9 Works Of Literature That Are Basically Fanfiction — From 'Lord Of The Flies' To 'Inferno'
If you came of age in the time of the Internet, chances are that you've encountered fanfiction at least once or twice in your virtual travels. Perhaps you're a dedicated fanfic author yourself, with a substantial following and a number of multi-chapter fics under your belt. Or maybe you once stumbled upon a paragraph about Harry and Draco kissing and decided that the genre just wasn't for you. But when you stop and think about it, the category of "fanfiction" is awfully broad. If fanfiction is any piece of writing that creates a new story using established characters or circumstances then... doesn't that cover quite of lot of literary history? Possibly most of it? Here are a few of the many books out there that are lowkey fanfiction, because fics have been around for a long, long time.
Of course, quite a lot of published fanfiction is entirely upfront about being fanfiction. Wicked makes no attempt to hide the fact that it's based on The Wizard of Oz. There are plenty of books expanding on the stories told in Pride and Prejudice or Dracula. And the fanfiction epic that eventually became Fifty Shades of Grey shares 89% of its text with Twilight, according to the anti-plagiarism software Turnitin.
These books, however, are works of fanfiction hiding in plain sight. They're not so obvious. It might take a second glance to figure out which books they were originally based on:
'Lord of the Flies' by William Golding
Like all great works of literature, Lord of the Flies was written primarily out of spite. William Golding was responding to a popular children's book called The Coral Island, about a group of British school boys who are stranded on a remote island and have a "jolly good time" because they are British and therefore good at everything. Golding wanted to push back against the imperialist message of the original work, so in his book (which lifts several characters straight from Coral Island) the boys do not have a jolly good time. The civilized British boys are far more savage than any supposed "savages," despite their superiority complex.
'Boy, Snow, Bird' by Helen Oyeyemi
Helen Oyeyemi's re-imagining of Snow White places the story in the 1950s, where Boy Novak has just arrived in the town of Flax Hill, looking for a new life. There she finds Snow, the radiant daughter of a craftsman, and there she gives birth to Bird, Snow's sister. A smart, complex novel about three women coming of age, Boy, Snow, Bird stretches the possibilities of what a fairy tale retelling (read: fanfiction) can be.
'The Three Musketeers' by Alexandre Dumas
Alexandre Dumas openly based his famous novel, The Three Musketeers, on a historical novel titled Mémoires de Monsieur d'Artagnan, which he came across while researching French history. He was so excited about this find that he checked it out of the library and never returned it. Dumas was undoubtedly one of the greatest French authors who ever lived, but... maybe not the best role model for library practices.
'Othello' by William Shakespeare
Most of Shakespeare's plays are "fanfiction," in that nearly all of his plots are lifted from other texts. In the case of Othello, the source material was an Italian tale called "The Moorish Captain." Desdemona is named in the story, but Othello is only called "The Moor" and he's... more of an evil, racist caricature than a tragic hero. Shakespeare stole the basic plot but turned Othello into a complex character, as well as expanding the plot into one of his best known plays.
'A Thousand Acres' by Jane Smiley
Shakespeare wrote his fair bit of fanfiction, to be sure, but plenty of people have also stolen (and re-stolen) his stolen plots over the years. A Thousand Acres is a King Lear AU that sets the tragic tale in Zebulon County, Iowa, rather than in England. Patriarch Larry Cook intends to turn his vast farm over to his three daughters, but young Caroline is cut out when she doesn't show the same enthusiasm as her sisters.
'The Aeneid' by Virgil
The Aeneid is such a blatant fanfiction of Homer's The Odyssey and The Iliad that both those works are referenced in the very first line of the epic poem. This is the anti-Greek side of the story, however. Virgil's version follows the pious Aeneas, one of the defeated princes from the Trojan War, as he bumbles around the Mediterranean, Odysseus-style, narrowly avoiding the same misadventures and whining a lot about his fate.
'On Beauty' by Zadie Smith
In this retelling of the novel Howard's End, a long-suffering academic named Howard struggles to keep his family together. His wife, Kiki, is no longer the beautiful activist she once was, and his children all want to go their own ways... especially Jerome, who's fallen for the stunning daughter of a right-wing icon.
'Inferno' by Dante Alighieri
Honestly, what isn't Inferno a fanfiction of? As a tour through Hell, it's taking some cues from the Bible, of course. But Dante's hellish tour guide is none other than Virgil, and the landscape of Hell is clearly inspired by Virgil's vision of the underworld in The Aeneid (another work of out and out fanfiction). And to top it all off, Dante inserted himself into his famous work, so we should all stop acting like self-insert fics are trashy and/or new.
'Paradise Lost' by John Milton
People give fanfic writers a hard time for romanticizing the likes of Loki or Draco or Kylo Ren. But Milton went and wrote a Bible fanfic romanticizing Satan. That has got to be the ultimate bad boy crush. Paradise Lost is the story of the Fall of Man, with Satan as a sort of tortured, complex antihero leading the rebellion against heaven.