A Different Point of View

I thought about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on our recent trip to Brookings, SD, as we drove through Edgely, ND and Aberdeen, SD on our way.  Frank Baum lived in Aberdeen around the time he wrote the book, and the girl he used as a model for Dorothy was his niece who lived on a god forsaken farm near Edgely.  (That girl’s daughter became the first woman senator from ND). The area is pretty swampy and remote, in the James River Valley, close to the Red River Valley, but without the good soil. I confess I never read Baum’s  book, but I really liked Wicked, which was the story told from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West.

I liked Jane Eyre as a teen, but I really liked Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, which is the story told from the point of view of the first Mrs. Rochester.

I suppose one could argue that writing a story from the point of view of another character from an established novel or story is an easy way to make a buck, but I think it is so interesting  to consider. I also don’t know how they figure out copyright and royalty issues, but it must be doable.

What novel or story would you like to see written from another character’s point of view? What novel or story would you like to see written from the point of view of a character from a completely different novel or story?

69 thoughts on “A Different Point of View”

  1. For such a book to have any impact or garner any attention, the character whose point of view is being expressed needs to come from a widely read and well-known story. You could write from the point of view of an obscure character in an obscure book but it wouldn’t have the same resonance. Of that group of classic books, many of them have already had the alternate point of view treatment, Jane Eyre many times, so its challenging to come up with a story that fits those qualifications that hasn’t already been mined.

    I recently finished reading White Trash, the 400 year history of class in America by Nancy Isenberg and followed it with a book called Down in Tennessee by Edmund Kirke (pseud.). It tells about a journalist’s observations during his visit to the South in the midst of the Civil War. I also have on order Isobel Wilkerson’s new book, Caste.

    Given that thread, I think it would be interesting to read the story of Huckleberry Finn from the point of view of Jim.

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        1. I don’t care for Colson Whitehead’s work at all. When “Underground Railroad” was so hot, I read it and disliked it.

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        2. I liked Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, and followed it up with Eric Foner’s history of the underground railroad, Gateway to Freedom. I also read Whitehead’s book about John Henry. I thought of Ta-Nehisi Coates but that’s not the sort of book he writes.

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    1. Pardon me, but I dislike the idea of having Jim tell the story. For me, the very best part of the novel is Huck’s brave decision to help Jim even though it is immoral (as he has been taught to see things). Jim’s good heart overcomes society’s nasty values. He will do right by Jim even if he goes to hell for it. Change the narrator . . . and this is lost.

      In other ways, the whole point of this novel is that it is told by Huck. His background as an abused child of an alcoholic is central to his vision of the events in the novel. To me, this is the novel in American fiction least likely to be improved by moving narration to a different character.

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      1. You imply that Jim’s point of view would eradicate Huck’s. If we allow Jim to be whole and complex, Huck’s understanding of events doesn’t change but ours enlarges.

        In Huckleberry Finn, Jim is an incomplete caricature, seen through the lens of a white person, whether that white person is Huck or Twain himself. In either case, they had cultural biases that colored their expectations and interpretations of Jim and his actions. Except when they were seen as untrustworthy brutes, black men were depicted as loyal and simple. As an enslaved person, Jim would have learned to play to those expectations. We don’t really know his inner life, where he was sincere and where he was subtly manipulative but it’s reasonable to assume that if Jim were allowed to speak for himself without repercussions, some parts of the story might unfold considerably differently.

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        1. I quite agree that Jim is a caricature and that making him the narrator would produce a different novel. When Huck Finn appeared it was a radical novel because it was told by an uneducated boy from a dysfunctional family, not to mention that it argued for fair treatment of a black man. Such a book would not be Huck Finn at all, except in setting and some plot lines. That would have been a book that Sam Clemens could not have written and readers probably would not have embraced.

          Perhaps Huck Finn should have been written by a female, possibly a lesbian, not by a straight male. I can imagine liking such a book, but it would not be Huck Finn and I’m pretty sure Clemens could not have written it. My point is that many books acquire much of their power from their narrator. If you change the narrator, you totally change the book, imposing modern values on a work highly tied to its particular time.

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        2. Jim’s story is not Huckleberry Finn and there is no reason why it should have been or would have been written by Clemens. It’s unlikely Clemens or any white person at that time (or ever) had the insight to fully reveal Jim’s inner life. They saw what they wanted to see.

          In a story from Jim’s point of view, the interactions with Huckleberry Finn might be a few minor episodes.

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  2. i have sat down with lamb the story of jesus christ’s boyhood pal a couple times and really enjoyed hearing about jesus from his troublemaking buddy as the grew up

    i think the bible views by chewbacca or tom sawyer would be a good read

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  3. Marion Zimmer Bradley has written about the King Arthur legend from the point of view of Morgan le Fay. I read the first book and enjoyed it.

