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The Ruins - Abridged Versus Unabridged

(posted in blog)

I’ve been on a real audio book kick lately. Listening to podcasts has been unceremoniously tossed to the curb in favor of a more enlightened media consumption habit. And if I told you that I use an online subscription service that lets me choose a new audio book to listen to every month, I bet you could guess the name of that service, right? Wrong! (Probably.)

I’m not getting paid to shill anything (yet), so you should just take this as one person’s honest and unsolicited opinion that Downpour is awesome. It’s like that other service that you were probably thinking of, except you get your audio books DRM-free so you can listen to them on your own terms. Sometimes I listen over Bluetooth headphones paired to my watch while jogging. Yeah, my watch reads to me while I exercise! The future is now.

Anyway, last month was October so I was looking for something spooky to listen to. After sniffing around a few search engines and forums, I came to the conclusion that The Ruins by Scott Smith would be the subject of my next literary excursion. One Downpour token and a few minutes to transfer files to my phone later and I was ready to delve into the world of bloodthirsty, murderous plant.

I listened to The Ruins over the course of a few days, mostly in short bursts while walking my dog. I thought the story was interesting, but not that scary. When it concluded, I listened to the standard short outro in which the author and narrator were credited, however this time a third person was also credited; apparently this story had been abridged by someone as well.

“Shit,” I thought, and quickly proceeded to Downpour to see what was up. And yes, it turns out there are two different copies of The Ruins over there. I had purchased the abridged version without realizing it, with a run time of a little over six hours. I clicked over to the unabridged version to compare and was horrified to discover that its run time was over fourteen hours. That meant that eight hours—over half the book!—had been discarded in the version I had listened to.

I was truly and utterly devastated. I had listened to an abridged book. Gross! After managing to scrape what remained of my crumpled, shivering body off the floor and regaining a small shred of composure, I filled out Downpour’s contact form to let them know of my horribly embarrassing gaff and then promptly cried myself to sleep.

Well, my friends, Downpour’s response the next day is the reason I am including their name so prominently in this post. Those splendiferous bastards swapped the abridged version out for the unabridged version in my library as a one-time courtesy. At that point I did what any sane human being would do and immediately downloaded and started listening to the exact same audio book I had just finished listening to the previous day all over again. This time in all of its glorious unabridged awesomeness.

So, having now finished both versions of the audio book back-to-back, I can confirm that the unabridged version was about a billion times better than the abridged version. Even knowing the story ahead of time, the eight extra hours of flavor text, back-stories, and other previously-missing narrative nuggets made the second listen an absolute pleasure. I finally got to sink my teeth into all of the juicy, gory details and interpersonal conflicts that I felt were missing from the abridged version.

<SPOILER> Also the vines talked a lot more. The abridged version cut a lot of that out. I mean, it was still there, but vastly reduced. I haven’t seen the movie based on the book yet, but if I had to guess why it was so critically panned, the vines talking too much might have something to do with that. Hard to take seriously even in written form, I can only imagine how goofy that would be in a movie. </SPOILER>

All of that being said, I have to give props to the guy who edited the book down into the abridged version. Even with well over half of the content missing, the whole story was still there. All of the main narrative beats, characterizations, motivations, everything was still intact. The full skeleton of the book was there, just missing the oh-so-delicious meat and gristle that you really need in order to immerse yourself and feel the atmosphere of a good horror novel.

Anyway, this whole thing was just a long-winded and rambly way to say that maybe abridged versions of books don’t have to be as life-endingly awful as I had imagined prior to experiencing one for myself, but they still can’t come close to the author’s original work and you should feel bad if you read and/or listen to them regularly without a really compellingly good reason. Also The Ruins is good, and Downpour is the bee’s knees.

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