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From Classics to Graphics: 6 Literary Masterpieces Turned Into Graphic Novels

Abridging classic novels for younger readers is nothing new. But in recent years, classic literature has been graphic novel-ized, making it more accessible for readers young and old while preserving the plot, themes, and sometimes even the author's voice. English class will never be the same, thanks to these classics gone graphic.

1. The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde's only novel, about a man who sells his soul to maintain his beauty, was just begging for a more visual makeover. The 2009 graphic novel written by Ian Edginton and illustrated by I.N.J. Culbard abridges the text, but still keeps much of Wilde's original prose. Marvel's 2008 version has better graphics, but it reads more like a copy of SparkNotes. Both books are recommended as a supplement to—not a substitute for—the original work. In the words of Dorian Gray himself, "How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. If it were only the other way!"

2. The Metamorphosis

The Incredible Hulk. Wolverine. Gregor Samsa. All of these characters undergo major transformations, but only one of them might appear on an AP English exam. Franz Kafka's 1915 novella about a traveling salesman who wakes up to find he's turned into a huge insect makes for a compelling graphic novel. Peter Kuper's 2004 adaptation looks like an enjoyable read, but it goes against Kafka's wishes. When the cover of the first edition was being designed nearly a century ago, the author asked that Gregor not be drawn as an insect. Instead, he hoped readers would conjure their own image of "horrible vermin" when picturing the creepy-crawly protagonist.

The Trial, Kafka's dystopian novel about the perils of bureaucracy, has also been adapted into a graphic novel. And if you want to learn more about the man behind the stories, check out Kafka's graphic biography by R. Crumb and David Zane Mairowitz.

3. Ulysses

Ulysses is one of those works that comes with a few barriers to entry. For starters, the Penguin Classics version is 1040 pages long. Then there are the 18 unstructured chapters that James Joyce boasted "[have] so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant." (Thanks, dude.) But Robert Berry's "Ulysses 'seen'" makes the modernist masterpiece more modern—and accessible—than ever. The graphic novel is available for free online or $7.99 on the iPad. Like the original, Berry's adaptation is serialized and raised a few questions of obscenity—Apple required nude images to be removed. Unlike the original, each chapter comes with a handy reader's guide.

4. Pride and Prejudice

Plenty of readers all over the world have no trouble reading Jane Austen's most popular novel. But what do you do after you've devoured the text and the six-part BBC series with Colin Firth as, omg, Mr. Darcy? Here's an idea: Get another fix with this 2009 graphic novel version from Marvel. The story's abridged, but reviewers on Amazon say it's more true to the novel than some film adaptations. The women's-magazine-style cover with headlines like "Bingleys Bring Bling to Britain" is fun, too.

And if you like this Marvel graphic novel, there are many others adapted by author Janet Lee, including Sense and Sensibility and Emma.

5. The Diary of Anne Frank

Image Courtesy The JC.com

Anne Frank couldn't have imagined that the diary she started two days after her thirteenth birthday in 1942 would ever become a best-selling memoir, a Pulitzer-Prize winning play, and an Academy Award-winning film. The diary's latest incarnation: a 2010 graphic biography written by Sid Jacobson and illustrated by Ernie Colón. Commissioned by the Anne Frank House Museum, the biography depicts many years before and after Anne's time in the Secret Annex, from her parents' early lives to the publication of her diary to her father's life as the family's sole survivor.

6. A Wrinkle in Time

Image Courtesy GoodOKBad.com

It may not be part of the canon, but Madeline L'Engle's 1962 science fiction fantasy novel is a young-adult classic. While the original work contains a few illustrations, the graphic novel by Hope Larson published October 2 is the first to fully depict Meg, Calvin, Charles Wallace, and the rest of the characters as they journey through space and time. And c'mon, you know you want to see how Larson draws the tessering process.

Which classic would you like to see adapted next?

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literature
7 Lost and Rediscovered Literary Works by Famous Authors
F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A number of literary works by famous authors that were once thought lost have recently been rediscovered. Some were found in private collections, others within vast archives, and one was even uncovered in an attic. A few of these works have delighted readers and scholars alike, while others may have gone unpublished for a reason—yet all offer fresh insight into the development of the writers who wrote them.

