Come, let us be friends for once, the Earth shall be left to no one.

Recently I have been thinking a lot about imagined identity in fiction and art. It is partly because I am working on a piece of writing that shifts between narrators who at first despise one another, before reluctantly or unexpectedly forming bonds. I have also been writing articles and wondering/worrying who I am writing as; what is my voice; who is the narrator of this information; is there a narrator at all or is this merely information appearing from the ether? I have also been reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith and marveling at her ability and braveness at writing so in depth about people who she is not. She is a mixed race female of Jamaican/British decent, yet she writes expansively (and provocatively!) about middle aged Bengali men, teenagers, young wives, white middle class geneticists and British gentry - all with incredible honesty, warmth and irony.

I have just read that director Rupert Goold is working on a theatrical, multi-media version of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis to be performed in Kensington Gardens, London, in May. He is planning to make it less-posh, less-period and 'less-Enid-Blyton-like.' He likens its status from his own childhood to something of Shakespearean proportions with an internal message that, like Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet, can be re-imagined in various other settings (Romeo + Juliet?!).

It's hard to imagine seeing through someone else's eyes...

Having grown up with the books and the very lovable BBC dramatisation of the first four of the Narnia series, I agree with him. I am excited to see what he will do: make it contemporary, make the religious allegory more/less obvious or relate it to some more modern issue/s. I hope it will be good and bring a new audience to the book. I do not, as many critics and readers are sure to feel, that an interpretation in anyway damages the original. The original endures unscathed regardless of emulation - and I think it is always interesting to hear another point of view.

However it has made me worry in one respect.

Many stories, particularly traditional plays such as Shakespeare, the Brontes, Dickens and so on, are perpetually reinvented in order to 'snare' a new generation of onlookers. Invariably directors, producers and designers end up pandering to the imagined tastes of the preferred absorbent quota (usually the teenage audience). This happens by referencing pop or urban culture and making all the characters wear Nike high-tops. I have no problem with this in theory, but in practice I think it is culturally detrimental to our young people if this is to happen to most of historical literature. Who is to say a fifteen-year-old boy from Hackney can't imagine and sympathise with the fears of Danish king invented by a dead bloke with a tash from Stratford? Are we not underestimating the strength of our species' 'blind' ability to empathise, to love?

I mean, sure, I love Clueless as much as the next guy. Who doesn't love epic, Jane Austin-tinted dialogue like, 'You're a virgin who can't drive,' 'That was way harsh, Ty.' But I would be insulted if the director thought that I would not understand the original inspiration (Emma) and needed Alicia Silverstone to make the essence of the story blindingly obvious and in clothes I too could purchase at any high street shop (should I wish to dress in drag and do the hula...).

This is not our life - but isn't that why it's interesting?

This talk below, given at TED International by Turkish writer Elif Shafak, epitomises my concern. She suggests that creative writing tutors alter their syllabus slightly, by asking that students don't necessarily write what they know, but what they can imagine. Less I Think Therefore I Am, more, I Feel Therefore I Am Free.

When I was a child and I read (or rather, listened to on story tape!) to C.S. Lewis' Narnia stories, I had no idea why the hell the characters called each other a 'brick' or really what they were going on about in general. While I am English, their world, even before they stepped through the wardrobe, was alien and exciting to me. And that is why I loved it. It was also why I loved the Arabian Night stories, the tales of the Brothers Grimm, and so on - for precisely the opposite reason that so many stories are 'modernised': because they were not about me, because they taught me about another world, a view through somebody else's eyes.

I agree with Shafak that fiction that does not alter your perspective is bad fiction. It's bad art really - if it teaches and tells you nothing you do not already know, what's the point in it at all? I can't wait to see Goold's production, to see how he has interpreted it's core values, but I think it is naive and insulting to modern audiences to imagine that the original is too far a stretch of the imagination - because that is exactly what it should be stretching, unless all we want to see are mirrors in the form of fiction, film, theatre and art. There are places for our own stories - as they are important - but there should always be room for the stories of others.

Here Shafak, much more articulately than me, voices her similar concerns:

(Apologies if I've posted this video before - but perhaps it is worth reiterating.
Also, in juxtaposition to the point of this post - don't these three ladies all look strikingly similar??! ACCIDENTAL IRONY!)

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