We live in the age of movie reboots. For some, this term has a specific meaning, which is different from a “remake” or a “re-imagining.” The overall sense appears to contend that a reboot is a new title in a series that disregards all continuity from previous entries. This definition has a number of problems insofar as very few titles that are considered reboots fully conform. Star Trek (2009) would seem to be your emblematic reboot and yet that movie does not disregard the continuity of previous series titles at all; rather, it embraces them.
When it comes down to it, ‘reboot’ is our computer-age term for ‘remake.’ A snazzy new marketing buzzword that feels new but really isn’t.
In reality, we’ve been doing ‘reboots’ for a very long time. More than that, some of the greatest works of literature are what we might consider to be reboots.
Here are seven stories that were amazingly rebooted by some most incredible writers.
7. Aeschylus’s Oresteia Rebooted as Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra
The great thing about reading Ancient Greek literature is how much of it comes across as really high quality fan fiction. Read The Iliad and The Odyssey but didn’t get enough detail on Agamemnon’s true fate? Don’t worry, Aeschylus was curious too; so he wrote it all out himself. The three plays of the Oresteia tell us how Agamemnon was murdered by his wife Clytemnestra (greatest name ever!) and ultimately avenged by his son (Orestes).
Eugene O’Neill rebooted the whole story with a cast of Civil War era heroes. Agamemnon is now General Ezra Mannon and his wife is now Christine. These series of plays toys more directly with the Freudian issues latent in most Greek works of art.
If you were ever wondering if there was a corresponding female ‘complex’ to the Oedipus complex, read these two trilogies.
6. The Legends of King Arthur Rebooted as T.H. White’s The Once and Future King
There are multiple texts that make up the overall mythology of King Arthur. Le Morte D’Arthur by Thomas Mallory is the most famous of the older texts, and it is likely the primary source for T.H. White’s twentieth century reboot, The Once and Future King (the title of which is clearly inspired by Mallory).
For me, the primary difference between the two is one of readability. Mallory’s text is dense and biblical, whereas White’s is novelistic and comic. If you’ve seen Disney’s Sword in the Stone, you’ll recognize much of what White has done and redone with the mythos.
5. The Myth of Prometheus/Aeschylus’s Prometheus Bound Rebooted as the Shelleys’ Frankenstein and Prometheus Unbound
Both Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley were clearly enamored with the myth of Prometheus. Mary Shelley rebooted it with the famous Frankenstein, which was written with the often overlooked subtitle “The Modern Prometheus.” This, of course, refers to the Titan’s shared position with the good doctor as a creator of humans. Mary focused more on the general idea of the Prometheus myth in her reboot; Percy, on the other hand, rebooted a very specific version of the myth: Aeschylus’s play, Prometheus Bound. Whereas Aeschylus’s version includes a reconciliation between Prometheus and his oppressor (Zeus), Percy rewrote the story to remove any such elements, preferring that the rebellious nature of Prometheus be exalted and preserved (in a purposely Miltonic manner).
4. Ovid’s Pygmalion Rebooted as George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (My Fair Lady)
This is perhaps the loosest reboot of the bunch, but one of the more successful. In the early twentieth century, Shaw decided to reboot the ancient myth of Pygmalion–an artist who fell in love with his own statue, which eventually came alive for him–by translating the sculptor into Dr. Henry Higgins and the sculpture into Eliza Doolittle. Of course, the plot doesn’t involve statues being turned to life; rather, it translates this drama into a professor of phonetics attempting to train a low class woman to pass for a high born one.
The translation to twentieth century England worked brilliantly and spawned a perhaps even more famous musical version, My Fair Lady.
3. Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus Rebooted as Goethe’s Faust
Keeping with the theme of rebellious devils and their human counterparts, we now have two different versions of the Faust myth. Christopher Marlowe wrote his in the sixteenth century and Goethe famously rebooted it in the nineteenth. The two share a great deal (especially the same source material) but the style and scope of the two could not be more different. Marlowe presents a fairly typical tragic play, while Goethe goes more for the epic of a lifetime. While many consider Goethe’s work a German masterpiece, I far prefer the language of Marlowe: Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships / And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
2. The Myth of Adam and Eve (Genesis) Rebooted as Milton’s Paradise Lost
While Milton likely saw Paradise Lost as a companion piece to the chapters of Genesis, there’s no doubt that his epic poem greatly expands upon the world and narrative presented to readers of the Bible. His visions of the war in heaven, Satan’s hell, and the minds of Adam & Eve exceed much of what the Bible has to offer by way of complex literature.
Though Milton would likely have hated interpretations like that of William Blake (who argued that Milton’s Satan steals the show and is the true hero of the epic), it’s his complicated picture of the rebellious devil at the heart of the poem that makes this a classic.
1. Homer’s Odyssey Rebooted as James Joyce’s Ulysses
Ulysses is a famously difficult text. While some scholars will tell you that the connections to Homer’s epic aren’t that significant, it would be entirely foolish to ignore how much Ulysses owes to Homer. Each chapter of Joyce’s masterpiece corresponds to the various episodes of Homer’s work, and the three main characters (Leopold Bloom, Molly Bloom and Stephen Dedalus) each correspond to the main characters of The Odyssey (Odysseus, Penelope and Telemachus).
In a book full of brilliant ideas and unfathomable feats of writing, it’s the simple notion at the heart of the novel that is most poignant: the idea that the adventures of Odysseus, who takes ten years to finally find his way home, can be experienced by all of us in a single, run of the mill day just by leaving home, going on a ‘journey’ of our own, and inevitably weaving our way back by nightfall.
What are some other famous reboots from the history of literature?