Writing swear words in the margins (Review: Deep Secret, Diana Wynne Jones)

I was trying to figure out, earlier today, what year it would have been that I started reading to my little sister.  I have read her scads of books over the years, but I’m pretty sure the first one was Half Magic, and I’m pretty sure that after finishing it, we went straight on to Magic by the Lake, which means I must have had them both at the time.  I have definite proof that I got Magic by the Lake for Christmas of 1995.

Let’s say I started reading to Social Sister early in 1996.  That was fourteen years ago now.  We read a lot of books together.  I mean we shared a room in our childhood!  It’s not like either of us had to make any big effort to get together and do some reading.  Plus, my family had a big car trip every summer to Maine, which meant three solid days of driving to get there, and three solid days of driving to get back.  That is a lot of time to read.  There are times when we got strapped for books to read next.

I mention this because I wouldn’t have bought Deep Secret if I had had some easy alternative of what to read Social Sister instead.  I had decided to read it to her in the time between finally deciding I liked it, and actually buying a copy.  I liked it easily well enough to buy it, but the one they had in the YA section at Bongs & Noodles had a stupid-looking cover:

The back cover blurb is stupid too!  I didn’t want to buy that stupid book.  I was just going to read to Social Sister from our oldest sister Anna’s copy, but there were pages missing out of the front of that copy.  So I sighed heavily to make sure Anna knew how severely she was inconveniencing me by having a damaged book; and also to impress upon Social Sister the painful and difficult nature of the sacrifices I had to make on her behalf; and I bought the stupid copy of Deep Secret and resigned myself.

(I always wanted Social Sister to be pretty clear on how kind I was being to read to her at all.  When I finished a chapter, and was willing to go on and read another chapter, I would start to close the book very slowly while keeping my place with my finger, and I’d say, “And maybe next time—” which was Social Sister’s cue to start howling and begging for me to continue.  She’d screech and plead and grovel, and after several minutes of this I’d sigh and say grudgingly, “Well – okay”.  It was sort of control-freaky.  I AM NOT PROUD.)

It turned out that in addition to having a stupid cover and a back-cover blurb made out of fail, this copy of Deep Secret had been censored to make it more kid-friendly.  All the swear words had been changed into less sweary words (except the ones that hadn’t – it was very inconsistent), and anything that would have implied that anyone, anywhere, was thinking about having sex (mind you, this book is set at a fantasy fiction convention) had also been removed.  They left in all the violence though – some pretty violent violence!  It was an idiotic way of doing it.

I didn’t appreciate it.  I so much didn’t appreciate it that I read out of the stupid copy to Social Sister with a pen and Anna’s old copy in my other hand, and I checked the versions against each other and made corrections in the margins of the stupid copy.  I did it straight through.  Here is a sample (I chose these pages as an extreme example – in most of the book it’s just a few swear words here and there) (and sorry about the fuzzy edges – I was trying to scan these without cracking the book’s spine):

So reading it was sort of like this:

I apologized – (Brace yourself, Social Sister, there’s a bother coming up, and I suspect not naturally).  One of the six said, Bother – oh, for heaven’s sake!  Bother!  I mean they didn’t mind us seeing that kid get executed at the beginning, or all the business with the sticky drippy blood a little while ago, but they can’t bear the idea that we might read the word Damn in a book marked as appropriate for ages 12 and up.  Social Sister, don’t you feel that a majority of kids ages 12 and up know the word Damn already?  There, I’ve fixed it.  One of the six said Damn, and Social Sister, let’s be clear, one of the six said damn, damn, damn, and before that they said damn the convention and damn the centaur-”

“I like the centaur,” said Social Sister.

“Nobody cares what you like!” I howled.  “I am on a mission to restore the smut to desmutted books!  And this part says, One of the six said Damn, and everyone is having an orgy in the stairwell, and if they didn’t like the way she wrote the damn book in the first place then they shouldn’t have published it!  This asinine bowdlerization is an insult to the intelligence of every person ages twelve and up!”

Luckily there was a heat wave in London when I was there in 2005, which forced me to spend all my time in the air-conditioned bookshops on Charing Cross Road, and while I was there, I found an undesmutted copy of Deep Secret with, moreover, a rather cool and understated cover that does not embarrass me when I am out in public with it.

So I need never worry about that ridiculous copy again.  I have given it to Social Sister, who professes to be madly fond of it.

