Monday, 22 October 2012
Cut Down to Size
I may try again now that Professor David Purdie has reduced Scott’s novel Ivanhoe from almost 180,000 words to 95,000. Professor Purdie, who is the chairman of Edinburgh’s Sir Walter Scott Club, believes by cutting much of the “excessive description and extraneous punctuation” will attract modern readers who have turned their backs on Scott’s work. The new book will also be published as an e-book.
Sir Walter Scott is often described as the ‘father of the historical novel’ and Ivanhoe, perhaps his best known novel about 12th-century knight, Wilfred of Ivanhoe received international recognition. Goethe said Scott had invented a “wholly new art”. However, and that was then, in the 19th century and readers’ tastes have changed.
Professor Purdie sums it up in an article in The Herald by saying: “The paradox of Sir Walter Scott is he remains much admired, but little read. The collected works of Scotland's greatest novelist adorned the bookshelves of our grandparents, the attics of our parents and the pulp mills of today. That is a pity.”
He is apparently bracing himself for criticism from the purists who disapprove of such tinkering with the master’s work, regardless of motive. “Whatever the motive, no-one adjusts the text, or the score, or the brushwork of a master and escapes with impunity, 'scaithless' as Scott himself would say,” he says.
Many classics are abridged for children and directors often cut bits out of Shakespeare’s plays. Television adaptation play fast and loose with Dickens’ texts even to the extent of dispensing with characters, so what Prof Purdie has done is not totally revolutionary – and I might have another go at reading it.
What do others think? Is it a good idea which will attract readers to Scott’s work or should it be kept exactly as he write it?
Which books do you think would benefit from some judicious pruning?