The great ebook wars started innocently enough in June, 2012. A single alert blogger, Philip Howard, noticed that the Barnes & Noble version of War and Peace had erased all instances of the word Kindle—an competitor at the time—with their own brand-name, Nook. (“It was as if a light had been Nookd in a carved and painted lantern….”) One or two blogs picked it up, the people lol’ed, case closed.
An simple mistake with search-and-replace, but it started people thinking. . . hackers had already inserted zombies into Pride and Prejudice in the careless spirit of the 2000s, so why not make some money by selling product placement in the books? Anyone can publish e-versions of books no longer in copyright. Starbucks was first on the bandwagon in late 2012, with their special Frappuccino Editions of the classics (Frappuccino was a curious coffee-like drink). These editions merely replaced all coffee and tea, coffeehouses and tea shops in the classics, with Starbucks. The changes to the coffee shop scene in Persuasion did cause some comment on the primitive “social networks” of the time, but marketers and companies eagerly lined up to have their products inserted in some edition, any edition of a classic, and by 2015 generic ebooks were becoming rare and collectible.
The sudden rebirth of the bowdlerizers, and their tireless campaign to find and replace smut where ordinary dirty-minded citizens couldn’t even see it, spun off into its own crusade. Of course, the main target in Austen was “intercourse.” The mere thought of Emma and Miss Bates having “a regular and steady intercourse” caused President Sarah Palin to mandate bowdlerized versions of all classics in 2020.
The fall of America into chaos, the rise of the underground movement for Pure Classics, and the petty in-fighting of the various Jane factions (Austen, Eyre, Bennet, and Cobb), need not be gone into. Every schoolchild knows that in 2072, the Pure Classics broke away from the Altered Versions, and the two empires have been fighting ever since. It has been a long and terrible history. But on this, the 1,000th anniversary of the first shot of this massive war, let us stop and remember that it need never have happened.
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Ok, so this could also be called Leo Tolstoy Hates Your Search-and-Replace. But, you know, once you start down the Dark Side, forever will it guide your destiny! So, beware!