I have posted this pocket drama of sisterhood and smuttiness rather than reviewing Deep Secret because – well, mostly because I think it is funny.  Also because if you do not believe me by now that Diana Wynne Jones is an amazing writer, indeed that she is just everything that is great about being great, then you never will.  If you do believe me, and just haven’t read Deep Secret, I highly recommend it.  It starts out a bit boring, and you don’t think you’re going to love the characters, but if you push past that, the characters all end up at a fantasy convention and are totally lovable.  WORTH IT.

(The Guardian and Orson Scott Card both rhapsodize rhapsodically about Diana Wynne Jones and her varied ways of being amazing.)

Do you choose your reading material for public places (trains, waiting rooms, classes at university) based on how unembarrassing the covers are?  I’d like to say that I don’t but honesty compels me to admit that it is a consideration.

Reviews of Deep Secret:

Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog
Books and Other Thoughts
Bart’s Bookshelf

Tell me if I missed yours!

  • Mumsy

    Hahaha, I’d like to deny it too, but I have been concealing trashy book covers all my life. And I hate it when people say, “What are you reading?” when I am reading…well…trash. I KNOW THEY JUDGE ME.

    And PS, you and Social Sister are hilarious.

    • I know! Why don’t they ever ask when I am reading Shakespeare or Tom Stoppard?

      • Of course, I totally judge people who are reading books that I think are stupid, so I guess it’s fair.

    • I recall reading about bookstores in Japan that will make very pretty paper bookcovers for your books, especially the trashy ones.

  • What! There’s smut missing from my copy! I want it put back in. 🙁

    Also, no it DOES NOT make sense to leave in the killing of that kid (which was HORRIBLE) and take out “damn.” Even if “bother” is a funny kind of British word.

    And, no, I don’t worry about book covers. I took Hexwood out with that horrible zombie cover, and I took Artemis Fowl out with its shiny, shiny cover. I just keep it facing cover-down when I read them, lol.

    • Well, hey, when you go on your Grand Tour of Europe, just remember to pop into the Charing Cross road bookshops and get a proper copy. Nicer cover as you can see, and the smut has not been removed.

      I was so sure they were going to have censored the violent bits. I mean there are some really unpleasant scenes, with pigtails soaked in blood, and these idiots get rid of the word “twining”? Twice? The hell is this foolishness? (I actually would have minded less if they’d changed all the “Damns” to “Bothers” – but normally they changed them to “Blasts”. Not nearly as good.)

  • Ha! That was brilliant. I never really read to my brother after he graduated from picture books – we were too far apart, and he’s not much of a reader anyways. I do need to read more DWJ, though… I’ve read a few and really liked them, but somehow never seem to pick up more.

    As for the cover issue, I’m with Anastasia – I mostly read with the books in/near my lap, so the covers are obscured, so I rarely if ever even stop to think about it.

    • Good for you, all un-self-conscious with your books! I should be more like that. I’m going to be more like that.

      I think I remember reading that you had had difficulty with some of her books on audio? Because I can completely see how that would be difficult, especially with the more complicated books, of which Deep Secret is definitely one. It’s just a lot of plot and a lot of characters, and I would imagine it’s best to read this one in booky book format.

      • Good memory! I read Dark Lord of Derkholm and it was fine; I listened to Howl’s Moving Castle and it was mostly understandable, since I’d seen the movie and at least had a frame of reference for what was going on, and then I tried listening to The Merlin Conspiracy and spent most of the book totally, totally lost.

        Even now, I’ll be in the audiobooks section of the library, and pick up her books, thinking “oh, I need to read more DWJ…” before I remember how badly the audiobooks work for me, and I have to set them down again.

  • I love the handwritten parts! Good for you and your mission to restore the smut!

    Remember when Harry Potter books were published separately (and first) in the U.K. because the publishers thought they had to translate Britishisms like “jumper” to “sweater” for the American edition? That’s sort of the same thing–like we can’t learn?

    Like kids don’t learn words just as bad or worse, and see or hear about worse violence at school? Or in movies and tv shows? (My kids spend an inordinate amount of time watching movies in public school–there’s a great Simpsons episode where Lisa asks the doctor a question and he says he doesn’t know: “heh, heh, heh, I’ve never seen a movie about that!”)

