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March 1, 2018

Gender-Swapping a Classic --- Guest Post by Lorie Langdon, Author of OLIVIA TWIST

Posted by Jessica

Do you think you'd have the courage to remix an American classic? That's exactly what author Lorie Langdon does with OLIVIA TWIST, her retelling of OLIVER TWIST, which gender-swaps the main character and creates a whole new story. Through hard work and lots of creativity, she pens the story of Olivia Twist, a tough heroine born in a workhouse and raised among boys until she's plucked from the streets of London. How exactly did Langdon go about retelling this classic? Read this post to find out!

Retellings almost always stem from some dissatisfaction with the original. But for me, writing a gender-swapping retelling of OLIVER TWIST started as fan fiction, before fan fiction even existed!

Like all the best stories, this one began when I was a child. After my grandma took me to see a rerelease of the movie musical Oliver!, I became obsessed with the story and would sit in my room and listen to the double album soundtrack for hours, making up new stories about the characters. In my favorite daydream, Oliver had been born a girl and was disguising her true gender as a safety measure. This way, I could imagine myself as the heroine of the story and the Artful Dodger as the hero. In my childhood fantasies, the two would have endless adventures and eventually fall in love and escape from poverty. I blame this train of thought on the actor Jack Wild, who played Dodger in the film and became my first celebrity crush!

As a teen, I devoured every bit of historical fiction I could get my hands on, including the classic Dickens’ novel, OLIVER TWIST. I quickly realized two things: The Artful Dodger was not the hero I’d envisioned and the film had missed a major character; Oliver’s half-brother, the villainous Monks. When I began writing my own books, the dynamic duo of Jack and Olivia would not leave me alone, and a mash-up of the original novel and the film began to solidify in my mind.

Admittedly, retelling a Dickens’ classic is a bit intimidating. In preparation, I enjoyed folding myself into the language and culture of his work; the lush imagery that transports to another time. Dickens was paid by the word, so I had to turn off my internal editor. However, I think we can forgive his propensity for overwriting and recognize his literary genius. There is a deliciousness to his setting and description that makes us want to lose ourselves on the winding streets of London, rescue the destitute orphans and find justice for the victimized. In OLIVIA TWIST, I wanted to give the characters a more modern sense of agency within the context of Dickens’ darkly beautiful Victorian era London.

So it seems perfectly appropriate that a story that began in my starry-eyed childhood dreams would morph into a grand adventure where Jack “The Artful Dodger” MacCarron and Olivia “Oliver Twist” Brownlow are caught between high society and the ghettos of London --- clinging to one while inescapably drawn back to the other. And that their epic love would defy convention and change both their worlds forever.

I believe the man who penned the words --- “I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul.” --- would approve.