November 26, 2012
Choose your own Hamlet
by Nick Davies
Canadian writer Ryan North, the creator of Dinosaur Comics and writer of the comic series Adventure Time, has launched a project on Kickstarter that lets you explore one of Shakespeare’s most iconic works in new and interactive ways. In To Be or Not to Be, he’s rewritten Hamlet as a comedy using modern English, with illustrations by a slew of artists, focusing particularly on the 110 death scenes that you can stumble upon as you choose your path through the book, because, as North puts it, “dying in a choose-an-adventure book can be way sucky … I realized these deaths would be way awesome, instead of way sucky, if they were illustrated by the best artists alive today.”
The book is already written, and it opens by giving the reader the choice of playing as one of three characters — Hamlet, Ophelia, or the ghost of King Hamlet — each of whom has dozens of possible storylines to follow. North makes a particularly strong case for going with Ophelia:
Ophelia’s adventure is as well-thought-out as Hamlet’s, but rather than being a hero suffering from crippling inaction, you are a smart, self-sufficient woman who knows what she wants and is totally rad 100% of the time, and also you are dating a PRINCE. You can choose what you want to do with your life: help your boyfriend who’s crying about a spooky ghost, or I don’t know TAKE DOWN INTERNATIONAL TERRORISTS INSTEAD?? It’s nuts. It’s awesome. Oh my gosh.
With the option to go through the story as Hamlet’s dead father, To Be or Not to Be offers an inherent advantage over the choose-your-adventure books of our youth, which, as North points out, “often suffered from arbitrary plotlines and capricious death;” by playing as a ghost, you can neatly sidestep any threats to your personal safety. On a more artistic level, North champions the novelty of the narrative structure, which has really only been attempted for children’s books before. He enthuses, “When you buckle down and write [a first-person choosable-path book] for adults, you discover some amazing things no one’s ever done before.”
You can find out more about the project on its Kickstarter page, and donate money if you think it’s a cool idea, though North has already met his stated goal and then some (and then some more). When I last checked, To Be or Not to Be had collected some $106,000, more than five times its $20,000 goal with 26 days to spare. As more money pours in, North has been giving out more prizes to all donors, adding features to the book (like a dust jacket, an e-book edition, and a Kickstarter-exclusive Poor Yorick prequel adventure), and — after surpassing $100,000 — promised to write a sequel. Whether that means more Hamlet adventures or a foray into deciding the fates of Othello or Romeo and Juliet remains to be seen.
Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.