Charles Dickens usually found himself to be a quite well disposed ghost, but much to everyone’s surprise, he was marching through the writer’s haven in Paradise with an unusually thunderous frown, tugging at his beard.
Offers of honeydew and the milk of paradise went un-noticed, and he strode past H.G. Wells and George Orwell without even noticing their cheerful salutation of good morning. Something was on his mind and he needed advise, so he sought a wise soul.
He pulled up a cloud next to a thoughtfully distracted figure with a bald pate, who was beavering away over the summer rep season, and sat down so hard that several cherubs scarpered, and it caused a short and unexpected rain of Hazel Nuts over Newport Pagnel.
“Hmmmmmmm…..” went Charles, sourly and with emphasis.
The two had known each other for a good 130 years, and the other writer smiled knowingly. “Oh Dear,” muttered Dickens friend without looking up, “That doesn’t sound good. Whatever is the matter?”
Charles dug something out of his pocket and slapped it onto the table, “Have you seen this?”
Shakespeare put down his quill, and picked up a rather gaudy looking book, with a picture of Fagin with bloody fangs on the cover, surrounded by evil looking children. It had the title “Oliver Twisted: Fagin the Vampire King.” He raised his eyebrows rather archly and gave Dickens a rueful look, “Oh dear…..”
“Yes, oh dear!” Dickens threw up his hands, “Someone is reinterpreting my work in the most extraordinary way!”
Shakespeare gave him a wintry smile, “It’s happening a lot, have you seen what they’ve done to Jane Austen? And to peoples reputations, too. Look at this!”
He handed Dickens a book titled “Henry VIII: Werewolf”.
“Good God!” Dickens’s nearly dropped it as if it were a hot brick, “Do they want to cause Hurricanes? Has anyone told him?”
Shakespeare nodded across the way, and following his glance Charles saw the shade of the late King Hal, the 8th of that name, in immortal bliss. Pruned by death of his aged girth he had regained his youthful beauty, and walked in tender absorbsion with his beloved Jane Seymour. (They had just had a particularly loving Valentine’s Day above Barbados, and Henry’s other wives were not amused.)
Shakespeare shook his head, “No-one has had the heart, it seems cruel to disturb them.”
The two were deeply in love and most of the heavenly host tended to leave them alone. Henry had not burst forth into his aged form and a towering rage since the time he found out about the BBC version of “The Tudors”. That had caused such a temper in the great King that it made a Volcano erupt in Norway, and grounded planes all over the world. The environment was in enough trouble as it is, and most people avoided making him lose his temper.
Dickens sighed, “Just look at this, Bill….”
Shakespeare, picked up the book, and read…..
…”The Saint Giles Rookery was the foulest part of old London, a stinking and shadowed nest of ancient and decrepit housing left to squalor, and decay, overflowing with filth and pestilence. Even in the remote boroughs where Oliver had been weaned in the tender care of the Municipal workhouse they had heard of this place, and he looked into the forbidding tangle of houses with a great deal of fear. Once you went in there, they said, you never came out again, and even the Peelers wear that old bauble of Popery, the Crucifix, to protect themselves.
Dodger realised he had paused, and stopped in his tracks. There wasn’t an ounce of fear about his slender person, rather more his whole air was cheerful, like one approaching home with a carefree light heart, and especially now when he stood looking back over his shoulder at Oliver. Dusk was falling hard now, and although Oliver had seen Dodger moving in shadows since he met him, it was only now that he noticed the yellow gleam his new friend’s eyes, like a cat in darkness. But the Dodger winked innocently and nodded over his shoulder in a reassuring way, with such a grin that Oliver somehow found it impossible to refuse, and followed him….. The evil houses closed around them…..
There were no streetlights down here. It was a dank and evil place where law dreaded to set foot. There were not even any gaslights, for local people said that an unseen hand disliked the light, and made it their business to see that there was no revealing gleam to illuminate what they were up to, on their own dark missions.
Oliver moved between the grim walls of half collapsing slums, some of them ancient half timbered houses, and the walls surrounding him were high and scathed by vermin. The smell was terrible from the rubbish strewn, muddy tracks, and it felt like passing through an endless tunnel, with no prospect of any embracing light to rescue you. Every step Oliver’s took was trembling with apprehension, and all the time he saw Dodgers eyes in the darkness, drawing him on like some Will O’ the Whisp.
