Books and Movies
“It’s a good Rule,” I said defensively. “And I’ve been meaning to read it anyway. You took it from my pile of books, remember?”
My Rule about reading the book before seeing the movie applies to all three boys. (All three? Yes, all three. It applies to my sister’s sons, too. Andrew is four months older than Jack and Austin is two and a half years younger. We call them the “cousin-brothers” because they spend so much time together. Hey, we’re in Arkansas. My sister and I co-parent well.)
The Rule came about because my sister and I knew that if they didn’t read the book first and they saw the movie, they’d never bother with the book because they’d think they knew the story. I bet I can get a few confessions from my friends – perhaps one or two of you saw movies when you were supposed to read a book for school assignments.(To Kill a Mockingbird, maybe? A good movie, yes, but a much better book. Since it’s the only book Harper Lee ever wrote, I think we owe the author the courtesy of reading it. Go ye forth and buy it now, Wench commands thee!)
You see, there’s a sneaky thing Hollywood does. It doesn’t make movies of books. It makes movies based on books. There is a huge difference.
The fact was never presented more clearly to the boys than when the first Harry Potter movie came out. Despite J.K. Rowling’s close supervision of the project and her input, the movie just wasn’t like the book.
“Neville didn’t have much of a part at all,” complained Andrew, the older cousin.
“Hagrid keep changing size,” said Jack, unimpressed by the special effects.
“They found the keys too easily,” Andrew groused.
“That chess game was lame,” agreed Jack.
“I liked it,” offered Austin. He was too young to have read any of the books by the time the first movie came out, so he had no problem with it whatsoever.
My sister and I had taken them to the movie together. We both laughed. “See? This is why we say always to read the book. The book is always better than the movie.”
“But why is that?” The kids were really disappointed.They had read this wonderful book and the three that came after, and were absolutely riveted by the story and the characters. The books had already told them what Harry, Hogwarts, and Diagon Alley looked like.
“Why is that? Because your imaginations are much better than anything a movie can show you,” we answered. “Even the best movie-maker is limited by what he can do with the actors and special effects. Your imagination has no limits at all. Anything can happen when you read.”
“The lake wasn’t as big as it should have been.”
“The casting was terrible.” (They were a little older and more discerning about such things.)
“The vermin in the pits weren’t as scary as they were supposed to be.”
“The climb up the mountain didn’t have the same significance.”
“I liked it.” Austin, again, wasn’t old enough to have read the book.
“Why haven’t you read it before now?” I asked. I had given him the trilogy for some past Christmas after reading a rave review.
“I tried once. I just couldn’t get into the first book. I put it down and haven’t tried again.”
I do that, too, I must admit. Sometimes I pick up a book and it’s just not the story or the style I’m in the mood for at the time. I put it down meaning to get back to it eventually, but it collects dust for a long time waiting for me to approach it again.
When he returned The Golden Compass to me last night, I asked Jack how he liked it.
“It was good,” he answered. “It’s sort of an anti-Narnia. But it did take me some time to get into it. It was slow at first.”
“Do you think the movie will be good?”
“Sure,” he answered.
“Even though all books are better than the movies made based on them?” I grinned, feeling a little smug and superior, pleased at the chance to drive home my point that books beat celluloid hands down.
“That’s not always true,” Jack said.
“Give me one example of one movie that was better than the book!” I demanded in surprise.
“You’ve got to be kidding me. The movie was better than a book by Robert Heinlein?”
“It was, Mom. I mean, I just don’t like the way Heinlein writes.”
I gaped. Who was this child, this alien being, this life-form from some other planet? He doesn’t like the way Heinlein writes? This… this…. creature… standing in front of me couldn’t be something composed of my DNA.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I managed to gasp.
“No,” he said. “I hated the book Starship Troopers. The movie was good, though. They changed up the plot and the characters so that they were better.”
I’m still dumfounded.
When he was about 10, I gave him a copy of Heinlein’s The Star Beast,assuming that he would fall in love with the Lummox just like I did.
“It’s boring,” he announced halfway through, just as the two kids took off to the hills with the beast to hide her from the hoards of scientists and media.
“You’ve just gotten to the most exciting part of the book!” I objected.
“I’m sick of that book. I’m not reading it any more.”
I backed off. I didn’t want Heinlein to be an assignment, but he had to read him. He just had to.
I gave him The Rolling Stones, knowing that he would be delighted with the twins Castor and Pollux, and that he would even get the mythology reference. He didn’t even open it.
Again, I backed off. Maybe he really wasn’t ready for Heinlein. Maybe when he was older…
Recently he asked to read Stranger in a Strange Land.
“Hell, no!” I said.
“Are you kidding? That book has tons of sex in it!”
Jack’s face went through several different expressions before he settled on defiance. “But you keep wanting me to read Heinlein.”
“Yes, but you aren’t starting with Valentine Michael Smith and Jubal Harshaw. Nor are you starting with Lazarus Long.”
“Mike Smith is the Man from Mars, and Jubal is his lawyer. Lazarus Long is his own grandfather.”
“Time travel, baby. But at 16 you aren’t yet old enough to grok the Martian version of god or love, and you aren’t yet old enough to find out what Lazarus and his maternal ancestors do for entertainment during long spaceship rides.”
“When will be old enough?”
“Old enough for me to give you Stranger in a Strange Land? About the time you register for the draft,” I retorted. That’s in a couple of years. “About the time you are old enough to order a draft beer legally,” I revised.
I bought a copy of Time Enough for Love and left it conspicuously on a table. It disappeared. I saw it in his bathroom, a bookmark about halfway through it. He started it. I’m not sure if he ever finished it. Hopefully my strategy will work and he’ll swipe Stranger from the bookcase and read it under the covers with a flashlight just because I was so shocked and said he couldn’t. Hopefully he will learn that Heinlein’s place at the apex of the pantheon of science fiction gods is deserved. If he doesn’t, I will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that all of his chromosomes came solely from his father’s side of the family.
I hope Hollywood never makes a movie based on Stranger in a Strange Land.
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