A story that author Margaret George shared with me years ago has always stuck in my mind.
George reported that, when production was about to start on a television miniseries based on her book, The Memoirs of Cleopatra, the producer lamented the fact that the ending was too downbeat. “Does Cleopatra really have to die in the end?” he said to George, though I paraphrase. “And what’s all the stuff with the snakes? Snakes don’t make good TV. Couldn’t she could just go off with that Mark dude?”
In the years since, I’ve retold the story often as a “isn’t Hollywood goofy” cautionary tale. Because all of that, after all, is a very Hollywood kind of thing to do: changing a classic in order to play to the lowest common denominator. Altering physics and history when necessary. That’s what the film industry does. Not publishing. Until now.
According to Australia’s The Age, Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace is currently undergoing a bit of a renovation:
Since its publication in 1869, Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace has presented the reader with the duel [sic] challenge of an eye-straining 1500 pages and an unerringly gloomy ending.
That, however, is now to change with the emergence of a slimmed down version of the literary classic with a happier conclusion.
The new, happier version of War and Peace, is — according to the book’s Russian PR — “half as long and twice as interesting” and at least two characters who died in the original story, Prince Andrei Bolkonsky and Petya Rostov, manage to make it right through the new version.
The new and improved War and Peace (shall we call it W&P Lite?) will be available internationally from HarperCollins in April.