by Kiersten Hallie Krum
I have a rule of thumb about movie/TV adaptations of books: always see the movie first
Years ago when it was new and fresh, I devoured John Grisham’s The Firm. I read it at work to the point that my supervisor put a sticky note on my desk that simply said Run, Mitch. Run! He got it. I was so excited to see the movie adaptation with Tom Cruise as Mitch–or at least I was until I saw it. There were so many diversions from the book, it was practically a new story. It was such a letdown, I fumed for weeks.
Ever since then, I’ve resolved to never read the book first. And I successfully managed that philosophy with little effort for years, until Harry Potter spun me off the rails. I made it all the way to The Goblet of Fire without having read one book, but after that ending, I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next and consumed every book as fast as I could…and I never enjoyed a new Harry Potter movie again.
I’ve come a long way from that disappointed twentysomething and know now how different mediums have to interpret the story in different ways, sometimes because of a different vision and sometimes because of production needs. I don’t entirely understand it–if you’re buying a product for its extensive popularity and built-in audience, why would you want to change it?–but overall I get it.
But it’s not always possible to avoid reading the book first. People who read the Harry Potter or Hunger Games books from the get go didn’t know these books would one day feed a multibillion dollar movie franchises. Same deal with Outlander. Even though I came to the game later than many, I’ve still been reading the series for 20 years. I’m invested. As you may have noticed. But despite my considerable expectations, I’m not the kind of fan who has to see everything dotted and crossed as it was on the page. Honestly, that would be boring.
Saturday night, after another outstanding episode of Outlander, this idea of book vs movie hounded me for hours. Wonderful as it was, this was the first episode to make me feel a bit let down as a reader. The interpretation of Jamie, in particular, took a turn that was quite different from his journey in the book, but it fits within the story Ron D. Moore has been telling in this production as he broadens the scope of Outlander beyond Claire’s solo perspective in the book. And while the episode sometimes lacked the humor of the source material at times, beats and scenes I’ve been waiting to see, it stayed true to the emotional needs of this version of the story and overall true to the ethos of the original story.
And isn’t that what a good adaptation is supposed to do? Create something new and through that newness, offer a different avenue by which deeper truths might be examined from a new perspective. Why else do plays and musicals get revivals? Why are there so many versions of Pride & Prejudice? Because each adaptation brings out something new to enjoy. That’s what a trope does too. We love our tropes in Romancelandia–virgin widows, friends to lovers, reunited lovers, secret baby–the list goes on and on. A good romance novels (of which there are many) takes that trope and turns it on its ear and makes it something new. With a trope, we know the frame of the story we’re getting but the picture has yet to be filled in. An adaptation may have the paints and image already decided before it gets started, but how that image comes to life is going to be different every time.
What do you think? Book before movie or vice versa? Do you need an adaptation to be purely dedicated to the source material or are you open for wild and crazy interpretations?
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