Rewriting the Classics or Can I make Homer and Shakespeare Roll Over in Their Graves?

A few days ago I was traveling with my wife Karen and we were listening to the Saturday Morning Blue Grass Review.  This is a radio show featuring acoustic music and hosted by Phil Nussbaum.  One of the tunes that was played was a Blue Grass rendition of the classic song by Roy Orbison called “Pretty Woman” (Click to hear the song).  I listened to the song and was suddenly struck by an idea. The song pretty much used the same lyrics and melody but much of the tempo, rhythm and instruments were changed.  I thought “Why don’t I rewrite the classics or at least some of them?”  I could do my own version of some of the greatest literature in English history.  I would select several classics and “rewrite’ them.

I shared this insight with Karen.  I explained that the creative rendition of this old classic song had given me the idea that I could apply the same concept to writing.  I could take the old classics and rewrite some of them to see how they would work with my own style of writing.  Karen replied “But in music, they don’t change the lyrics or basic melody.”  “True” I said, “but I am not going to change the basic plot or characters.  I will only change the dialogue.”  I have the opportunity and ability to rewrite the greatest literature in history.  The power and responsibility I am assuming seemed awesome.


When I was in high school, I loved to read but I cannot say that I really enjoyed English literature classes.  Looking back I think there were several reasons for this.

  1. I could not pick the books that I wanted to read. They were picked by the teacher.
  2. We generally read only parts of the “great classics.”
  3. Somehow I never understood the “reason” these books were classics or what the relevance of these books for my life was. It was reading without comprehension or understanding.

By the way, before you write me off as a Luddite or some type of anti-reading crusader, please consider the following facts that pertained to me when I was young and in high school.  I loved to read.  I read more than anyone I knew.  I received high grades on all my English and literature tests.  And to put the icing on the cake, I received the highest grade in a reading and writing contest put on for the entire senior class at my high school. Now ask yourself, “What did most students in school get out of their English literature classes?”   I shudder to think if I cannot answer this question what my non-reading friends thought of their classes.  I do not think they ever really knew or appreciated the value of reading the classics.  However, I could now change history.  By rewriting the classics, I can rectify the problem for all future readers.  I can help legions of young people to see the value and beauty in reading the classics.  This is the awesome power that I referred to above.

The other side of the coin though is the responsibility problem; as Spider Man said “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

A thematic precursor appeared in a well-known Biblical verse: Luke 12:48. The Bible verse is as follows:

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

I have a responsibility to avoid trivializing or diminishing the beauty and elegance that the great literature has for us.  We can make a musical or movie from these great works and often the outcome is quite positive.  For instance, considering that a biography of someone’s life (e.g. Abraham Lincoln) can be rendered in a 90 minute movie is somewhat amazing.  Many movies and musicals condense a lifetime into less than two hours.

We marvel that a book can be condensed into a 90 minute movie, but isn’t it just as interesting that an entire person’s life can be condensed into a book that might take less than ten hours to read.  We complain that movies leave out a great deal of the book upon which many are derived but we seldom complain that the books leave out a great deal more upon the subjects or topics from which they are derived.  Homer placed a ten year war between the Greeks and the Trojans into a 400 or so page book.  If the average person can read 30 pages in an hour, than the sum time reflected in Homer’s Iliad (at least in terms of reading) is 14 hours.

I note the above facts because I plan on shortening the classics in my rewriting to less than 3000 words.  Some of you will be aghast at this fact.  It will surely seem like I am planning to renege on my implied promise to preserve, nay, enhance the integrity of these great works of literature.  I assure you that this is not the case.  I will try to create some short works that I hope the original authors would find interesting in their own way.  It is not my intention to replace the great classics but simply to help some people understand what they are missing by not taking the time to read the actual works.  Perhaps I cannot succeed in this endeavor but over the next six weeks, I am going to give it my best effort.

I am going to review the following classics:

  • The Iliad by Homer
  • Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  • Macbeth by William Shakespeare
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • Out of the Crisis by Dr. W. E. Deming

I have tried to select some of my favorite classics and ones that are also familiar to many people.  The book by Dr. W. E. Deming is (I am certain) much less well known.  Nevertheless, it is a classic in the genre of business books and one that I have read and reread many times.  Anyone who wants to understand business, management or business leadership must read this book.  I will do some prologue to each book in my blog before I do my “classic rewrite” so I will not say anymore here about my selections.  I will begin next week with the book The Iliad by Homer.

Time for Questions:

How many of the above classics have you read?  What did you think about high school literature?  Why?  What did you enjoy most?  What did you enjoy least?  What were your favorite books?  Do you love to read?  If not, why not?  What would you change in terms of your literature education?  Can anyone really rewrite a “classic?”

Life is just beginning.

“Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it.  It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.” — C. S. Lewis

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jeanine
    Jul 09, 2016 @ 18:15:26

    Inspiring blog. I have read all but Deming. I am never without a book and have always loved to read.
    I have often thought about taking a course in creative writing, and may just yet. 🙂 Never too late to write a best seller!



  2. johnpersico
    Jul 10, 2016 @ 11:35:16

    Never too late is the best way to look at life, for most things anyway.



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