Friday, September 7, 2012

21 Memorable Book-to-Movie Adaptations (Part 3)

Literature and film are, of course, closely wedded, especially as books provide a wealth of fodder for screenplays. They are different art forms and different kinds of storytelling. In a sense, films are novels turned inside out. While reading a novel, we know what the protagonist is thinking and experiencing, and we have to use our imaginations to visualize the rest of the story. When watching a movie, the visuals are provided for us. But it's left to us to infer what the characters are thinking and experiencing.

This isn't particularly a list of "the best" -- it's simply a list of adaptations, for which we've both seen the movie and read the book, which stand out for us.

Part One

Part Two

16. The Hunger Games -- This wildly popular dystopian novel for young adults offers a wealth of intriguing themes. Personal freedom versus the power of the state. Inequities between the rich and poor. Children subjected to violence and forced to kill. Ways we survive and hold onto a sense of autonomy, compassion, and dignity when being brutally controlled and faced with few options. The Hunger Games also includes some unforgettable characters.

The movie adaptation was well-done, with a wonderful performance by Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. However, it didn't measure up to the novel. My main complaint was about Gale and Peeta, Katniss's friends and potential love interests, who were so compelling in the book. I found them rather underwhelming on screen. Also, as Sarah wrote: "Her relationship with Peeta moved a little quicker than I would have liked, as after a crucial plot development they are hanging over each other like lovesick puppy dogs. Their friendship is more ambiguous and conflicted in the book."

My verdict: read the novel first.

17. The Shining - This was one of the first horror novels I read -- I was about 12. It remains, to this day, one of my favorite Stephen King novels.

Jack Torrence's deterioration, from a flawed but decent recovering alcoholic to a madman, is chilling and heart-wrenching. And King did a brilliant job of letting the reader live inside Jack's head.

Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation is undoubtedly a masterpiece, but Stephen King disliked it. King has been quoted as saying that although Kubrick made a film with memorable imagery, it was the only adaptation of his novels that he could "remember hating."

While it borrows the characters and basic plot from the book, the film it is an entirely different story from the novel. For one thing, in the film, Torrence starts out as an angry, disturbed man who -- at certain moments -- seems to have a thinly veiled loathing for his family. The novel is about his extreme love for his family and how it wasn't enough to protect him and his family from what they were up against.


According to Wikipedia, King has said his novel's important themes, such as the disintegration of the family and the dangers of alcoholism, were ignored. King was struggling with alcoholism at the time he wrote the novel. And even though I was quite young when I read it for the first time, I felt the raw, believable depiction of addiction was one of the greatest things about the book.

Bottom line: I think they're both brilliant but not to be confused with one another. King and Kubrick, two exceptionally gifted men, had entirely different visions. 

18. Let the Right One In -- Eli, the central character in this dark, creepy vampire novel is a child vampire.

A chilling, ruthless hunter, yet innocent and steadfastly loyal, Eli is a child vampire. What an unforgettable character! She bonds with a troubled young boy who is plagued by bullies and obsessed with brutal murderers. They form a bond. This story explores alcoholism, loneliness, and isolation and well as violence and pedophilia. It also delves into friendship, loyalty, and love. it is memorable for its wealth of themes and its dark but morally ambiguous characters.

I am generally not a fan of horror movies. I don't dislike the genre, I just don't feel most of them are very good. But this novel inspired two excellent adaptations, the Swedish film Let the Right One In and the American remake: Let Me In.

According to Roger Ebert's Review:
Remove the vampire elements, and this (Let the Right One In) is the story of two lonely and desperate kids capable of performing dark deeds without apparent emotion. Kids washed up on the shores of despair. The young actors are powerful in draining roles. We care for them more than they care for themselves. Alfredson's palette is so drained of warm colors that even fresh blood is black.

According to Roger Ebert's Review:
"Let Me In," like the Swedish film that inspired it, deals brutally with the tragic life of the vampire. It's not all fun, games and Team Edward. No lifestyle depending on fresh human blood can be anything but desperate. A vampire, like a drug addict, is driven by need. After a certain point, all else is irrelevant, and the focus is on the craving.

19. Everything Is Illuminated -- In this novel Alex Perchov's's father runs a small tour service, driving Jewish Americans to the places where, several generations ago, their relatives died in The Holocaust.

Jonathan has come from America, searching for the woman who may have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Alex's grandfather, haunted by his own memories of World War II, is his tour guide and driver, and Alex serves as translator. The three of them set off, with a dog named Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior, the "seeing eye bitch," adopted from "the home for forgetful dogs," to find Jonathan's ancestral village, the shtetl of Trachimbrod.

They travel the Ukranian countryside, beautiful but still ravaged by World War II, 50 years ago. When they reach the site of Trachimbrod, they find an old woman who has made herself the curator of the shtetl's memories; her home is filled with boxes of photographs, bits of jewelry, and other remnants of what was once a thriving community.

