I’m not terribly active on my Pinterest account; most of the activity I have there is my sister forwarding me stuff and asking my opinion on it. (Part of why I’m not more active there is, in fact, that Pinterest has made a lot of its systems frickin’ unusable, and there’s only so much patience I have for that. But that’s a topic for another post.) One of the items she sent me this past weekend was this one.
And, given that I had a reaction to this that I don’t think my sister entirely expected, I thought it might be useful to write out my thoughts in blog form.
Overall, I have an issue with what this screencap implies. Which is to say, not only is it coming across with the theme of “the book version of a story is inherently superior to the movie version of a story”, it’s got a side helping of snarking at the fans of the movie version. My sister didn’t parse it that way, but I did, and this is why: because in each of the shown examples, the book fan is responding to the movie fan by asking if they like a character who only appears in the books.
And if the movie fan hasn’t read the books, they have no possible way to answer that question.
Now, if you assume that the hypothetical book fan and the hypothetical movie fan have not specified which version of the story they’re talking about, then okay, I’m fine with the conversations as portrayed. But the way they came across to me, particularly given the “see, this is why we read the books as well as watch the movies” responses in the screencap, is that the assumption is that the book fan knows that the movie fan is talking about the movie(s), and not the book(s).
In which case, if:
- You’re the fan of a book version of a story,
- You see a movie fan exulting that they like the movie version of a story,
- You know they’re talking about the movie version, and
- You ask them what they think of a character who appears only in the books…
…then all due respect, but at least to me, you’re coming across pretty snotty there. And that’s exactly how it read to me in the conversational examples between Movie Fans and Book Fans.
And I have a couple problems with this.
One, as I’ve written before, I highly dislike anything that goes in a direction of “you’re enjoying this thing wrong because you’re not enjoying it the same way I am.” This is true for SF/F vs. romance, Mac vs. PC, Windows vs. Linux, Coke vs. Pepsi, Classic Doctor Who vs. New Doctor Who, or whatever. So I am not on board with giving movie fans shit for preferring the movie version of a story over the book version, particularly if the movie fans haven’t even had a chance to check out the book version yet.
Two, I have issues in general with the automatic assumption that the book version of a story is inherently superior to the movie version.
Okay yeah sure, I get that “the book version is the original and tells the story the way the author intended” as a powerful motivator here. I mean, yo, I’m a devoted reader and a writer, so believe me, I get that. Books are powerful. Books are personal, and a good book makes you develop a strong bond to it.
I also get that movie/TV adaptations of a beloved book or book series can often suck. Ursula K. LeGuin comes to mind here, as to date, I am aware of at least two lackluster attempts to do something with the Earthsea books. And certainly, a lot of folks swear up and down that they hate the Hobbit movies, and would therefore use them as an example of this too.
(I am not one of those people; as I’ve said before, while I find the Hobbit movies flawed in certain critical respects, I will forgive them a lot of sins just on the grounds that they made the dwarves living, breathing characters and gave them a culture, which the book just does not do. And I say that as a diehard, lifelong Tolkien fan. But, I digress!)
But to automatically dismiss any movie version of a story as inferior to the book(s) is rather unfair to the movies. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s vital to keep in mind that what works on the page may not work on the screen. There are different creative choices that have to be made for the movie version of a story than for the book. To go back to Tolkien, but this time with The Lord of the Rings, there are certain choices the movies make that I infinitely prefer over the books. Though for me, the LotR movies stand shoulder to shoulder with the books for how much enjoyment I get out of them.
And to use an example in the screenshot I’m linking off to, there are definitely movie versions of stories that I prefer over the books. Multiple Harry Potter books fall into this category. The movie version of Prisoner of Azkaban is excellent, and Order of the Phoenix is more fun to me in movie form than it is in book form. In no small part, this is due to my relative lack of patience for emo teenaged Harry in the later books–there’s only so much of his emoting in all caps I can deal with!
The best movie versions of stories for me, too, have a big thing I can’t get in the books: music. Howard Shore’s masterful score for the Tolkien movies is of course the shining example here, but let’s not forget John Williams being the guy who gave us the main Harry Potter themes, either.
And to pull in another of my big guns for book version vs. movie version–let’s talk Master and Commander, shall we? Even aside from my documented history as a Russell Crowe fangirl, getting to see and hear Jack and Stephen play their instruments together, and to hear the wonderful soundtrack that goes along with the film, is a huge, huge part of why I get more enjoyment out of re-watching the movie than I often do trying to continue through the series–which I still haven’t finished. I love Jack and Stephen as characters immensely, but Patrick O’Brian’s propensity for telling the reader about a dozen different kinds of sails, not so much. ;D
One more example, from a story that’s generally universally snarked on even though a whole helluva lot of people have in fact read it: The DaVinci Code. I’ve read the book and seen the movie, since the latter was an office morale event, so I got to see it for free. And I’ll say straight up that while neither version of the story could legitimately be called good, the film ultimately was more enjoyable to me.
Three, even aside from the relative merits of a book version of a story vs. the movie version, there’s also the question of whether a given fan is even able to enjoy the book version of a story. Maybe that movie fan is dyslexic or sight-impaired, and the book may not exist in a form they’re able to enjoy (e.g., audiobook, e.g., ebook that can be read aloud to them via the right tech). Maybe they only got to see the movies because they aired on their local TV station, or because they got to see them on a school field trip or as part of a morale event for their workplace (both of which I have been fortunate enough to experience during my time), and they don’t yet have enough pocket money to pick up copies of the books. Maybe they don’t live near a good library or good bookstore. Maybe they don’t even know that there is a book version yet.
The overall point here being, there are any number of reasons why a fan of a thing may so far only be a fan of the movie version, and not of the book version. And IMO, this doesn’t mean the movie fan is doing it wrong.
If I’d been involved in any of the conversations in that screencap, this is what I’d have said:
“Ooh, I love them too! How do you know the story, via the movies or via the books? You haven’t read the books yet? Do you want to? LET ME HELP YOU OUT WITH THIS. Go! Go read! And then come back to me so that we may squee about this awesome story together, won’t you?”
Because yeah, life’s too short IMO to be overly concerned with what version a fan is using to engage with a story. Rather, I’ll try to look for how to share fannish joy about the story with another person, no matter how they’ve come to know it.
Because stories, like everything else in the world, need all the joy they can get.
(And hey Becky, if you’re reading this, thank you for giving me an opportunity to think! And to post!)
ETA: Typo correction. Changed ‘pocket movie’ to ‘pocket money’.