There are a lot of public domain characters out there. Some of them have been utilised elsewhere, and this is where they have truly gained their fame. I find this interesting.
Alice, for instance, probably got most of her fame and the public idea of what she is, from works far removed from the source. The Looking Glass Wars springs instantly to mind, although I must admit that I was disappointed. (but then, I really, really wanted to like that book)
This ties into two different but related subjects that I have been thinking about lately. First, the use of established characters in a work. The last book I read with established characters was actually about real people from history, but they were portrayed in a very fictional light, so I suppose it counts.
Although I have been thinking about it, I don’t think I’ve really come to any conclusions on this one. People like to come across familiar names and there is certainly a market for using public domain characters. But then there’s things like The Problem With Licensed Games. It’s a very similar issue. People like familiarity, things that they recognise, but they also have an expectation that such things can’t quite be held to the same standard as wholly original work.
The other thing I’ve been thinking about is the collective unconscious. A while back, I played a game called 9 People 9 Doors 9 Hours, which used this subject as a large element of the story. It was not handled perfectly, but it did raise some interesting questions. There are certainly things that a large amount of people recognise without knowing why, and assumptions that we all make, again without knowing why.
These two concepts come together nicely, when you think about it. Sherlock Holmes has his place in reality through the collective unconscious. He entered it long ago, and so has some kind of life. The same is true of many other characters, but none so much as or on the same level as Sherlock Holmes. I also bring him up as an example because of Pierre Bayard’s book, Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong, which brought up a very interesting concept, that of a sort of super-reality which is inhabited by these sorts of characters that have crossed the threshold from mere story to a commonly shared and experienced idea.
All of this got me to thinking that it would be interesting to see a story wherein familiar characters show up in a sort of impish or fairy-like capacity. Not full characters, but sort of like the random characters that can be found in Kingdom Hearts. That they are there because of the collective unconscious. Not entirely real, but not to be discounted either.
Of course, there are a lot of ways to do this wrong. A LOT. The first one that comes to mind would be to make them part of the cast. No. This is a bad idea. The second would be to make them exactly as one person has interpreted the character, or as the character is commonly misrepresented in the media. This is also a poor idea. Not only does it exclude anyone who is actually familiar with them, but it mistakes the collective unconscious for a traceable source. Usually television.
I don’t know how it would fit in to a plot that doesn’t revolve around it, or what kind of plot would revolve around it, but it’s an interesting idea. I think, anyway.