an Online Journal of Sorts

By Alyce Wilson

June 15, 2006 - Three Views of Tara

A few years ago, there was a lot of press about a legal battle over a so-called parody of Gone With the Wind by Alice Randall, called The Wind Done Gone. Margaret Mitchell's estate tried to prevent the book from being published, but ultimately they lost the lawsuit, because satire is not considered plagiarism.

The idea of Alice Randall's had always intrigued me. The way I'd heard it described, it told the story of Gone With the Wind from the point of view of the slaves. When I saw it on discount at a bookstore two summers ago, I picked it up. The only problem was that I knew I shouldn't read it until I read the original book. So I placed it on my "Books to Read" shelf and forgot about it.

Recently, I took the plunge and bought Gone With the Wind on My first impression was that I didn't know how I would get through 1,000 pages of it, since I intensely disliked the protagonist, Scarlett O'Hara. She was vacuous, conceited and self-serving, and she treated those around her as her playthings. However, as the book continued, I discovered qualities I admired in her, such as her independence and her perseverance.

As she endures the hardships of the Civil War, she meets every new challenge, from poverty to death, with unflagging strength. Still, her personality remains the same, and it's often amusing to see how other characters misinterpret her motivations. She is capable, for example, of helping somebody merely for practical reasons when the truth is she disdains them.

Meanwhile, she nurses a foolish love for a beau from her younger days, Ashley Wilkes, who has married his cousin, the unfailingly sweet and ladylike Melanie Hamilton. All the while, Scarlett turns her nose up at the one man who would be perfect for her: the daring blockade runner, Captain Rhett Butler. Surprisingly, I got drawn into the story, and I started to care about the characters.

I learned, too, about the Civil War-era and antebellum South, as seen through the eyes of southerners, which was new to me. It's interesting to note that those days were not so far removed from the time Margaret Mitchell wrote the novel in 1936. No doubt, elderly survivors of the Civil War were still alive, perhaps even sharing their stories.

After I'd finished the novel, I was looking forward to reading the parody, looking forward to viewing the book's events from another point of view. Retelling a story from another character's point of view is an oft-used literary device, used to far better effect in books like The Dracula Tape by Fred Saberhagen, which retells Bram Stoker's "Dracula" from the point of view of the vampire, or Grendel by John Gardner, which retells the tale of Beowulf from the monster's point of view. I once read a similar book from the point of view of Lady MacBeth in Shakespeare's Macbeth, and of course, there's the classic play, turned movie by Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, which retells Shakespeare's Hamlet from the point of view of two minor characters.

Each of these novels provides new perspectives on classic works, often using humor and irony to great effect. They can each stand alone as works of fiction, as they take the reader in new directions from the kernels of the classic stories.

However, the press summaries of The Wind Done Gone had been vastly inaccurate. It did not tell the "below the stairs" story of the novel from the servants' point of view. Instead, Alice Randall creates a new character, Cynara, a mulatto half sister to Scarlett who somehow is prettier and smarter than Scarlett and who ultimately wins Rhett.

In other words, this is basically bad Mary Sue fanfic. I couldn't phrase it better than one of the reader reviews on by A. Masion:

"Fan fiction" is a term referring to fiction works where an author uses characters and locations created/copyrighted by another author. Although Ms. Randall renames the characters and presents them in an often unrealistic and unflattering light it's obvious enough the GWTW characters are there. "Mary Sue" is a technique where an author inserts him/herself into a preexisting fiction world and proceeds to change or "improve" the scenario as s/he sees fit.

"Mary Sue" is always exceptional and superior to the "mainstream" characters in the story. More beautiful, smarter, sexier, more intelligent, more successful, more everything than the others. "Mary Sue" is generally truly good at heart and wishes to help the people around her and her "mission" in the story usually brings the other characters "into the light" before she moves on, dies, or happily marries the leading man in the story.

The Wind Done Gone was not a parody by any means, which infers a use of humor or satire, which are both absent. If the book had been explained properly to me, I never would have bought it. I'm happy, therefore, that I only paid a discounted price for it.

I can understand a little bit why Margaret Mitchell's estate chose to sue, as this book is completely dependent on Gone With the Wind for its story. However, it's a shame they wasted their time and gave the book undeserved publicity.

Now that I'd finally read the original book, I decided to watch the movie, Gone With the Wind. I'd never seen the whole movie, just the clips that everyone has seen, such as Rhett carrying Scarlett up the grand staircase or, at the end of the movie, telling her, essentially, that he doesn't give a damn what she does.

I was really impressed with the movie. I don't think you could do a better job of adapting the novel. A lot of people might not realize that much of the best known dialogue from the movie is lifted straight from the book. The dialogue works extremely well, coming out of these characters' mouths.

The casting was superb. I couldn't imagine a better cast: Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara, Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes and Olivia de Havilland as Melanie Hamilton. Hattie McDaniel justifiably won a best supporting actress award for her portrayal of Mammy, Scarlett's one-time nurse and stalwart mother figure, who follows her from her family homestead, Tara, to a new life in Atlanta.

Director Victor Fleming made ample use of Technicolor landscapes and sets to provide a grand look for this grand epic.

The screenplay streamlines the book, eliminating some characters, such as two of Scarlett's children, who are superfluous to the plot. One of the most interesting changes was eliminating the Ku Klux Klan, who are portrayed in somewhat questionable but at least partly positive terms in the book. I think perhaps they found it best to eliminate such confusion from the movie.

The only thing I didn't really like about the adaptation was the use of grandiose title cards several points in the movie to deliver exposition. They were written in a much more melodramatic way than Margaret Mitchell's book, but I suppose they were necessary to convey some of the ideas in the novel, such as the idea that this was a twilight of the gods, when romanticism was being exchanged for harsh, brutal reality.

I'm actually glad I picked up Alice Randall's book in the discount bin. If I hadn't, I never would have read the classic novel or seen the movie, would never have been familiar with one of the pop cultural icons of the 20th Century.

I'll stop there, though. I won't bother to read the officially sanctioned sequel, Scarlett, which was written by another author. Could Scarlett have truly changed her ways and won Rhett back? Who knows? Margaret Mitchell always told people that the novel ends where it ends, and she left it to them to imagine what might happen next. It's probably best that way. After all, as Scarlett says, tomorrow is another day.

As far as The Wind Done Gone, though, frankly, I don't give a damn.

Some books aren't worth the press they get.

Copyright 2006 by Alyce Wilson

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