Friday, August 3, 2012

Hey--leave my books alone!

by Meredith Cole

So we're all talking this week about Clandestine Classics' decision to "sex up" the classics and I've been interested to hear what my fellow criminal minds think of the plan.

I admit to being a total curmudgeon about certain things. It's hard not to think of my own books, 100 years in the future, in the hands of someone who has decided to completely rewrite them and add gratuitous sex. Or aliens. Or take out the murders. No!!!

There was a reason there weren't mind-blowing sex scenes in Jane Austen's books. She was no prude (although she died a virgin, as far as we know), but chose to express love and affection in less graphic terms and in ways befitting the culture and art of the time. Rewriting her books is like rewriting history, in my opinion. And we wonder why kids are confused!

Other things I think should never ever happen to any writer or artist:

1) Get abridged: When I was nine, I was convinced I'd read GREAT EXPECTATIONS by Charles Dickens. What I had read was a version abridged for kids that took out any difficult vocabulary words and seriously cut down the number of pages. I understand why they do this (expose kids to the classics!) but it is not really Dickens and it should not be presented as Dickens. Would it have really hurt me to wait a couple of years and read the real book instead of someone's "interpretation" of Dickens?

BTW, I don't necessarily put comic book classics in the same category. To me that's an artistic interpretation of a classic (like a movie) rather than a rewrite.

2) Colorization: If I recall correctly, Ted Turner thought that people wouldn't watch black and white movies so Ted decided to colorize the ones he owned. There was a major outcry and threats (Don't you dare try it on CITIZEN KANE!) but he did it anyway on movies like Casablanca (even though it looked rather fake and strange). This seems to me to be a giant denial of a time in history when entertainment was seen in black and white, and cinematographers planned their shots around light and shadow.

3) Have someone "take over" their series: I know I'm going to get a lot of grief over this one, but this just seems wrong to me. I know readers love the characters in certain series and want them to keep living on in new books. But guess what? Everything has to end someday. And just because someone wants to make a whole lot of money doesn't mean it's okay to write what you think would be a writer's next book.

So how do I feel about merchandising (plastering Vincent Van Gogh paintings onto mugs and pot holders) or sampling songs from artists without asking their permission? I guess it all depends on how the artists themselves feel. I get angry when we can no longer ask a writer or film maker for their permission to alter their work but we do it anyway. That just seems wrong to me.

What do you think?

10 comments:

Chris said...

If I'm still read one hundred years from now, they can put in as much gratuitous alien murder-sex as they want.

Actually, now that I type that, maybe I'll give it a try. Couldn't hurt my Kindle sales...

Meredith Cole said...

I certainly don't mind if they change up your books--as long as you give your permission, Chris! So if these blog comments are saved 100 years into the future, then I'm sure they'll be all set.

It's really when they alter historical work without permission that I get a funny feeling...

Donna White Glaser said...

I hate the idea, for several reasons, and I could get all "Society is too sexed-up as it is," which is true. But it also just feels lazy and smacks of desperation on the publishers part. As a writer, I'm thinking, "Cheat! Cheat! Write your own book; don't piggy back on the classics."

Meredith Cole said...

I totally agree, Donna!

Realized this morning that I didn't even mention (was it last year?) when they tried to make the language in Huckleberry Finn more acceptable to modern ears. I understood the reason (my parents used to edit on the fly as they read the book aloud to us), but it was hard to see Twain (and history) revised like that.

Chris said...

What's funny is, I'm more comfortable with the notion of smutting up Jane Austen for profit than I am PCing up Mark Twain for educational reasons. The former will be consumed by adults who will ostensibly understand the text's been altered, and who've made their own damn-fool decision to experience it that way. The latter is intended to be read by schoolchildren, who may not realize they're drinking weak tea.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Boy, there's another kettle of stinking fish: rewriting classics to make them PC. I'm with Chris, that bothers me even more. Language and behavior in those books teach us about the culture and politics of the times depicted. Can you imagine Gone With The Wind getting the PC treatment? To Kill A Mockingbird? The Jungle? Grapes of Wrath? It's bad enough most of these make the Banned Books List. Makes me want to cry.

Chris said...

Meredith, to your point of permission, permission from whom? My understanding is, they're playing exclusively with works in the public domain. The copyrights have long since lapsed, and the creators long since died. Would you prefer they be off-limits in perpetuity unless the estate (assuming there is one) gives its blessing? What of Shakespeare? Of Homer? And what of latter-day mashups like Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which posits a superhero-team of sorts comprising characters from great literature? In the latter case, I guess my question is, how different is different enough?

Meredith Cole said...

I know--there's no way to ask permission of the dead, Chris, but the whole thing makes me squeamish. It's hard to know where to draw the line. These days it seems to be increasingly acceptable to take whatever you want (movies, music, images) and alter them however you like--copyrights completely ignored. But profiting off of someone else's work and altering it like this publisher has--that just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Reece said...

When we talk about who has the right to control whether a work gets smutted up or otherwise modified, a lot may depend on what country you're in. It's been a long time since I took a copyright law class, but in the U.S. works can enter the public domain and become fair game (legally, at least) for alteration. However, in many European countries there's a concept called "moral rights" that permits an artist to perserve the integrity of a work even after the financial interest in the work (the copyright) has been transferred. As a content creator, I think that's a pretty appealing concept.

Jack Getze said...

Not sure I agree about Dickens. Abridged might be the best way to read a man who got paid by the word. ;-)