Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Anthony Hope and the Triumph of the Public Domain

While in a local independent bookstore last weekend, I discovered that Penguin has reprinted The Prisoner of Zenda as part of their Red Classics series. While it looks like not everything in the Red Classics series looks like it's in the public domain much of it is.

But reprinting classic adventure novels isn't the triumph of the public domain. Everybody knows that Kiss Me Kate and West Side Story are reworked Shakespeare, and that when Disney's not fighting to eliminate the public domain, it's raiding it for plots and marketing opportunities. Of course, there's also Alan Moore's Justice League of Public Domain Victorian Characters, which was made into an execrable movie. That reuse and recycling of older material is the triumph of the public domain.

So how does Anthony Hope, the author of The Prisoner of Zenda, fit into this triumph of the public domain? Well, even if you'd never heard of it before today, you've probably seen one of the movies based on it: two of the most faithful adaptations of Zenda starred Richard Dreyfus and Kevin Klein. I also seem to recall the same plot being used for episodes of sitcoms over the years as well. And of course, the fictional European country of Ruritania is almost as famous as the British university of Oxbridge.

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