Abridgements

You will have to excuse me if occasionally there is a gap in posts.  My health is not of the best and sometimes I’m just not up to the necessary concentration span needed to gather my thoughts, let alone sit and write them down.  In the past I have let this stop me blogging.  This time I am just going to pick up again when I feel I can.  So following this gap, a post about gaps of a different sort, the gaps caused by abridgement.

When sitting and reading becomes too difficult I curl up I a chair, put on an audio book and let someone read to me.  As a child, I loved being read to, so much so that for years I pretended I couldn’t read just so that my parents would continue with the nightly bedtime story.   This really worried my teachers who thought that I was completely illiterate.  All I can say is that they should have found something a bit more enticing than

Here is Peter. Here is Jane.  Here is Pat the dog. I like Peter. I like Jane.  I like Pat the dog.

to tempt me with.  If they thought I was going to waste good playing time on that rubbish, they had another think coming!

Once I let on that I really was ‘an independent reader’ the time spent listening to others read diminished and that sort of shared experience of literature didn’t come back into my life until I started teaching myself and, despite what the government and the timetable said, read to my class for the last twenty minutes or so of every day, a time we all looked forward to with relish.

But, twenty years ago, I moved into the world of University teaching where the opportunities for reading aloud at length were very few and so it has only been during these last two or three years that I’ve rediscovered the pleasure of taking in a story aurally.  It started with the wonderful Stephen Fry CDs of the Harry Potter books which, if you have to spend a prolonged period in bed at any time, I heartily recommend.  They are especially useful if you already know the books as well as I do because it doesn’t matter if you fall asleep for a bit.  You just pick up again when you wake up.  However, not all audio books survive the gaps of a different sort, the gaps caused by deliberate abridgement.

Whenever I set out to buy a new audio book the first thing I do is set the filter to unabridged only.  I know that there are some really skilful abridgements out there.  The BBC’s Radio 4 would be lost without them and many of them I enjoy.  But what those versions do is draw me back to the original work so that I can read all of it.  If a fine writer has chosen to put 90,000 good words down in the right order, then I want to read or listen, as the case may be, to all 90,000 of them, not just a selected few.  So, when I choose to come to a book first time through the medial of the audio book then I want the whole thing, please, not someone else’s idea of which are the important bits.

Of course, abridgements and alterations come in all shapes and sizes.  Dramatising a work, be it for the stage or screen, is another matter entirely.  My first encounter with Pride and Prejudice was as a stage play at our local Rep.  Clearly money with which to pay the cast had been an issue because Mr and Mrs Bennet were the proud parents of just three daughters, Jane, Elizabeth and Lydia.  Consequently, when I came to read the book for ‘O’levels a year later I was horrified to discover that Jane Austen had got it so totally wrong.  Had nobody told her that the Bennets had but three children?  How could she be so mistaken.  I’m afraid decades of re-reading have still failed to reconcile me completely to Mary and Kitty.

So, how do others feel about abridgements and if you like them can you recommend any audio abridgements that you think I might enjoy.  I’m always wiling to be proved wrong.

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10 thoughts on “Abridgements

  1. I don’t like abridgements either in books or on audio. I always wonder what was cut out and why and what difference it makes to the story and so always end up feeling somehow cheated.

    1. Exactly, If the author thought the words were needed and it’s a book worth reading then I want all of it. Of course, there are some books out there that could well lose a few thousand or so words, but then would I want to read them in the first place?

  2. My late wife was not an avid reader, per se, but she enjoyed having a talking book when driving to and from work. She preferred abridged works and her reasoning makes a lot of sense: the abridged novel is edited so it is almost always interesting or exciting or whatever, leaving off the more “talky” parts or glossing them over with a narrator’s comment. I expect she was more interested in the basic story and not all the literary decorations; furthermore, she didn’t want to drift off and lose interest. Besides, I know that her commute at that time was one side of an audio tape each way so it was convenient.

    There are a couple of movies that I contend were better than the books because they were edited. The first is Jaws: the book was not that great and it contained all that boring domestic stuff. Spielberg comes along, strips out everything not about the shark and the movie was much better. Another was McMurtry’s Horseman, Pass By. This was made into the movie Hud and, although it follows the plot fairly well, there was a significant simplification, especially in the characterizations (in the book, several different characters spoke whereas the movie dialogue was focused on Paul Newman).

    But we shouldn’t consider making a book into a movie as an abridgment: it is an adaptation since the two art forms have different conventions and a different purposes. Perhaps the abridgment can be considered an adaptation? The abridgment is another art form with different conventions and a different purpose than the original.

    1. The difference between abridgement and adaptation is an interesting one, I think. I haven’t seen either of the films you mention so I can’t comment, but a friend has just lent me the box set of ‘Lord of the Rings’ which has the extra discs discussing the process of making the film. There were alterations made to that which left me spitting. In fact, if I hadn’t been sitting in the middle of a row I might well have walked out of ‘The Two Towers’, but after listening to Jackson and the screen writers talking about what they did and why I can at least appreciate that the changes they made were done for a valid film reason and that there was a great deal of respect for the original behind their decisions.

  3. Wonderful. Both on the value of audiobooks and of unabridgement. Having health gaps myself, I want to try them. Litlove.wordpress.com has also recommended using them this way. Do you buy them or find them online? When I need them most, I don’t have the energy to go looking, so I need to have some ready and waiting.

    1. For the most part I get them online from Audible where I have a subscription that allows me two a month for around £15. This is much cheaper than they would be you were to source them individually. Recently my local library has started to let you download their stock but at present the availability is rather limited. However, if they do have something you want to hear it is of course free which is a great plus point for those of us on fixed and limited incomes.

  4. I’m completely with you on abridgements. I want the whole book, even if it takes fifteen discs. When I want a simpler solution, I borrow a Playaway, which is an entire unabridged book on a 1.5″ by 2.5″ (approximately) device. It just takes headphones and a triple A battery and it’s ready to go.

    I think a movie is different. Like Mike pointed out, it’s its own art form. I like the 2005 (?) movie version of Pride and Prejudice; they’ve edited out alot, but it still feels like the same story to me (all sisters present and accounted for!). But I also like the 2001 (?) movie version of Possession, and to me, that felt entirely different from Byatt’s novel.

    1. I haven’t seen ‘Possession’ because I loved the book so much. At some point I am going to have to pluck up the courage. My library service experimented with something similar to Playaway but I haven’t seen them around lately. They have, however, started letting us download audiobooks for free. The choice is rather limited but at least it’s a start.

      1. Possession is one of my favourite books of all time. I thought the movie was beautiful, but the Maud Bailey-Roland Mitchell story was changed beyond recognition. It probably helped that I saw the movie before I read the book – I’m not sure I’d have had the courage if I’d done it the other way around.

        1. I think it’s often better that way round, Naomi. I had the same experience with ‘The Colour Purple’. After I’d seen the film I couldn’t wait to see it again, but my next opportunity didn’t come until after I’d read the book when somehow it just wasn’t quite the film I’d thought it was.

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