Oh. Oh, dear. Not content to show his contempt for social history by declaring that marriage has always been one man and one woman (and saying any government that disagrees must be taken down by any means necessary), Orson Scott Card has now shown his contempt for literary history by rewriting Shakespeare. Sure, you say, plenty of people have rewritten Shakespeare. Sure, you say, Card has a history of rendering Shakespeare tepid in search of making the works more accessible.
True. What he hasn’t done–until now–is “update” Hamlet by taking away everything that made it Hamlet.
In this adaptation, Hamlet was never close to his father. The prince is unfazed and emotionally indifferent to the old king’s death, feels no sense of betrayal when his mother speedily remarries, and thinks that Claudius will make a perfectly good monarch. Hamlet is also secure in his religious faith, with absolute and unshakable beliefs about the nature of death and the afterlife. He isn’t particularly hung up on Ophelia, either. Throughout the novella, Prince Hamlet displays the emotional depth of a blank sheet of paper.
Card has completely removed the dramatic stakes and haunting questions posed by the play, and the threadbare result is a failure of narrative craft on every level. Only one question remains: Is the ghost of Hamlet’s father really a ghost, or is it instead a demonic liar? (Both, as it turns out.) But most of the novella is filled with pedantic moralizing, made all the more bland by Hamlet’s smug and uncomplicated certainty. “Some acts are always right,” he insists. “And some are always wrong.”
This would be hilariously bad if Card weren’t taking out all the interesting elements of Hamlet in order to give himself more room to turn it into an anti-gay screed. No, really.
Here’s the punch line: Old King Hamlet was an inadequate king because he was gay, an evil person because he was gay, and, ultimately, a demonic and ghostly father of lies who convinces young Hamlet to exact imaginary revenge on innocent people. The old king was actually murdered by Horatio, in revenge for molesting him as a young boy—along with Laertes, and Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern, thereby turning all of them gay. We learn that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are now “as fusty and peculiar as an old married couple. I pity the woman who tries to wed her way into that house.”
Hamlet is damned for all the needless death he inflicts, and Dead Gay Dad will now do gay things to him for the rest of eternity: “Welcome to Hell, my beautiful son. At last we’ll be together as I always longed for us to be.”
You really have to read the entire review to comprehend just how appalling this book really is (or Scott Lynch’s lovely parody if you want something sillier). Boring in its execution and blatantly false in its premises, it’s hard to imagine why the publisher thought it was worth printing, even if it was delivered on a contract with an advance.
As far as I can tell, the only good thing about this book is the Twitter campaign it inspired: Buy a Big Gay Novel for Scott Card Day. It has some excellent suggestions, including my favorite book, Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner and the prequel she wrote with her wife, Delia Sherman. Others on the list or mentioned separately, written by and/or about gays, lesbians, and bisexuals:
- One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire
- Ink and Steel and Blood and Iron by Elizabeth Bear (also Carnival)
- Vellum and Ink by Hal Duncan
- Circlet Press’s line of queer erotica
- Haunted Hearths & Sapphic Shades: Lesbian Ghost Stories, award-winning erotica edited by Catherine Lundoff
- Dhalgren by Samuel Delany
- Living With Ghosts by Kari Sperring
- Kushiel’s Dart and its sequels by Jacqueline Carey
- Melusine and its sequels by Sarah Monette
And the list goes on. It’s a little heavy on contemporary fantasy (full disclosure: I’ve met most of these authors), but that’s fixable. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.
Photo: Feathers by Eggybird.