Revised and Updated versions of classic novels… a mini rant

It’s about time for a mini rant. Been a while. Today’s mini rant comes courtesy of this morning’s delivery of the second-hand book Pearl Maiden written way back in 1903 by H Rider Haggard. Perhaps I should have been warned by the fact this edition was published by “Christian Liberty Press” in 2003, but I made the mistake of thinking I was getting the original text as written by H Rider Haggard. The following quotes are from the Editor’s Note at the beginning of this edition…

“I have thoroughly revised and edited the original text to make the story clearer and more enjoyable for modern readers. Grammar and word usage have been changed and updated, and much of the dialog has been rephrased.”

“…readers familiar with the 1903 edition will also note two new scenes near the final pages of this version: The preaching of Bishop Cyril to Marcus, and the final storm that threatens to sink the Luna.”

The Editor has also corrected some “historical errors and inconsistencies” and some “fundamental biblical inconsistencies”.

I know it’s not that unusual for old works to be edited to make them more readable for a modern audience, although in my experience it’s normally done in children’s versions to make the stories more accessible – most adults are capable of understanding old writing styles (shock horror!) – but to add two completely new scenes!!??? Surely this is  arrogance by the Editor, and the Bishop Cyril scene is pure Christian propaganda. H Rider Haggard was, indeed, Christian but he also had a great tolerance of other faiths and a welcome cynicism particularly towards missionaries and other evangelical strands of his faith. This re-imagining (more than revised) edition changes that.

When I buy a book – any book, be it from a current or a long gone writer – I want to read the book that writer wrote, not someone else’s interpretation of it. The only person who can revise a work is its original author in my opinion. The one exception to this is, as I said previously, children’s books where there is an argument for simplifying language to make an author they would not otherwise have read accessible to them. Even here I think we need to be very careful. I have nothing against Editors – far from it. An editor working WITH the author is an often vital ingredient of the final published work – but once the work has been published and especially if the author is no longer around to contribute – leave it alone! Apart from anything else, it’s highly unlikely you are as good a writer as the original author so to think you can in some way improve on the original or, as in this case, actually write new scenes to push your own agenda… words fail me at the arrogance.

Finally a quick word about buying this edition. I bought it from an Amazon seller and I do not in any way blame the seller for my mistake. The listing was Amazon’s and did not in any way make it clear that I was looking at an edited and revised version – if it had I would not have bought it. I now need to source a different edition – one that has the original words written by one of my current favourite authors.

Ok, so not a big rant (I’m feeling surprisingly calm this morning, mostly thanks to some very strong pain killers running through my system making everything just that little bit remote) but just something I wanted to say. Now, back to Amazon/ebay/play/abebooks to find an authentic edition that doesn’t cost a fortune 🙂


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