Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Is it time to remake some books?

The cover of my c1969 copy
of The Devil Rides Out
In the movies we are used to the concept of remakes. A great old movie of the past (or sometimes a rubbish one) is made again, with a modern twist. King Kong, for instance, has undergone the process twice. It is possible to see a sensible argument for doing this. Old movies can look clunky to modern eyes and fail to attract a young audience. Yet if anyone ever remakes Casablanca, I will want to have words with them. Come to think of it, I can't offhand think of a single remake that was better than the original (sequels, yes, but not remakes). I'm sure there must be some (suggestions please), but I can't put my finger on one.

Despite this, I'm going to suggest that there may be a market in remaking some books. It's a dangerous game. Bowdlerised Shakespeare is something of a joke these days - yet it is arguable that some good and/or entertaining books need a little reworking to suit a modern audience.

I thought of this because I'm in holiday mode, a time when I often re-read books I enjoyed as a youth. At the moment I'm part way through Dennis Wheatley's The Devil Rides Out. I know, I know, it's hopeless shlock. But the fact is that I thought this book was wonderful when I was 15. I can still see the reasons why. About 1/4 way through, for example, there's a wonderful car chase across Berkshire and Wiltshire, redolent with places I know and love. The technique Wheatley uses shouldn't work. He gives repeated timings as each of the characters reaches a certain point or does something - yet the effect is one that really sticks in the mind and gives the impression of a true race against time.

Similarly, hokum though it all is, Wheatley's black magic is much more earthy and unsettling than anything that happens at Hogwarts. So why the re-write? Because the writing has a naive but unpleasant racism that it's impossible to ignore from a modern viewpoint. I can distance it - I know from Wheatley's 1930s viewpoint this was just everyday reality, not intended to be offensive. But it is as uncomfortable today as a Bernard Manning joke. I can overlook it, but to bring to modern teenagers that same enjoyment I got, it really could do with a remake. (There are also some science comments that make me cringe.)

How about it, Dennis Wheatley's estate? I'd be happy to volunteer to do the job. (Genuinely.) Let's bring this wonderfully enjoyable nonsense to a new audience.