    • Actually I could understand the “jumper” to “sweater” change, because Americans have a thing called a jumper, and that could be confusing, I guess. But they were changing things like “Mum” to “Mom” and “sherbet lemon” to “lemon drop”. And I am not yet over the silliness of calling the American version of the first book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

      I know! I didn’t start cursing until middle school, but it wasn’t because I didn’t know the words. It was more just, I suddenly realized I could say whatever I wanted when my parents and teachers weren’t around. It was a function of age, not exposure to naughtiness.

  • What a great story and the notes are hilarious! What’s also funny is that at some point I added Deep Secret to my to-reads list in goodreads, and every time I see the little image of the cover, I recoil – “Bother, what an ugly cover! What possessed me to add this book to my list?” So your review has confirmed that there is a reason it’s on my to-read list and that yes, others agree that the cover is cringe-worthy.

    • Yes, I strongly advocate against this dreadful cover, and in favor of Deep Secret. I was so excited to find a better copy in the UK – I even would have been happy to find the copy my big sister had, which still had a stupid cover, but was smaller.

  • What a hilarious and fabulous post 🙂 I do not have Deep Secret but now I want it. Preferably the version that includes the word Orgiastically. Hahaha!

    • Thanks! I’m not sure there is an American edition in print right now with all the bad words put in, but you can probably order one from the Book Depository or somewhere.

  • parisreader

    I have that edition, and had no idea! I shall no longer be annoyed that l left it in storage, and will instead go out and buy a proper one. With a better cover. 🙂

    I have just finished Fire and Hemlock (for the 3rd? 4th? time), and still don’t *entirely* understand the ending. But that doesn’t diminish my love for it.

    And I do most definitely chose not to read certain books in public due to their covers! One friend is embarassed to read children’s books on the train but is unfazed by being seen with trashy romances; I am exactly the opposite.

    • The ending to Fire and Hemlock is completely confusing. I read this article that DWJ wrote about Fire and Hemlock, and the different mythological influences that went into it, which explained a lot – I will email it to you, if you want!

      Yeah, I hate book covers that look trashy. I’d far, far rather be reading a kids’ book in public.

      • parisreader

        Oooh, I’d love to see that article! I went and read the ballad of Tam Lin after the first time but there are so many different things interwoven with it.

        I’ll tell you something else I love about Fire and Hemlock: a) Tom sends her books to read and she devours them, and b) lots of them are ones I read and loved – The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Five Children and It, The Hundred and One Dalmations, etc.

      • That is probably my favorite thing about Fire and Hemlock. I would have loved to have someone sending me books in packages, in the post! I will email you the article. 🙂

      • parisreader

        Thanks! Fascinating. I think I may use my book tokens to buy a copy of Spenser’s The Faerie Queen. I don’t think I can cope with Eliot, yet but I come across references to it so often that I can tell I shall have to tackle it one day.

      • parisreader

        Bah! That comma got misplaced. It should have read “yet, but”.

  • How extraordinary to censor the book in that way – why not just leave it for the readers to decide themselves whether they were old enough. What a genre of books this opens up – desmutted Harold Robbins and Jackie Collins for 12-year-olds, euphemised Norman Mailer and Sidney Sheldon! What a job that would be for an editorial assistant!

    The interaction between you and your sister is simply hilarious. I wouldn’t feel bad about withholding story in return for praise – what do you think mothers do every bedtime??? 😉

    • Whatever editorial assistant managed the censoring of this book did it very badly. Every now and again I’d run across a stray “Damn” they’d forgotten to take out, and they didn’t even try to make their changes consistent with the rest of the text. Please note that the guy in the second of the above pages is supposed to be wearing leather pants, rather than the leather loincloth DWJ really wrote in there, and yet somehow the girls are drawing on his thighs. THAT WOULD BE SOME TRICK. I think I shrieked as much about the inconsistency as I did about the actual bowdlerization.

  • Katy

    I try not to read books with embarrassing covers in public, though when I was thirteen and pretentious I had two books that had naked people on the covers (Elizabeth Peters’s Naked Once More and Francine Prose’s Hunters and Gatherers, neither of which is in any way inappropriate reading for a thirteen-year-old) and I would make a point of reading them at school in order to shock people. But I got over that.

