Scots classic Ivanhoe cut down to size

Professor Purdie hopes the new version will attract more people to the work of Sir Walter Scott

A CLASSIC Scots novel has been rewritten – because modern readers find the original too long.

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott tells the story of a 12th century knight, Wilfred of Ivanhoe.

But at 179,000 words, the tale is too long to appeal to many modern booklovers.

In an attempt to appeal to a new readership, the president of the Sir Walter Scott Club, Professor David Purdie, has spent 18 months cutting the epic down to just 80,000 words.

While Prof Purdie has retained the antiquated writing style used by Scott, he has taken out the swathes of punctuation which extend the novel.

He said: “Very few people read Scott these days because he’s long and wordy and difficult for the modern ear and modern attention span.

“I had this idea that I would have a go at redacting, abridging and adapting.”

Prof Purdie says that if his new version is successful he could give other Scott books the same treatment.

He said: “Scott dominates Princes Street in a monument but not in its bookshops.

“I would just like to see Scott back in the shops in a format that might entrance the young reader.”

Prof Purdie said his version of the text had been “repunctuated” and taken out many commas and semicolons to make shorter, more modern sentences.

“In the early 19th century, a comma was places after every phrase, which makes it tedious reading,” he said.

However the move has not met with approval with all the members of the 119-year-old Scott Club.

Purdie said: “Some of the older members say you are toying with the original text. The younger members say its good, if its much more readable than the original I’m for it.”

The club secretary Professor Peter Garside, who specialises in Scottish literature, said: “A Scott purist would say that Scott wrote it a certain way, and that’s how he intended it to be. Something which is a reduction of Scott, and introducing new elements, is producing something which is not Scott himself, but could have a beneficial effect in inspiring new interest and possibly leading people back to the original text. Every effort to make Scott more widely available to the general readership should be applauded.”

But Professor David Hewitt, a former president of the Scott Club and emeritus professor of Literature at Aberdeen University, blasted the idea that Scott books were not popular with modern Scottish readers.

“The idea that Scott is neglected, no, it’s not neglected at all,” he said.

“Ivanhoe is being well read.”

Hewitt said that Penguin editions for the book had sold around 100,000 copies in the last decade, with worldwide sales of around 200,000 copies.

However he said he would be interested to see how the new version of the book does.

“Provided you don’t call it Sir Walter Scott, but Scott via Purdie. Or, after the novel by Sir Walter Scott,” he said.

Ivanhoe was written in 1819 and charts the story of a Saxon noble family at a time when they were vastly outnumbered by Norman nobles.

Famous fans include Tony Blair, who said it he would take it to a desert island with him, and Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, who praised the gallantry shown in the novel.

Screen versions of the story have starred Rodger Moore and film icon Elizabeth Taylor.


  1. Kirsty;

    No !! I did the redaction myself . No goats, honestly, were used in the redaction, since their attention span is far too short. Your sentence: “I had this idea that I would have a goat redacting, abridging and adapting.” perhaps illustrates the need for a personal check on your spellchecker which probably accepted ‘goat’ for ‘go at’ Anyway, I will now be referred to as The Goat at the University . Standby for a writ. DWRP

  2. No goats were used, I’m sure – Prof Purdie is a wily old bird (?) and would never stoop to animal cruelty. We can take his word for it that no goats were harmed in the redacting of Ivanhoe. But of course his new edition may be suitable for kids.

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