Bear with me for a moment: the argument that modern books will never reach the same heights as classic novels is true. The reason? Much of classic literature could not have happened in our high-tech world of 3D printing and Emojis. The old “miscommunication” plot device is harder to pull off when your characters can browse Facebook statuses and Foursquare check-ins. A text exchange could do wonders in shaving off 200 pages of almost any historical or fantasy story:
Frodo Baggins: “GANDALF!”
Gandalf the Gray: “Still falling. Chill while I get some new threads.”
Aragorn, son of Arathorn: “I haven’t had a bath in 18 months.”
Gandalf the Gray: “Dude. Not in the group text.”
See what I mean? Here are but a few characters who really needed to make an emergency call or 12.
Romeo and Juliet
Forsooth, verily, these two crazy star-crossed kids are the poster children for communication issues. If at any point anyone had access to a cellphone—any cellphone, a Nokia from the year 2000 for all it matters—then we wouldn’t have two dead teenagers on our hands. Granted, “woe” and “Romeo” do rhyme so beautifully. Let’s just be thankful we don’t have to rely on Friar mail to communicate; it’s notoriously unreliable. A simple “Not really dead, bebe. brb. Don’t kill anyone. xoxo” sent to Romeo’s smartphone would have clarified things nicely.
Of course, if any of his characters had a family plan, Mr. William “dramatic irony” Shakespeare would be out of a job. “Oh, I am slain,” said Polonius when reached for comment.
I realize you need a flowchart next to you at all times when reading A Song of Ice and Fire, just to keep track of who’s who and what’s where. Just imagine living in this godforsaken kingdom of doom. Even worse, imagine being a Stark. Once a nice, centrally located family whom no one wanted to bother because they lived on the outskirts of the tundra, the Starks end up scattered to the winds throughout George R.R. Martin’s multi-book experiment in cruelty. SPOILER ALERT: At the end of A Dance with Dragons, not one of those plucky children or their mildly deceased parents are in the same place. We the audience know that not as many Starks are dead as the other Starks believe…but the only way to communicate this is by messenger (aka, arrow fodder) or by raven.
The original road-trip novel finds poor, wily Odysseus on an outrageously difficult quest to return home to his wife, son, and faithful dog on Ithaca. Oh, how his Odyssey would have been shorter and less trying with the ability to talk and text! First, Odysseus could have called up Penelope to chat, assure her Circe meant nothing to him, and learn of the vicious suitors overwhelming his household, without having to hear about it from his dead mother in the Underworld. (This is assuming impeccable roaming coverage.) Furthermore, a nice distracting game of “Temple Run” could have done wonders when passing by the Sirens. “Beat that high score, Scylla and Charybdis!”
Not to mention, Athena’s encouraging text messages might have expedited the whole process. Additionally, she could have reminded our hero to check in at each stop, because Odysseus could have been mayor of EVERYTHING on Foursquare. Such squandered opportunities.
Children these days aren’t allowed down the block without a cellphone. Not so in Yell County, Arkansas, where a 14-year-old can rule the roost and team up with a menagerie of shady characters on a cross-territory manhunt for the man who killed her father in True Grit. I’m not a fan of helicopter parenting, but Mrs. Ross could have stood to keep a keener eye on young Mattie. On the one hand, Mattie Ross gets things done, and the killer in question is lily-livered and incompetent. On the other hand, my word, how many men must this child watch die by the side of the smelliest baby-sitter ever, Rooster Cogburn? Dialing 911 to summon a horseback ambulance would also have proven handy at the end of the novel, on Little Blackie’s last ride.
What other classic books would have been radically revised by a phone call or two?