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movies vs novels

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Evolution of Stories

What Are We Teaching Our Children?


I was six years old when I watched Walt Disney’s 1953 version of the classic Peter Pan. Looking back fourteen years later, I still remember the sensation I was left with after the movie ended – the awe struck silence, the sensation that I just travelled and grown with people I had known my entire life – I had just come back from Neverland, anything was possible. It was the few moments before the dream ended that stay with me even today – for me that’s the hallmark sign of a good movie, one that leaves you with a feeling, that fills you up and makes you feel like you’re complete and yet like you’re on the brink of exploding into yourself.

I was nineteen years old when I read Peter and Wendy – the original novel published by J.M. Barrie in 1911. I devoured the book in a night, sitting in my hotel room watching the sun rise as I finished the last chapter. Almost a year later, I still remember the sensation I was left with after I closed the book – the awe struck silence, the sensation that I had just traveled and grown with people I had known my entire life – I had just stepped out of Neverland, into the midst of the reality in my mind, but for a few moments, anything was possible. It was a few moments before the dream ended that embedded their impression on me – for me that’s the hallmark sign of a good book, one that leaves you with a  feeling, that fills you up and makes you feel like you’re complete and yet like you’re on the brink of exploding into yourself.


Confused? Don’t be. That wasn’t a typing error. For me, the hallmark sign of a good movie and a novel are the same – it’s something that reaches out to you, that connects with you that leaves you with the sensation that things are falling together in your mind and that you’re coming out of the experience a little changed, a tad more complete. Because that’s what books and movies should be, an experience – be it in a new land, emotion, thought process or body – it should take you to a reality that is different from your own, even if it is just one step deeper into the one you’re already familiar with.

Which brings me to my question – what happens when a novel is adapted to a movie? What happens when we attach moving pictures to the words on a page?

With almost every famous book being adapted to a film, people are beginning to wonder about the future of a novel – will it survive this era of technological advances?  Will our children still want to spend days or weeks reading a story when they can watch the same unfold for them in a few hours over dinner? If movie versions of our favorite books are being released faster than we can control, and these movies are easier to access (in terms of cost and availability) than are most books, what will happen to the future of novels, and in turn, that future of writing the novel?

People are up in arms about it – according to them, the novel has been threatened and they are determined to defend it. Why? Because for a lot of readers the experience of watching a movie cannot compare to the experience of delving into a book – and they want people to remember that. They want people to remember what it feels like to curl up with a book and have the words transport you to a place you’ve never dared to imagine or create before. According to them, movies violate the sacred bond between a reader and their book – movies, in their attempt to replicate that, make it something shallow, something generic and commercially processed.

But do they really? Let’s take a moment to examine the difference between reading a book and watching a movie. For one, movies demand attention from a lot more of our senses then do books – movies have color, sound and movement. In a movie, the landscape, characters and noises are all defined – they have a shape and feel about them, a feel that is handed to you on a platter. In a novel on the other hand, words are used to describe the edges of the landscape, characters and sounds while the reader fills in the empty space in between.

Also, when we read books we connect with characters on many levels – we are told what they are saying, thinking, feeling and often are given snippets of their lives through narration. In a book, we get to know a character as we would get to know somebody we meet in our lives. A movie on the other hand does not have this privilege – in a movie, for the most part, we get to know characters through their interactions with other characters. A voice over can be used to tell us what the character is thinking but all movies do not resort to this technique.

This puts the film and the novel on two separate planes because it indicates that the novel created according to the perspective of one person, the author and is catered to appeal to one person at a time, while a movie is collaborated by a team of directors and producers and needs to be able to captivate an audience.

This then shows us that films and movies then have a simultaneous advantage and disadvantage over books. While they do not allow the viewer as much creative freedom as does a novel, they have enough space to do what they want with the storyline and convey the message they choose in a more direct manner.

It is probably the reason that so many people have different times/moods which they reserve for either watching a movie or reading a book. The two mediums in their difference cater to different aspects of the same person. For example, I choose to read a book when I am relaxed and have enough time to devote to it, while I love coming home exhausted and unwinding with a movie.

What does this tell us? That movies and books serve two different purposes. We don’t need to be defending the life expectancy of the novel – instead we need to be encouraging the horizons with which producers and directors are looking at their films. Movies, even if they are adaptations of certain books, do not need to try to be the book. They have the creative space to take the essence of a book and lift off from it to create something original, something adds a new perspective to it.

If they begin to do that, it will prevent avid readers from getting defensive, it will allow them to see that film adaptations of books are but another way of looking at a story – they do not, by any means have to be the one correct version. Because, as we all know, there is no correct manner in which to read or interpret a novel.