Sunday, December 19, 2010

Rewriting the Classics: Audacity or Common Sense?

Rewriting the Classics: Audacity or Common Sense?

Jesse Kornbluth has a lot of nerve. He had the chutzpah to rewrite one of the most beloved Christmas stories of all time: Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The editor of has what he considers a valid reason: he wants his nearly 8-year-old daughter to experience the story, but she was so bored with it she refused to listen. So he changed it up.

In his HuffPost piece, Kornbluth makes a fair point:
Books change over time, and over 170 years, "A Christmas Carol" has changed more than most. We like a punchy opening; "A Christmas Carol" is a slow starter. By our standards, the language is clotted and the piece is seriously overwritten - as I was reading it, I was scanning ahead to see what I could paraphrase or cut.

I'm not parenting, and I'm not sure how I would feel if my son were to have dumped my all-time favorite, The Grapes of Wrath, after giving it a go for less than a chapter ... so I appreciate Kornbluth's desire to share this literary holiday gift with his daughter. Yet the purist in me recoils a bit at the thought that we should have to change literature to soup it up or dumb it down or somehow improve it for the newer generations.

After all, classic, by its very definition, means something that withstands the test of time. As the author of Paisley and Plaid writes, "A classic portrays life as complex and depicts negative and positive aspects of human nature and the trying of values and character." This is precisely Dickens' gift.

Perhaps the question to be asked is whether or not this gift is lost in translation.

Given the choices Kornbluth faced - (1) allowing his daughter to walk away and miss out on the classic, (2) forcing her to sit through it against her will, and (3) rewriting it so it would be more appealing, I suppose his solution is the best of the three. Maybe. My face is scrunched up as I write that ... liking it not at all, but allowing it, because I have long believed that reading something is almost always better than not reading at all.

But it's Dickens! We don't REwrite Dickens! Unless, of course, we do.

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  1. Or choice #4: He could have waited till she was a little older, and maybe read some easier classics with her in the meantime, to help her prepare for when they tried again.