I am about to do something they say you should never do. I’m going to reveal the secrets of a magic trick. I’m going to show you how to cleverly adapt one of Shakespeare’s plays into a pulp fiction story– so cleverly, in fact, that no one ever knows it unless you tell them.
“Hunting Monsters Is My Business– The Mordecai Slate Stories,” has been out in paperback and Kindle since November 2014. It’s selling well, and has garnered some terrific reviews, for which I am very grateful. But so far no reviewer and no reader out there seems to have caught on to what is really going on in one of the stories in this collection. The so far unnoticed fact is that one of the tales in the book is actually an adaptation of a Shakesperean play.
In a way it’s not surprising that nobody has caught on to it yet. The connection between the story and the play is hard to see, if you’re not looking for it. Readers of what is generally called pulp fiction (horror, western, fantasy, or space opera) are not expecting too much in the way of classic literature in their stories. So when it comes along it tends to just zing on by without much notice.
Shakespeare has been adapted numerous times and in various ways, especially in the movies. Some of his work has even been translated into the cinematic equivalent of pulp fiction– low budget B movies. For example, MacBeth was redone as a gangster flick (“Joe MacBeth” with Paul Douglas); Othello became a taut crime drama starring Patrick McGoohan (“All Night Long”); and Hamlet was adapted by Edgar Ulmer as a psychological melodrama (“Strange Illusion”). And there are others. Kurosawa has done period Japanese versions of MacBeth and King Lear. Recently Patrick Stewart starred in a western version of King Lear called “King of Texas.”
So why not a Mordecai Slate story based on a Shakespeare play? Why not, while we’re at it, mix Shakespeare, Slate and zombies all together? The result is one of the strangest concoctions in the Mordecai Slate canon– the novella “Hunting Monsters Is My Business.”
One of my favorites of the Bard’s plays has always been “The Tempest.” The play tells the story of Prospero, a wizard who lives on a deserted island with his daughter Miranda. He is really the Duke of Milan who was deposed by his jealous brother and cast out to sea in a boat. Prospero with the help of a spirit Ariel is developing his magical powers so he can return home and reclaim his rightful place. Along with his a daughter Miranda he also has a deformed servant named Caliban. It’s a complicated story with lot of cross plots involving deception, romance, and most of all magic.
There are a lot of fantastic elements in The Tempest that I thought might be adaptable as one of Mordecai Slate’s monster hunting stories. I first came up with the idea of Slate searching for a missing friend, a former monster hunting colleague,named Tom Carlson. In the story Slate discovers his friend is most likely being held prisoner by a weird character who lives in a fortress-like house of stone on top of a mountain in Texas. Count Pierre LeCoulte is French/Haitian and similar to Prospero, the wizard in The Tempest, he is an adept in the black arts, in this case the black art of voodoo. He’s been kicked out of Haiti, as Prospero had been exiled from Milan. The difference is that he lives on a mountain top instead of an island at sea.
There’s a gold mine in the bowels of the mountain his house is perched on and the miners digging gold for him are zombies kept under control by LeCoulte’s voodoo and by a mutant named Thorg, my version of Caliban. Like Prospero, LeCoulte has a beautiful daughter, Mireva, who he keeps locked up in his fortress. His main objective is to develop his voodoo powers, amass a gold fortune and like Prospero return home to wreak vengeance on those who plotted against him.
There are other parallels in the story, such as the fact that Caliban’s mother was a witch named Sycorax. In a twisted way she shows up at the end of the story in the form of Lady Taratu, LeCoulte’s late wife. Prospero had Ariel a spirit who helps him perform magic. LeCoulte has his dead wife’s spirit helping him develop his voodoo powers. And in a way you might say that Cha-Qal-Tan, Slate’s Apache Spirit guide, is his version of Ariel. There are probably other corresponding symbols and characters, Sheriff Morgan Jacks and his deputy Mojave might be Antonio and Alonzo, though that might be a stretch.
I included several deliberate references to the play in the story as a hint at what I was doing. For example on p. 208 of the paperback, LeCoulte says he wants to tell Slate a little something about himself. “As the playwright wrote,” LeCoulte says, “What is past is prologue,” a direct quote from the play. On page 189 he refers to life as “a tempete– a tempest, blowing us this way and that.”
And of course the story begin with the epigram, “This thing of darkness/I acknowledge mine,”another quote from the play.
And thusly was “The Tempest” transformed magically into “Hunting Monsters Is My Business.” As you can see the clues are all there. Now that you know how the trick was done, maybe you’ll enjoy the story better. Or maybe not. It’s more like an inside joke, than anything else, but now you’re in on it. If you’re a writer you might want to try this little stunt yourself. But be careful, if you try it. Voodoo is nothing to fool around with.