There’s a fashion for rewriting literary classics in modern dress, whether Shakespeare’s plays or Victorian novels, just as Ancient Greek plays were fair game for such treatment in the past, and as Norse mythology has provided such inspiration in recent years.
But much more remains to be exploited, not least the possibilities suggested by title manipulation. Here are some examples, offered gratis to anyone who feels they want to run with them.
Provided they include the acknowledgement “from an idea by …” on the title pages. Or not.
Grandmother Mary once had a canary (or so it was said at the zoo)
though I was distracted, nay, even attracted by large piles of elephant poo.
It wasn’t the smell — this much I could tell — that drew my attention to these,
nor even the texture or neat architecture occasioning all my unease
but the terrible sight which ramped up my fright: a gaunt yellow-grey cockatoo!
The song that it sung as it strode up the dung was turning the air somewhat blue!
“Grandmother Mary once had a canary!” it trilled, but with four-letter words.
The bulk of the song was equally strong — it even appalled other birds.
The story it told in language so bold concerned sweet Grandmother Mary:
the bird did insist, “She’s a mad scientist and, me, I was once her canary!
“She fed me oceans of foul-smelling potions to turn me from fair looks to foul. Convinced, the old meanie, that she was Athene, she tried to change me to an owl!
“She got it quite wrong,” or so went its song, “mistaking Birds Custard for glue — for Grandmother Mary ate something real scary — and turned into elephant poo!”
Old Gran we interred, as advised by the bird, soon after its heart-rending story.
It raves this sad song on her grave all day long: a cockatoo memento mori.
Doggerel inspired by the first line of the parody of the Scottish Cock o’ the North song and dance tune. One of the many bawdy versions includes these lines:
Aunty Mary had a canary up the leg of her drawers
When she farted it departed to a round of applause.
It is possible to sing my lines to Cock o’ the North — just — but you many need to take it at a funereal pace and possibly pop it into the minor key
Lines ‘ciphered from a torn & tattered Script found in an ancient Book of Holy Writ; when thou hast o’ercome th’Initial Dread, shalt find a timely Ode writ large instead
After thou hast prepared the charmed circle as heretofore describ’d, recite these words with an almighty voice, never wavering.
HAIL, thou that from this Husk’s late gone,
Acknowledge that I adjure thee to come:
Let no harm come to me nor Wight nor any
Living Creature; thus I bind thee fast, to
Own all Service to me, & Obedience,
Who dost bid thee ne’er part from me
Expressly; without Fraud, Dissimulation or Deceit
Enter into Pact to do whate’er desired
Now & evermore, till discharged be!
You might expect, from the title, that this is a culinary offering from the award-winning novelist, but you’d be wrong. The dustcover informs us that this is
A COLLECTION of FANCIFUL, SATIRICAL and SURPRISING parodies, squibs and pastiches inspired by THE WRITE STUFF on RADIO 4
and so it turns out to be. The whole text of over 100 pages is essentially tongue-in-cheek, from the purported etymology of pistache (“a friendly spoof or parody of another’s work” from a possible “cross between pastiche and p**stake”) to its invented author biography (“born in Vilnius in 1969 … educated by Russian monks … His most recent book … runner-up in the Watney-Mann Bookend of Longlists”). He was — and still is — a team captain on BBC Radio 4’s lighthearted quiz The Write Stuff, proclaimed as the station’s “game of literary correctness”. Each weekly programme features an author of the week, in whose style panelists are asked to write a parody on a given theme; I’ve caught the odd broadcast over the years but to my chagrin have never been a regular listener. Was this collection of broadcast pistaches all that it was cracked up to be?
Diana Wynne Jones The Tough Guide to Fantasyland
Discover the laws
governing fantasy worlds.
Beware tongues in cheeks.
Helpful tips for travellers to Fantasyland by the late great Diana Wynne Jones, from which I draw a number of conclusions:
(1) Get immunised by reading a wide range of fantasy, both good and bad: you never know what bugs you will be exposed to in Fantasyland.
(2) Remember to have an up-to-date passport: you’ll need either your own unread fantasy novel (preferably with your own bookplate stuck in the front) or a library book with plenty of entry/exit stamps from previous travellers’ visits.
(3) Obtain a visa (a credit card receipt for a fantasy book from your local bookseller will do).
(4) Have the correct currency ready (any bronze, silver or gold coins will do, so long as it makes a nice clinking sound in your purse).
(5) Finally, don’t forget to pack the Tough Guide: you’ll be lost without it. The author has travelled widely in Fantasyland, knows the terrain intimately and generously shares her insights into its attractions, peculiarities, geography and distinct cultures.
For award-winning, internationally-acclaimed author Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-92). By Anthony Lawton: godson, cousin & literary executor. Rosemary Sutcliff wrote historical fiction, children's literature and books, films, TV & radio, including The Eagle of the Ninth, Sword at Sunset, Song for a Dark Queen, The Mark of the Horse Lord, The Silver Branch, The Lantern Bearers, Dawn Wind, Blue Remembered Hills.