Halloween is an opportunity for many people to step outside of themselves, donning costumes inspired by favorite fictional figures. Children and adults roll out a litany of popular ensembles around this time of year to channel their inner heroes, villains, and everything in between.
It’s due to the imagination of their creators that many of these classic characters reemerge throughout the decades with fresh layers of complexity. Marvel’s Black Panther, who’s become wildly popular since the release of the 2018 film, was given new life in 2016 through a series of comics written by Ta-Nehisi Coates. His revival explores the original character’s home of Wakanda, a mythical African nation and technologically superior world power, alongside the real histories of pre-colonial Africa and the American Civil War.
Spider-Man, created in 1962 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, remains so beloved in part because his other identity is the relatable teenager Peter Parker—a crime fighter by night who faces high-school drama by day. And the infamous Joker from DC’s Batman comics is portrayed with depth in Alan Moore’s graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke (a key influence for Todd Phillips’s recent Joker film), which provides a sentimental backstory for the villain’s madness.
Witches, another staple Halloween costume, were depicted almost exclusively as “mad” women before books such as Jules Michelet’s La Sorcière—and later, L. Frank Baum’s Oz series—popularized a more positive representation of them as a symbol of female autonomy. Princesses have also been reinvented in a similar way. Gail Carson Levine’s retelling of Cinderella in the young-adult novel Ella Enchanted, for instance, represented a new kind of princess whose value wasn’t dependent on physical beauty.
Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas.
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📚 La Sorcière, by Jules Michelet 📚 Woman, Church, and State, by Matilda Joslyn Gage
📚 The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum
The return of the Black Panther
“In Black Panther there is a simpler question: Can a good man be a king, and would an advanced society tolerate a monarch?”
📚 Black Panther, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Princesses don’t have to be passive
“[Gail Carson] Levine’s Ella is everything [a critic] asks for in a Cinderella; she’s resourceful, brave, determined, and wins her Prince mostly through her mind and personality.”
This week’s question comes from Jeff: “I’m looking for some good suggestions for (don’t laugh) werewolf fiction. There has to be a Frankenstein/Dracula equivalent of a werewolf story out there somewhere, right?”
Although the main character in Hermann Hesse’s 1927 classic, Steppenwolf,doesn’t literally transform into a wolf, the story’s symbolism is believed to have inspired many werewolf novels. Some of the short stories in Angela Carter’s 1979 collection, The Bloody Chamber, use werewolf narratives to exploresexual and gender politics. And Glen Duncan’s 2011 novel, The Last Werewolf, which contains a lot of graphic violence, is elevated by the werewolf protagonist’s playful prose and poignant existential questions.
Write to the Books Briefing team at email@example.com or reply directly to this email with any of your reading-related dilemmas. We might feature one of your questions in a future edition of the Books Briefing and offer a few books or related Atlantic pieces that might help you out.