Friday, June 1, 2012

First Line Friday!

Today we turn to that classic of classics, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. But we’ll tackle it with a slight twist.

You see, I’d like my kids to read great books just as soon as they are able- maybe even a little before that. That’s why I find it hard to pass by the dollar section at Target anytime they’ve got Dalmatian Publishing Group’s Junior Classics available for a buck.

I picked up their version of Huck Finn, and thought I’d do a quick side-by-side comparison, just for giggles. Here’s what they say about their simplified abridgement:
This Junior Classic edition of Huckleberry Finn has been carefully condensed and adapted from the original version (which you really must read when you’re ready for every detail). We kept the well-known phrases for you. We kept Mark Twain’s style. And we kept the important imagery and heart of the tale.
Well, let’s put them to the test. Below are the NOTICE, EXPLANATORY and first line of Twain’s original:

Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.
Per G. G., Chief of Ordinance. 

In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect;  the ordinary “Pike County” dialect; and four modified varieties of this last. The shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guesswork; but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech.I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding.

 “You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that aint no matter.”

And now, DPG’s version:

This tale has no reason,  
No lesson can be found. 
If you want a moral,
Quick! Put this story down!


 “Unless you’ve read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (which I hope you have), you don’t know me.”

I don’t know. If you ask me, the second you strip Huck Finn of its dialects, you strip it of its very soul. Am I wrong?


  1. You are not wrong.. you are right. Which comes down to the age-old question (among literary minded people anyway): is it OK to dumb down a classic for children to expose them to it or will it actually not induce them to read the original when they are older? Should they be introduced to the original even at a younger age than usual or will that actually not induce them to reread the original when they are older? Perhaps it depends on the child in question...

    1. Right. And the book, I think. My son read a dumbed-down version of "Around the World in 80 Days" while I was reading the original Verne. We both enjoyed comparing notes.

      But that's more of a book of twists and turns (and not so much beautiful or distinctive language), and as long as the revision is true to the plot, I didn't really have a problem with it, I suppose.

      But other books just have too much to lose in a children's adaptation. Huck Finn is certainly one of them.