When we published the original translation, several people complained that it was just too big for them to contemplate reading it. We decided we should do an abridged version. It took us some time to find the time, but the abridged version was eventually published in 2014.
Compared to the two volumes and 1600 pages of the original, the abridged version is 400 pages in a single volume. So what got lost?
Of the story, very little.
In the original translation, we aimed to include everything. That included repetition, poetic flourishes, honorific forms of address, and so on. In the shortened version, we could shed the poetic flourishes, detail, and repetition, and all the footnotes, but we must retain every scene and every piece of dialogue.
Only at one point, did we break this rule. At the start of the Chiang Mai campaign, in chapters 25-27, the original has two-and-a-half chapters about regional diplomacy in which none of the main characters of the tale appear. We summarized this passage into a couple of paragraphs.
Once we had set these rules, the process of abridgement was quite easy – mostly done with the delete key, with very little rewriting.
We then had the draft read by a handful of non-Thai people who had not read the original translation. They had one complaint. The story contained many things, from household articles to spirits to ceremonies, that they were not familiar with. In the original translation, these were explained in footnotes, but the footnotes were no longer there. The readers found this annoying. To overcome this to translate or explain these items wherever possible, and to delete them otherwise.
As a result, the abridged version contains the complete story, but it has lost some of the cultural detail. The illustrations are reduced to one-per-chapter, and there is only a 2-page intro and a single map.
Here’s an example of the difference between the original and the abridgment, taken from the famous scene of Wanthong leaving Khun Chang’s house in chapter 17. Here is the original translation, complete with illustration and notes.
This is the abridged version:
She came to the cages with a pair of hill mynas and a lory. “Your sweet songs lifted my spirits. Oh myna, you mimicked Khun Chang calling me ‘Mistress Wanthong,’ but now I won’t hear you morning or night.”
On the terrace she stopped and turned to look back at the house with pangs of regret. She walked to the fish pond, leaned over and slid in her hand to feel the smooth, round, sculpted shapes of the fish as they wheeled and whirled. She glanced her eyes over the pot plants, paired in couples with pretty blooms.
“I say farewell, my fragrant sandalwoods. Stay and flourish, double jasmine and hiddenlover. Oh lamduan, I lament having to hurry away. Dear jampi, till I see you, how many years? Oh fragrant friends, your flooding scent will sadly lift and fade. Oh flowering friends, your blooms will wither, wilt, and fall. I leave this house to live in a forest where mosquitoes and midges will swarm over me. Tree roots will replace my pillows, and I’ll sleep pitifully. The stars will serve as torches, and I’ll despair.” She descended the stairs streaming tears as if about to die.
A few weeks after publication, in the bookstore at Suvarnabhumi Airport, the abridged version was featured on the bestsellers shelf right next to Fifty Shades of Grey. Sadly I had no camera with me. On my next visit to the airport, the two books were still there, but now one above the other, which is not quite as funny.