A vampire, space pirate and Juliet walk into a bar…
Ry Forsythe (They/Them) // Contributor
Tara Asadi // Illustrator
“Did vampires originally burn in the sun or did they always sparkle?” my younger coworker asked me. I was so caught off guard that my brain stalled, but once I heard the question a second time I flat out told them “Twilight brought the sparkle, originally they burn.”
This question got me thinking about how impactful that reimagining of vampires was. Vampire stories aren’t new, Anne Rice, for instance, has plenty of books about dating blood suckers. That being said, those were catered to adults. The Twilight series, on the other hand, gave Stephenie Meyer the chance to imprint mormon values that publishers knew could be marketed towards teen girls and their moms, making them a lot of money. All kissing scenes were PG, Edward was able to stop himself from killing Bella for her blood more than once and there was a clear distinction between good and bad vampires. As a bonus, they sparkled in the sunlight. It brought something new to the table, even if it was silly.
Later that same day, my coworker and I were talking about my tattoos. I explained how I drew inspiration from one of my all time favourite animated movies, Treasure Planet, for the piece on my left arm. Not surprisingly, they didn’t know the movie. Many don’t, because it didn’t shine in the same way Twilight had. Though it was just a reimagining of Treasure Island, I assumed the movie flopped at the box office because the story had been done a number of times before. Probably, I thought, the public wanted something new that didn’t ride the waves of stories that had already been told.
So, colour me surprised when a little birdie tells me about These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong. Based on the synopsis, I learned it’s a reimagining of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. That age-old story has been reimagined MANY times before, however, Gong still brought a fresh idea to literature that many teens are still forced to read for their English class. Similar to West Side Story, the story includes gang politics and conflict the two lovers have to navigate if they want to be together. What makes Gong’s story even more unique and intriguing is her moving the setting from some place in sixteenth century Italy to 1926 Shanghai, as well as hint to some romantic history with the two main characters that apparently ends in betrayal. It hooks a reader in and has them wonder how these new details will play out, even though they might know how the story could end.
This shows how something will always be refreshing for old and new generations alike. Having new takes on old stories, tropes or even creatures can catch the interests of younger generations in ways originals can’t. It goes to show how breathing new life into stories with new ideas a person might not have considered grabs people’s attention, makes them excited and at times can have a lasting impact. Especially if it makes enough money.
Overall, these reflections made me realize how recycling creatures, settings or plot points of classic stories will always engage people when done right. Despite not every reimagining being sensational, people will remember the trends whether it’s to be nostalgic or used as a launching point if readers move on to reading more adult themes. Whatever the case, I’m left wondering (and hoping) that a few years from now someone will ask their coworker “Was Romeo and Julliet always set in China?”