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Subversions and appropriations of texts are commonly used as humour, particularly in spoof films. Commonly, this genre of texts takes a standard genre, such as fairytales, and changes characters and themes to alter the message of the original text.

Subverted readings

Subverted readings and interpretations of texts involve twisting the conventions (what usually occurs/what you expect to occur) or the stereotypes of a well-known text. A very common variety of subverted readings are so-called fractured fairy tales. In these fairy tales the characters or conventions are changed. The most common convention of fairytales to be subverted is the happy ending, for example, in The Three Little Pigs the ending could have the wolf climb down the chimney and capture the three little pigs (Which is a happy ending for the wolf!)

The Princess Bride by William Goldman is probably the most famous example of a fractured fairy tale novel. It contains a beautiful girl called Buttercup reluctantly betrothed (engaged to) to a prince, who is also the villain, and the adventures of her lost lover Westley (whom she calls Farm Boy) trying to reunite with her. Although there are a number of fairy tale elements in the novel (a beautiful girl, a prince, the promise of marriage), these are subverted by specifics such as the prince being the villain generally in fairy tales, a Prince is the hero (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to name a few).


Appropriation is taking an image, character or technique from one context and placing it in another. This happens quite a lot in many written text forms. Often the appropriation will occur when a character is taken out of their time, such as Ruth Park's Playing Beattie Bow, where a modern girl goes back in time and experiences 19th century Sydney. Park uses appropriation to highlight the differences between two eras in history.

Other forms of appropriation include taking a stereotyped character out of their context and putting them in a different setting, for example, an unemployed circus ringmaster gets a job as a call centre operator. The responder has certain expectations about the circus ringmaster's traits, which are highlighted by the contrast with his current occupation. Composers generally use appropriation to emphasise difference.

Another form of appropriation is when the composer wants the audience to view the conventional text through an unconventional perspective. One example would be composing a fairytale where the story, usually told from the knight's point of view, is told from the dragon's point of view. You might like to try writing a story that uses appropriation. You could write the The Three Little Pigs from the wolf's perspective:

Once upon a time there was a wolf. The wolf was very lonely. No-one would speak to him because he was very scary looking. The wolf would look at himself in the mirror each morning and sigh. 'If only I had a beautiful face, people would speak to me, rather than running away,' he would say to himself.

One day the wolf came across three little pigs. 'They would make good friends for me,' he thought. However, as soon as the wolf approached them, they all ran away and locked themselves in their houses.

Depressed and lonelier than ever, the wolf decided that the three little pigs would have to listen to him. 'If they just get to know me, I just know that we can be good friends,' he thought as he approached the first pig's house.

'Oh no,' thought the wolf, 'his house is made of straw. If there is a storm he will be ruined.' The wolf tried to warn the pig, 'Come out, come out,' he called 'or the storm that is coming will blow your house in.'

But the pig would not listen and replied, 'Not by the hair of my chinny, chin, chin!'

All of a sudden there was a great gust of wind and the house blew down. The pig gathered himself, looked in fear at the wolf and ran to his brother's house.

The wolf was amazed that the little pig was still scared of him even though he had tried to warn him about the structural inefficiencies of his house. When he arrived at the house of sticks he heard the first little pig telling the second pig that the wolf had blown down his house.

'Blown down the house? I am just a mere wolf! How could I blow down a house? I have to explain to the pigs that I was only trying to help.' The wolf called to the pigs, "Come out, come out! I didn't blow your house in!"

But the pigs were too frightened and replied, 'Not by the hairs of our chinny, chin, chins!'

All of a sudden there was a great gust of wind and the house of sticks blew down. The pig's gathered themselves, looked in fear at the wolf and ran to the third little pigs house.

The wolf could not believe that the little pigs still thought that he was trying to harm them. 'I have to make this right,' he thought, as he followed the pigs to the third little pig's house, made of bricks. Again the wolf pleaded, 'Come out, Come out! I didn't blow your house in!'

And again the pigs replied, 'not by the hairs of our chinny, chin, chins!'

The wolf pleaded and pleaded until his voice was hoarse and he was out of breath. He heard sounds of victory coming from inside the brick house.

Dejected, the wolf shuffled home hunch-shouldered and alone as the dusk began to settle.

Text One

Refer to the 'Subversion or appropriation?' animation.


Intertextuality is the link between two texts. Many modern texts borrow from earlier texts. This can be done in a number of different ways and serves to add weight to meaning.

Texts can be re-composed into different formats. Films such as The X-men, Spiderman and the Batman series originated as graphic novels and have been used to re-create the text in a different form. This is an effective form of intertextuality as it uses the responder's expectations as a basis for meaning. When a responder views a film adaptation of a graphic he/she knows more or less what to expect. What do you expect to see in a graphic novel? Action, witty one-liners, good versus evil, a love interest and eventually good overcoming evil.

Texts can also be re-composed into modern contexts. Some examples of these include the Baz Luhrmann version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the play A West Side Story, also a modern adaptation of Romeo and Juliet and Clueless which is a modern version of Jane Austen's Emma. When a responder reads or views a text that has been recomposed into modern contexts he/she will expect to see certain themes played out. The fact that it is in a modern context has the effect of validating themes as being timeless as well as expressing the importance of these themes in contemporary times.

Finally, intertextuality can involve allusions, where reference is made to other texts. These may include references, symbols or icons that imply another text. Many texts use references through similes and metaphors. Calling a person a 'Judas' is to imply that that person is disloyal. This is an allusion the biblical Judas who betrayed Jesus in the Christian Bible. Consider the effect of a religious allusion, implying a spiritual link to an idea will strengthen the importance or weight of what a composer is attempting to express.

Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels use a lot of intertextuality. Some examples include Wyrd Sisters, which loosely follows Shakespeare's Macbeth, Maskerade, based on Gaston LeRoux's The Phantom of the Opera and Carpe Jugulum, which alluded to the narrative conventions found in vampire stories.

Further intertextuality

Pastiche. A pastiche is a text that uses another text's style and features. This is sometimes done in a humorous way but nevertheless remains respectful. Many science-fiction or fantasy texts are considered pastiche because they take well-known features from previous texts in order to tell their story. The animation below is an example.

Refer to the 'Science fiction patsiche' animation for an annotated example.

In this chapter

Texts rarely exist in isolation. They often use conventions in genre and symbols and icons from other texts to indicate to responders the type of text that it is going to be. Composers sometimes subvert texts, using conventions of genre and changing themes or characters. Composers sometimes appropriate texts, taking conventional characters out of context.

Intertextuality is a term that is used to describe the links between texts. These links can be related to structural conventions such as comic book features recomposed into film format. They can be links that relate traditional texts into modern formats and contexts, such as reworkings of Shakespeare or modern versions of Jane Austen. They can also relate to allusions to historical and iconic figures from texts such as the Bible or Greek mythology.


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