Most of us haven’t cracked open a classic novel since high school. And why would we? Most classics are densely written, filled with prose that may have been crystal-clear in the mid-19th century but is total gibberish to a modern reader. Many of them even span hundreds upon hundreds of pages — not exactly something you want to curl up with on a rainy day or leaf through at the beach.
Luckily, illustrator John Atkinson is here to provide us with the “too long, didn’t read” summaries of twelve masterpieces of American and European literature we’ve never read. His comics are an absolute blast to read whether or not you’re familiar with his subject matter, but they lack the substance needed to fake your way through pretentious cocktail party conversations. That’s why we here at Shareably have paired his comics with the Wikipedia summary of the novels he parodies.
WAR AND PEACE — Leo Tolstoy, 1869
Wikipedia: “The novel charts the history of the French invasion of Russia, and the impact of the Napoleonic era on Tsarist society, through the stories of five Russian aristocratic families.”
Atkinson: “Everyone is sad. It snows.”
THE GRAPES OF WRATH — John Steinbeck, 1939
Wikipedia: “Set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, agricultural industry changes and bank foreclosures forcing tenant farmers out of work.”
Atkinson: “Farming sucks. Road trip! Road trip sucks.”
DON QUIXOTE — Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, 1605
Wikipedia: “The story follows the adventures of an hidalgo named Mr. Alonso Quixano who reads so many chivalric romances that he loses his sanity and decides to set out to revive chivalry, undo wrongs, and bring justice to the world.”
Atkinson: “Guy attacks windmills. Also, he’s mad.”
THE SUN ALSO RISES — Ernest Hemingway, 1926
Wikipedia: “A group of American and British expatriates travel from Paris to the Festival of San Fermín in Pamplona to watch the running of the bulls and the bullfights.”
Atkinson: “Lost generation gets drunk. They’re still lost.”
MOBY DICK — Herman Melville, 1851
Wikipedia: “Sailor Ishmael tells the story of the obsessive quest of Ahab, captain of the whaler the Pequod, for revenge on Moby Dick, the white whale.”
Atkinson: “Man vs. whale. Whale wins.”
ULYSSES — James Joyce, 1922
Wikipedia: “Ulysses chronicles the peripatetic appointments and encounters of Leopold Bloom in Dublin in the course of an ordinary day, 16 June 1904.”
Atkinson: “Dublin, something, something, something, run-on sentence.”
ODYSSEY — Homer, 8th century BCE
Wikipedia: “The poem mainly focuses on the Greek hero Odysseus and his journey home after the fall of Troy.”
Atkinson: “War veteran takes forever to get home then kills everyone.”
WUTHERING HEIGHTS — Emily Brontë, 1847
Wikipedia: “Its depiction of mental and physical cruelty was unusually stark, and it challenged strict Victorian ideals of the day, including religious hypocrisy, morality, social classes and gender inequality.”
Atkinson: “A sort-of brother and sister fall in love. It’s foggy.”
WALDEN — Henry David Thoreau, 1854
Wikipedia: “The work is part personal declaration of independence, social experiment, voyage of spiritual discovery, satire, and (to some degree) manual for self-reliance.”
Atkinson: “Man sits outside for two years. Nothing happens.”
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT — Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1867
Wikipedia: “Crime and Punishment focuses on the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of Rodion Raskolnikov, an impoverished ex-student in St. Petersburg who formulates and executes a plan to kill an unscrupulous pawnbroker for her cash.”
Atkinson: “Murderer feels bad. Confesses. Goes to jail. Feels better.”
BEOWULF — Anonymous, sometime between 8th and 11th centuries CE
Wikipedia: “Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, comes to the aid of Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, whose mead hall in Heorot has been under attack by a monster known as Grendel.”
Atkinson: “Hero kills monster. Blah, blah, blah, blah. Dragon kills Hero.”
INFERNO — Dante Alighieri, 14th century CE
Wikipedia: “The Inferno tells the journey of Dante through Hell, guided by the ancient Roman poet Virgil.”
Atkinson: “All hell breaks loose.”
See? Who said reading can’t be fun? Atkinson’s comics prove there’s something relatable to be found in even the most uninviting novels. Our English teachers would be so proud!
Visit Atkinson’s work at his website.
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