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May 9, 2003

Everybody wants to get into the act
Posted by Teresa at 01:06 PM *

Via the always interesting Apothecary’s Drawer comes the appalling Customized Classics:

Welcome to Customized Classics!

Custom paperback editions of classic novels starring YOU! We offer the largest selection of customized books where YOU and your friends and family enter the story. Whether you’re looking for the perfect birthday gift or a thoughtful present for the holidays, you’ve come to the right place!

How does it work? Simply go to the book you wish to customize, click the “Customize and buy” button, and a list of the changes that can be made for that book will displayed. Type in your choices, go through the secure credit card payment page and you’re done! In a few weeks a personalized, professionally produced paperback will arrive at your door!

Currently we offer several Sherlock Holmes titles, Romeo and Juliet, Alice in Wonderland, and The Jungle Book, with more on the way. …
They aren’t very imaginative. You only get to replace the names of a few assigned characters—Holmes, Watson, Romeo, Juliet, Alice, and Mowgli—and you can’t change their gender. Their only foray into creativity goes like this:
Romeo and Juliet

Starring YOU as Romeo or Juliet and a special someone as your true love

Now also available in a “happy ending” edition!

Play the part of the famous lovers with this customized version of the classic Shakespearean drama. Relive the thrill of classic lines with you in them:
“Oh Brad, Brad. Wherefore art thou Brad?” “But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Helen is the sun.”
Two words: iambic pentameter.
What’s more, if you choose the Happy Ending Version a new scene is added with a twist — the lovers live happily ever after! A short scene is added after Act V Scene III. It turns out the apothecary’s poison didn’t work and Romeo survives, and Juliet’s stabbing of herself merely made her pass out. (With sincere apologies to William Shakespeare!)
The happy ending comes in two versions, Classic—

[Romeo and Juliet awaken, rubbing their eyes]

Romeo What uncommon commotion stirs these folk? Ah, blessed apothecary, whose potion miss’d its mark!
Juliet And perhaps ‘twas the keenness of mine love that hath dulled the dagger’s blade.
Romeo What sayest thou we hasten to Verona?
Juliet Come, prince, love, husband, shining angel! Let’s leave this cold sepulchre for Verona’s warm embrace.
[Exeunt Romeo and Juliet hand in hand]
and Irreverent:


[Romeo and Juliet awaken, rubbing their eyes]

Romeo What the heck was that big scene all about?
Juliet Who knows? I just passed out for a second and everybody’s losing it. Luckily the dagger wasn’t sharp.
Romeo And the apothecary screwed up big-time! What do you say we head home?
Juliet Sounds like a plan, my medieval man!
[Exeunt Romeo and Juliet hand in hand]
Look for more Customized Classics titles, coming soon to an Internet near you: Robin Hood, Tarzan, and Moby Dick (not to be confused with Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, by Herman Melville).

(And why I’m even bothering to be snotty about a single title, given the magnitude of the overall target, is more than I can say.)

Comments on Everybody wants to get into the act:
#1 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2003, 02:47 PM:

Okay, the scariest part is the fact that they're no. 25 on this list of top Sherlock Holmes sites.

#2 ::: Linne9a Anglemark ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2003, 02:51 PM:

From the "Testimonials" section: The Romeo and Juliet actually brought tears to my wife when I gave it to her
Odd construction aside, I sympathise with the wife 97a0I'd cry too if I found myself married to somebody who'd want to give me something like that!

#3 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2003, 02:58 PM:

It's stuff like this that makes mousy little English professors turn into crazed psychotic murderers.

These people must be destroyed. By any means necessary.

Well, let me just stop short of advocating violence against them. But in this case, it took some pretty hard braking.

#4 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2003, 03:02 PM:

Linne9a: that was sort of my reaction, too: "well, it would be a really easy way to weed out a suitor...?"

