Often books are published in an imperfect state. The first print run may include minor grammar errors or other issues that a publisher fixes in subsequent printings. But what happens when someone decides that larger changes are necessary?
In publishing, the term “edition” can indicate several different types of alterations to the original manuscripts. Translations can count as different editions as can international versions that may have different formatting or cover requirements. But books with extensive textual or plot revisions fall into an altogether different category. Producing this last type of editions often involves large changes in society or in the consciousness of the author.
Because these major alterations occur for vastly different reasons, I’m highlighting a few of the most interesting cases below.
Richard Scarry, The Best Word Book Ever
Scarry’s children’s books feature simple stories filled with anthropomorphized animals. Though Scarry first began publishing in 1949, he has continued to update his over 300 stories in order to reflect changes in American society. Alan Taylor from The Atlantic noticed several of these differences in Scarry’s The Best Word Book Ever. Some changes were simply alterations to language uses. “He comes promptly when he is called to breakfast” was changed to “He goes to the kitchen to eat his breakfast” for example. Other changes result in more equitable gender roles. In a 1963 edition of the book, a male bear drives some type of construction or farm equipment, but in the 1991 version, a female bear is driving the same implement. Scarry and his publishers ultimately made the changes so that the book would continue to be relevant to modern readers and reflect their lived experiences.
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
Though most people are acquainted with the story of Frankenstein, they may not know that they are likely familiar with the second rather than first edition of the tale. Shelley first published Frankenstein in 1818. The original story featured the fall of a great family, hints of incest, different characters, and a more thorough reflection of life at the time of the book’s writing. In 1831, Shelley published a new version of the work that removed some of the rough narrative edges (and the incest). The 1831 edition is the one that has gained the most renown. If you are interested in learning more, check out John Harcourt from Ithaca College’s analysis of the subject. It is a quick and enlightening read.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
In its original 1937 incarnation, The Hobbit did not necessarily fit well with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which makes sense; Tolkien had not fully conceived of the trilogy back then. By the mid-1940’s though, Tolkien wanted to ensure that the books made sense when read together. In order to make them more narratively cohesive, he sent a revised version of The Hobbit to Allen & Unwin, his publisher, to see if they wanted to create a new edition to the work. Ultimately they did produce a revised version in 1951. This second edition focused more on Bilbo’s interactions with Gollum and emphasized the lure of the ring. Minor changes to the text also occurred in 1966 and 1978, creating third and fourth editions respectively. Today over 50 versions of The Hobbit have been published though the vast majority of these are simply international or translated versions that reflect the 1978 textual changes.
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Making major changes to texts happens with remarkable frequency. Historically, the changes have only occurred if the author has made an egregious error, or if alterations make sense with subsequent print runs. In this era of print on demand books, however, authors and publishers have more flexibility in terms of manuscript changes; they no longer have to wait until 500 first run books have been sold or lose money before integrating the changes. Even self-publishers can overhaul their manuscripts after publication by simple uploading new files to their vendor sites though companies like Amazon do encourage authors to indicate that these changes have created a second edition of the work. (People in publishing are sticklers for tracking changes like that.)
Whether the creation of new editions results from changes in society or narrative needs, I love exploring how and why authors redevelop their works after the initial publication. When I read, I think of books as fairly static though in reality, their narratives have the potential to change quite a bit. I’m interested to hear if you all know of other major changes to manuscripts or if you have had to change your own manuscript after publication. It is such an unusual system that I can’t help but want to know more.
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Alan Taylor, Richard Scarry’s The Best Word Book Ever, Flickr, 25 October 2016.
Mary Shelley, Manuscript Page from Frankenstein, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, London, 1816.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, Allen & Unwin, 1937.