The Scarlet Letter

Written By: Nathaniel Hawthorne

Story Adaptation By: Crystal Chan

Art By: SunNeko Lee

Published By: Udon Entertainment

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


                The Scarlet Letter was one of those classics that I never read in school.  In fact, I hadn't read the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel until a couple of years ago.  I enjoyed the book and wished I had read it earlier as it contained strong themes that are relevant to today.  So when I saw that Manga Classics had produced its own version of The Scarlet Letter, I jumped on the opportunity to check it out.  I couldn't wait to see how they would adapt the book into manga style, bringing it to folks who may never have read the classic novel before.

                Manga Classics: The Scarlet Letter begins with a scholar, searching through his old paperwork for a glimpse at his family history.  The Scarlet Letter is a tale he has uncovered whilst perusing old documents regarding the Puritans in his family.  According to what he has uncovered, in 17th Century Puritan Boston a woman named Hester Prynne was held captive in prison.  Her crime: adultery and the audacity to have a child come from this sin. 

                Hester Prynne had been sent to Boston ahead of her husband, only to learn that her husband had gone missing.  Believing him dead and in need of solace, she turned to someone she trusted and a forbidden relationship ensued.  Becoming pregnant was the tip-off to the community that Hester, husbandless, must have been having an elicit affair and adultery is a high crime in the Puritan world.  Her punishment, in addition to jail time, is to wear an "A" that she has embroidered herself.  The letter is in scarlet so as to be prominent and easily seen, a mark that will tell all of her impropriety.

                But there is another implicit in this sin and she is unwilling to name him.  The other member of this coupling, a prominent member of the Puritan society, is too cowardly to come forward and face his own punishment and Hester, being a strong woman of conviction, is unwilling to bring him down with her.  But her husband, now returned and living under an assumed name as a medical doctor in the community, is determined to known the identity of the other man and make him pay for what he has done.

                With no one to turn to for comfort except her own child, Hester must find a way to provide for Pearl and maintain her sanity amidst a community full of hatred for her, a vengeful husband she must never acknowledge exists and a former lover whose secret is slowly killing him.

                I loved the Manga Classics edition of this tale.  The decision to use modern day English rather than the English used by the Puritans in the 17th Century makes it easier for readers young and old to understand what is going on in this story.  The artwork is excellent and lends to the storytelling.  I loved the snake in the background whenever Hester's husband begins conniving.  Comparing him to the serpent preparing to strike is quite ingenious.  Manga is a perfect medium to illustrate Pearl, who is often discussed as impish in character.  The manga style captures Pearls impish attitude perfectly.  Though Hester's lover is not exactly as I would have pictured him, his weak nature is also perfectly captured in the artwork provided in this version of the classic novel.

                The Manga Classics version of The Scarlet Letter is a perfect way of inviting new people to the world of the classics with an easier to read, easier to visualize format.  What a wonderful way to introduce the classics to younger readers and reintroduce them to the older generation who perhaps read them at a younger age in the original format and either like them, or couldn't really get into them thanks to a flowery style of writing.  I applaud the Manga Classics series and can't wait to see more!


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