#5 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2003, 05:05 PM:

Well... while I wouldn't want one in my house, let alone from a suitor, I do approve of the instinct to arrogate copies of public-domain works and muck with them. Pity this particular version of "where there's muck there's brass" is so leaden.

#6 ::: David Bratman ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2003, 06:32 PM:

Oh now, this isn't so bad. Not compared to what's done to the classics, or the moderns, when they're turned into movies.

And don't say, "Nobody would confuse the movie with the original." It happens all the time. It happened on a Tolkien panel I moderated at last year's Worldcon. (Not the panel Patrick was on, thank goodness.)

#7 ::: --k. ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2003, 07:32 PM:

And why I’m even bothering to be snotty about a single title, given the magnitude of the overall target, is more than I can say.

Extremism in the pursuit of exactitude and finesse is no vice. Even when (especially when) potshotting barnsides.

#8 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2003, 07:43 PM:

Just think, you could send your gay friends a copy of Romeo and Steve. I guess they probably 'do' anything they can pull off Project Gutenberg, so maybe I could order The Jewish War and have my name replace Josephus's.

#9 ::: Derryl Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2003, 11:56 PM:

If you read the breathless hooks as being narrated by Michael Palin, it all makes sense. Python did this very thing, except adapted for radio. When a buzzer sounded, you were supposed to speak your line.

I thought I had it, but apparently I'm wrong. "Shot off?"

#10 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2003, 02:48 AM:

Oh, it's not just people on panels at science fiction conventions who screw things up. I remember reading the entry for The Wizard of Oz in an encyclopedia, and while the entry clearly listed L. Frank Baum as the author, it also made it clear that the writer had only watched the movie, mentioning ruby slippers instead of silver shoes and having Glinda as the Good Witch of the North (as opposed to the South, as in the books).

Though I do have to admit that having a copy of "Latifah in Wonderland" would be amusing for novelty value.

#11 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2003, 07:10 AM:

Of courrse, the whole "happy ending" thing could (shudder) really take off; already we have movies rewritten to play happy at the end because the focus group didn't like the downer conclusion. Soon we'll be seeing the "happy ending" Medea, say: "Oh honey, what was I thinking? I get the craziest ideas sometimes. I really think I need to see a therapist..."

#12 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2003, 08:40 AM:

I'm not sure of the date of the first happy-ending rewrite of Romeo and Juliet, but it will have been fairly early in the life of that play.

What I want to know is whether Moby-Dick is going to be a title where there's only one available role, or two; and if the latter, who's the other one besides Ishmael?

Moby-Dick could be amusing if you could reassign the names for all the roles -- for instance, re-manning the Pequod with the executives of your failed startup.

#13 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2003, 01:42 PM:

Perhaps I'm not taking this seriously enough, but so far as I could tell from a brief visit, this looked like a pretty funny joke/satire to me -- I mean, "Brad" and "Helen"? Surely the lack of iambic pentameter is simply designed to make this funnier -- as is the "irreverent" ending. I admit the testimonial about "bursting into tears" speaks against this, but I presume that these books are designed, largely, to give people a giggle and a humorous conversation piece. And that they'll sell largely to people who know & like the originals -- or else it's neither funny nor fun.

I agree that there are many appalling things done to literature these days, like the 'translated' Shakespeares that our otherwise wonderful public library is acquiring these days. But literature shouldn't be put on a pedestal -- it should be delighted in, enjoyed, savored -- and that can well include playing with it. (Even Our Esteemed Blogger seems to come close to this interpretation with her comments about Moby Dick and the failed startup.)

Isn't getting worked up about this missing the joke (not the funniest joke ever, I admit, but amusing enough if you've got cash to burn)?


PS: On the topic of rewritten Shakespearen endings and Lewis Carroll: my favorite bit of rewritten Shakespeare is Lewis Carroll's question about MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, (which I found in the back of the Signet edition), where he provides various ways that Hero or Beatrice could have defused Claudio's accusations. -- And like the Customized Classics (although in a much richer vein) this seems to me to be precisely the sort of engaged, lively, irreverent spirit with which one should approach good writing -- or else it will seem dead as a mumbled liturgy, and who will want to read it?

