Burn that Abridgment When We Come To It


Elizabeth Creith

I hate abridged works. They are the abortions of the literary world.

Sorry, have I been politically incorrect there? Maybe I should have said: “Well, my personal preference is for the original work as the author conceived and wrote it. My own opinion is that if someone slaves over a hot pen, or word processor, to create a work like Peter Rabbit or Gulliver’s Travels, the authentic story is possibly preferable to a simplified version designed to suppress the minds and impoverish the vocabularies of young readers.” Nope, you see—my opinion keeps sneaking in. And my opinion is that abridging a work of fiction is like abridging a gourmet meal.

“You don’t like chicken nuggets stuffed with spam and processed cheese? It’s practically the same as chicken Kiev. Anyway, people already like the taste of spam and processed cheese and chicken nuggets. What if they don’t like Swiss-cheese-and-ham stuffed chicken breast?”

The American title of the first Harry Potter was changed from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The explanation was that American children would be confused because they didn’t know what the philosopher’s stone was. I suppose this might be true—after all, George Bush was confusing the adult population with words like “misundersestimated”.

The word “soporific” was omitted from the “new version” of Peter Rabbit that came out some years ago. The rationalization (oooooh, big word! big word!) was that children wouldn’t understand the meaning of the word. Heaven forbid that a child should have to ask Mommy, “What does ‘sop-or-if-ic’ mean?” Heaven triply forbid that Mommy should say, “I don’t know either, darling—let’s go look it up in the dictionary.”

My own definition? “Soporific—the feeling of sleepiness induced by being forced to read books from which words like ‘soporific’ have been purged.”

Of course, in a household nurtured on abridged works where the hard words had been removed, the answer might very well be, “I don’t know, darling. We’ll have to buy a dictionary tomorrow and look it up” or maybe even, “It’s a shame there isn’t some kind of book of words that people could look those things up in.”

There is, Mommy. It’s Webster’s Abridged Dictionary.

Sometimes you just can’t win.

Books mentioned in this column:
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (Penguin Classics, 2003)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Book 1) by J.K. Rowling (Bloomsbury, 2003)
Riverside Webster's Abridged Dictionary II (Berkeley, 1996)
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (Frederick Warne & Co., 1902)

Elizabeth Creith is a biblioholic and incurable librocubicularist. Not only does she buy, read, shelve and stack books, but she also writes them and on occasion makes them by hand. Elizabeth lives and writes in Wharncliffe, Northern Ontario, distracted occasionally by her husband, dog, and cat. The Scriptorium is where she blogs about writing and life. Contact Elizabeth.



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