The Watering Down of Classic Literature

I was recently in the public library’s children section, which covers literature from the cardboard books, that get chewed on more than read by toddlers, to young reader books. Young Readers books, as in Goosebumps and A Series of Unfortunate Events. So imagine my surprise when I found so many classic novels over in this section. I thought that was strange, but I’m not really good at judging reading levels of books, even though as I recalled them they seemed far too sophisticated for such a classification. Though there are books that delve into serious topics that are easily categorized in that area. Half of the Harry Potter series is in Young Readers while the other half is in Young Adult, and as you read that series you can see how the writing grows and changes (one of the things that makes me consider J.K. Rowling one of the best writers out there to have a series that can grow with the reader), but it’s also a bit murky when one does finally switch from one level to the next.

Either way, this story starts when a man asked if I knew where books by H.G. Wells were, and I’ve read several by him so the first thing I said was that they would be on the other side in the adult section. He brushed me off and went looking for them himself; curious I did go to the shelves and there they were in Young Readers. At first I was like wow, now I don’t feel so bad about reading so many books from over here if H.G. Wells is classified as such. But then I got to really thinking about it, and as I flipped through the pages the writing style just didn’t seem right, plus of course it had several pictures throughout the book. Which isn’t that big of a deal, but you can see how it was definitely being formatted for a younger audience. Then as I began to really investigate, I came across Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and that I instantly knew was in the wrong section. Surprisingly, as I opened the book I knew why it had been placed there.

Instead of the well known first line:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

I read:

“It is a fact, everyone agrees, that a young man with money should have a wife.”

I’ve known they’ve done this to books before, and I never gave it much thought. I accidentally bought a Tarzan book that was written for kids, but it didn’t really bother me because Tarzan has been in books, movies, shows, comic strips, and cartoons, and so someone writing a little kids book about Tarzan isn’t really that big of a deal. It’s just taking a well known character and putting him in different settings. But rewriting a classic piece of literature to basically dumb it down for a younger audience feels  inherently wrong. Some kid out there thinks they’ve read Pride and Prejudice, and they really haven’t. Plus, you kind of ruin the book for them later when they reach that reading level, because now they know how it all turns out. Though, if you’re anything like me that’s not that big of a deal, but there are plenty of people who wouldn’t want to read something they’ve already read once. I mean some people won’t read a book just because they’ve seen the movie, no matter how many times I tell them they’re nothing alike. So if they’ve already read one version, no matter how watered down it was, will they be willing to read the original?

I know it was probably someone’s good intention to try and bring a piece of that classic literature to more people, and not just a younger crowd, but even for people who just aren’t on a high enough reading level yet. But dumbing it down doesn’t push someone to be better; it allows them to stay at the same level they are with no goal in mind of wanting to read the higher pieces of literature. Why push yourself to read the written word in the way Jane Austen intended you too, when you can basically get a summary of what she meant. This is no better than when I was a lazy bum in school and would just go to spark notes online to find out what a book was about, because I didn’t feel like actually taking the time read it. Yes, my crazy reading self didn’t want to read certain books.

I feel like this is just a huge step in the wrong direction, and it’s stemming from an age where we want everything quick, simple, and now. Why have a full discussion when you can just send a quick tweet? Why really delve into the meaning of a person’s emotions and thoughts when you can just use an emoji? Why take the time to read a book as it was meant to be read when someone can give you a summary right now and you can pretend to have loved it. Maybe I’m overreacting, but I honestly think it should be obvious how wrong it is to rewrite a book to suit a new generation, because in time the original will be lost, and what will be left will be just a shallow veneer used to cover the fact that nothing remains of what once had made it truly worthy.


2 thoughts on “The Watering Down of Classic Literature

  1. Wow! You are extremely talented writer in your own right. I had no idea this was happening, but I would agree with you. If a child WANTS to read a classic, it should be the original–fact that a young person is mature enough to want to read classic literature, usually suggests that they are ready to read at the higher level.


    • Awww thank you! And you’re right. When I was young I read plenty of books that wasn’t meant for my age group, but it was what I was interested in, and it’s what helped improve my reading capabilities. It pushed me to be better.


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