#14 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2003, 03:23 PM:

Somewhereorother I probably still have the Romeo/Tybalt slash story I wrote where all the dialogue was taken directly from the play. It was fun.

This is a kind of dull way of messing around with The Classics, but aside from that, I don't see anything wrong with it. Ever read David Garrick's version of Romeo and Juliet? He thought that it would be much more harrowing if Juliet woke up after Romeo had taken the poison but before he died, so that they could exchange some tearful angsty dialogue before Romeo expired and Juliet stabbed herself.

#15 ::: Rachel McGonagill ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2003, 12:08 AM:

In a similar vein, of finding humor in the Bard's work, some years ago I went to a Renn Faire where they performed a musical version of Macbeth. It was, in a word, stunning. And the funniest damn thing I saw there all day. A certain amount of irreverance, I think, is part and parcel for the "great works," and parody not uncommon.

#16 ::: Cassandra Phillips-Sears ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2003, 12:32 AM:

Oh, I heartily concur. My Shakespeare class is the funniest one I've ever had.

On the other hand, I feel like maybe this is taking it a little too far; I feel like a quite good joke could be made up with a combination of this "Customized Classics" post and this update on the classic Shakespeare/Monkey conundrum.

#17 ::: Customized Classics ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2003, 12:34 AM:

This is Customized Classics.

Well well. Methinks the bloggers do protest too much! Quite a little tempest in a teapot being stirred up here. Just to make/clarify a few points:

1. We don't take ourselves that seriously, and as somebody commented it's mainly meant as a fun and novel gift. And, how likely are people to be reading classic books in the first place? If it gets people to read them, well and good. We take it in the spirit of good fun and find it quite amusing when people get in a big huff over purity.

1a. The lack of iambic pentameter? That's missing the point entirely. And the whole happy ending incidentally started out with an employee quickly whipping up the "irreverent" version for a personal gift; then she suggested we put it up on the web site. NOT A SINGLE PERSON HAS ORDERED THE TRAGIC VERSION SINCE THEN! The people who buy our books don't care. The people who sniff at us would never buy any of the books in the first place.

2. We are NOT printing out Gutenberg texts. We would have certainly liked to! The Gutenberg texts are RIDDLED with errors, and the plain text formatting is a laughable attempt at "purity". Try rather many trips to the local library, and 3 human editors going through these things line by line, semicolon by semicolon.

3. If anybody's reading this, you can use the code LITERARYSNOB for a 20% discount (it's good for the first 5 uses) :)

#18 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2003, 06:55 AM:

I don't suppose we'll ever see a <your name here> version of Titus Andronicus.

#19 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2003, 09:38 AM:

Yes, Customized Classics, you've guessed my deepest secret: I am a literary snob. It's almost a relief to finally admit it. You can't imagine what a trial it's been to keep it hidden all these years.

While it's kind of you to offer me a discount on your product, the texts it would amuse me to alter in that fashion aren't likely to appear on your list of available titles any time soon. I can see no way around that problem; so if I want to take a PD electronic text file, swap out the characters' names, pour it into a book-design template, and have the results perfect bound with a stock-art cover, I'll just have to do it myself.

As a semi-serious suggestion, have you considered doing Customized Classics editions of some of the Victorian (and earlier) porn that's in the public domain? I should think that would have some real commercial appeal. It is, after all, the ultimate reader-identification literature.

#20 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2003, 07:56 PM:

If you want something really perverse in the line of Things Done To Shakespeare, there's MacHomer.

See also The Complete Works of Shakespeare Reduced and Shakespeare in Love.

#21 ::: John Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2003, 01:55 AM:

I always thought Romeo and Juliet were silly names anyway...

#22 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2003, 02:28 AM:

For real fun, go read The Scooby-Doo Hamlet.

