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Minor characters turn into the main story

Minor characters are often as intriguing as the main characters they are complementing. In an article from the Los Angeles Times, Julia Klein explores the genre of fiction that takes those minor characters and makes them the centre of a new story. The piece primarily discusses Finn, a spin-off of Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which focuses on the life of Huck’s father. The author, Jon Clinch, a former English teacher, was always intrigued by the way Finn died.

Twain left Pap Finn surrounded by “old greasy cards,” “old whisky bottles,” black cloth masks, men’s and women’s clothing, a boy’s straw hat, and (in Huck’s colorful narration) “all over the walls, the ignorantest kind of words and pictures.” To Clinch, the effect was “so peculiar, so horrifying, so bizarre, it was almost like a scene from a thriller or a slasher movie.”

Scholars, he says, have generally identified the setting as a brothel. “But what if it’s not?” Clinch asked himself. “What if all these peculiar things are clues that Twain left for telling us the true secret history of this man?”

The article also points out previous successes in the genre such as Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, a retelling of Jane Eyre, the retelling of Hamlet in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard, and more recently, in 2005, Geraldine Brook’s Pulitzer Prize-winning March, which tells the story of the absent father from Little Women.

Clinch and other authors explain their interest in telling the minor characters’ tales, and Klein briefly touches on why the genre has so much appeal to writers.

Thanks to Bookninja for the tip.