    You could do Little Town on the Prairie from the point of view of Nellie Oleson, I suppose…or Eliza Wilder.

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      1. The Mary Stewart Merlin books were excellent as well. In fact I have to say I’m a huge Mary Stewart fan, having read every single thing she’s written, including all the romances. Her “Moon Spinners” was a turning point for me when I was in junior high. I had just seen the Disney movie and then for some reason picked up the book. I was astonished that the book was different from the movie. Seriously different. And I guess it was the first time it ever occurred to me that movies and books wouldn’t be the same.

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    1. I adored Mists of Avalon, in fact the two animals in the house right now are named from characters (who already existed) but I was reminded of by the book.

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  4. Dare I venture into TV shows here? The show ‘This is Us’ is so interesting because it’s told from so many different points. It took me a while to figure that out and sometimes we still go ‘Wait a minute; what??’ and have to stop and back up.
    But you see the parents now and 30 years ago. Or the kids now or the kids 20 years ago. And how they all deal with the same thing.

    There’s a movie called “Hoodwinked” (there’s a ‘Hoodwinked too’ but, eh…)
    The first is the story of Red Riding Hood and some extra characters and they’re all telling the same story from their POV. It’s pretty fun.

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    1. My sister (a writer) and I have speculated about this regarding our own stories and our mother. Mom has always had a particular story about herself that she believed with all her heart. Some of this was very true: she did go to work as a teacher to support the family, she did push college for each of us and insist that we could support ourselves, she did get her MA in education, she did care for dad in our home for many years.

      Where it all broke down is that she told the story as if she did this all alone and without help. She forgot that my aunt and uncle did so much for us, that my sister and I did most of the cooking and housework, that two ministers looked in on our family daily and weekly to provide guidance and emotional support (bless them). And she never would admit that she got her MA in Education because she loved going to school. Doing that probably saved her and gave her hope for her own life. But she just could not ever say that. She did that for us, in her own mind. She also could not understand that her day-to-day demeanor was difficult and it made her unpleasant to to live with.

      As a result the stories are so different from each point of view. My sister, brother and I have speculated about this from sibling stances as well. I saw my sister as a pious, self-righteous pain, and my brother as fun. My sister saw me as a crusader and romantic big sister. My brother saw both of us as wildly successful achievers who he could never keep up with. I always saw myself as my mother’s disappointment.

      My brother is the one with 2 masters degrees. Sister and I only have 1 each. Go figure.

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      1. We’ve experienced something similar in my family as well. My middle sister will often start telling a story that clearly involves someone else in the family usually one of the other sisters or my mom and we will all look at each other because nobody ever remembers the stories that my middle sister tells. Do we just all have faulty memories or is she the delusional one?

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        1. I think of I’ve mentioned it on the trail before, but I’m quite sure that any memoir that my sister or I might write about the childhood we both experienced in the same household, would be quite different.

          We have also in the past seen how Steve and his sister have quite different recollections of theirs. It’s not necessarily that one is telling the truth and the other is not, but we see the world differently and we experience it differently.

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  5. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    I am still thinking about a fictional work to re-write. The interesting ones are already listed, i.e. Huckleberry Finn from Jim’s perspective. This will be interesting mental fodder for the weekend.

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  6. Sargasso Sea has actually had a big affect on me as well. It was such a compelling read that I have a little trouble with Mr. Rochester now. Having reread Jane Eyre a couple of times since I read Sargasso Sea, it’s getting a little better each time but it’s hard to accept that my opinion of a classic character has been changed by some other author.

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  7. Another point of view that I have really appreciated seeing is the Henry VIII story play out from the eyes of a sympathetic Thomas Cromwell. I highly recommend Wolfe Hall by Hillary Mantell, if you haven’t already read it. I don’t think that I believe this version of history, but it is extremely interesting to think about.

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  8. The idea of Huck Finn as told by Jim seems so obvious I wondered if anyone had attempted it. I found this:

    Click to access jim.pdf

    It’s intended for young people and it’s a theatrical presentation rather than a book but at least it appears to be an attempt to flesh out Jim as a more fully realized human being.

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  9. Every book I like was made good by the correct pairing of narrator with story. In Moby Dick, the narrator is a dreamy guy who sees the whale as a whale, not as an enemy or source of profit. In The Great Gatsby, the narrator is a Midwestern guy who is the only person to see the humanity of Jay Gatsby. In To Kill a Mockingbird, racism and prejudice are seen through the eyes of a child, and are seen to be horrifically wrong in ways adults in that society could not see. The Lord of the Rings is mostly seen through the eyes of Hobbits, little people whose easy-going natures and small size magnify the horror of the action they observe.

