Thursday, 20 February 2014

I Don't Know If I'm a Book Purist

This is going to be a bit of a musing post. Up until fairly recently I used to think that I was a book purist. I usually prefer books to their adaptations. I also like book-to-screen adaptations to be as faithful to the books that they're based on as possible. I thought that those things made me a book purist. But ever since The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug came out I've been wondering what being a "book purist" actually means. Peter Jackson's Middle-earth films, especially his Hobbit films, seem to have really split the Tolkien fandom. Some Tolkien fans absolutely hate the films and others, like me, really love them.

I've been doing some thinking on the subject and I'm still not entirely sure if I am a book purist or not. I think it varies from book adaptation to book adaptation. Sometimes I'll read an angry review of a book adaptation and the reviewer will say "This film is absolutely nothing like the book!" They'll then list all of the reasons why that's the case and I'll find myself nodding in agreement. But sometimes I can read a review of a book adaptation and think otherwise. The reviewer will say that "this film is absolutely nothing like the book!" but the points that they'll make will seem really whiny, petty and silly to me. I don't understand how people can get so worked up about minor details if they're not even relevant to the plot. To use Les Miserables (2012) as an example, I've read some reviews where people have complained about Fantine not being a blonde and Cosette not being a brunette like they are in the book. This makes me think "What does that matter?! I'd much rather that they chose the right actresses for the parts instead of actresses that looked the parts but were absolutely terrible!"

I'm not necessarily bothered if adaptations leave certain things out or put new things in. It varies from case to case. Basically I think that an adaptation should capture the spirit, tone and essence of a book. I believe that the makers of an adaptation should have a genuine respect and love for the story that they're telling. I believe that they should be willing to consult with the author. If the author is still alive that is! If the author is long dead then they can consult with scholars and historical biographers. And finally, I also believe that the core aspects of the characters' personalities should stay the same. Their personalities can be altered a little bit but they should still be recognisable as the characters that I fell in love with. To be honest, even if a film differs quite radically from a book that doesn't always mean that I'll dislike it. As another example, there's the 2002 adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo. That film is very different to the book but I still think that it's an entertaining and fun film in its own right. It probably helps that I saw the film before I read the book though! Oh, and then there's Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I actually believe that that film is one of the finest that Disney have ever made and yet that film is quite different to the book that it's based on too.

I don't know if I'm a book purist any more - I suspect not - but those are my own personal views on book-to-screen adaptations. What are your views? :)


Sarah said...

Exactly, what are the requirements for being a book purist anyway? The book is almost always going to be the better version, because it's the original! Adaptations are adaptations, and they'll never be perfect, but I agree, it's better to capture the spirit of a book than cram all the details in. I think in a lot of cases though, it would be impossible to recreate the spirit without trying to be faithful and include as many details as possible. I think adaptations should always try to be faithful, but that doesn't mean I won't enjoy the result if they don't. I have the exact same opinion of The Count of Monte Cristo. :D Great post Hannah, that's something to think about!

Hannah said...

I do agree that it's very hard for an adaptation to recreate the spirit of a book without including as much from it as possible. I'm just not that kind of a person who's like "I can't believe they left out that very minor side character! This film has completely ruined the book!" But then again I do love it when adaptations capture the smaller details as well.

And yay! It's great to see 2002 CoMC lover! :D

Hamlette said...

I'm actually considering a post about purism myself, as I've come to realize over the past year that I am not one. I'm fine with changes that serve the story being told. You have to change some things when translating from one medium to another.

If you're going to just recreate the original word-for-word and minute-by-minute, what's the point? People can just go read the book. I think new interpretations are fascinating, and I'm much more interested in seeing stories and characters from a new angle or learning something new about them than just seeing exactly the same thing over and over.