Mythos and misunderstanding (#SFWApro)

Last week I discussed the problems of updating stories or origins set in a different past with different attitudes. This post from Slacktivist discusses a related problem, working with original stories where what people think of as “the original” may not be accurate.
The post is actually a shot at people who insist we can read the Bible texts without being influenced by what we think we know the Bible is saying, but it’s a valid point in its own right. Specifically his topic is Bram Stoker’s Dracula: Even if we’re reading it for the first time, we know who and what Dracula is, unlike many or most of the readers in Stoker’s own time. Except what we “know” may not be what Stoker wrote—it may be influenced by Bela Lugosi’s film performance, Christopher Lee’s, by Francis Ford Coppola’s movie or Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula.
When Dacre Stoker published Dracula the Un-Dead (and yes, he is an actual Stoker family member), I got to hear him make a presentation. He said he’d written it to have vampires burning in sunlight even though that’s not in Bram’s book, because it’s what everyone expects to happen, and he decided it was easier to go with it.
The same problem, as I’ve mentioned before, crops up with the Brit-TV Merlin series. The Arthurian legend is one that’s been reworked and tinkered with repeatedly over the centuries to the point I don’t think there’s a definitive canonical version, but I know lots of people who dislike the series because it’s unfaithful to what they consider canon (I’m guessing that would be something equivalent to Thomas Malory’s take).
Or consider X-Men. Chris Claremont said in an interview once that if you look at Professor X’s actions in the original Silver Age series—sending a bunch of teenagers out to take on Magneto, a terrorist who has no qualms about killing them if he can—he’s really just as ruthless, in fighting for his cause as Magneto is.
One of the other X-authors (Len Wein I think) riposted that while this may be an accurate description of the stories, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby clearly didn’t see Xavier that way. Their Professor X isn’t a ruthless counter-terrorist, he’s a kindly father figure who is absolutely nothing like the murderous Magneto. By which light Claremont really isn’t portraying what “really” happened.
Same thing with Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu, perhaps. When I read the stories today, I can’t help but notice Fu Manchu comes off as a patriot, determined to reverse Western imperialism and restore China to world dominance. By that light his goals aren’t any worse than his foes are. Although he’s more ruthless than arch-enemy Sir Denis Nayland Smith, he’s not more ruthless than say, British imperialism in general.
But would portraying him that way be “true?” Sax Rohmer clearly meant Fu Manchu to be the villain, even if part of that villainy hinged on the “devil doctor” being a threat to white dominance. And how would readers react if I presented Fu Manchu as a good guy, or at least not-utterly evil guy (overlooking that he’s trademarked and copyrighted and not available)?
Slacktivist also discusses the theme of original text vs. what “everybody knows” in blogging about Sleepy Hollow.

1 Comment

Filed under Movies, Reading, TV, Writing

One response to “Mythos and misunderstanding (#SFWApro)

  1. Pingback: Links about writing and story | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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