AR speaketh...

The questions, the answers, the thoughts, the ideas and the other crap that make me, well, me.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Abridged too far?

Foreword: As a kid, I read lots of abridged versions of classics. They left me with a rather poor impression of the originals. Here’s my opinion…

Reading is often hyped way too much. I mean, look at all those parents shoving spoonfuls of illustrated Oliver Twist into their kids’ reluctant brains. Is it worth it? The bigger question is, does it serve the end they hope it serves? Having fed, rather voraciously, (and voluntarily, for my mother realized the futility of making me do anything against my will pretty early. Fast learner, my mom.) on lots of illustrated, “adapted” versions of popular novels, I do happen to have an opinion about them. Most of you realize that the previous statement, seeking to justify my qualification for commenting on the subject, is rather uncharacteristic. Have I finally seen light and decided to add a dollop of humility to my otherwise formidable arsenal of arrogant assumption? Actually, no, it is just that this has been a personal experience that has affected me rather deeply.

A couple of weeks ago, I finished reading the original version of “Great Expectations”, a classic by Charles Dickens. I had read an adapted (thoroughly mutilated, in my opinion) version as a part of curriculum at school. I think I was in the eighth standard then. I distinctly remember hating the story. The thing was so horribly presented, the plot so simplified, the characters so innocuous that it failed to leave a lasting impression. Wait; let me correct that. It did leave a lasting impression. I decided that Charles Dickens was hugely over-rated. And to this date I have not read another of his books. Of course, I had read my Oliver Twist and David Copperfield way before Orient Longman caused me to think that the last three letters in Dickens’ name were probably meant to disguise a crucial fact.

Lets look at the logic behind the practice of abridgement. “Adaptation” has traditionally meant the act of becoming more suitable and aligned with, one’s environment. In the context of juvenile minds and classic novels, it may probably mean reducing the complexity of the characters and removing references its dated aspect, thereby making it more palatable for immature minds. Try as I may, I completely fail to see the rationale behind this exercise. A context, a society, a theme, a dialect may well be the entire fabric of the novel. Fiddling with it will irreparably damage the narrative. Far from creating an interest in young minds, it will create an aversion. The only people it will manage to interest will be the dull sort. I wouldn’t pin my hopes on them for writing the next Nobel winner. Another crucial flaw I see is in the intent. If a book in its original form is deemed unfit for children, why do we need to force it upon them in an even more unpalatable form? Also, it brings to question the ability of the person who seeks to bridge the divide between the author’s intention and the reception by the children. Instead of letting the unfettered minds soak in what a great writer has written, we force them to consume the distillate produced by a person who is apparently not good enough to create anything original, and may in all probability, lack the ability to understand the original author’s intention.

One is forced to wonder, then, if it would not be better to let the target audience reach sufficient maturity before they deal with complex subjects in the original form, rather than force some imbecile’s half-baked interpretation of it upon them.

PS: Sincere thanks to Selva and Geetha for presenting the original "Great Expectations". I loved it and I cannot thank you guys enough! It made me realize that in the past there might, after all, have been a few authors who could write almost as well as I.

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