Allison's Book Bag

Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment, Adapted by Jerome Tiller

Posted on: August 20, 2014

Adaptations of classics for a modern audience can have benefits. Rather than displacing the original, it can give a new life to an old story. For teachers and parents, it can also serve as a way to introduce young people to texts, ideas, and themes which are challenging in the classic form. As for how successful that adaptation is it, this depends on the text and the illustrations. The first offering by Adapted Classics is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment and is of mixed quality.

Formatting is the first feature I noticed. A cursory glance at the original reveals lengthy and forbidding paragraphs, especially near the start. The opening page alone contains two paragraphs of twenty lines or more. In contrast, all the adaptations I looked at including that by Adapted Classics divided those dense paragraphs into multiple ones, which immediately provides a more inviting appearance. The formatting isn’t random either. In Hawthorne’s version, the first paragraph combined descriptions of the old doctor and his four friends in one paragraph. In contrast, each character received their own paragraph in the adaptations.

Text is the next feature I studied. From what I read about what makes an acceptable adaptation, it seems the wording can be minimally or dramatically changed, as long as it’s easier to read and keeps the spirit of the original. To evaluate the success of Adapted Classics with their rewriting of Hawthorne’s classic short story, I randomly selected lines from the start, middle, and end to evaluate.

HAWTHORNE: That very singular man, old Dr. Heidegger, once invited four venerable friends to meet him in his study … They were all melancholy old creatures, who had been unfortunate in life, and whose greatest misfortune it was that they were not long ago in their graves.

ADAPTED CLASSICS: Old Dr. Heidegger was a very strange man whose unconventional behavior gave rise to a thousand fantastic stories. He was sometimes a little beside himself, as old people often are when worried by present troubles or woeful memories. The same could be said of the four old friends he invited over to his study for an experiment.

HAWTHORNE: He uncovered the vase, and threw the faded rose into the water which it contained. At first, it lay lightly on the surface of the fluid, appearing to imbibe none of its moisture. Soon, however, a singular change began to be visible.

ADAPTED CLASSICS: He uncovered the vase and threw the faded rose into the water. At first, it lay lightly on the surface of the fluid, appearing to absorb none of its moisture. Soon, however, an amazing change began to take place.

HAWTHORNE: Well–I bemoan it not; for if the fountain gushed at my very doorstep, I would not stoop to bathe my lips in it–no, though its delirium were for years instead of moments. Such is the lesson ye have taught me!

ADAPTED CLASSICS: Well–I don’t bemoan it; for even if the fountain gushed at my very doorstep, I would not stoop to bathe my lips in it–no, even if its delirium were for years instead of moments. Such is the lesson ye have taught me!

As you can see, there is mixed quality. In the first example, Hawthorne’s story is briefer but more obtuse than the adaptation. In contrast, in the next example, both versions run about the same length. While the adaptation is less literary in the second, it’s also far easier to understand. To my surprise, however, the third examples resemble each other so much that one almost has to read the rewrite twice to notice the changes.


The illustrations are the final feature I examined. That artwork even exists is an enhancement. Indeed, the main goal of Adapted Classics is to present illustrations alongside or immediately following the scenes that we illustrate. Co-founder, Jerome Tiller, even stresses that Adapted Classics prefers not to mess “with the word choices, word ordering, and paragraph breaks made long ago by writers we hold in the highest esteem.” Ample space is provided to the illustrations, all of which seem relevant to the story. My main reservation is that the artwork takes the form simply of black-and-white line sketches. While I know it might make the cost prohibitive, color would have added much to the appeal.

To be honest, I don’t feel qualified to evaluate adaptations of classics. Most of what I found online also did not address this type of review; instead information seem to focus on adaptations of books into other mediums such as film. One blogger did compare classics to board book adaptations. Beyond that, I find myself on my own to form an opinion.

As I noted at the start, to me, the offering by Adapted Classics of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment is of mixed quality. The layout of the text is inviting, but without color illustrations I am not sure the book can sufficiently compete against free online adaptations which include audio or video. I often feel dismayed at how film adaptations will modernize the story to include our current day values. For that reason, I appreciate the reverence which Adapted Classics holds for the original stories of old. At the same time, when I took time to compare passages, I actually preferred those which they greatly rewrote even if this resulted in their own interpretation. Adapted Classics books cost only a few dollars. I encourage you to check out one and form your own opinion about whether the adaptation gives a new life to an old story and serves as a useful format for introducing classics to young people.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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