    I had one very embarrassing experience at Shakespeare & Co. in Paris. I had gone upstairs where they keep the used books that aren’t for sale – there are rooms and rooms full, and you go and sit down on one of the beds (there are beds) and read and read. I had gone there plenty of times and no one had ever asked me what I was reading. And I had read plenty of very presentable books there, too. And then one day this old man who I suspect owned the store came up and asked what I was reading – and I had to admit that I was reading the unauthorized sequel to Gone With the Wind. It was humiliating.

    • Hahaha, your story with the naked books (I love Naked Once More! though I can never find a copy of it) made me think of when I was quite young, and I still thought it was shocking to say curse words, I had somehow picked up that it was okay to say bad words in songs. So I would deliberately sing songs that said, like, “damn”, and I always hoped my teachers would fuss at me and I would be able to crush them by bringing up this exception in the rules. But I guess they all knew about that rule already.

      It does really seem like people only ask when I’m reading something embarrassing. The one time I brought a really soppy-looking Mercedes Lackey book to the orthodontist, the orthodontist’s assistant wanted to ask lots of questions about what book it was, and who the guy was on the cover, and what the horses were for, and on and on and on.

  • I love this post! Gosh, I was a read-aloud Nazi. I read to three half-siblings (oldest was six years younger than me), and I did the cliffhanger thing too. Once or twice I stopped reading after it looked like the hero had died and pretended that was the end of the book for a few minutes. I also had a NO FIDGETING rule. When anyone settled down into a protracted fidget, I would stop, shut the book, and wait. Then the other two would would screech lay into the fidgeter–pretty much always the hyperactive 3-year-old–until he was sitting still and I would start reading again. Now I feel guilty about it, since he probably couldn’t help it, but I doubt knowing he had ADD would have changed my 15-year-old mind. No mercy when it came to the sacred written word!

    What you think about the way they Americanize British spellings and words (biscuit, boiled sweet etc.) in American editions of British books? Or maybe you aren’t old enough to remember before they started doing that…

    I have been known to make a paper slipcover just so *I* don’t have to look at an embarrassing cover.

    • Oh, I did that shut the book and wait thing sometimes, when my sister was getting really hyper – though I don’t think I was terribly tyrannical about it. The one thing I absolutely wasn’t having any of was Social Sister was never allowed to read ahead of me. When we were reading the first Harry Potter book, she got hold of a copy at school and read the whole rest of the book, and I was so angry I seriously considered never reading to her again.

      I hate it when they do that with the British spellings! Americans are not that stupid! Seriously, if I hit a word or Britishism I don’t know, and I really can’t figure out what’s going on, I will just look it up in a dictionary/on the internet. I don’t understand why they would start doing that now, when it’s easier than ever before for people to look up words and phrases they don’t know. The only time it makes sense to me is when a word actually means something different to Americans than to Brits. Like pants, a word that living in Britain for a year has made it impossible for me to use in the American way.

      • trapunto

        Trousers sound more dignified, even in American English. Pants are just something to cover your legs. Trousers are something you wear because you want to.

        • Could not possibly agree more. Plus, after spending a certain amount of time with tipsy British students screaming “PANTS” at things, it just sounds silly.

          • parisreader

            I will never forget the day I read an American text that described a man going out wearing “pants and suspenders”.

            The image, to a Brit, is… shall we say, not quite what the author intended?

          • Oh my God, that’s too funny. The dude was like a farmer and you were picturing Tim Curry from Rocky Horror. 😛

  • Jenny

    What wonderful resmutting! I’d have done the same.

    And I’m taking that recommendation. Deep Secret goes straight on my TBR. I love DWJ.

    • I hope you can find an undesmutted copy! But either way it’s a superb book.

  • Can I just say that I love the phrase ‘Oh, Bother’?

    • Dude me too. I say it all the time. Plus it reminds me of that time in one of the Pooh books when Eeyore was trying to write a poem, and part of it goes:

      (I haven’t got a rhyme for that “is” in the second line yet.
      Bother).
      (Now I haven’t got a rhyme for bother. Bother)
      Those two bothers will have to rhyme with each other
      Buther.

      A poet after my own heart.

  • anna

    Mum did a bit of the same closing and begging with us, every now and then, so I think you were just repeating behaviors you’d learned.

    I especially loved how your copy edited out the rabbit testicles comment on Janine’s shirt.

