The book WASN’T better

16 Sep

A controversial topic this time, so please keep your comments civil! I’m going to be taking you through a short list of books that I have read* which I think were not as good as the film adaptation.

(Warning: there are some spoilers in the Princess Bride section.)

The Bishop’s Wife

This isn’t all that well known, but it’s my favourite Christmas film. Last time I watched it I noticed that it was based on a book by Robert Nathan, so I picked up the Kindle version – and was very quickly disappointed. The premise is the same – an angel in disguise comes to help a bishop – but the tone and the characters are totally different. The bishop is unlikeable; his wife is not just starved for affection but is totally neglected, unfulfilled and miserable; the theology is really quite dodgy (and that’s in comparison to Hollywood!); even the angel isn’t very nice; and the whole thing is so cynical and pessimistic that you’d be better off reading the newspaper.

Lord of the Rings

Do I hear a sharply in-drawn breath at my effrontery? I know, I know, many people love these books and read them again and again. And I freely admit that they are full of wonderful stuff – unparalleled world-building, soaring themes, unforgettable characters, proper peril. But they are also full of loads of padding – long chapters where not much happens, characters that would be better forgotten (Tom Bombadil is the most obvious example), too many accounts of hospitality. The films by Peter Jackson kept all the amazing stuff from Tolkien’s books but cut out the boring bits in-between. (Unfortunately he then put all the boredom back into the Hobbit films, which definitely do not make it onto this list.)

This review is only based on the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring, because I forced myself to make it through book one and decided that was quite enough effort – which isn’t really the reaction you’re looking for when you finish a masterpiece.

The Princess Bride

Another film that makes it into my top ten. When I started reading the book The Princess Bride (by the film’s screenwriter, William Goldman) I thought “This is going to be great!” It was witty, wry and whimsical, and it added a bit of background to Buttercup and her world. But then it started to go downhill, and it just kept going.

The characters are mostly horrible, the tone is cynical and arch and the plot, while the same to start with, has a completely different ending. Not in good way. I mean, it’s not quite as bad as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame where everyone dies apart from the baddie and the goat, but it’s in that ballpark.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

This isn’t a bad book in the way that a couple of the others on the list have been. It doesn’t spoil a warm and lovely film by being nasty and cynical. And it’s certainly not over-padded, so it’s a quick enough read. It’s just not all that exciting.

The family has an adventure, but it’s much tamer. They try to go to the seaside and end up flying to France because there’s too much traffic, and yes, they foil some villains there, but it’s hardly on a par with Baron Bomburst of Vulgaria and the *shudder* wicked child catcher. Apparently this was based on stories that Ian Fleming (yes, the guy who wrote the Bond novels) used to make up for his young son, and that’s exactly what it seems like. Some children’s books are wonderful for all ages. This one is only worth reading if you are actually a child. And even then it’s only okay.

The Last of the Mohicans / The Scarlet Pimpernel

These were nominated by other people. I did consider reading them in preparation for writing this post, but you would have been waiting a long time while I struggled through books that I had already been told were not that good.

The Last of the Mohicans (James Fenimore Cooper) was suggested by my brother-in-law. The film is very exciting, stars Daniel Day Lewis (always excellent) and has a theme tune to die for. The book is, apparently, stodgy, repetitive and overwritten in the worst traditions of nineteenth century literature.

I thought I hadn’t read The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy, but after reading a wee plot summary it rang some bells, so I quickly looked at it online and I have read the beginning of it. The fact that I left it unfinished is not much of an advert but despite the overdone historicyness of it (Zounds! Gadzooks!) I wouldn’t dismiss the idea of going back to it.

No, this one actually makes it on to the list because the film TV series is so good (according to my friend Tanya). I was aware of the very old film (1934) and vaguely aware of a later version (1982) but totally unaware of the BBC series from 1999 starring Richard E Grant. Hopefully it will be repeated sometime, although more likely it will be put on BritBox and we’ll have to pay for it.

Anyway, these versions score 7.4, 7.7 and 7.5 out of 10 respectively on IMDB, which is probably a testament to the strength of the core idea: the ineffective rich idiot who is secretly a masked hero. (Yes, it’s said to have inspired the story of Batman.) The novel is let down by an excess of overdone faux-historical dialogue, so as with LOTR, it’s a case of taking out the boring stuff and leaving the good stuff alone.

No doubt many of you will disagree with me, and some of you may want to suggest other films that are better than the book, so please do avail yourselves of the comments section below.

* Except the last section, which are suggestions from other people.


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