1. “TEMPERATURE” // F. SCOTT FITZGERALD

In July 2015 Andrew Gulli, managing editor of The Strand magazine, was searching through the rare book archive at Princeton University when he uncovered a previously unpublished short story by Princeton alum F. Scott Fitzgerald. Gulli makes something of a habit of searching for lost and unpublished works by famous authors, and in the past has uncovered a story by John Steinbeck, which was also published for the first time in The Strand. Fitzgerald's 8000-word short story, entitled “Temperature” and written in 1939, features a hard-drinking writer with a heart problem. In a sad echo of real life, just a year after he wrote it Fitzgerald himself died of a heart attack.

2. WHAT PET SHALL I GET? // DR. SEUSS

Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) seated at a desk covered with his books
Library of Congress, Wikimedia // Public Domain

In 2013, the widow of Ted Geisel (better known as Dr. Seuss) rediscovered a pile of manuscripts and sketches that she had set aside shortly after her husband's death in 1991. The papers contained the words and illustrations for What Pet Shall I Get?, which was published by Random House in July 2015. It is thought the book was likely written between 1958 and 1962, since it features the same brother-and-sister characters found in Seuss’s 1960 bestseller One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.

3. “SHERLOCK HOLMES: DISCOVERING THE BORDER BURGHS AND, BY DEDUCTION, THE BRIG BAZAAR” // ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE

Portrait of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sitting at a table in his garden, Bignell Wood, New Forest, 1927
Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A Sherlock Holmes short story supposedly written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was uncovered in the attic of historian Walter Elliot in 2015. The strange little story was written by Conan Doyle to be included in a collection of stories entitled The Book o' the Brig, which aimed to raise funds to rebuild a bridge across Ettrick Water, near Selkirk in Scotland, which had been destroyed during floods in 1902.

No sooner had the story been rediscovered, however, than some were expressing doubts about whether it had been written by Conan Doyle himself, especially since the flowery language doesn't seem in keeping with the renowned author's pared-down style. The full text of the story can be read (and puzzled over) here.

4. "THE FIELD OF HONOR" // EDITH WHARTON

Photo of author Edith Wharton, wearing hat with a feather, coat with fur trim, and a fur muff
Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Alice Kelly, a researcher from Oxford University, was studying Edith Wharton’s papers in the Beinecke Library at Yale University in November 2015 when she discovered a previously unpublished short story. The unfinished nine-page story was stuck to the back of another manuscript, and is entitled "The Field of Honor." It centers on the First World War and is critical of the women who only superficially helped with the war effort, perhaps explaining why it was not published at such a sensitive time.

5. "POETICAL ESSAY ON THE EXISTING STATE OF THINGS" // PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY

Crayon drawing of poet Percy Shelley circa 1820
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When Percy Bysshe Shelley was in his first year of university at Oxford in 1810/11, he wrote and published a poem critical of the Napoleonic wars under the pseudonym “a gentlemen of the University of Oxford.” The 172-line poem was printed in a 20-page pamphlet entitled “Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things” and was not attributed to Shelley until 50 years after his death. All copies were thought lost until 2006, when one was found amidst a mysterious private collection and offered for auction. Only scholars had access to the poem until 2015, when it was purchased by the Bodleian Library in Oxford to add to their world-famous collection of Shelley works and papers. The poem became the library’s 12 millionth book to be acquired and is now available online for all to read.

6. EARLY STORIES // TRUMAN CAPOTE

A black-and-white photo of a smiling Truman Capote
Evening Standard/Getty Images

A Swiss publisher poring over Truman Capote’s papers at the New York Public Library several years ago rediscovered a variety of short stories and poems the author had written before the age of 20. While four of the stories had been published in Capote’s school literary magazine, The Green Witch, the majority of the pile was brand-new to the reading public. In October 2015, Penguin books released the stories as The Early Stories of Truman Capote.

