tin Man – a 2007 miniseries that transforms Frank L. Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz into a sci-fi, fantastical, steampunk version of itself. While the miniseries isn’t exactly an
update of the beloved 1900 book, it borrows lots of the original novel’s main elements and serves as a continuation of the story.
- Same changes include DG (a wide-eyed Zooey Deschanel, pre-New Girl fame) as a small-town waitress in Kansas who has visions that a storm is coming.
- O.Z. is the “Outer Zone” where the tyrannical queen, Azkadellia (great name) rules over everyone.
- DG meets Glitch (who used to be an inventor but had half his brain removed by the evil queen), Cain, a “Tin Man” (law enforcer) and Raw, a type of bear/lion creature whose people are enslaved by the queen.
I’ve never quite figured out why it’s called Tin Man though and not DG and the O.Z. or something…
4. Emma Approved – another fantastic story-ride in vlog form from the creators of the Pemberley Digital YouTube channel. The web series takes on the blog format as well with 72 episodes ranging from 2 – 9 minutes long – the series even comes with its own blog!
Jane Austen’s Emma comes to life in this reimagining as a young woman running an entrepreneurial business specializing in matchmaking, event planning and lifestyle excellence. In the novel, Emma is slightly spoiled, high-spirited and clever who enjoys meddling in her friends’ love lives. Emma is typically an unlikable character to readers because she tends to overestimate her own abilities in matchmaking which can seem borderline arrogant. I mean the novel begins like this for heaven’s sake: “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich.”
- What I find brilliant about the web series is that from episode one, you immediately like Emma, which is different from the character’s presentation in the novel. (Jane Austen herself did say, “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like” before she started writing the book, so even the author knew people wouldn’t care much for Emma.) In the web series though, Emma appears cocky, but as the first episode continues, we learn that she also has a kind and loving nature, cares deeply for her friends and family and at times, shows her vulnerability and insecurities. That’s a testament to the tremendous talent of the actress playing Emma, Joanna Sotomura.
- Which leads me to another great point – casting was spot on in this web series (as it was for The Lizzie Bennet Diaries too). Everyone seemed rightfully chosen in their roles (except the character of Harriet, unfortunately). The chemistry between the two romantic leads, Emma and Mr. Knightly (pictured in the poster) was palpable and their banter never came across as scripted – I was not surprised to learn the actors themselves are shipping! (Internet slang for “being in a relationship” – in case you don’t know what that means, Mom 😉 )
Binge-watch the series here.
5. 10 Things I Hate About You – ah, yes, Shakespeare’s classic The Taming of The Shrew retold in late 1990s American high school setting. The romantic comedy features young Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and a killer soundtrack, including an awesome performance of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” by Heath (first-name basis, guys).
- A welcome change: While Shakespeare’s original work has drawn criticism for containing elements of misogynistic tendencies – Petruchio literally psychological torments the headstrong Katherina until she is “tame” and obedient to him – the film version of 10 Things plays up Kat’s independence and fierce feminism. She isn’t obedient to Patrick (see what they did there with the names?!?) but falls in love with him (SPOILER!) as equals.
Curated with love by Sam