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Fiction Squared: Great Books Starring Great Books

Mar 22, 2011

Lovers of literature, take note: These novels don't just adapt classic works, they transport them to a whole new world. From revisionist histories to literary mash-ups to detective novels weaving in and out of classic plots, these books will give you a new perspective on your favorite timeless tales.

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By Megan Driscoll

Wicked by Gregory Maguire

Wicked

Before it was a hit Broadway musical, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (Wicked Years) was a revisionist novel by Gregory Maguire. The book imagines the back story of the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum's classic tale, The Wizard of Oz. In this story she's more than just an evil foil to Dorothy's plans - she's a free-spirited young girl named Elphaba who grew up to be a nurse, an animal rights activist and even a nun before becoming the Wicked Witch of the West. In Maguire's Oz, the Wizard is a controlling dictator and Elphaba's hunt for Dorothy, who only appears near the book's end, is an honest attempt to avenge her sister's murder.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

One of the most popular trade books in recent years, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies takes fan fiction to whole new heights. Co-author Seth Grahame-Smith (he shares credit with Jane Austen, author of the original novel) has reimagined the 'classic regency romance' with 'ultraviolent zombie mayhem.' Grahame-Smith kept 85 percent of the original text, inserting zombie action sequences as creative plot devices. Why were troops stationed near Hertfordshire? To fight England's 50 year zombie problem. Why did the Bennets send their daughter away to China? For training in the art of deadly (zombie fighting) combat, of course.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

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The Eyre Affair

Love modern detective stories almost as much as Victorian fiction? Don't miss The Eyre Affair, the first in Jasper Fforde's series of Thursday Next detective novels. The story takes place in mid-1980s Great Britain, but in Fforde's world literature has taken the place of pop culture in daily life. Children trade Henry Fielding cards, machines on street corners quote Shakespeare and audiences participate in performances of 'Richard III.' The novel takes off when the villain, Acheron Hades, commandeers the Prose Portal, an invention that allows people to cross into literary texts. His minions start killing off characters and altering the stories forever, prompting our hero, detective Thursday Next, to pursue Hades right into Charlotte Brönte's Jane Eyre after Jane herself disappears. Readers who love this tale can follow Thursday Next into a whole series of literary detective stories.

The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber

The Book of Air and Shadows

Author Michael Gruber wound this literary thriller around William Shakespeare, whose work transforms the lives of Jake Mishkin and Albert Crosetti. The two unlikely heroes travel to England in pursuit of an undiscovered Shakespearean manuscript mentioned in the letters of Richard Bracegirdle, a 16th-century English soldier and spy. In the tradition of The Da Vinci Code, the book uses the missing manuscript to build tales of intrigue, murder, conspiracy and a dizzying array of double- and triple-crossings.

The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl

The Dante Club

Matthew Pearl's murder mystery brings us even farther back into literary time, all the way to the 14th-century works of Dante Alighieri. The novel takes place in the 1860s at Harvard University, where European literature has fallen out of fashion. One plucky group known as the Dante Club has decided to undertake a translation of Dante's Divine Comedy anyway - until a murderer begins reenacting torture scenes from the Inferno on his Boston-area victims. The reenactments are so accurate that the members of the club fall under suspicion, so they set out to hunt the killer down and clear their names.

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