Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Prisoner of Zenda

Some books are pleasant memories, not because of their so called quality, but because how you responded to it when you read it for the first time.

I read Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda in an abridged Asomiya translation when I was in high school (The school, Nagaon Govt Boys Higher Secondary School in Asom, was next to the imposing district library building, and I had a library card and every other day during lunch break, I would run to the children’s section of the library and borrow two books, because only two books were allowed in one time. Those were glorious days.), and I was in thrall. This was before I had read Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities.

We were all aware of the phenomenon of double-acting. We all grow up with these silly 1980s Hindi movies. So, we were aware of the silly plotline and it did not bother us. Instead it made us appreciate the book more.

Anyway, recently I saw this new copy of Prisoner of Zenda, beautifully printed as part of the Collins Classics series and I had to get a copy. Since those school days, I never got a chance to read the book in English. So I got a copy.

There is a new introduction to the book, and as I read it, I was flummoxed. To put is simply, while introducing the book and its author, the writer of the introduction simply butchers Hope’s legacy. The introduction presents Hope as a second-rate writer and the book a second rate potboiler, especially in the context of the entire doppelganger sub-genre. I was surprised how the introduction also compared Hope to a writer like Geoffrey Archer, of course, not as praise.

And I am thinking, what’s wrong is Archer, and pray, what wrong with Prisoner of Zenda?

I still think it’s a lovely story, and a beautiful piece of my childhood.

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