Turning Books into Films

I love books. Reading is one of my most favourite hobbies; I could spend hours lost in a good book. Being a single parent to an energetic son doesn’t allow for that – although I wouldn’t swap that for the world.

We all have our favourite books, as well as ones we wouldn’t touch with a barge pole; I can’t read anything by Thomas Hardy, as a Pavlovian response to studying Return of the Native as an A-Level student in the late 90s. But I can inhale anything by Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Stephen Fry, J K Rowling, Terry Pratchett, Arthur C Clarke, Harlan Coburn … The list goes on.

My son, if reading by himself, would pick non-fiction; he loves facts, and who am I to object? He learns so much from them, and it’s lovely to hear him recite things back. We are, however, reading the Harry Potter books together, and it’s a real pleasure to see him engage with the stories – he is genuinely into the stories and always looks forward to our evening story time.

I decided to watch the films with him as well, primarily to see how well he followed the stories and how comfortable he felt about the darkening tone of later stories. It would help me decide whether or not I should slow down the pace of the books until he was a little older but, as it turned out, he was absolutely fine with the content. We had a lot of conversations about the storylines, about right and wrong, and why Voldemort did what he did. His perspective has proved really interesting, and I’ve loved discussing it with him.

I was fascinated by the films; Daniel Radcliffe and all the cast were excellent. But they really only touch the surface of what was in the books; entire sections were excised, I presume because of lack of space. We lost Peeves the poltergeist, Charlie and Bill Weasley, and Hermione’s SPEW initiative (you’ll have to read Book 4 to find out that I’m not being disgusting). Even with the final book – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – split into two films, a lot was still missing. The ending – Voldemort’s ultimate ending – changed between the book and the film.

The cinematic quality was excellent; the producers had really invested into making sure the films showed off the physical scenery that fans desperately wanted – and got. It was a broad visual feast, but as with anything broad brush, many of the specifics had to be lost to make room for other things. I say this not as a criticism, but as an acknowledgement of the limitations of film – and the freedom of writers to let their imagination run riot on the printed page.

It was the same with the Lord of the Rings trilogy – and, later on, the Hobbit films. I was actually introduced to the work of Tolkien through the films; despite being a fan of fantasy fiction, I’d never read any of his work, as it had seemed rather intimidating. Trying to keep track of a vast array of characters and worlds was hard work, at least for me, and I didn’t know where to start; seeing the films, however, really helped, and inspired me to go back to the source, as it were.

The books, after having first watched the films, were a surprise; the ending, again, was at least partly different – entire elements had been left out, and the story was richer with them. That didn’t stop me loving me the films – Peter Jackson, again, did a fabulous job, and I suspect acted as the best one-man tourist board for New Zealand that they could ever have asked for.

But, of course, it’s such a shame that the films – any film devised from a book – weren’t able to convey the depth of story.

Perhaps this sounds peevish? I hope not, as I don’t mean any of this to; I want as many people as possible to be introduced to the joy of fantastical worlds. Fantasy and science-fiction have often been seen as genres for nerds and geeks, not for the mainstream; when I was younger, I became a huge fan of Star Trek; I was eight when The Next Generation started, and I think that was my first introduction to the SFF oeuvre. I was entranced by this world – this otherness – and I desperately wanted to know more, as well as discuss it with anyone and everyone. But hardly anyone else was interested; a few people were at my school, and one of my best friends at secondary school was an even bigger geek than I was (if that’s even possible), but this was in the pre-internet days as a mainstream “thing”, so opportunities to talk to other people like me were very limited.

But things changed with things like Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings coming into our living rooms and cinemas; people were enthralled by these shows and watched them in droves. SO I was thrilled that a new audience opened up as a result, and it meant that I could talk about them to more people.

One book I’ve always been a huge fan of is Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. These two men always top my list of favourite authors, because they are genuinely fabulous. If I had the level of talent each man had in their little finger alone, I would undoubtedly end up being incredibly successful in my own right.

Good Omens captured my attention hugely when it first came out in the 90s, clearly written by two writers who gelled together – you read some collaborations and can instantly see the joins, whereas Gaiman and Pratchett seemed to blend into a single genius being – and who could tell a brilliant story.

It was also a story very much of its time; rooted in 90s culture, with cassette tapes and blocky phones and answer machines, entirely normal because they belonged to that era.

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