Boiling down classic tomes to a single sentence may seem like a pointless exercise. How can one convey all the color, the introspection and thematic concerns of such lengthy, important works in a single sentence?
But the act of condensing isn’t necessarily aimed at that goal. In stripping a canonical novel to its component parts, the texts are injected with a certain absurdity upon realizing just how many famous literary characters are truly insane. Plus, it’s just really fun.
Here’s a few classic novels all summed up in a (very long) sentence a piece:
[WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD, OBVS.]
1. The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
A poor ol’ deformed bell-ringer falls for an enchanting gypsy lady, but so does everyone else, including the bell-ringer’s deranged adoptive father, which leads to a triangle of death: father gives up gypsy lady to the authorities where she is hanged, bell-ringer pushes father off of a building, after which bell-ringer dies of starvation next to gypsy lady’s decaying body. :*(
2. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
In between really straight-forward but fascinating descriptions of the whaling industry, a wayward, lonely sailor teams up with a Polynesian dude, and they embark on a voyage helmed by a maniac sea captain hellbent on showing a sperm whale what’s what, but everyone dies in the end (except for the sailor) because, come on man, it’s a fucking monster whale.
3. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
In the ultimate revenge fantasy, Edmond Dantes gets tossed in prison for life on the eve of his wedding after being falsely accused of being a Bonapartist (dudes were jealous of his success and his babe of a fiance), but he manages to escape by slipping into a sack containing a dead prisoner, which is tossed into the ocean — whereupon Dantes escapes and is rescued by some smugglers who take him to the island of Monte Cristo, where he finds buried treasure, which he uses to psychologically, financially and physically destroy the three men who got him in the can in the first place, then ride off into the sunset with his new main chick, Haydee.
4. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
An insane 50-year-old Spanish nobleman can’t discern the chivalric novels he reads from reality and asks a fat farmer to join him as his dutiful sidekick, and the two go on to fight windmills and get beat up until Quixote is so embarrassed by his past that he forbids his niece from marrying a man who reads chivalric novels.
5. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
A super broke college dropout becomes convinced that the universe is telling him to kill a pawnbroker because that’s what great men do — which he does, but eventually confesses to at the urging of an extremely Christian prostitute.
6. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
Dude dunks a cookie in some tea, which makes him think of this Jewish guy who used to come over to his house, and then there’s a whole lot of walking around and talking about walking around and thinking about walking around and going to social gatherings, where there is a lot of passive aggressiveness and lesbian sex and male brothels.
7. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Bunch of rich people be like, ‘WE AIN'T PAYING NO TAXES, SON,’’ and go into hiding so they can hang out with this dude who looooves objectivism, making engines and capitalism, and also yelling about these things, which he eventually does over the radio, leading to his arrest and subsequent torture — but he manages to escape back to his hideout, where he and his cronies plan a world takeover, just like Krang.
8. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
A panoramic view of five aristocratic Russian families in the early 19th century on the brink of a wee hurricane called Napoleon — all of which is interspersed with philosophical tracts grounded in Tolstoy’s particular idea that history isn’t marked by the broad, sweeping actions of powerful individuals, but rather that history is created by the will of the people and forever will be.
9. Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
Badass orphan born inside a prison grows into a crime-loving lady, stealing all manner of trinkets and clothing in addition to conning men into marrying her, but endures a rude awakening when she accidentally marries her own half-brother — which she learns only after having three of his kids, prompting Mother/Aunt Moll to return to her homeland, where she’s finally pinched for petty theft, sentenced to death, but spared at the last moment, when she reunites with her son-nephew in Virginia.
10. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
Just your typical story about an erstwhile surgeon who takes to the sea and is either attacked by pirates or shipwrecked on every excursion, stumbling upon islands of miniature people, islands of giants and flying islands, an island that pretty much only houses magicians and also Japan (because why not?) before finally settling down on an island governed by highly intelligent horses.
See? Fun. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back to my work on my first novel. It’s about these guys who are living peacefully inside a whale when the whale suddenly goes belly up, beaching on an island inhabited by these creatures that are half-bear, half-RoboCop, and those bears give the whale-men jobs as bellhops at the local Marriott, but the income tax is outrageous, so the whale-men strike and start stealing stuff from island grocery stores, which they eventually feel guilty over and come clean after a murderer-turned-Seventh Day Adventist tells of his transformation and how much it changed him over tea and cookies (he owns a tea/cookie shop at this point, which the whale-men frequently steal from) — and then the ex-murderer lowers his voice and says, “I know where hidden treasure is,” and of course the whale men are intrigued, and everyone goes out and buys horses and armor and neck bandanas, and they embark on their journey — but when they get to where the treasure is supposed to be, a brand new Denny’s has taken over the property, which saddens them until they realize how cheap a Moons Over My Hammy is and think, Maybe that’s the real treasure, and they each eat four plates worth, which turns out to be a world record and they go down in the history books forever….
It’s going to be great.
This coverage of extremely long novels is brought to you by Clementine Classics: Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser, the first installment in the Clementine Classics e-book series from Black Balloon Publishing.
Sometimes reading the classics is a chore, but not so with the snarky annotations by Clementine the Hedgehog. Having made her debut as a weekly book reviewer of note on Tumblr in 2012, Clem now takes on Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser. On each page, she inserts her keen insights, dark sense of humor and cut-the-crap commentary.
Clementine Classics is a new series from Black Balloon Publishing that gives classic works of literature the contemporary annotations they deserve. Obsessed, possessed and thoroughly distressed by the originals, today's writers riff, rant, praise and flay these old books, giving them new life. The series' beautifully designed e-books are both an act of sincere literary criticism and a new, composite form of humor writing.