As a student, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to relate to academic literature. Even if the story itself interests you, sometimes it’s hard to get past the old English and outdated customs enough to enjoy it. Alas, there is hope! The following modern film and book adaptations can work wonders to help you to better understand and appreciate school-assigned literature. Give them a try while you’re reading the original, after you’ve passed the pop quiz, or just for fun!
1. The Song of Achilles
The Iliad, Homer’s famous epic, can be tough to get through for students who aren’t accustomed to reading long bouts of poetry. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller retells the familiar story of the Trojan War through the point of view of Patroclus, a somewhat overlooked character in the original source text. Miller’s novel isn’t a replacement for reading The Iliad (many plotlines are skewed or ignored due to Patroclus’s involvement in them), but it does a brilliant job of humanizing Achilles, the great Greek warrior. The Song of Achilles allows readers to be a fly on the wall for Patroclus and Achilles's entire lives, from their shared childhood to the years fighting alongside each other at Troy.
2. Wilder Girls
Though Wilder Girls by Rory Power isn’t a direct retelling of William Golding’s classic Lord of the Flies, it takes strong influence from it. Both stories feature dystopian themes in which a group of schoolchildren are stranded on an island with little to no adult supervision. Just like Lord of the Flies, Wilder Girls tests the nature of humanity under the worst of circumstances. Reading either of these novels will challenge your perception of reality and make you unsure of what (and who) to trust. I recommend reading these novels together and trying to pick out all the similarities as you go along.
3. Romeo + Juliet
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare is a timeless story, but its distant time period can give it a distasteful taint for younger students. The 1996 film Romeo + Juliet solves that dilemma by turning the classic play into an action-packed comedic tragedy. You’ll recognize characters like Tybalt and Mercutio as they grapple with loyalty to rival families Montague and Capulet, challenging the other side to fights with pistols instead of swords. Even with the modernization, Romeo + Juliet stays pretty close to the original plot and is a fun way to solidify the major ideas in your memory. As an added bonus, the film features ’90s heartthrobs Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as the titular characters.
4. Robin Hood: Men in Tights
There have been plenty of interpretations of The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood over the years, but Robin Hood: Men in Tights takes the cake for me. The film features impromptu musical numbers, unwavering (albeit at times crude) comedy, and an all-star cast. Its inability to take itself seriously makes it the perfect counterpart for Howard Pyle’s beloved classic. If you’re a fan of The Princess Bride and the timeless tale of Robin Hood, you’ll love Robin Hood: Men in Tights, guaranteed.
5. To Be or Not to Be: A Chooseable-Path Adventure
Have you ever wished you could tamper with the plot of Shakespeare’s Hamlet? Well, now you can! Ryan North’s To Be or Not to Be: A Chooseable-Path Adventure allows readers to specifically curate their Hamlet experience through their choice of points of view, including Hamlet, Ophelia, and Hamlet Sr. (that’s right, a legit ghost). With 768 pages of possible plot detours, the storyline is entirely up to you. Plus, the novel is packed full of gorgeous illustrations from a wide variety of artists. I don’t recommend reading To Be or Not to Be in replacement of the original play (you’ll definitely get mixed up on your quiz), but it’s a fun, entertaining read after you’ve gotten the school assignment out of the way.
There you have it: my top five modern reimaginings of popular academic literature! Any of these adaptations have the potential to elevate your mindset on school-assigned reading. Who knows—maybe they’ll even motivate you to re-read the classics (okay…maybe not). Nevertheless, if you like these options, be sure to check out Goodreads's Retelling Genre for more. Happy reading (and watching)!
For more fun ways to make your school life more enjoyable, check out our Majors and Academics section.