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Robert Lautner on Quint and Books Inspired by Films

Posted on 20th February 2024 by Mark Skinner

Hitting upon the brilliant literary concept of filling in the backstory of one of twentieth century cinema's most intriguing characters - maverick Amity fisherman Quint from Steven Spielberg's Jaws; itself adapted, of course, from Peter Benchley's original novel of the same name - Robert Lautner's pitch-perfect novel is a rollicking page-turner with its own highly cinematic qualities. In this exclusive piece, Lautner reflects upon the relatively rare phenomenon of books that are inspired by films (as opposed to the other way round) and the intertwining of different mediums to create all-encompassing 'universes.'     

We’re all familiar with books being turned into films. In fact, the adaption of books into movies is as old as cinema itself. But what about the other way round? 

When I was a kid, it was common to see a circular sticker on the cover of a spin-off book proclaiming it was ‘From the Hit Movie’, or variants thereof. Often the books came into UK shops before we got the film, so this was the only way you could get spoilers in those days (which would then be confused because the film had deleted some of the scenes or was edited in a different order). You don’t see those books so much now.

But what about examples where a book is literally taken from a film or TV series? It’s not as common as you might think.

One genre that seems to adapt to this ‘reverse engineering’ enthusiastically is sci-fi. For decades, books have been used to expand cinematic science fiction stories - and then, oddly enough, these lore stories often make it into the ongoing adventures onscreen. Even more oddly, they are sometimes written by the actors themselves – such as in the case of Star Trek and Star Wars – in a kind of suitably fitting ‘fifth wall’ version of storytelling. A recent modern example in a more traditional novel is Ronan Bennett’s Jaq, A Top Boy Story, in which Bennet successfully takes an adjacent character from his Netflix series and tells a story in the same world from their POV.  

With modern cinema, we’re forced to comply with the acceptance of ‘Universes’, and even multiple ones at that. Reboots are the order of the day, so we get weird circumstances where more actors have played Alfred than Batman. But it has, and does, happen with books also.

The king of the multiverse, as far as literature is concerned, is Dickens. Forget superheroes, the real DCU is the Dickens Cinematic Universe. Not only do we get contemporary updates, we’re also quite willing to investigate ancillary adventures, in book and film, ranging from Jacob Marley to the Artful Dodger. My favourite example, albeit sci-fi comedy, is Jasper Fforde’s Lost in a Good Book, where Miss Havisham is an agent for the Jurisfiction. I can’t really explain more than that, but it doesn’t get more multiverse.

We might tag these literary ripples-from-a-centre-splash as ‘companion novels’, often in the form of a prequel or written in a subsidiary character’s POV. Perhaps the most feted of these is Jean RhysWide Sargasso Sea, which tells the story of the ill-fated Mrs Rochester - from Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre - before that whole unpleasant attic business. Sticking with period novels, 2013’s Longbourn by Jo Baker is certainly, if not a companion novel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, then a parallel book which focusses on the servants of the Bennet household to great success. And if we go super classical, we can add Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, which tells the story of Penelope, Odysseus’ Queen, from an entirely different perspective towards that whole adventuring hero thing he had going on. 

An intriguing consequence occurs when we find the parallel novel’s universe taking on its own trajectory and expanding beyond its original. Wicked: The Life and Times of The Wicked Witch of The West, by Gregory Maguire, has not only spawned its own sequels, but has become a musical phenomenon. It has taken the leap from Baum’s original page, being adapted into a film, then back to the page (inspired by the film), then transferred to the stage, and is now soon to be back on the screen, from page again, with a two-part film adaption of Maguire’s novel. Phew! If that isn’t a valid description of a metaverse I don’t know what is.

So, if we accept that everything can have its own universe, now there’s a possibility that we might see other characters from film translated to the page – as long as it’s done with the right intent. I eagerly await a version of Back to the Future from the car’s perspective.

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