7. THE TURNIP PRINCESS

While looking through the archives of the city of Regensberg, Germany, researcher Erika Eichenseer uncovered 30 boxes containing more than 500 German fairy tales, which had lain unnoticed for 150 years. The stories had been collected by historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth, who traveled around the Bavarian region of Oberpfalz recording folktales, myths, and legends in order to preserve them. He published the results of his research in three volumes between 1857 and 1859, but his matter-of-fact accounts of the stories were somewhat overshadowed by the more artful stories of his contemporaries the Brothers Grimm, and his book fell into obscurity. The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales contains 72 of the lost tales and was published by Penguin in February 2015.

A previous version of this story ran in 2015.

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History
The Time the Oxford English Dictionary Forgot a Word
Sir James Murray in his Scriptorium
Sir James Murray in his Scriptorium
Oxford English Dictionary // Public Domain

When the complete edition of what would become the Oxford English Dictionary debuted in 1928, it was lauded as a comprehensive collection of the English language, a glossary so vast—and so thorough—that no other reference book could ever exceed its detail or depth. In total, the project took seven decades to catalogue everything from A to Z, defining a total of 414,825 words. But in the eyes of its editor James Murray, the very first volume of the dictionary was something of an embarrassment: It was missing a word.

Looking back, it’s impressive that more words were not lost. Assembling the OED was a nightmare. Before the first volume—an installment consisting of words beginning with the letters A and B—was published in 1888, multiple editors had taken (and abandoned) the helm, and each regime change created new opportunities for mayhem. When James Murray took command in 1879, the Oxford English Dictionary could best be defined by the word disarray.

The irony of making this massive reference book was that it required millions upon millions of tiny, tiny pieces of paper. Every day, volunteers mailed in thousands of small strips of paper called “quotation slips.” On these slips, volunteers would copy a single sentence from a book, in hopes that this sentence could help illuminate a particular word’s meaning. (For example, the previous sentence might be a good example of the word illuminate. Volunteers would copy that sentence and mail it to Oxford’s editors, who would review it and compare the slip to others to highlight the word illuminate.)

The process helped Oxford’s editors study all of the shades of meaning expressed by a single word, but it was also tedious and messy. With thousands of slips pouring into the OED’s offices every day, things could often go wrong.

And they did.

Some papers were stuffed haphazardly into boxes or bags, where they gathered cobwebs and were forgotten. Words beginning with Pa went missing for 12 years, only to be recovered in County Cavan, Ireland, where somebody was using the papers as kindling. Slips for the letter G were nearly burned with somebody’s trash. In 1879, the entire letter H turned up in Italy. At one point, Murray opened a bag only to find a family of live mice chewing on the paperwork.

When Murray took over, he tried to right the ship. To better organize the project, he built a small building of corrugated iron called the “Scriptorium.” It resembled a sunken tool shed, but it was here—with the help of 1029 built-in pigeonholes—that Murray and his subeditors arranged, sorted, and filed more than a thousand incoming slips every day. Millions of quotations would pass through the Scriptorium, and hundreds of thousands of words would be neatly organized by Murray’s trusty team.

One word, however, slipped through the cracks.

Oxford English Dictionary entry slips
Oxford English Dictionary entry slips
Media Specialist, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Bondmaid is not the kind of word people drop during conversation anymore, and that’s for the best: It means “a slave girl.” The word was most popular in the 16th century. Murray’s file for bondmaid, however, reached back even further: It included quotations as old as William Tyndale’s 1526 translation of the Bible.

But then bondmaid went missing. “Its slips had fallen down behind some books, and the editors had never noticed that it was gone,” writes Simon Winchester in The Meaning of Everything. When the first volume of the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1888, bondmaid wasn’t there. (That volume of the OED does miss other words, but those exclusions were deliberate matters of editorial policy—bondmaid is the only word that the editors are known to have physically lost.)

When the slips were later rediscovered in the Scriptorium, Murray reportedly turned red with embarrassment. By 1901, some 14 years after the exclusion, he was still reeling over the mistake in a draft of a letter addressed to an anonymous contributor: “[N]ot one of the 30 people (at least) who saw the work at various stages between MS. and electrotyped pages noticed the omission. The phenomenon is absolutely inexplicable, and with our minute organization one would have said absolutely impossible; I hope also absolutely unparalleled.”

All was not lost for the lost word, however. In 1933, bondmaid made its Oxford dictionary debut. It had taken nearly five decades to make the correction.

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