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Psalm 78
. . . we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. .
so the next generation would know them . . . and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Originalism and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

About two weeks ago it was Lane's turn to pick the bedtime audiobook. He couldn't decide, so I chose for him. He tends to re-listen to his favorites, so I offered up a story that he usually casts aside: Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. I wondered if the time was ripe for him to connect with the tale of the fierce little mongoose that bravely fights off the pair of cobras, Nag and his wife Nagaina. I popped the CD in the player, pressed "play," kissed Lane and Toby goodnight and left the room. I paused at the door waiting for the protest. I was ready to turn around and replace the disc with an old stand-by, but there was no protest.

The next day I found Lane in his room listening to Rikki-Tikki-Tavi again. He began playing it repeatedly. He loved it!

Several years ago we read a beautifully illustrated book of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. I borrowed it again from the library yesterday and Lane asked me to read it to him this morning.

As I started reading it wasn't long before Lane interrupted me.

"Mom, that's different from the CD."
I looked at the book cover and noticed that it was adapted and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. The CD is unabridged--straight from Rudyard Kipling's pen.

The funny thing is that Lane not only noticed each difference, he quoted the original passage to me! After a page or two our reading became an analysis of the changes and "adaptations" that Jerry Pinkney made. The kids began to wonder why.

After I read "watchdog" and Lane told us that the original story says "bloodhound" instead, I commented, "He probably thought children didn't know what a bloodhound was and so he switched it to watchdog."

Sydney protested, "I know what a bloodhound is! He must think kids are dumb!"

A few of the changes that Lane noticed:
"...he wasn't dead, just tired" instead of "he was not dead but half-choked."
The picture book read,
"I am Nag. Look, and be afraid!" Lane told me, "Mom, he left out the part about his markings."
Kipling wrote, 
"I am Nag. The great God Brahm put his mark upon all our people, when the first cobra spread his hood to keep the sun off Brahm as he slept. Look, and be afraid!" He spread out his hood more than ever, and Rikki-tikki saw the spectacle-mark on the back of it that looks exactly like the eye part of a hook-and-eye fastening."
And Pinkney wrote:
"Well," said Rikki-tikki, "I'm looking, but do you think it is right for you to eat baby birds?"
But Kipling had written,
"Well," said Rikki-tikki, and his tail began to fluff up again, "marks or no marks, do you think it is right for you to eat fledglings out of a nest?"
And Pinkney wrote:
"At the bottom of the plaster wall there was a brick pulled out to make a drain for the bathwater, and as Rikki-tikki listened, he heard Nag and Nagaina whispering together in the moonlight."
But Kipling had written:
"At the bottom of the smooth plaster wall there was a brick pulled out to make a sluice for the bath water, and as Rikki-tikki stole in by the masonry curb where the bath is put, he heard Nag and Nagaina whispering together outside in the moonlight."
There are many other changes, of course, for Pinkney wrote an adaptation. Adaptations can be a great way to bring a long or difficult story to young children. But in this case, Lane connected with Kipling's original and Pinkney's adaptation was like thin gruel.

(Except for the illustrations, of course, which Lane loved!)

It does seem sad, however, to re-write some of these great stories "for today's readers." A richness is lost, and I'm saddened by the capitulation it seems to represent. Instead of thinking of all the great words kids will learn, we change them to words they already understand! I love that Kipling says "rubbish heap" rather than Pinkney's "garbage heap." Yes, we say garbage, but now Lane knows just what a rubbish heap is.

How sad that with this beautiful picture book Kipling's original words have landed on the rubbish heap.

(By the way, the kids listen to an abridged Peter Pan and we are reading from the original. This time they are noticing the missing passages and enjoying the extra detail that was cut.)

Image from Wikipedia. 


Sharon said...

This is very interesting. I read Tikki-Tikki-Tavi to the kids from the original last year and I just explained the few words that they didn't understand. I think Anna liked it more for the small hand-sized book that we read from than anything else, though. She tends to love those little books. In the end we had to return it to the library early before it was wrecked with carrying around all with her the time!

I think with the combination of beautiful illustrations and unabridged CD you probably have the best of both worlds: your kids can now look at the pictures while they hear the original words, and the pictures will illumine the words; without the words being unintelligible on their own, or the story being paltry without the images.

We have a set of unabridged classics (it grows by one book each year) with illustrations by Robert Inkpen. His Peter Pan and Wendy illustrations don't quite catch me, but his Pinocchio and Wind in the Willows illustrations seemed quite perfect. Having read this post, I think perhaps after we finish The Trumpet of the Swan we might try reading The Jungle Book from that set.

~ Sharon

Mrs. Edwards said...

We need to try reading Wind in the Willows. I borrowed the audiobook from the library over a year ago and the kids just didn't catch on to it. As this particular post shows, it could be the timing just wasn't quite right. It is time to try again.

It is funny that Toomai and the Elephants, the other story on the same CD as Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, isn't interesting Lane either. I might try reading it to him first and then perhaps he'll like it better. (I confess that I don't know a thing about Toomai!)

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