Sunday, December 27, 2009

Public domain works of literature given new life in different media

When Italian poet Dante Alighieri wrote his “Divine Comedy” in the early 1300s, he never could have imagined that one day it would be transformed into a multimillion-dollar video game.
Electronic Arts plans to release “Dante’s Inferno” on Feb. 9, 2010. It is loosely based on part one of the “Divine Comedy.” EA’s “Dante’s Inferno” is a third-person action-adventure game. The game takes players on an adventure through Dante’s nine circles of hell – limbo, lust, gluttony, greed, anger, heresy, violence, fraud and treachery.
Because Dante’s “Divine Comedy” is in the public domain, anyone can freely make a creative work based on it. You could write your own version of the story or make a movie, TV series or a comic book based on it, things Dante could never have dreamed of in the Middle Ages.
EA is actually working with DC Comics on a comic book mini-series based on “Dante’s Inferno” the game.
Alexandre Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers” (1844) is another work in the public domain that has been turned into many creative works. Most recently, it was used as the basis for a video game in October by Legendo Entertainment for Nintendo’s Wii console.
In September, Mattel released “Barbie and the Three Musketeers,” where the women are the protagonists. Video games by Activision based on the animated movie followed.
One of the benefits of works going into the public domain is that creative types can give older works new life through different media and expose them to new audiences.
A great example of public domain works adapted into a different medium is “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” a comic book series written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Kevin O'Neill.
It features characters from novels in the public domain. They include Mina Harker from “Dracula” (1897), Captain Nemo from “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” (1870), Allan Quatermain from “King Solomon’s Mines” (1885), Dr. Jekyll from “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1886) and Hawley Griffin from “The Invisible Man” (1897).
Another excellent example of revamping a public domain work is “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” (2009) by Seth Grahame-Smith. His literary mash-up combines Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” (1813) with a comedy horror story featuring flesh-eating zombies.

This article is part of a series on copyrights and the public domain. To read more, click here.

Cover art for EA’s “Dante’s Inferno”
Cover of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”

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