26 June 2012

Acts of Revision/Change is Bad Pt. 2

Continuing from my earlier post, the second book is: Rhett Butler’s People, on loan from my mom. It’s meant as a companion to Gone With The Wind, telling the story of Rhett’s life, his family and connections, and his side of story with respect to his relationship with Scarlett O’Hara Hamilton Kennedy. It was written with permission from the Mitchell estate, so that makes it the third book in the GWTW canon. I don’t think GWTW is out of copyright yet, or we’d already have Gone With The Werewolves (I’m picturing General Sherman as some kind of Werewolf King), or Scarlett the Vampire Slayer books everywhere. 

 One of the great things about GWTW is how well-written a character Rhett is. You know from just a few brief descriptions of his actions or facial expressions what he is thinking. This book takes a bit more to get across what Rhett is thinking or feeling and it suffers for it. It also has scenes between Rhett and Scarlett that were not in the original book, and oddly skips very important moments in the Rhett/Scarlett (or, if you will allow, Rhetlett) relationship, such as his proposal after Frank Kennedy’s funeral (see iconic image from the movie, above), and the Bonnie Incident (again, sorry for the vague, but I can’t remember if I made Oz watch GWTW or not). Instead those things are talked about second hand or just alluded to. I thought that this was odd, but maybe the author felt those moment were well covered in the original.

My biggest issue with this book, though, is that it feels too revisionist.  It completely changes at least one major character’s story. The saintly Melanie, Scarlett’s only supporter, is portrayed quite differently in this book and I don’t like it. Maybe it’s just my aversion to change, but I don’t think you should take that many liberties with source material if you’re trying to tell a parallel or connecting story. One does not simply retcon Gone With The Wind. However, my mom thinks I’m remembering GWTW wrong, she doesn’t think this new book rewrites anything. Now I’ll have to read GWTW to figure out if I’m right, or just forgetful.

A surprising thing the author does is go beyond the ending of the original novel. There was an official sequel published in 1991, called Scarlett, in which Scarlett goes to Ireland, kills someone, stands trail for murder, blah, blah. I didn’t read it, but I had the TV movie on VHS (it starred an ex-Bond, Val Kilmer’s wife, and Ned Stark!). My point is there was already a sanctioned, published imagining as to how the Rhetlett story would continue after Rhett stopped giving a damn at the end of GWTW. But this book completely ignores that book, and instead tells a much better, much shorter, reconciliation story. This is probably the best we’re going to get, short of Mitchell rising during the zombie apocalypse and writing a sequel herself. It also worked well with the characters as we know them from the first book, and their slightly re-imagined versions in this book.

Ned Stark, playing someone Scarlett kills.

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