Now that would be a fun one to have bound up into an edition of the play.

#23 ::: David ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2003, 03:04 AM:

I sincerely hope eventually, they do this with Titus Andronicus - with the happy ending, of course

#24 ::: David ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2003, 03:09 AM:

Oops, you beat me on that, didn't you Dave?

#25 ::: Rachel McGonagill ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2003, 04:18 AM:

Well, reasons 1 and 1a, especially, sold me on why Customized Classics are such a good idea. I mean, really! Who knew no one read the classics anymore unless they could find their own names between the covers? And with a happy ending for every tale, too. Very important, obviously. Thanks for the enlightening update.

#26 ::: Customized Classics ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2003, 06:59 AM:

Well, Moby Dick is up in all its unhyphenated glory (but not yet linked from the main site)

"Become a deranged maniac in the ultimate highbrow chase novel!"

#27 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2003, 10:43 AM:

Hrmph. Everybody knows that *real* literary snobs write their *own* Mary Sues!

#28 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2003, 01:05 PM:

Captain Ahab? And there I was assuming the reader would want to be Ishmael, or maybe Queegqueeg. (cf. "The Pastafazool Cycle" on lithe, dusky sidekicks.)

Anne: Just so. Anyone who doesn't think literary snobs write their own Mary Sues has never seen The Best Man.

#29 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2003, 01:16 PM:

My error. The site says you have the option of customizing Moby Dick, Ahab, Ishmael, Queegqueeg, and Pequod. This could get truly strange.

#30 ::: s. ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2003, 01:41 PM:

there's a james thurber essay, possibly in "lanterns and lances," where he complains about a similar topic and speculates about the happy ending antony and cleopatra:
"i am mending, egypt, mending."

#31 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2003, 02:54 PM:

James, Kevin: There's also the Skinhead Hamlet, which opens with the memorable lines

[Enter HAMLET, followed by GHOST.]

GHOST: Oi! Mush!


GHOST: I was f*cked!

[Exit GHOST.]


[Exit HAMLET.]

[Slightly gentrified by y.t. --cd]

#32 ::: Bill Higgins ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2003, 03:51 PM:

Cassandra Phillips-Sears writes:

"On the other hand, I feel like maybe this is taking it a little too far; I feel like a quite good joke could be made up with a combination of this "Customized Classics" post and this update on the classic Shakespeare/Monkey conundrum."

It's apparent to me that the monkeys involved in the research are having difficulties because they haven't been given a computer properly tailored for their use.

Some excerpts from this 1990 paper:

"A typical gorilla response to anger or excitement is to run full speed and backhand the object of the anger. For Koko, this means a 260-pound animal running at about 20 miles per hour, swinging her arm with a force comparable to a 10-pound shotput traveling at 100 miles per hour. Accordingly, Tom Ferrara faced a significant design challenge in developing the workstation - a Mac II computer, a 19" Sony monitor, and a touch screen - into a package which could withstand these extreme forces. Failure of the physical system could only be tolerated if it did not endanger Koko in any way. [...]

"A standard MicroTouch capacitive screen optically bonded to a one-inch thick piece of tempered glass was finally selected. [...]

"The Monitor is mounted on a sliding assembly that is dampened with gas struts with 3" of travel. This provides shock absorption in the event that Koko should throw her weight into the screen area. The final unit as delivered is 28 5/8" tall x 21 1/4" wide x 39 1/4" long. Passive ventilation is provided by slots which are designed to channel any foreign materials (bananas, feces, etc.) away from the CPU....

"So far, three applications have been developed to familiarize Koko with the touch screen interface. The first is four digitized animal pictures that make the animals sound when touched. The second shows a picture for each letter of the alphabet (developed by the Gorilla foundation) and speaks the name of the picture when it is pressed. The final application is called KokoPaint. It is a simplified color painting program which allows Koko to select from a few colors and finger-paint with them."

