Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Thoughts Regarding Movies-from-books...

... or perhaps they would better be dubbed Books-made-into-movies, to highlight their proper origin.

I'm not sure what I want to say, exactly, but I do have lots of thoughts milling about in my brain regarding this particular genre of movie.

First (and this goes without saying), you can't capture everything great about a book in a movie. You just can't. This is understood, and so there is an attempt to capture the heart and essence of a story - and somehow present it to the world - in this other form called a movie.

The problem is that, once you've seen the movie, the original "pictures" formed in your brain when your first read or heard the book are replaced. This has happened to me over the past few years with Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series, Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, Rowling's Harry Potter Series, and even the Series of Unfortunate Events. Never again will Lucy (or Hermione or Aragorn or Violet or so many others) look like they did when they came to life off the page in my mind.

And now, the list is expanded to include Despereaux Tilling. You see, my daughter EL received a "reward" of movie gift cards from the orthodontist for finally kicking the thumb sucking habit*, and with it we went to see the movie The Tale of Despereaux.

Let me first tell you that this book was one of the books-on-tape we listened to recently on a trip as a family. Let me also tell you that, on New Year's Eve, a friend of mine asked my daughter EL - who was running through the room at the time - if she had "seen Despereaux yet." She replied "yes" and was gone. I turned to my friend and said, "No, we haven't seen it, but we did recently listen to the book on tape." I smiled inside to realize that my eight-year-old daughter had, in fact, "seen Despereaux" as she formed images of him in her mind while listening.

And today I am a little sad to know that yesterday, as she watched the screen, those images were replaced. Her images were likely different from those formed in the minds of each of her siblings, but like the images formed in my mind as I had listened, they were all wiped away in one fell swoop. Now Miggory Sow looks like that. The queen. The king. Roscuro.

The movie is very little like the book. Characters are changed... eliminated... re-crafted. The story is significantly altered. Much was lost in the translation, I must acknowledge, and I miss the guys from the real story. But alas, they are gone. I can't find "my" images of them in my brain even if I try.

So, sure, it is a cute movie. It isn't, however, the real Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread. And now that millions of American kids are seeing the movie, they may never really get to know the real story. And even if they do eventually hear the real story, they will read it with someone's else's images in their minds from the beginning.

Some part of me finds that just a little bit sad.

I remember reading aloud one night - years ago - to my own children and some visiting friends who were staying with us while their parents were out of town. One of the girls, probably five or six at the time, was listening intently when one of her younger siblings got up and absent-mindedly walked through her field of vision and stopped.

"Hey, get out of the way! I can't see the story!" she cried. She wasn't quite sure how the "movie in her brain" was forming, but it had to be linked somehow to those words coming from my mouth...

Here's to the glorious experience of "movies in the brain" when we read a really good book. May some of them, at least, remain unspoiled by the big screen!

* The breaking of EL's thumb-sucking habit is due entirely to the orthodontist's discovery of an amazing and wonderful product called Mavala Stop. If you have a similar problem plaguing one of your little ones, I highly recommend that you try using it, and at the earliest possible age.

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