Literary Mash-ups

Last week on Writing Excuses we talked about stealing: specifically, we talked about how to incorporate ideas and tropes that influence you without plagiarizing the sources you drew them from. At one point late in the podcast we touched very briefly on the concept of musical sampling, and whether or not that’s a legitimate artistic practice, and under what circumstances it can be good or bad.

That got me thinking about mash-ups, which are one of my very favorite kinds of music. The concept of a mash-up is simple: you take two or more songs and combine them to create a new song. One of the basic tricks you’ll see is to combine the instrumental track from one song with the vocal track of another; one of my favorite examples of this is “Tricky Wipeout,” a straightforward but awesome song using the music from The Surfaris “Wipeout” and the vocals from Run DMC’s “Tricky.” It’s super awesome. Other mash-ups get much more complex, such as “United State of Pop 2009,” which samples from all 25 of the Billboard Top Hits from 2009. The artist who did that one, DJ Earworm, is one of my favorites, and turns the songs he works with into all-new works of art above and beyond the disparate pieces he started with. The page I linked to has a bunch of songs on the side bar; I especially recommend “Love and Wonder” and “Over the Confluence of Giants.”

The big thing that separates a mash-up from a typical piece of sampled music is that (in most cases) no part of the mash-up is original; the artistry comes from the way the pieces are combined, not the pieces themselves. Think of it as a sort of musical collage. It’s also important to point out that this also means that mash-up artists don’t typically get paid for their work, since they don’t own the pieces they work with. Back in the early days (which were, admittedly, just a few years ago) it was seen as a form of plagiarism, but these days most artists don’t mind having their work mashed up, and some even seek it out. It’s a great way to spread your work to new audiences, and it makes people like you.

So anyway, thinking about mash-ups in the context of our podcast discussion got me thinking about the idea of literary mash-ups: combining two or more literary works into a new, unified whole. Many of you are thinking about Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, but that’s not a mash-up because half or more of the text is created new; Pride & Prejudice & Zombies is the “Ice Ice Baby” of the book world, except in this metaphor Queen has been dead for 200 years and nobody sues Vanilla Ice. No, I’m talking about a true mash-up–combining Pride & Prejudice with, say, Conan the Destroyer. I don’t know if that one would even work, I’m just throwing out examples here. The Age of Innocence and The Heart of Darkness? Silence of the Lambs and The Scarlet Letter? The Name of the Rose and The Canticle of Leibowitz?

So that’s what I want to see: different novels or short stories combined in awesome and fascinating ways, producing new works of art. Is there stuff like this already out there? Is this a new field entirely? Because it sounds awesome, and you should totally do it.

6 Responses to “Literary Mash-ups”

  1. Chris 'Miyabi' King says:

    Would it entail direct quoting and mashing, or character/plot/setting mashing and adapting it all together?

    I’m not sure directly mashing it up would work, as the characters wouldn’t directly interact with anything from the other novel’s plot.

  2. Katya says:

    Combining random words and phrases is pretty much the concept behind “found poetry”—are you specifically thinking of longer works?

  3. That’s an interesting concept. What springs to mind for me is a mash-up of IANASK and Time Cat.

  4. Katya says:

    Oh, and the surrealists came up with cut-up technique in fiction, but it sounds like they were just trying to be random about it and not create anything actually good.

  5. T.J. says:

    If I had no life and a lot of time, I would create “I Am Not a Serial Maze Runner.”

  6. Hannah says:

    I think they do that with comic books.

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