If you’re familiar with Shakespeare’s last play, The Tempest, you have a general idea of the plot and the characters: Prospero, the exiled Duke, living on an island with his daughter, Miranda, and served by the spirit Ariel and the monstrous Caliban, until the shipwreck of Prospero’s brother and members of his court, giving Prospero an opportunity for revenge or for reconciliation, and giving Miranda her first exposure to the outside world (it’s Miranda who speaks the line, “O brave new world that has such people in it!” to which her father drily replies, “Tis new to thee”). Even if you’ve never read the play or seen it performed (and you should; there are many performances on DVD available in the library system), you’re probably somewhat familiar with it, such a part of our culture that it formed the basis for the Science Fiction movie classic, Forbidden Planet. Recently Margaret Atwood tried her hand at a version of the story, in Hag Seed (discussed here).
Now Jacqueline Carey, in her new book, Miranda and Caliban, takes another look at The Tempest, but unlike other versions, she focuses her story on Miranda, the innocent daughter of Duke Prospero, and Caliban, the “savage” Prospero uses as servant and slave. She imagines what it must have been like for Miranda, living on this island with her father since she was three, isolated and lonely, until she meets Caliban, a strange and feral boy, and the only one on the island who’s anywhere near her age. As Prospero keeps both his daughter and his slave close to him on the island, making sure neither one can escape his presence and his magic, both motherless children, Miranda and Caliban, begin to spend more and more time together, for solace and companionship, and then, as they get older, for more than just companionship.
If you know how the play ends, you read the book with an added sense of poignance, because you know Miranda does not end up married to Caliban or even in the same country as Caliban, and he receives no real solace nor happy resolution. Part of the beauty of Miranda and Caliban is that it allows you to wonder what might have happened if Shakespeare had looked at his characters a little differently, and given them a little more free will to follow their hearts.