Read a movie, see a book

Books and films have had a symbiotic relationship ever since movies were invented. They feed off of each other at low- and high-brow levels, from comic books to prize-winning literary fiction. Conventional wisdom says that the best movie adaptations take liberties with the original source, and it’s not hard to find examples of this. Christopher Priest’s The Prestige is a twisty, complicated tale of double identities and family vendettas lasting up to the present day; the movie version wisely concentrates on a single thread of the story. P.D. James’ very English dystopian Children of Men is hardly recognizable on film, and not just because the setting is grittier — many of the characters are brand new or completely different. And while those of us who are fervent fantasy readers debated all the changes to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it’s hard to argue that director Peter Jackson’s condensation of the story wasn’t part of the reason for his movies’ huge mainstream success. Cover of "Cleopatra: a Life"Of course, life stories are a natural source for movie adaptations — think of the bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, LoveStacy Schiff’s recent biography Cleopatra: a Life has already been optioned for filming, with Angelina Jolie rumoured to play the Egyptian Queen. And the subject doesn’t even have to be human: racehorse Seabiscuit’s story is thrilling in the formats of the book and the movie. But other kinds of non-fiction can also be adapted into movies, and not just documentaries. A trend in recent years has seen pop culture non-fiction turned into fictional narratives. Yes Man, Danny Wallace’s story of the year he agreed to everything he was asked to do, became a movie starring Jim Carrey, and the relationship guide He’s Just Not That Into You morphed into a romantic comedy.

“Really?” “I know, it didn’t seem plausible to me either.”

And I haven’t even gotten to the never-ending stream of movies from classic literature! Jane Austen’s books alone have seen every kind of treatment from respectful multi-part BBC miniseries to modern teenage comedies (that’s before you add zombies to the mix). My favourite kind of literary movie introduces me to a book I’ve never heard of before.  Forgotten older titles like the charming Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day and I Capture the Castle have been discovered by new generations of readers after movie versions were released. And the Swedish horror film Let the Right One In (also in Hollywood remake form) led me to the creepy original novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. How about you: what’s your favourite kind of literary movie? Do you prefer a script that sticks close to the book’s road map, or goes wildly off-course? -Danielle

2 responses to “Read a movie, see a book

  1. This is an intriguing subject.
    With more and more books made into movies, do you think it benefits the book to have it turned into a movie, or does it mean that less people read the book and go to the movie instead?

    Very interesting indeed.

    • Publishers believe that a movie adaptation always boosts book sales, which is why they release a tie-in edition at the same time as the movie. Whether it increases actual readership (as you point out) is a whole other question…


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