As we continue rewatching Season 2 of Our Flag Means Death and making predictions about what its third and final season would have entailed had the queer pirate show of our hearts not been cancelled (I ask you, who could have seen that coming with all the media companies merging?), here’s a handful of other queer adaptations to well-known tales I’ve been enjoying this winter (though only one of them involves any pirates).

Someday I’ll bare my soul regarding some of the fanfiction that I enjoy, but recently, I’ve been trying to read published novels instead of falling down the rabbit holes of potentially unfinished and abandoned fics about a certain fantasy series (though for those looking for something in that vein, Rainbow Rowell’s Simon Snow series is a clever piece of queer adaptation that is itself fanfiction of a canon that doesn’t quite exist—if you’re confused, check out Fangirl, and you’ll get what I mean).

A piece of good adaptation will, to my mind, stay true to the themes and general story arc of earlier versions while still introducing new elements and subverting or avoiding tired tropes. This goes to my own passion for fanfiction and the ways in which it can and does operate subversively within fandoms that can’t or won’t tell stories that resonate with fans’ own lives.

Peter Darling, unlike the others, is a ‘what happened next’ sort of story, reading between the lines of Wendy’s insistence at the beginning of J.M. Barrie’s novel that Peter is ‘just my size.’ After having come home from Neverland some ten years ago and resolving to grow up in the ways his family expects him to, Peter finds the sacrifices to be too great. His family, growing impatient with his distaste for wearing dresses and responding to the name ‘Wendy,’ have threatened to have him institutionalised.

Instead, Peter flees to Neverland, once again taking up his bloodthirsty feud with James Hook—who isn’t quite as Peter remembered. While James seems to have understood the homoerotic undertones to their games, Peter is at a loss for how to grow out of a boyhood marked by his own penchant for violence and open himself up to a manhood that could be shaped by a different sort of masculinity.

The Raven Tower is my favourite of my recent reads—though this may be biased by my undying love and admiration for Ann Leckie’s other novels. Set in a world with plentiful gods whose power is limited by their devotees and expressed through language, the story is told primarily in the second person, narrated by a deity called the Strength and Patience of the Hill to the character Eolo, confidante and aide to Mawat, the grieving heir to the Raven’s Lease. Despite the book being yet another Hamlet retelling in a sea of so many, it stands on its own with a complex world and cast of characters—including the gods who are so invested in the lives and politics of the humans who serve them and give them power.

The nature of story and language are at the heart of the novel; the Strength and Patience of the Hill often punctuates their musings about Eolo’s thoughts and inner state during his and Mawat’s doings with stories from earlier times. ‘Here is a story I have heard,’ they begin, if it is something they have not personally witnessed. This language of hedging is a necessity: ‘A god’s words are inescapably true, and gods make things happen by speaking them—so long as they have sufficient power, of course.’ The stories the Strength and Patience of the Hill recount to Eolo give an ever-widening context for the situation at the Raven Tower, one that expands far beyond the fratricide and usurping. This story, like Hamlet, ends in death and destruction. But like Horatio, Eolo lives to tell these tales.

Walking on Water, despite its title evoking Christian themes and content, is a retelling of The Little Mermaid, much closer to Hans Christian Anderson’s version than Disney’s. It shows protagonists who are far out of their depth and at a loss for how to communicate with one another across a language barrier, in the face of an attraction that is against both of their best interests. I don’t have much patience for Love at First Sight stories, but despite Walking on Water being an especially egregious example (though I’m not convinced it’s not more of a Sexual Attraction at First Sight story), I kept reading. Held, who inexplicably falls in love with Prince Janez after rescuing him from drowning, doesn’t speak German or any of the languages Janez knows, and neither Janez nor any of his fellows speak the mer-language of Held’s people.

Despite Held and Janez being able to find a kind of equilibrium by the end of the novel, alive and together, this story honestly read to me as more tragic than Hans Christian Anderson’s. And this was in many ways what made this retelling so compelling to me. Take two people trapped by their own lives, allow them to meet and form some kind of attachment, but don’t give them substantive means to build a relationship. Then bind them together (unknowingly, on the part of Janez) with a potion that will turn Held human—but will change him to sea foam should Janez ever cease to love him.

The book deals well for the most part with the emotional outcomes of the plot’s movements, describing Held’s panic once he realises what it is he has done to himself and to Janez. Yet, in some ways, he had no choice: his father has disowned him and tried to kill him, and the only way for him to survive is to drink the potion to make his human transformation permanent, leaving his underwater world behind. The haunting last sentences of the novel solidify the bleakness of the situation for me with the only words Held has managed to teach Janez of his language: ‘Do you love her?’ ‘Do you love me?’

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