The Maker: a Remake

This will be a short post, alas, since I must go to work soon – classes will start next Monday here in São Paulo, so I will go to a teacher´s meeting this morning. (That doesn´t mean I can´t write another post later, but first things first.)

Two years ago, I began writing a short story about a person (gender not clear) who would start republishing books of other authors with his/her name. I called this person a “Remaker” – that would be also the title of the story, based on a story by Jorge Luis Borges, The Maker (El Hacedor). But, after a few pages, I simply reached a dead end, and couldn´t bring myself to pick it up again to finish it.

Then, less than two months ago, I read a very interesting post in Larry´s blog on another Borges´s story: Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote. Menard is a ficticious author who has published a revered academic work, but who also has an underground production that not everyone is aware of. In his story, an eulogy for the recently dead scholar, Borges points out the rewriting of parts of Miguel de Cervantes´s Don Quixote by Menard. The rewriting wasn´t “merely” an updated version, or an original work inspired by Cervantes. Not at all: what Menard did was to rewrite the Quixote word for word, as if he was Cervantes himself. Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote is a brilliant, witty criticism of sorts on the Modernist movement.

Is this post, Larry posed the following question: “What would a 21st century Menard look like, not merely copying Don Quijote but instead (re)creating it for the 21st century?” And he goes further:

“Would this 21st century Menard conclude that his Don Quijote would be a mostly indecipherable text whose audience would consist solely of those fellow anachronistic aficionados who would be most apt to rebel against the reigning “transparent prose” movement?

Something to consider. If I had any real combination of chutzpah and writing talent, I would attempt writing a story that would reflect this. But I do not, so I’m just leaving this thought trail for others to consider and to do with as they please.”

Then I remembered my forgotten story, and finally discovered what I was doing wrong: I had chosen the wrong Borges´s story! I´ve been rewriting it since then, having accepted Larry´s challenge, and exchanging e-mails with him in order to clear up some questions. He even got me an English translation of Borges´s story (thanks again, Larry!), since I only had the Spanish original and the Brazilian Portuguese translation.

I must say that´s a hell of a challenge, and I hope I´m up to it. I´m almost finishing it (6000 words until today; probably it´ll end up with 8000 words approximately). It´s been fun, anyway.

I´m interested to know what you think about it. Have any of you ever tried to write an “update” to a classic story? If so, what were the major problems you faced upon writing it?




  1. says

    Tried to do the same with my blog and Quixote.

    First problem – No idea I was doing it. It was an attempt to tell my story, which turned out to be a story about chasing Windmills.

    “Something that started with Pattern Recognition was that I†discovered I could Google the world of the novel. I began to regard it as a sort of extended text — hypertext pages hovering just outside the printed page. There have been threads on my Web site — readers Googling and finding my footprints. I still get people asking me about “the possibilities of interactive fiction,” and they seem to have no clue how we’re already so there.”
    William Gibson.

    Second Problem – Noboby gets it;

    “I think of the past twenty years,
    When I used to walk home quietly from the Kuo-ch’ing;
    All the people in the Kuo-ch’ing monastery-
    They say, “Han-shan is an idiot.”
    “Am I really an idiot:” I reflect.
    But my reflections fail to solve the question:
    for I myself do not know who the self is,
    And how can others know who I am?”
    – Han Shan
    The Zen Frog

  2. says

    I have to admit, I’m very, very curious to see the final product, because the few hints you’ve given me seems to indicate it’ll be exactly the sort of thing I’d like to read :D And of course, you’re welcome, Fábio! :D

  3. says

    Larry, I´ve been working real hard at Remaker. I just stopped for awhile in order to write a shorter story to submit to a horror anthology (the deadline for this one is July 31st, so I must hurry). You will be the first to read it and give me your feedback (Kathy Sedia and Jeff are also interested, so I´m taking the liberty of using you three as beta readers. ;-)

  4. says

    It actually sounds like a very interesting story. I had an idea for something vaguely similar (book related, involving questionable authorship and the nature of individual thought) quite some time ago and ironically… you just reminded me that I never wrote it. But I -did- write down the idea in one of my notebooks which I am now going to endeavor to find.

    As to the question about updating classic stories… I’ve considered many times updating Louis Carroll’s “Alice In The Underworld” (Alice in Wonderland / Through the Looking Glass) and I have a lot of old research material laying around to bring the story concept and satire into the current generation… But ultimately the problem for me has been the thought: “This was already written… And it worked, it still works even… And I’d kind of like the original author to be the one remembered for it. Besides, kids these days need to try reading -old- books every now and then, they’re getting spoiled on Harry Potter.”

    Now updating fairy tales and such? Anything that can be ascribed to anonymous folk wisdom is totally open to revision in my eyes… and then the main problem is: “How do I make a giant thatched hut with chicken feet into something modern?” and my mind fills with corny Star Wars AT-ST imagery and it shuts right down. Although, the mind does boggle at the possibilities of updating Cinderella to Steampunk or Jack & Jill into a New Weird story.

  5. says

    Deightine, that´s the question (at least for me). Consider, for example, Baz Luhrmann´s remake of Romeo and Juliet (Romeo + Juliet). Today it may seem naïve and corny, but when I heard the Shakespeare line “let us draw our swords” (I´m quoting by memory) and John LeGuizamo draws a gun with the brand name SWORD in it, I found that a great solution then. I think this kid of juxtaposition is exactly what we may need sometimes when updating classic stories.

  6. says

    I actually rather enjoyed the update to Romeo & Juliet and I would have to entirely agree that the true struggle is in updating while providing _enough_ unique takes in parallel so as to not lose the original point of the story. Now that I think of it, Don Quixote would make an amazing basis on which to write detective novel fiction. One in which there are no actual crimes, simply perceived crimes acting as windmills as the detective chases false leads of his own hallucination… perhaps in an effort to figure out a heavily buried piece of his own history through subconscious clues. A tale of self-revelation, perhaps?

    On a side note…

    Entry: Kid of Juxtaposition
    [Pro: \ˈkid\ \əv \ˌjək-stə-pə-ˈzi-shən\ | Function: biographical name]
    1 : a written device used in fiction, most commonly in the form of a young child whose needs are placed at odds or in parallel to those of the story’s primary protagonist or antagonist in order to further plot development
    2 capitalized : a pseudonym for a primary figure of contention between the French and Spanish in the mid-19th century, with little remaining historical evidence beyond witness accounts that it was a young child; a series of unfortunate coincidental events drove the conflict that ultimately lead to a pitched battle south of the French city of Perpignan with no declared victor due to the sudden disappearance of the child