September 19, 2011

based on the book

So, I’ve finally committed to reading A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. I’ve known about the books for a long time, but until recently, they didn’t fall into my usual reading preferences. I am a very picky reader, as any of my friends can tell you, and for a while, I didn’t like gritty, realistic, gory, political heavy fiction. However, a while back (I forget how long ago), my husband and I started watching HBO’s Game of Thrones, based on the first book in the aforementioned series.

We both loved it.

And for the next few weeks, months, however long, we debated on whether or not we would buy the books to find out what happens next. My husband is in one boat: reading the books will ruin the show for me. I was in the other boat: I really really want to know what happens next, and I don’t care if the show isn’t as good after reading the books. However, we hesitated buying the books, because well, there are five of them now, and even with the bundle, the books would cost us $45. Now, that’s really not that much money considering that I’ve already spent ten times that on books this year. The hesitation came from not knowing whether or not the books were as good as the show. Would the books be worth the cost? Since finishing the show, I’ve read several reviews ranging from loved it to hated it, and there was no one I knew that had read the books and could give me a good, honest opinion.

Finally, I just downloaded the sample on my Nook and started reading (and I talked my husband into buying the bundle). If you’ve seen the show, it’s pretty much the same, except everyone seems older in the show. I feel like I’m watching the miniseries all over again. And that frustrates me.

There’s no doubt that it’s a great book. I love it just as much as I loved the show. The problem I have comes from my own preferences as far as books and movie-adaptations go. Nine times out of ten, I refuse to see a movie or watch a television show before I’ve read the book. The other tenth of the time, I watch the movie first, either a) not knowing it’s based on a book, b) to gauge whether I will actually like the book, or c) because the book was so boring to read that I’d rather invest two hours in the movie rather than the same amount or more in the book. Eragon is a prime example. I know there are a bunch of Paolini fans out there, but I am not one of them. I tried reading the book, but I couldn’t get past the second chapter. I enjoyed the film for the two hours I sat in the theater (though I’ll likely never watch it again).

I’m still debating on whether or not to read The Hunger Games before I watch the movie. I know that the film doesn’t release until next spring, and the DVD probably won’t release until next fall, giving me plenty of time to decide. My biggest issue is the way The Hunger Games is written. I’m picky. And my pickiness hates first-person present-tense, especially when it’s as awkwardly written as the first few pages of The Hunger Games. I do like the idea. So the film may be the way that I get into the books. I may watch the first film and then want to read the series to see how everything unfolds. Or I may be content watching the films only. I suppose we’ll find out next year.

Back to A Game of Thrones… The thing that frustrates me most about reading the book after watching the show is the fact that my imagination feels stunted. Since I’ve seen the show, I try to fit the things I’m reading into scenes from the show, and when they don’t match up (which is rare, actually), I get a bit confused. If I hadn’t seen the show, I wouldn’t have this problem. I could create a face for each person, a landscape for each place and be happy with what my imagination produces. Instead, I continually compare the book to the show.

I do this the other way around too. I started reading the Harry Potter books when they first came out. My imagination spawned a fantastic cast of characters and locations, which were much different than the eventual movie counterparts. I had a different image of the Weasleys, Voldemort, Harry, Hermione, and Snape. The Great Hall looks nothing like it does in the film (which is funny because Rowling has said how the film Great Hall fits her mental image of the Great Hall perfectly). I understand that no film or television series is going to be spot on perfect to the book. Every fan has a different interpretation, a different imagination that arises from the book, and you can’t replicate everyone’s vision. It just doesn’t work that way.

While the comparison usually causes me not to like the second medium as much as the first, I’ve learned to get over it. I watched the second Deathly Hallows film directly after reading the book for the umpteenth time. As a result, I didn’t enjoy the film as much. Several weeks later, I watched the film again and loved it. I watched Game of Thrones before reading the book, and now I don’t think I’m enjoying the book as much. There are exceptions to the rule. I watched Miyazaki’s interpretation of Howl’s Moving Castle before I knew there was a book counterpart. I love that film. It’s one of my favorites. I also love the source. The book is my favorite book of all time. They were different enough that there is no need to compare them. I can enjoy them both equally. Though, I’ll be honest: the book is better.

How do you feel about film and television adaptations of books? Do you find yourself comparing the two? Have you ever started reading a book series because of a film you saw? Any favorite film adaptations you want to share?


  1. Awesome question! Sometimes I think a book lends itself better to a film version, oddly enough--though a lot of this is personal preference. For example, I could NOT get into Pillars of the Earth. I wanted to bonk the author on the head, scream "EDIT THIS DOWN ALREADY" and make him move about five times quicker pace-wise. But the miniseries was great--because what was awesome about Pillars wasn't the writing (IMO) but the characters and the story. And those came through beautifully in the miniseries, whereas (I felt) the book bogged down. Other times I can't do the film. The Narnia series is my example for this--I have really specific images and constructs from teh books, and no movie could match up. So I chose not to watch them (rather than make my friends listen to me kvetch about how I didn't think they worked).

  2. I've read a series because I watched the TV show/movie and vice versa. I liked Twilight the movie but wanted to toss my paperback of TWILIGHT into the wall. I read ERAGON (loved it!) then watched the movie and wanted to toss my popcorn at the screen because they jumped through and over so much. I think a good example of a series that translated well to the screen was The Ring trilogy. LOTR, Two Towers and Return of the King touched on quite a bit, though I couldn't help wondering if hobbit men-folk really cried that much or if it was just stress-induced-tear-mania from the adventure.

    Nowadays, Hollywood seems to be doing a major scrounge through the bookshelves and comics to find the next hot thing. I like it when it's done well. But sometimes, I can't help wondering what the screenwriter or director were thinking when I see the finished product (i.e. Eragon). Personally, I'm hoping they won't try to make a movie of the rest of the Inheritance triligy.

  3. I'm going to confess something to the internet: I couldn't get into the Tolkien I've tried to read. I don't know, maybe epic fantasy isn't my thing. I love the movies, though.

    I also liked the movie version of Stardust better than the book. That's rare. On the flip side of that, I liked the book Howl's Moving Castle much more than Miyazaki's movie.

    I hear HBO is making a series out of American Gods. That's my favorite book, so I have ridiculously high hopes. They might have to change some things, though, which is fine if they don't change too much.

  4. A faithful adaptation is not necessarily a good film, or vice versa. An adaptation must rework the material to fit the new medium. When the wrong parts of a book are translated to the screen, the result is a mess. Look at David Lynch's 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert's science fiction novel Dune, for example. Herbert loves delving into the thoughts of every single character in his novel. Lynch tried to incorporate voiceovers for everyone, and the result was laughable.

    Besides, Steven Spielberg's film version of Peter Benchley's Jaws indicates that films can sometimes improve upon the source material in every way possible.