    At least with great books, I don’t want the point of view changed. I’m such a conservative!

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    1. Again, the re-writes suggested would not erase or in any way delegitimize the original work. It may be a book you’d choose to read or not, and you may like it or not, but it would surely be a different story. I have to admit, though, I’m having a hard imagining Moby Dick being told from the perspective of the whale.

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  10. I sometimes enjoy fantasy, esp. if the writer has a sense of humor. There are a number of mystery series from the point of view of the hero/heroine’s cat… Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs. Murphy series (with Sneaky Pie Brown) comes to mind. The humans are, of course, just bumbling around till the cats manage to show them where to find the clues…

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  11. OT YouTube discussion. I need to do something different today. I usually recommend “channels” for you to sample. Today I recommend a subject that has been featured in many, many different channels. The subject is the New Orleans busking band Tuba Skinny. They mostly play jazz of the type that was popular in the 1920s and 1930s. This band is acknowledged to be the best band in the world at what they do, and many fans believe them to be the best jazz band in existence.

    Of course, many folks don’t care for that sound. But those that do find that listening to Tuba Skinny is vital to their happiness. This band has a stunning presence on YouTube, as there are reportedly 500 videos of them playing.

    I developed a crush on them about six weeks ago. I have this under control, or mostly. In a normal day I will only listen to maybe 20 Tuba Skinny videos. They make me happy. And, believe me, I could talk for hours about what is so fascinating and pleasing about this group.

    Here’s a sample:

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  12. Exercising great restraint, I’ll give just two more samples. Jazz isn’t appealing to some people, and only some of them will enjoy retro jazz.

    The natural habitat for this band is a spot on Royal Street in New Orleans, or several other venues where they can busk (play music to attract tips from bystanders). Busking bands are terribly difficult to film, for the setting is chaotic. Dancers add to the complexity of the scene.

    The band is best when they play hot, but they can be melodic and wistful. This piece has nice interplay between musicians. This type of music is generally known as polyphony. It is tricky to set up, and the result is a bit different each time.

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    1. Their combination of instrumentation is distinctive and integral to their sound but their choice of music reminds me of the jug band revival of the ’60s, notably Jim Kweskin and R. Crumb.

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      1. Great observation, Bill. Two of the biggest fans of Tuba Skinny are Maria Muldaur (who sang with the Kweskin gang) and R Crumb (a famous devotee of traditional jazz). What is surprising is how delighted younger audiences are to hear this music, especially young folks in Europe (where the band often tours).

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        1. It’s an assortment. Go to ‘Jazzradio.com’ and look it up. It’s free to listen. You only have to pay to avoid the commercials.

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        2. Interesting… I have a lot of gypsy jazz cds, but most of them are twenty to twenty five years old, so I’m not up to date on what more current artists are doing.

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    2. I don’t think New Orleans has many truly “professional” dancers. But what it has a lot of is dancers whose hobby is appearing in serious dance competitions. The two couples in the Storyville Blues video seem like obvious veterans of dance contests.

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  13. One more comment, then I’ll pipe down. As we suffer through one of the ugliest periods in American politics, it is fun to see Tuba Skinny as a model of government. The band is one of the most democratic organizations you will ever see, with all band members respecting each other and caring for the fate of the band. Everybody here is extremely skillful, but nobody has an outsized ego. And yet there is more leadership going on than you would guess until you spend more time watching the band. One person chose, wrote, arranged and directed the material they play. Can you guess who? Polyphony itself is an interesting model for social governance. Everybody talks, sometimes talking over each other, but with mutual respect. Everybody is talking about the same topic (musical theme), but they don’t say it the same way. And in the end, it works.

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  14. Just finished reading “Shakespeare for Squirrels” by Christopher Moore. The main character is Pocket, who he created (or embellished) originally for “Fool” based on the King Lear story, told from the perspective of, as the title implies, the fool. It’s a very different story than Lear, and “Shakespeare for Squirrels” borrows from Midsummer Night’s Dream, but doesn’t fully retell the tale. None-the-less, they are delightful.

    Thinking on siblings and how they remember and view things differently, I wonder how Mary would have written the “Little House” books.

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  15. I apologize for being stuck on Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, but I’ve been thinking it would have been interesting if Louisa May Alcott had sent Jo March to St. Petersburg, Tom and Huck’s hometown, to observe and reflect on the goings-on, maybe even to participate. Given Alcott’s personal preference for writing “blood and thunder” novels, it wouldn’t necessarily be a passive or domestic narrative.

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