"After all, it is classic literature, and therefore really worthwhile, not like that other trash."
"You know, it really gets you interested, so you want to go and read the book."
This is the sort of thing you hear now from fans of the Palliser series, the adaptation of Anthony Trollope's political novels, now running Monday nights on WETA (Channel 26).And about all the fancy British television dramas from literature and history which preceded it.
But the arguments of justification are older than that. Remember making them to your parents about Classics Comics? They weren't quite true then, either, were they?
The true reasons you read "Ivanhoe" as a classics comic, instead of a book, was that you found it an easier way to get all you felt you needed out of it, and you could pass it off as tonier stuff than your regular junk, while enjoying it precisely because it had been made over to have the tone you liked best.
So let's all enjoy watching "The Pallisers," which is deliciously seductive, but let's not expect any academic credit for it.
Far from driving people to read the six books from which it was adapted, it has lead to the publication of a "novelization" which completely obliterates any contribution from Anthony Trollope, whose copyright ran out some time ago. "The Pallisers," by John Garforth, is, according to its Dell cover, "Now a spellbinding novel!"
The editor-in-chief of Dell, Bill grose, called the omission "an oversight" and said that future editions would mention Trollope's name. It was published, he said, before Dell knew that the series would be shown in America, and if it had not been, "Why say the book was based on a novel no body ever heard of?"
Now, the television series goes off in the other direction, with Sir John Gielgud appearing before and after each installment to let us know what Trollope himself actually wrote. He reads us Trollope's words from a large and poetically decrepit volume on one occasion reading parts of two different books ("The Eustuce Diamonds" and Trollope's "Autobiography's) from the same pages.
But in their different styles, the Garforth book and the BBC series have had to do the same thing in order to arrive at their own products, made from Trollope's material. They both had to snip off whatever was extraneous to the plot - the insights, observations and philosophy which, of course, distinguish literature from anecdote.
The difference is that once that painful operation was accomplished (painful only to the "nobody who ever heard of" the original), BBC produced a yummy series.
The second third of it, which starts tonight, is better than the first third - perhaps because it grows on one, and perhaps because the middle novels, which contain a jewel scandaland a murder mystery, have dramatic story lines.