Sunday, 13 September 2009

Adaptations - Are They Better Than The Book?

After having thoroughly enjoyed my night at the theatre watching Phantom of the Opera, I decided to watch the film version of the show this evening. I have watched it many times over the period that I have owned the DVD, although I must admit that I often indulge in some knitting or other handicraft when I watch it because, after all, it is the music that is the most important thing.

This led me to start thinking about the many books that have been turned into plays, television series, musicals, and films. Which are best? The original books or one of the other creations that have derived from it. So I started to compile a list of books that I have read that have also been presented in one or more of the other forms.

Perhaps the first thing that springs to mind is the Harry Potter books. There can be no doubt that these just cried out to be made into films, and the films are very good, but Joanne Rowling is such a good writer and she packed so much into the books, that the books definitely win here.

The next author whose work I am going to look at is R F Delderfield. I have read a number of his books including To Serve Them All My Days, Diana, and the Horseman Riding By trilogy all of which were serialised by the BBC in the 1980s. In the case of the first two books, the television adaptations were good, perhaps even excellent, in that they significantly followed the storyline rather accurately but for logistical reasons some changes were necessary. Perhaps the most significant change, which did impact on the story as it was portrayed on the screen, was in To Serve Them All My Days where the serial had both of David Powlett-Jones' twin daughters die in the car crash that also killed his wife, whilst in the book one of them, Grace, survived. The television production of A Horsemen Riding By concentrated solely on the first of the three books about Paul Craddock, and while a creditable attempt, again it was not able to convey the story to the depth and with the nuances that were present in the written word.

A few years ago I was shopping for some books to take on holiday with me and I managed to get The Phantom of the Opera as a deal with a couple of other books that I wanted to read. I have to say that I was more than a little disappointed in the book and for me the adaptation of it into the musical was the best thing that could have happened. Here we have an adaptation that is better than the original, probably because of the added dimension that is brought to the story by the addition of music.

As you know I also went to see Les Miserables recently. As a result of seeing the show many years ago I decided to get the book and read it. Again I took it on holiday with me; I used to do a lot of reading when I went on my holidays to Corfu. I'm afraid that I found the book dull and very heavy going. I read it all, but it wasn't read while I was on holiday, it had to wait until I was in hospital and needed something to help to while away the hours of the day and night. Obviously the musical does not contain everything that is in the book, but it does cover the main focus of the story and does it exceedingly well. So I would say that the adaptation of Les Miserables into a musical was a brilliant idea, and millions of people around the world seem to agree with me.

The last book that I am going to consider in this look at adaptations to another medium is Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Probably the subject of more adaptations for film, television and the stage than any other book, the BBC alone has been responsible for five adaptations over the years. The book will always been seen as a masterpiece, and rightly so, but a masterpiece adaptation has also been created. Most, if not all, books will suffer greatly when a film adaptation is made; it is impossible to tell the story properly in a couple of hours and the most recent film adaptation starring Keira Knightley is just such a case in point. But television adaptations can be different and the 1995 BBC adaptation starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle can bear very close comparison to the book and stands out as a major achievement in the art of creating adaptations.

So, in answer to my original question, I have to say that I think that it depends. Usually the book is best, sometimes the adapted medium produces something that is better than the original, but only because of flaws in the original, and sometimes an adaptation is created that is every bit as great as the original book because of a combination of brilliant scriptwriting and inspired casting.

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