“Don’t you worry; take your mind right off the matter, my friend, that’s all I have to say to you.” Dogger nattered distractingly over his shoulder, “Walked all the way to London, dint ya? It’s an outrage, that’s what it is, a downright outrage! And nowhere to stay? I won’t hear a word of it, d’you hear me? Not a word. I know a fine old gentleman, someone wot ‘as an heart of gold. He won’t turn anyone away, he won’t, and you’re goin to get the welcome of a lifetime, you’ll see…..”
Before long Oliver found himself climbing rickety stairs to an attic room, and he began to be rather worried about the “Old Gentleman”. What was he getting himself into? It was too late to turn back now, and he could never find his way out of this evil maze of houses on his own. He steeled himself, thought of the gnawing hunger in his belly, and followed Dodger.
Finally, Dodger got to the top of the stairs, and he held up a finger for silence to his lips…. Then he booted the door open as hard as he could, and shouted “Oi Fagin, I’ve got a new one for ya!”
The low, cramped room was virtually bare, and Oliver noticed at once hundreds of pale golden eyes watching him from the shadows. He thought they were rats, and went to run away, but gradually lots of slim and unusually alert children came out of the shadows, all of them with very sharp canine teeth. “Have you bought us some food, Dodger?” muttered one of them curiously.
Just then a tall, loose limbed figure broke through the crowd, wearing a long coat, “Charley! Cut that out and light the candles, can’t you see we have a guest?”
The kids quickly scurried about lighting candles, and in moments, in the flickering light, Oliver found himself looking at a tall, clean shaven, handsome man, who looked uncannily like Peter O’Toole when he played Laurence of Arabia. He too had unusually sharp canine teeth, and he spread his elegant hands charmingly, “Oliver, is it? We bid you welcome. Do come in….”
Oliver walked past him wearily, but as he did, he happened to notice a cracked and broken little mirror across the way. It held a reflection of the man beside him, but it was utterly different to the glamorous figure he could see. In the glass Oliver saw a ragged and bedraggled fiend, stooped and ancient, filthy in his rags, and little more than a rotten corpse.
Oliver cried out and threw his hand over his face.
Fagin spotted what was wrong in seconds, and in a lightning move, grabbed the offending glass and tossed it carelessly out of the window. There was a crash from below, and someone cried out. Fagin stuck his head out of the window and shouted, “What did you break that for? That’s seven years bad luck!”
Then he grinned at Oliver, who again noticed his very sharp teeth. “Now then, my boy, what can we offer you too eat…..?”
Shakespeare tried not to laugh, and put the book down.
“Well?” demanded Dickens.
“Clever, I’m afraid.”
“Aren’t you scandalised!! Doesn’t your blood boil!”
“Charles, this is happening all the time, you should see some of the things they’ve done with my work, especially “Lear” and “Richard III”.
Dickens went into a sulk, and Shakespeare put a consoling arm around him. “Look…. If you are a writer, a writer who knows his craft, you will see that your work will be interpreted by every new generation according to their needs. Your story will be there, but they will put the interpretation on it they need for the times they live in. But Your work will rise above this like a beacon. To one generation you will be a schoolroom chore, to another you will be a subversive genius, writing with intelligence and cunning years ahead of your time. The point is that your work continues with immortality.”
“Do you think so?”
Bill nodded, “I know so. You ask Bram Stoker or Jane Austen. Your stories are never out of print, Charles, and you are loved all over the world. Whatever spin is put on them, however new and odd the interpretation, they are still your stories, and they are loved. Your fans will never forget the brilliant original works, and the odd interpretations will bring new readers to your stories. You are never forgotten for what you achieved, and I know its especially true at Christmas. So don’t be downhearted, your great, original works are immortal, whatever anyone tries to do with them. You have a lot to be proud of. Happy Birthday, Charles!”
Dickens grinned at him, but before he could say a word, they were interrupted.
Jules Verne almost danced into the room, hugging a pile of books, a jubilant smile on his face.
“Whatever is it?” said Dickens.
Verne threw the books into the air like wedding confetti, “Have you seen these! Hot Damn! Steam Punk!!!”
© Glenn James 2012