Changing Stories

So, earlier this week I was trawling around on You-Tube, and yes, that was meant to be writing time.  A friend had sent me a great link to five men playing a piano, and after that I got a bit carried away, but it all worked out in the end, because I found this:

I hope you’ve played and enjoyed the clip.  I loved it so much I’ve replayed it to myself several times since, besides insisting that the family and a couple of visitors share it too.

Now I have to put my hand up here and say that Wuthering Heights may well be my all time favourite book, and Kate Bush’s homage, is one of my favourite tributes to it. However, that doesn’t mean I love every spin-off from the story.

How many have there been?  More than I could list here, even if I wanted to.  Check out Wikipedia, if you want to see a few of the art-forms that reference it, but don’t imagine you’re seeing a definitive mapping of work that was inspired by the story. Not included are the authors who’ve tried to emulate Emily Bronte’s masterpiece more directly with varying degrees of subtlety and success, perhaps the best known of those was Mary Webb, with her novels, Precious Bane, and Gone to Earth, and the wonderful Stella Gibbons, in Cold Comfort Farm.

More recently, there have been ‘mash-up’ rewrites of the novel published.  For those of you who haven’t met this phenomenon before, a ‘mash-up’ is the literary equivalent of fusion cooking (the combining of elements from different culinary traditions).  The usual combination is to take a well known classic novel and add elements of horror into it. So, alongside the other well known titles that have been hybridized, you can now buy versions of Wuthering Heights that include vampires, werewolves and zombies, as if it weren’t Gothic enough already.

At the other end of that rewrite scale is the abridgement.  Yes, someone has decided to produce a version of Wuthering Heights that is considered suitable for children.  I admit I’ve only read one page of one abridgement, but I think I said enough about my feelings on simplifying classics in my earlier discussion about Alice in Wonderland.  So I’ll cut this line of thought here and go back to where I started, with that re-worked Kate Bush song.

You’ll remember that I implied that finding it had seemed to me to justify my surfing through songs instead of writing.  I’ll admit that I was already in prevarication mode, having run out of steam with two stories I’ve got half written, and with my mind already on what I was going to blog about this week.

Well I don’t know what happened to you when the song started going, but for me it was as if a veil lifted.  Kate Bush transposed the book into music beautifully, capturing the gothic, mystical elements with her eerie, lyrical rendition, and fixing a good sized segment of the British population into her mode of music for life, it seems.  Did any of us ever imagine a cover version could do more than palely imitate her?

Isn’t this what Aristotle was getting at when he said that there were only seven plots?  Because even though the names and setting remain true, and even rely upon our knowledge of the original, here the change of tempo affects everything, tone, intention, and mood.

Wuthering Heights has been transformed into a different story, something that is modern, despite its rhythm coming from the jazz age.  This is story as it links back to the oral tradition, something that the tellers adapted to suit their audience, and as I watch and listen, I’m thinking of the story I’m trying to write at the moment, and this song infects me with a fresh surge of inspiration.

I don’t feel any less affection for Wuthering Heights, its various textual hybrids or the original song because of this new version.  If anything, my enjoyment of the originals increases, but I have now to add The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain’s interpretation of the story to my list of great adaptations.

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