Sunday, July 10, 2011

Yes, Roger Ebert, Yes!

(Or, as Atticus just said I should title this post: "Someone is Right on the Internet!")

On a {shudder} dumbed-down version of The Great Gatsby (and I honestly can barely bring myself to share the fact that someone has done this), Ebert says:

The first is: There is no purpose in "reading" The Great Gatsby unless you actually read it. Fitzgerald's novel is not about a story. It is about how the story is told. Its poetry, its message, its evocation of Gatsby's lost American dream, is expressed in Fitzgerald's style--in the precise words he chose to write what some consider the great American novel. Unless you have read them, you have not read the book at all. You have been imprisoned in an educational system that cheats and insults you by inflicting a barbaric dumbing-down process. You are left with the impression of having read a book, and may never feel you need return for a closer look.

If you read to the end of Ebert's piece, I'm sure that, like me, you'll check "Words fail me" on his multiple choice quiz.

I'm going to go beat my head against a wall now, in order to banish from my consciousness the rewritten ending, which includes -- I'm not kidding -- these words:
Some unpleasant people became part of Gatsby's dream. But he cannot be blamed for that. Gatsby was a success, in the end, wasn't he?
Some unpleasant abridged versions of books have crept into my line of vision but I can't be blamed for that, can I? In the end, I'm still free to run screaming from the room.

Anne-with-an-e is now joining in the fun, adding, "See Jay mope. Mope, mope, mope ...." We have to laugh, you see, so that we don't weep well into the night.

(Caveat to younger readers regarding clicking through to Ebert -- some mature language near the end of the piece.)


Charlotte (Waltzing Matilda) said...

I saw that a few days ago and was horrified! Truly awful. One positive side effect though is that it made me want to snatch up my copy of the original and pour over it again!

Dorian Speed said...

I was worried this would be an Ebert review of the upcoming movie by Baz Luhrmann, which I'm really hoping will be fantastic:

Lindsay said...

I wonder if the biggest problem with this book is that it is forced on teens who are just not developmentally ready to "get it." That coupled with the fact that they have never learned to savor language and they don't have time to let the language pour over them as they read, or the time to go back and pore over it on a re-reading. And that many of them are being taught by teachers who really don't "get it" either.

I wonder how many people have had the book ruined for them by being forced to read it before they were ready. The flip side of this is, when do they get exposed to Fitzgerald, if not when they are trapped in high school and are forced to read it?

I didn't like the book in high school. My son didn't like the book when we read it for a book discussion. And yes, he can read; 800s two years in a row on the SAT would seem to indicate that he has at least some skill in that area!

Roger Ebert's quotations gave me the first taste of how beautiful the language could be. But if we don't have inspired teachers like that, I'm afraid most of us will probably miss it. And my experience in high school gave me the feeling that Fitzgerald was a writer I didn't want to bother with in future.

Not that I think "dumbed-down" books are the answer, as they pretty much completely miss the point. Probably better long-term preparation and waiting for the right time are the real answers. Better preparation through reading good literature all along might be possible. But I don't know if our society will ever allow us to wait for the right time.

Enough rambling!

Karen Edmisten said...

Charlotte, yes, it's one I will always reread with the most minute of prompting.

Dorian, I, too, really hope that one will be fantastic!

Lindsay, I'm sure that Fitzgerald has been spoiled for more than one person through inadequate teaching -- so true for so many books. And, yes, I think that often high schoolers don't have the life experience to appreciate what the book is saying. Still, purely from a literary standpoint, in terms of the writing, it's a shame that it isn't always presented as the glittering jewel that it is.