As the saying goes, "good artists copy, great artists steal." Pablo Picasso was likely talking about painters when he said this, but it can be applied to other mediums, too. Even writing. In fact, that saying might be more true than we as readers have ever realized. Some of the most famous and popular novels around, long considered classics in their own right, are books based on other books. It seems impossible that something as dense and literary as Ulysses could be based upon anything than James Joyce's own mind, but alas.
Writing books based on other works doesn't seem like such a far-out idea now. I mean, fan fiction is a celebrated way of life, and a great way to practice your writing skills with characters you already love. Maybe these classic authors were writing fan fiction, without even realizing it! It would actually make sense. I mean just imagine James Joyce loving The Odyssey so much he tried to emulate it in his own writing. Can't say we've never been there, all these years later.
No matter what the case was, there are some pretty surprising instances of books being based on other existing books. Here are 8 books you never knew were based on other books.
1. Ulysses by James Joyce
The amazing Ulysses is actually based on Homer's The Odyssey. Whether you've read one or both of these classics, you probably know that they are both immense, incredibly dense, and about men on a journey; what you might not have noticed upon a first read, are the similarities between Leopold Bloom and Odysseus, Molly Bloom and Penelope, and Stephen Dedalus and Telemachus.
2. Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
Meg Wolitzer's first YA novel was actually loosely based on (and definitely inspired by) Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. Belzhar is a play on "Bell Jar," and the topics of mental health, depression, and institutions are definitely a give away to the world of Plath's The Bell Jar.
3. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Gustave Flaubert's Madame Flaubert is based on the notorious English major nightmare (I mean classic), Don Quixote. Madame Bovary is a romantic take on Don Quixote, but once you realize it, you won't be able to un-see it while you read.
4. A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
Beloved author Jane Smiley based her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, A Thousand Acres on Shakespearean classic, King Lear. From the plot to the characters (Larry = Lear, Caroline = Cordelia, etc.), the similarities are actually pretty hard to miss once you know to look for them!
5. On Beauty by Zadie Smith
On Beauty, Zadie Smith's novel of different, though intertwined families, was loosely based on the E.M. Forster classic, Howard's End . The similarities are in the details in this one: the setting is very similar, as are some of the plot details.
6. The Innocents by Francesca Segal
Another work of contemporary fiction based on a beloved classed: The Innocents, as hinted at in the title, was based on Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence. Even the dress on the cover brings reders back to the bygone era depicted in an Edith Wharton novel!
7. Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes
The writer's copying writer's trend is really more of a circle of life, when you think about it. Flaubert based Madame Bovary on Don Quixote, and years later, Julian Barnes based his own novel on Gustave Flaubert's work, namely, his short stories in Three Tales.
8. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Jean Rhy's gorgeous writing is enough to make her stand out on her own, but this one is actually based on a classic: Jane Eyre!