#33 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2003, 06:17 PM:

cd, I have long been a fan of The Skinhead Hamlet, esp. its brilliant final scene:

(Large Hall. Enter Hamlet, Laertes, Court, Gertrude, Claudius.)

Laertes Oi, wanker: let92s get on with it.
Hamlet Delighted, f*ckface.
(They fight and both are poisoned by the poisoned sword.)
Laertes F*ck!
Hamlet F*ck!
(The Queen drinks.)
Gertrude F*cking odd wine!
Claudius You drunk the wrong f*cking cup, you stupid cow!
Hamlet (Pouring the poison down Claudius92 throat.) Well, f*ck you!
Claudius I92m fair and squarely f*cked.
Laertes Oi, mush: no hard feelings, eh?
Hamlet Yer.
(Laertes dies.)
Hamlet Oi! Horatio!
Horatio Yer?
Hamlet I92m f*cked. The rest is f*cking silence.
(Hamlet dies.)
Horatio F*ck: that was no ordinary wanker, you know.
(Enter Fortinbras.)
Fortinbras What the f*ck92s going on here?
Horatio A f*cking mess, that92s for sure.
Fortinbras No kidding. I see Hamlet92s f*cked.
Horatio Yer.
Fortinbras F*cking shame: f*cking good bloke.
Horatio Too f*cking right.
Fortinbras F*ck this for a lark then. Let92s piss off.
(Exeunt with alarums.)

#34 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2003, 08:01 AM:

Just this year I saw the first production of "The Trial of Hamlet," a sort of sequel by a theatre prof. Takes up with Hamlet after the arras-stabbing scene; evil King decides to prosecute him for murder. The TV news guys step in. It was a pretty cool show, actually. Hadda mensh.

#35 ::: Castiron ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2003, 01:47 PM:

And then there's the musical comedy "Hello, Hamlet," performed every four years at Wiess College, Rice University, with such classic songs as "There is Nothing like a Dane" and "How Do You Solve a Problem like Ophelia," the ghost of Hamlet's father doing a song and dance routine, and Horatio in drag....

#36 ::: Stefanie Murray ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2003, 02:17 AM:

"And then there's the musical comedy 'Hello, Hamlet,'"

...or the classic Gilligan's Island Hamlet/Carmen episode, complete with "I ask to be or not to be" sung to the tune of the Habanera and "neither a borrower nor a lender be/never forget: stay out of debt" to the Toreador Song.

Being a latchkey kid myself, this episode marked my first acquaintance with Hamlet *and* Carmen. To my shame, every time I hear the Toreador Song I still hum Skipper's version under my breath.

#37 ::: Emmet ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2003, 04:26 PM:

I must belatedly add a link to A Night in Elsinore, which does a Marx Brothers Hamlet better than anyone might ever want it to.

#38 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2003, 10:41 AM:

Shaw rewrote an act of one of Shakespeare's plays. Naturally, I can't remember which one. Had some Greeks in it, I think. It's in Shaw on Shakespeare, which brings all of Shaw's writings on the Bard together.

I like Shakespeare's Lost Comedie by ye Firesign Theatre, too, even though it's not at all in the right meter.

#39 ::: Darkhawk ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2003, 03:22 PM:

If they were going to use 'Brad', they should also have used 'Janet'.

#40 ::: Ray Girvan ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2003, 09:18 AM:

Belated comment:

1a. The lack of iambic pentameter? That's missing the point entirely.

But that is the point. Getting the detail right is what makes good parody. The R&J sequel from the Beard/Cerf/Durkee/Kelly "Book of Sequels" did it far better.

"The pharmacist who hath this poison sold
Perchance made timid by the awful law
That death for death's prescription doth prescribe
In place of poison put a potent draught
That causeth deepest sleep and nothing more

See here, the blade is set upon a spring
Concealed within the dagger's hollow hilt
Which doth contain a vial of ruby juice


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