Alex's narrative about their "very rigid search" for Trachimbrod, and for the woman who may have rescued Jonathan's grandfather, is one of three strands intermingled throughout this novel. The second is a heavily fictionalized narrative Jonathan is writing about his ancestors and the history of Trachimbrod. In the third, Alex reads Jonathan's fictionalized history and discusses it in his letters.

I found this novel to be eloquent and compelling but quite uneven. The movie adaptation, which dramatizes the search for Trachimbrod, is more focused and quite good. It begins as a bizarre and quirky if somewhat dark comedy then descends into something more serious and reflective. What stood out most for me were the odd, eccentric characters, the gorgeous imagery, and the surprisingly quiet, reflective moments which give you glimpses into the depths below the surface of this strange, often humorous story.

20. To Kill a Mockingbird -- This Pulitzer Prize winning novel is partly a coming of age story about Scout, a bright, independent little girl. It's also the story of her father Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the Depression-era South, who defends a black man against a false rape charge and his kids against prejudice.

Author Harper Lee does a brilliant job of evoking a sense of time and place that still holds up several generations later. She also skillfully shows us the world through Scout's eyes as she becomes aware of the poverty, racism, and injustice all around her. The film, a faithful adaptation of the book, manages to capture all this.


My co-blogger is not a huge fan of this novel and film -- and yes, we realize that is considered literary and cinematic heresy. We've had some interesting discussions about the stereotyped views of race that seem to be reflected in the novel. For example in his legal defense, our hero refers to his client as a "good, humble negro." Despite his fight against racial injustice, does Finch actually view black people in such a belittling, one-dimensional way? Or does he simply realize that, in a world where a black person could not look a white person in the eye, this was the closest thing to a humanizing portrayal that a white jury would accept?

21. The Color Purple -- Celie, a black woman coming of age in the rural South in the early 1900s, experiences nothing but cruelty.

Although the 14-year-old girl is bearing a second child by her stepfather, she still retains a quality of innocence.

Her stepfather forces her to marry a vicious, controlling man she calls "Mister," - she's lost both of her children, her ability to hear children, and her beloved sister. Yet she will survive, and in the end, she will find a path to independence, dignity, and healing.

Both the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Alice Walker, which tells Celie's story through a series of letters, and Stephen Spielberg's film adaptation are so beautiful, powerful, and compelling. The exploration of racism, poverty, exploitation of women, and other themes is thoughtfully nuanced and incredibly rich. And the spirit of hope and dignity, even when living a life that offers few choices, is especially unforgettable.


  1. Read and seen the first three. Seen number 19 but no interest in reading the book. 20 and 21 I would like to see the films and if I LOVE them, I might read the books. Perhaps that's not the best way round to do it though.

    1. I used to be one of those "read the book before seeing the movie" diehards, but not any more. Often I'll see the film first, and if it really piques my interest, I'll read the book. That way the movie is not spoiled for me, and there are still surprises in the book as it inevitably explores the story and characters in a bit more depth.

      Also, if I watch a movie after reading the book from which it's adapted, I have trouble appreciating the film on its own merits, because the whole thing is already scripted in my mind, if you know what I mean. I like approaching the movie with an open mind.

  2. This is another great list, Stephanie. I'm especially glad that you included both adaptations of Let the Right One In. They're both excellent, indeed.

    1. Thanks! :) I was skeptical, since I'm not generally fond of horror films, but I thought they were both quite good. I highly recommend the novel. Even more disturbing, in some ways, with more richness of character development.

  3. I only have watched Hunger Games & To Kill A Mockingbird. Other movies/novels you mention looks interesting, always want to see The Color Purple. And I always want to read To Kill A Mockingbird. Nice and interesting lists :)

    1. I hope you will read/watch The Color Purple and To Kill a Mockingbird. :-)

  4. I agree with your take on the Hunger Games book vs. the movie. In addition, I thoroughly disliked the shakycam cinematography in the film. Because of it the director wasn't brought back for Catching Fire, so I have hope for the second adaptation.

    I've read your three posts. If I can suggest one book/movie combo that you haven't mentioned it would be The Princess Bride. I reviewed them on my blog several months back.

    1. I don't generally like the shaky cam technique, but I didn't particular notice or mind here, for some reason. However, a different director is promising.

      The Princess Bride! I've always loved that movie but have never read the book, though I've heard good things about it. Thanks for the suggestions and reminder.


Hello, and thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts -- reader comments make this blogging gig worthwhile. :-) Due to excessive spam, we are now moderating all comments. Like that dude in the Monty Python skit, we just Don't ... Like ... Spam. I will try to post and respond to your comments as quickly as possibly.