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Authors and Rewriting after Publication August 17, 2011

Posted by shannonmuir in analysis, fiction, novels, rewriting.
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I’ve had several oppportunities where I’ve read works that the author originally wrote but for various reasons were re-released in revised (usually expanded editions).  These include the early parts of Katharine Kerr’s Deverry series (http://www.deverry.com) and Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni series (http://www.deryni.net/).  I enjoyed what I read but never had  the blessing or curse – depending on your point of view I guess – of knowing the prior version of the work.  I could have taken the opportunity to do this when I visited home recently because my father had in his collection the first versions of the initial Deryni trilogy. However, living several states away and being very busy with work at the time, I didn’t want to ask permission to take his books with me. 

Move forward to the summer of 2011. I’m now unemployed through no fault of my own, with way too much time on my hands. In an online conversation with someone, I learn about an Orson Scott Card title I’ve never heard of though my father mentioned above loves reading Card.  The name of the book is TREASON, where on a prison planet people are trading what each race perfected in exchange for iron in hopes of using it for escape (or so they say).  The backstory of what situation got the “Mother Planet” to put all these people here isn’t really told, but it seems to be an analogy to what Australia was originally in our own global colonization. I’m not entirely sure it is needed explanation, I’m mentioning more to let you know I’m not glossing over it.  The lead character in it is a young man who comes from the ruling family of the land that mastered genetic manipulation and something has gone – in society’s view – horribly wrong with him.  He’s now ended up with the physcial parts of a man and a woman and this is a shameful thing that leads him to separation from his wife and exile, and follows his journey.

I’m not going to tell much of the story as the primary purpose is not a book review per se.  It’s about the comparison between the two versions of TREASON that were released., which I stumbled upon by chance when going to a local library looking for TREASON. TREASON’s original title, in a shorter version, was called A PLANET CALLED TREASON and was Orson Scott Card’s second novel in 1979 and released by St. Martin’s Press.  TREASON came out in 1988 also from St. Martin’s Press.  The main clue to the rewrite motivation comes in Card’s  own introduction to TREASON where he says, “… in the intervening years I have learned more about how a story can and should be told”. From other author introductions I’ve read to rewritten books this seems to be a similar sentiment, a feeling that the same core ideas can be presented better.

Card admits probably about only 10% of the text changed, and I concur.  But do the changes improve things?  Most aren’t noticeable to me save for a couple.  Subtle ones are the changes in a couple chapter headings, and additions of a couple sentences here and there to better explain things, and a term to describe one type of character that understandably changed due to changes our own reader times. Three changes stood out to me though, having read first TREASON then A PLANET CALLED TREASON: the beginning, the change in the end of Chapter 9, and the change in the last paragraph of the whole book.

For the beginning, Card clearly wanted to set up his world and characters better.  Here he adds approximately six pages of new material.  In some ways the old one made sense, because it thrust us straight into the public discovering the lead character’s issue. The rewrite deals with a little more setup between the lead and his wife first on a more intimate level and thereby brings the reader into the story on a closer level I think, thereby making it easier to invest in the main character.  For me it worked.

These other two changes are important because I recognized they were rewritten immediately.  There’s a tone difference in the endings of chapters 9 and 15 between the two books.  The best way to describe it is that the main character of Lanik comes off as being too on-the-nose in the first version of the book.  I won’t quote the differences in the ending so as not to ruin the book, but to illustrate I’ll quote the differences at the end of chapter 9.

A PLANET CALLED TREASON:

Instead I wandered from da Silva to Wood, from Wood to Hanks, from Hanks across the sea to Holt, and finally to Britton, where I found out that it was up to me to save the world after all, whether I like it or not.

I didn’t like it.

TREASON:

Instead I wandered from da Silva to Wood, from Wood to Hanks, from Hanks across the sea to Holt, and finally to Britton, where I found my true home, my true people, and learned what I had to do to keep them.

There’s a huge difference here.  The TREASON rewrite makes it clear to hook us along to find out what the lead will learn to finally find the peace he didn’t have at the beginning.  The tone of the ending in A PLANET CALLED TREASON comes more off like the lead saved the world, wasn’t happy about it, and provides no reason to be  endeared to him much further. It made me glad I read the second one first.  In this revision, I think Card scored big in deciding to make this change.  I also feel that way about the ending change,  with the key being while both the endings are positive, how the lead character expresses this feeling is important and far more impactful in TREASON.

The larger lesson here is that if, given the opportunity, I agree that authors – especially those that publish over a long span of years – can go back and amend material if they feel the story will better benefit the readership and the tale.  The key is that the core of the story not change, and Card definitely stays true to his theme and plotline between the two books. While not one of Card’s top books to me, and I do wish he’d been able to go deeper on some levels, the book is an interesting premise worth a read and consideration. Odds are that you’ll find TREASON and not both versions as I did at the library, but who knows?  It’s a lot more cereberal and less action than say ENDER’S GAME is, so a reader must be ok with subtlety.  TREASON has a lot of subtlety.

The line that reverberated with me most, on a personal level, stayed between both versions – though part of what this book is about I think the themes of the book are much wider than this:

“Heroes and victims are the product of the mood they were in when opportunity came or circumstances were at their worst…”

Don’t judge that just because an author rewrote a book that the original story must have been poor.  Maybe it’s just about making it even better.

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