Walter Scott's "Ivanhoe" adapted for 21st century

EDINBURGH Thu Nov 1, 2012 8:44am EDT

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - In a bid to resurrect Walter Scott's historical novel "Ivanhoe", retired Scottish medical professor David Purdie unsheathed his scalpel to cut out the early 19th century verbiage and deliver a new edition for 21st century readers.

Ivanhoe is a romantic tale of fair maidens, bold knights-at-arms, merry friars, skulduggery, enmity between Saxons and Norman barons, and even a cameo appearance by Robin Hood during the reign of England's Richard I in 1194.

The first historical novel by Scott (1771-1832) set outside Scotland was hugely popular when it was published at the start of 1820. Its first printing of 10,000 copies sold out in less than two weeks and it set the scene for the rise of the historical novel in Europe.

Scott was widely read through Europe and North America.

Purdie, chairman of the Sir Walter Scott Club in Edinburgh, said the idea for his abridged Ivanhoe "came from repeated observations in the press that Scott was ‘difficult', above all, verbose...and out of touch with the attention span of a modern audience."

The punctuation style of 1820 just jarred, he said.

"I have shortened paragraphs and sentences, removed excessive commas, trimmed descriptions, especially of scenery, and adjusted syntax," Purdie told Reuters.

The new edition is published by Luath Press Limited in Edinburgh for sale at 9.99 pounds ($16.09).

Purdie, who is also editor-in-chief of the (Robert) Burns Encyclopaedia, said he had trimmed Ivanhoe to 95,000 words - about the length of a modern solid novel - from 195,000 words.

"As a former surgeon, I used the good old surgical discipline of only cutting where necessary, and then only removing extraneous matter, conserving the vital organs of the story while minimizing blood loss and keeping the patient alive," he said.

Graham Tulloch, professor of English at Australia's Flinders University in Adelaide and editor of the definitive 1998 Edinburgh Edition of Ivanhoe, told Reuters he would naturally like readers to peruse the original, but commended Purdie's efforts.

"David Purdie has gone to some trouble to make the book in size, cover, and page layout look like a modern historical novel. If this can attract more readers, then I am all in favor. If it means those readers go on to read the novel in its full version, then that is even better."

($1 = 0.6207 British pounds)

(Reporting by Paul Casciato, editing by Paul Casciato)