    Mostly I do not choose my reading based on cover, but every now and then when I may want to make an impression, I make it a point to have impressive cover or content. For instance sometimes for debate when I was doing one person debate I’d bring in Shakespeare or Kierkegaard to read before the round started while I knitted. It gave me additional ways to strike up conversation with the judges and look sweet and innocent. Cute little defenceless Anna, smart, but nervous about the debate,: what judge wouldn’t mark down some bully being mean to her in the round?

    I was wicked, but effective.

  • Mum

    Did not.

    • anna

      well, not like Jenny, but on occasion I recall you being persuadable to read a few more pages.

      • She didn’t make us plead! I never remember her doing that. I mean I institutionalized it – if I was going to read another chapter, Social Sister and I ALWAYS did this closing book/pleading routine.

  • I think whoever created that edited version must have known my mother! She used to verbally edit books as she read them to us, to spare our tender ears. I remember being surprised when I went back and read some of the same books as adults, thinking “I don’t remember there being so many swear words in here!” It’s rather funny.

    And your post was hilarious!

    • Aw, that’s rather sweet. My mum had stopped reading to us by the time we were old enough to be read books with naughty words in them, so this situation never arose.

  • Oh my goodness. Ok, so I just reviewed this copy, and was looking for the cover and found this post. It’s fabulous. I was wondering if you mind if I link your post?

    • Not at all! Link away! (And hopefully you will get a proper copy soon.)

      • So I just read this again when I got home, and I can’t help laughing my ass off. Diana Wynne Jones is definitely an amazing author, and is equally as favored as Robin McKinley, though for different reasons.

        I shall add your link to my review momentarily, and then every time I look at it, I shall find myself cackling madly.

  • Pingback: Deep Secret « Aelia Reads()

  • Ooh, now you’re making me want to run and recheck out the library copy to see if it’s the censored version or not!

    I mean, I know the orgy was in there when I read it, but I can’t remember if I knew it was an orgy because they left the orgy and the leather loincloth in or because I already knew it was an orgy.

  • Pingback: Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones « A Good Stopping Point()

  • That’s hilarious.

    Somehow, I find it hard to believe that DWJ would have knowingly permitted such tomfoolery…

    • Me too! I wonder if she knew about it! I’d have been so cross if it were me.

  • Hello, Jenny from the past! It’s Anastasia from the future! I refound this blog post while googling something DWJ-related and HEY, just remembered that I still only have the de-smutted copy of Deep Secret.

    This is still just as annoying as it was three years ago, so to make myself feel better I’ve copied you and put the smut back in (only on two pages, but still).

    The only other time I’ve written in my books like this was in Blubber– first I crossed out the “bad” words, and then a few years later I wrote them back in. Editing/re-editing books is fun!

  • I’m laughing at Anastasia’s “Jenny from the past” post, because I was doing the exact same thing one day after her (three years after the original post). I’m also laughing because the post is just so darn funny! I, too, have been a tyranical older sister and a self-appointed editor, and I love DWJ with a passion that can be embarrassing (mostly to those around me). I was about to buy Deep Secret on Amazon, but I’m glad I saw your blog first. I will have to make sure the book I buy is properly smutified. 🙂

  • Pingback: Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog | REVIEW: The Merlin Conspiracy by Diana Wynne Jones (#dwjmarch)()

  • Pingback: Here There Be Books (formerly Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog) | REVIEW: The Merlin Conspiracy by Diana Wynne Jones (#dwjmarch)()

  • Pingback: The Cover Wars #2 | The Book Wars()

  • Pingback: Diana Wynne Jones Month, Day 30: Magids Duology - Here There Be Books()

  • Pingback: Review: Deep Secret, Diana Wynne Jones | Reading the End()

  • Just found this post – I bought a copy of the version with the ‘silly’ cover after I learned that all the people on the cover are caricatures of real people – mostly writers and illustrators DWJ knew. I had noticed that some of the vocabulary had been ‘Americanised’ but hadn’t noticed that they had also Bowdlerized the text (probably because I mostly *read* my original version!

    • Gin Jenny

      Oo, interesting! I didn’t know about this! I will have to look at the silly cover again and reassess.

      • I can’t remember who all the people are , but I know Neil Gaiman, and Charles Vess are there, and I think possible Alan Moore as well. (Neil was also the model for Nick in the ‘not-yet-conscious-eating-breakfast’ scene)