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Manga Classics: Great Expectations Softcover Paperback – May 19, 2015
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About the Author
Crystal S. Chan is an award-winning author and television screen play writer. Â She holds a degree in language and literature. Crystal is a huge fan of authors such as Jane Austen and she is equally passionate about Sailor Moon. Her passion for classic literature combined with her love of the comics medium allows her to strike a solid balance between preserving the depth of the original content while adapting the language for a younger generation.
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Manga is unique - it is intended to be read starting from what we westerners would call the “back” of the book. Reading then proceeds toward the “front”. At first this may seem a bit discomforting, but it quickly becomes second nature and the story moves along. At 312 pages, this book is almost three times as long as most graphic novels - echoing the nature of Dickens work. But the artwork (except for the covers, all artwork is black and white in my e-book copy) makes the story understandable and enjoyable to one who has long ago forgotten the plot and themes developed in Dickens classic work.
The Dickens story was published with two distinct endings. The latter being adapted after early readers expressed a specific dissatisfaction with the earlier version. Neither ending is depicted in this book. A quick search of the Internet provided summaries of both endings - the omission of either or both does not seem to hinder the story, but it might have been fun to see them both included for the readers’ benefit, allowing him or her to choose the prefered ending.
For those looking for a new and enjoyable way to enjoy classic stories, Manga may provide one means to do so. You do lose the author’s original insight and nuances - but … this reader enjoyed the new journey through the old material, perhaps others will as well.
This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions expressed are my own.
Definition of bildungsroman: a novel or story dealing with one’s personal formative years and/or spiritual education and experience.
“Great Expectations” is quite possibly THE definitive bildungsroman. It is truly one of the classic pieces of literature, and it’s characters and plot tropes have entered and influenced so much of Western culture that it almost seems counterintuitive to try and document how important the book is to literature as a whole. And if you think that I’m going to try and review the work itself, you are quite incorrect. For one, I STILL haven’t read the book itself, as I’m perfectly happy with that “C+” that I got in freshman English. Even my desire to catch up on classics that I have missed over the years can’t overcome my hesitation to pick up the tome. Besides, I know all the basics…...main character Pip recounts his story of growth and redemption as he navigates the prides and pitfalls of English society through the course of his life. There is action, drama, humor, pathos….this book literally has it all. And of course the side characters have made their mark as well….the eccentric Miss Havisham, the cold and ruthless Estella, the kind but lowly blacksmith Joe, the evil Compeyson….all of these enduring characters have entered into the literary canon and been examined and written about and psychoanalyzed to death. No, there is no point whatsoever in trying to review a work like “Great Expectations.” You either know it and accept it for what it is, or you don’t.
That said, I couldn’t resist picking up a copy of “Manga Classics: Great Expectations” one day when I was at the used book store. It was on sale, I had a coupon, and I figured that I could at the very least expand my Cliff’s Notes knowledge of the source material. It seemed to be a perfectly good way to engage with this massive classic without having to wade into the water itself, so to speak.
And by gosh, I think I made a pretty good decision. The story adaptation by Crystal S. Chan is solid and covers the main parts of the story well, and the art by Nokman Poon is lively and totally in keeping with established manga styles and conventions. The text was adapted into English by Stacy King. It’s difficult to conceive of how a book as massive and sweeping as “Great Expectations” could be condensed into 295 pages of dialog boxes and artwork, but here it is. I think Chan and Poon should both be congratulated for doing such a good job of keeping the bones of the story intact while maintaining a narrative thrust.
The manga begins at the same place as the book does, with the iconic graveyard confrontation between the young, orphaned Pip and the escaped convict Magwitch. From there it careens through the tale at a breakneck pace. Pip’s introduction to a world beyond the commoner lifestyle when he first meets Miss Havisham and her adopted daughter, Estella. Pip’s change of fortune that allows him to escape poverty and study in London to become a proper gentleman. The eventual outing of Magwitch as Pip’s benefactor and the consequences of that fateful action. The constant theme of the growth of Pip as a human being with a conscience and an unwavering sense of honor. It’s all there, though in abbreviated form. There is no way that all of the bases could have been covered in an adaptation this short, but the STORY is there, complete and full-bodied enough to satisfy anyone interested. I can see where this volume would encourage a reader to pick up the source material and dive in, but I can also see where this would be enough to carry the general reader through this enduring work of literary art.
There is also a valuable section at the end of the book that goes into some background detail of how “Great Expectations” made it to the manga format, and these extra features add some depth and explanation to the exercise as a whole. What to leave in? What to leave out? What to leave to the reader’s imagination? All this and more is brought to the table as Chan and Poon take the time to talk about their adaptation. Most readers will be aware that Charles Dickens wrote two endings for “Great Expectations.” The ending in this manga is smartly left open-ended, allowing the audience to imagine whichever ending they wish with no repercussions.
All in all, I was very happy with this manga adaptation. I wish that something like this had been available back in 1985 when I was working on that paper. This beats Cliff’s Notes all to hell and back. I’m not sure whether or not I will personally feel compelled to pick up the book itself. This is probably as complete an understanding of “Great Expectations” as I will ever really need. There are other classics in this particular series, “Emma,” “The Scarlet Letter,” “Les Miserables.” I can see a lot of value in collecting more of these adaptations, especially for those who would like a basic understanding of just what makes a classic book a classic in the first place.
This novel has all gothic elements of Christmas Carol without delivering and end with a real hope of a better future for the main character. Little Pip is redeemed from penury thanks to a good deed he did to a convict, but fails to see past appearances and as a poor judge of character fails at understanding what is really best for him beyond nice clothes, gentlemanly manners and a life of general comfort. He thus loses what was probably his only real chance at genuine mutual love to an illusion, the infatuation for a girl who has been brought up not to believe in love and to deceive men to her personal benefit by the very grotesque character of Miss Havisham, an old lady clad in white who had her heart broken by a rake as a young lady. The connections between the characters are revealed during the novel, but Pip fails to see the truth until it is presented to him on a gilded plate, thus putting his life in danger more than once. His last meeting with Estella has the bitter-sweet taste of the realisation of precious things lost forever and I am grateful that this manga does not make any attempt to let the reader believe there can be anything other than forgiveness, but not a second chance, in Pip's and Estella's future.
In conclusion, if you are already familiar with this novel, you will enjoy the artwork and script, if you are not, make sure you are ready for a tale with no real happily ever after, at least for the main character.
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