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Spinning Off “The Great Gatsby”: When a Great American Novel Goes Into the Public Domain

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The original cover art may be the greatest of all time. IMHO. English: Cover illustration by Francis Cugat (1893–1981). Published by Charles Scribner’s Sons., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In the United States, The Great Gatsby went into the Public Domain at the beginning of 2021.  One of the reasons that’s good news for all of us readers is that it means that authors can use Fitzgerald’s materials to create their own.  If you are a fan of The Great Gatsby, get ready for a bonanza! 

At least two books have hit the shelves already.  One is a prequel in which Nick, the narrator of The Great Gatsby, is the protagonist. If you want a quick re-read of the novel itself, a graphic novel version has also just been released.  

Nick by Michael Farris Smith

In The Great Gatsby, I prefer Nick to Gatsby. For a lot of people, Nick blurs into the background, but we need to remember that the entire story of Gatsby is told to us through Nick’s eyes (and voice), so the imagined world that we encounter is how NICK imagines it. His experiences, in a sense, shape what we experience as readers.

I was intrigued by an exploration of his background, even more so when I read that Nick focuses on World War I, something that I don’t think modern readers of The Great Gatsby consider nearly enough.  I mean, I don’t think I have, and I have taught this book several times.   

Michael Farris Smith does a nice job of imitating Fitzgerald’s style…and in case you forgot, that style involves a lot of run on sentences.  At times I felt like Smith’s run on sentences were overdone and were redundant, but it is what it is. 

I tend to forget how confusing Fitzgerald’s style can be as well, until I once again find myself trying to untangle what is supposed to be happening and what I think is happening…and I’ve probably read The Great Gatsby at least five times. 

Although Nick is less graphic, the first half of the book reminds me quite a bit of All Quiet on the Western Front because of the subject matter, but in general, American literature tends to avoid the First World War in favor of the Second (keeping in mind that Western Front is not American), perhaps because the U.S. was only involved in that war for a year…and of course, the U.S. was not directly invaded in the First World War either.

When Nick returns to the U.S. from the war, he is almost literally a ghost of the person who left: with the work he has done, it is basically miraculous that he is alive, and he had literally been left for dead at one point.  Then the narrative, somewhat inexplicably, takes Nick to New Orleans.  I really didn’t know what to think of this part of the book, to be honest.  I mean, if you want to lost yourself, no question that New Orleans is a good place to go.  I finally got to go there a few years ago, and while I enjoyed, yeah, some weird stuff happened to me and my traveling companion.

 

And also, I had to roll my eyes a bit at the focus on prostitution.  In New Orleans. Please.  Almost as boring as setting a (new) vampire novel there. It’s been done; no need to do it again!

 

Now that I’ve finished the book, however, I can see somewhat how Colette and Judah, the couple Nick meets in New Orleans, mirror Daisy and Gatsby, and perhaps Nick and Ella (Nick’s love interest in the first half of the novel). For sure, Colette and Judah, not to mention Nick and Ella, show the real devastation that the war does to people, physically and emotionally. Gatsby? For Gatsby, I want to say, the war is a different story…just another way for him to make his way up in the world. 

If Nick is about showing the ugly underbelly without the gilding of The Great Gatsby, which regardless of the opulent gilding is also about the underbelly of something, Nick accomplishes it. 

I am certainly in favor of anything that encourages high school students to see Gatsby, and Daisy, and all the characters except MAYBE Nick, as the nasty people they are.

Then again, Fitzgerald was a Modernist, so who knows what the reader is meant to see?

The Great Gatsby: The Graphic Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, illustrated by Aya Morton and adapted by Fred Fordham

 

The first thing that struck me about The Great Gatsby: The Graphic Novel is the pastel color scheme. Aya Morton’s illustrations for the graphic novel The Great Gatsby are somewhat of a surprise: pale, watercolor-y colors that are the opposite of what you would expect.

The cover image is great: a rather intimate looking party scene around a pool. You’d think it was the pool at Gatsby’s house, except there never is a pool party there, and also a car is parked right next to it and is serving as a tabletop. Two musicians stand in waist deep water, completely clothed, as people swim and socialize. Is this the bank doggedly playing on as the ship sinks?

A deeper look impressed me with the lack of opulent party scenes that I associate with the filmed versions of the novel that I’ve seen. I guess no filmmaker can stand up to the temptation to create them, but really, are they the point? All they are for is as a lure to Daisy, who naturally would never go to a party like that…it’s even on the wrong side of town!…without an express reason.  She also keeps images of Eckleberg’s eyes to a minimum, which I for one appreciate: we aren’t dumb, and we get the symbolism, thank you. We’ve all seen the back of a U.S. dollar bill.   

This book is taught in high school for a reason: it’s not that hard to get.  I mean, understand. At any rate, the symbolism is fairly easy to decipher. 

As long as no one gets any romantic notions, and this version makes it pretty clear that you shouldn’t. 

One of the things I have always liked about this novel is its closing line.  It might be my favorite closing line in literature: So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

 On this last page, Morton’s art does not disappoint.

The graphic The Great Gatsby is a good retelling of the story for those who love the original and, like me, appreciate it but do not care for the misapplied reverence we have for it in the 2020’s.

Fitzgerald would probably be having a good laugh.

The original The Great Gatsby, FREE

 You can download the original novel for FREE at Project Gutenberg (current price at Amazon: $1.99): The Great Gatsby.

Directions for downloading from Project Gutenberg to a Kindle are here: How To Download FREE Books with Project Gutenberg and Why You Should . (\

Note: Yes, this is completely legal. If you are a teacher, it is completely legal and appropriate for you to share this link with your students, no matter what your admin. says; you just need to educate them. The information you need is on the Project Gutenberg web page. Please contact me if you need support.

If you want to purchase The Great Gatsby on paper, use the link below:

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