Everyone knows the saying, “The book was better than the movie.” This is true in . . . well, just about every case. And this is not to say that movies adapted from books are bad by default. On the contrary, they’re often very good. After all, they have such great source material! And it’s such a fun thing to see the characters you’ve loved and imagined come to life. The beauty of books is that we can all see them differently, and we can watch a movie knowing it’s one person’s interpretation of something we both love.
There’s an art to the book-to-film adaptation, and some movies do it very well, so well we can be tempted to skip the book altogether. I confess, I did so with Gone Girl, and still feel guilty! Children’s books can present a very big quandary. How do you keep a child from watching, say, Harry Potter before he or she is old enough to read the books? I wake up nights worrying that my children will know Frodo’s fate before he or she is old enough to appreciate Tolkien’s prose because there was a Memorial Day marathon of the Lord of the Rings movies and I couldn’t change the channel in time.
Okay, maybe I don’t actually wake up worrying about that, but it is concerning. I’m not saying don’t see any of these movies. Most of them are really good movies! But read the book first.
Five Children’s Books With Movies That Don’t Do Them Justice
By: C.S. Lewis
I actually really like this movie, but it runs into a problem I see a lot of kid’s—books—turned—movies run into: the insatiable need to make the source material darker and more angsty than it is. In the book Prince Caspian, the four Pevensie children are called back to Narnia to help fight the evil King Miraz and put Prince Caspian on the throne. Like the good Kings and Queens of Narnia that they are, they do this. The bad guy is Miraz. End of story.
But apparently this story needed more conflict than a siege, duel, battle and lion-riding quest, so the filmmakers of Prince Caspian decided to age up Caspian and make King Peter, a morally upright boy in the book, a whiny, melodramatic teenager who, in addition to picking fights with Caspian, urges a night raid on the castle that ends with the slaughter of like, a dozen centaurs. Totally not in the book. A successful adaption would build on the conflict present in the book; not fabricate new ones and turn your good guys into bad just for the sake of some on-screen banter.
Don’t even get me started on Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
By: J. K. Rowling
This seems to be the award winner for favorite Harry Potter movie. I don’t think it should be. Here’s why. Yes, it has some fancy camerawork. Perhaps it was entertaining to have a children’s choir sing a song adapted from Macbeth. But Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban commits two unforgiveable adaptation sins.
First, it completely changes the aesthetic of the movies—to include adding in characters that appear in no other movies, changing the set without any explanation, and making the wizarding world super dirty. It stands out like a hipster cousin from all seven other movies, in which the directors restrained their egos enough to remember they were filming something that was part of a canon.
Second, it makes the main character do things he would never do. Harry would not cry in front of his friends, even if he was under an invisibility cloak. He’d never discuss living in a house in the country, even if it was with Sirius, with anyone. Although even I must admit that the final scenes are wonderful . . . it’s because they stick to the book.
The truth is, all the Harry Potter books ought to be read before seeing the movies. There just isn’t a way around it.
By: France Hodgsen Burnett
I really do believe if I ever met Alfonso Cuaron, director of this movie as well, the only thing I’d say is, “Step away from the source material.”
Like Prisoner of Azkaban, A Little Princess is gorgeous. It’s a good movie. It’s an unfaithful adaptation of the book, and I believe the only reason people don’t know this is because most of us saw the movie before we read the book. Or never read the book at all.
Change. That. Now.
A Little Princess the movie commits the same cardinal sin as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: it fundamentally changes the main character. Sara Crewe in the movie is nothing like Sara Crewe in the book. In the book, Sara pretends to be a princess so that she can behave like one: this translates into never raising her voice, always being kind to people, and giving to others, even when she has nothing. In the movie, it means deserving kindness, and attention. One of the greatest lines from the novel comes from Sara, after suffering verbal abuse by Miss Minchin, telling herself, “The only thing stronger than rage is the ability to hold it in.” Sara is infuriating to her enemies because she never rises to their bait.
You think that girl would yell, “I’m a princess! All girls are!”? Everyone’s favorite line. So not in the book. And so not the point.
By: Rosemary Sutcliffe
Have you heard of this book? Maybe you’ve heard of the movie. It was called The Eagle, and it starred Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell. It’s the story of Roman soldier Marcus who, after being honorably discharged from the military for injuries, undertakes a secret quest to recover the eagle standard of the ninth legion–his father’s legion–which disappeared north of Hadrian’s wall. His only companion is Esca, a gladiator whom Marcus saved, and then purchased, and then freed.
In the book, it’s an epic bromance, an adventure with two friends from different worlds who are devoted to one another. In the movie, it’s an epic bro-fight, because Marcus doesn’t free Esca until the very end, creating a master/slave dynamic that doesn’t exist in the book. If you’re looking for a great adventure story, and some of the best YA historical fiction ever written, check out this book and its sequels . . . before you see the movie.
Also, strangely enough, in the book, Marcus is in love with a girl they completely cut from the movie. Usually, movie adaptations that don’t have enough girl characters make them up, which brings me to my next recommendation.
By: J.R.R. Tolkein
I saw a meme that showed Bilbo from The Lord of the Rings, saying, “I feel . . . thin, sort of stretched, like . . . one book made into three movies.”
Three three hour movies that should have been titled “The Hobbit: We Snatched Defeat From the Jaws of Victory.”
In my opinion, The Hobbit should have been made into a miniseries with the quality of Game of Thrones. Can you imagine? Ten episodes. It would have been perfect. But no. I guess with his unrequited love of Imax, Peter Jackson found it necessary to ruin the best thing that ever happened to nerds everywhere—The Lord of the Rings movies—with a follow-up trilogy that had us asking questions like: “Can jack rabbits really pull a sled?” “Are you going to make me choose between that dwarf and Legolas?” “Where can I find a reindeer and/or mountain goat to ride?” and, most importantly, “What Dwarf with half a brain would think they can burn a fire-breathing dragon to death?”
Alas, we will never know.
We do now know that Peter Jackson shall never be allowed near the Silmarillion, lest he literally make a movie that is fifty hours long.
However, The Hobbit: I Can’t Make Up Another Subtitle did give us one good thing: an excellent song by Ed Sheeran, and a second by Pippin himself that I guarantee will make even the most angry of Lord of the Rings fans cry. Go watch it. Then this. Then this.
What do you think? Are there any books/movies I neglected? Tweet us using the hashtag #5OFri!
Bess Cozby writes epic stories in expansive worlds from her tiny apartment in New York City. By day, she’s an Editor at Tor Books, and Web Editor for DIY MFA. Her work is represented by Brooks Sherman of the Bent Agency. Tweet her at @besscozby, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit her website at www.besscozby.com.