It is the argument that people love to have: whether the book or the movie was better. Movie people roll their eyes at the book people who insist that the movie could never touch it, such nerds can’t they just relax and enjoy the effects? The book people are outraged at the movie people for being lazy and letting others do the work for them instead of reading the source material! That wasn’t in the book! They left out the best part! Instead of a firm dichotomy I believe that this is more of a spectrum on which we can all exist depending on our own experience. While that makes me sound irritatingly agnostic, please allow me to explain as I have walked the rainbow and played among the lilies.
I am not a firm “read the book before you see the movie” person, so when my friends suggested seeing Gone Girl I was very excited. It was receiving rave reviews and since I had not read the book I figured I would be able to enjoy the surprises that the movie had to offer. People that know my love of books know that I enjoy a twist but that I do not enjoy a mind fuck, which should be all you need to know about how I felt about this movie. When I left I knew I had seen a good movie but I was so furious about the plot and the ending that I was not willing to admit that to anyone. And I was damn sure not going through that again just for the pleasure of reading the book. Also, this put me off reading any Gillian Flynn, at least for a while, for fear her other books are in the same vein.
I do not have a clear memory of whether I read all the Harry Potter books before seeing the movies when they originally came out. I remember reading the books, but if I saw the movies it must not have been in the theaters. In the summer of 2015 I decided to alternate between reading the book and watching the partner movie because I was totally responsible and waited for the box set to come out instead of buying the movies individually. This experience was really fun and it was interesting to see what was left out of the movies as I progressed. My husband at one point said “so is this just a tour of what was left out for my benefit?” The movies and books were equally satisfying in their own way, and the two sides would be hard pressed to say one experience is more enjoyable than the other. They are different but equal.
One of my favorite books from my childhood is The Giver. This is a book I reread multiple times, asked for as a gift for Christmas, and I still have that gifted copy on my shelf today. An early dystopian future described first in drab greys and then expanding to vivid histories, colors, and emotion, the book is a journey through the flowering of understanding, an exploration of the consequences of control and sterility, and the despair of the lack of individuality and hope. Sitting at my computer now I can close my eyes and play the book for myself in my mind, not with words but with pictures and colors and characters. I had already seen the movie because I had already produced it in my memories. So when the movie version of the book started being teased in 2013 and 2014 I wanted nothing to do with it. Nothing they could create on the screen could match what I viewed as the perfect version my imagination had created, and it wasn’t anyone’s job to tell me what that book was supposed to look like.
Some movies are good on their own and you can read the book or not. Some movies and books are made for each other and enhance the experience of the other. And some books are such close friends that any intrusion on our experience is almost an insult to the effort we put in reading and rereading to understand the universe we were visiting. Mix the movie/book recipe using the approach that feels most comfortable for you, and don’t let anyone yuck your yum. I will say this though, while a movie may not motivate you to read the book, some movies truly owe their success to the literary world.