New Takes on ‘The Great Gatsby’ Coming as Classic Novel Enters Public Domain in 2021

The Great Gatsby
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jay Gatsby.

Scott Fitzgerald called Great Neck home for only two years in the early 1920s, but the then-budding Gold Coast community left such an enduring impression that it birthed the vision for The Great Gatsby. 

For the last 95 years, that vision has been protected under copyright laws. No literary remakes, movie adaptations, or theatrical productions could be created without approval from the Fitzgerald Trust. But, nothing lasts forever, and the copyright is set to expire in January. Anyone who has ever had their own vision for the high school required reading can finally turn their dreams into reality. 

“We’re just very grateful to have had it under copyright, not just for the rather obvious benefits, but to try and safeguard the text, to guide certain projects and try to avoid unfortunate ones,” Blake Hazard, the late author’s great-granddaughter and a trustee of his literary estate, told The Associated Press. “We’re now looking to a new period and trying to view it with enthusiasm, knowing some exciting things may come.”

Might Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan be reimagined in the Wild West? Maybe as superheroes? On Mars? Anything’s possible, now.

First up is Nick, a Gatsby prequel that tells the story of narrator Nick Carraway’s life before meeting Jay. Little, Brown and Company is set to publish the novel on Jan. 5, 2021, days after the Gatsby copyright expires on New Year’s Day.

“Whenever a great work comes into the public domain, it is an opportunity for tremendous creativity,” said Beth Horn, executive director of the Sands Point Preserve Conservancy. “You can take the source and really give it a new life, a new shape, and a new audience. It’s got all kinds of potential.”

The Sands Point Preserve Conservancy holds a special kind of potential when it comes to reimagining Fitzgerald’s work. It is situated in Sands Point, the exact location that inspired “East Egg,” and sits on the large Guggenheim Estate, which resembles the grandeur of the novel’s setting. This preserve is as close to a real life Gatsby as it gets.

“If the conservancy were to undertake doing a production, we would bring in literary experts to guide,” said Horn. “We wouldn’t just go off on a tangent.”

Great Gatsby book cover
The flapper with the sultry figures in her eyes evokes the provocative mood of the times on the cover of the first edition of The Great Gatsby.

The Sands Point Preserve Conservancy has hosted many Gatsby-themed parties and dinners in the past, but a free-rein production on the very land Fitzgerald intended would cross an unprecedented line between fiction and reality. 

“It would be entirely recognizable,” said Horn. “We would honor the original work and we would adapt it for the space and time.” 

Ironically, the original work get much attention when it was first published in 1925. When Fitzgerald died 15 years later, it was considered a flop. The book didn’t gain its Great American Novel status until after World War II, when it became the read of choice for homesick soldiers in the Army, according to NPR.

The themes of finding the American dream and growing from rags to riches resonated both then and now. 

“It just has this timeless quality to it,” said Keith Klang, library director of the Port Washington Public Library. “Even though it’s set in a previous time, the themes and the ideas are still relevant today.”

The Great Gatsby has been adapted several times before. From a silent film released shortly after the original publication in 1925 to the eight-hour stage show Gatz in which the entire book was read in 2010 and the Oscar-winning Baz Luhrmann production in 2013 starring Leonardo Dicaprio. With any adaptation, there is a risk that the original story will not be honored, but especially once the story is part of the public domain. 

“I think the pros here outweigh the cons,” said Klang of the novel’s integrity potentially being hurt once it enters the public domain. “The novel will always be the novel and I think people will continue to go back to that novel and read the text for what it was.”

Related Story: From Great Neck to Great Gatsby: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s L.I. Journey

Related Story: In Her Own Way: Zelda Fitzgerald

Related Story: Great Gatsby Book Sales Soar as Film Debut Nears

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