Our Reading Lives

When The Movie Replaces Your Memories of the Book

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“Books and movies are like apples and oranges. They both are fruit, but taste completely different.” – Stephen King

I’ve been rereading The Fellowship of the Ring recently and I am once again reminded of how different the films are from the books. My rereading was prompted by replaying the Lego LOTR video game; which is based on the films but does include some references to the books *cough* Tom Bombadil *cough* that never made it to the silver screen. As book lovers, we all know that film adaptations deviate from the source materials. Directors and screenwriters are forced to deal with troublesome narrative devices and points of view, time constraints, and audiences that may have no personal history with the stories in question. Sometimes movies are great at capturing the essence of a novel while still implementing edits and updates. The Harry Potter franchise was obviously abbreviated for all the films, and changes were made in places, but the essence of Rowling’s novels remained intact. On the other hand, I’m still bitter that the Twilight films didn’t take advantage of the blank slate the books provided and instead seemed to make all the flaws in the series even more obvious.

Whether a book-to-film adaptation is good or bad, one thing is for certain, they become part of my memories for that story. I can’t picture Frodo Baggins not looking like Elijah Wood, despite the fact that he’s actually a bit out of shape (according to himself) and 50 years old when he departs from the Shire. Sometimes pop culture completely takes over and supersedes memories of the book and the film. Lolita’s heart-shaped glasses are iconic. Lolita’s heart-shaped glasses also never appear in the film, they were only on the promotional posters. Try imagining the character, in film or on paper, without them. I can’t. Sometimes inconsistency is even cool with the author. Douglas Adams acknowledged that every single instance of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – radio broadcast, television series, various print editions, text-based computer adventure – deviated from one another, but in his case, he made them work and apologized for little.

Usually what I find most jarring is dialogue changes. Knowing character are different ages, ethnicities, genders, whatever can be off-putting to a die-hard fan, but can easily be coped with. Being convinced that a line of dialogue is literary canon, only to never find it between the covers, is incredibly disrupting. Take for instance the great Sherlock Holmes. Only once in all of Conan Doyle’s stories does he say “Elementary” and it isn’t accompanied by “my dear Watson.” That phrase originated in 1929’s The Return of Sherlock Holmes starring Clive Brook in the title role. Holmes lives beyond his creator’s stories, so this isn’t the same as, say, rewriting existing dialogue, or changing a yes to a no. It’s just, quite frankly, weird to realize a character’s definitive catchphrase would never have entered the public consciousness without film. I mean, let’s be honest, book lovers take a lot of pride in books being the ultimate version of a story. Sure it’s fun to see Camp Halfblood come to life or see the inside of The Hog’s Head on screen, but nothing compares to The. Actual. Book. Right?

In my mind, Hermione punches Malfoy for being such an ass, even if in the book she slaps him. In my mind, Jo March looks exactly like Winona Ryder (1994 Little Women = The Best Little Women). I prefer the idea of ruby slippers to silver ones, but I’m happy that Danielle Paige retained Baum’s original silver slippers (and feminist ideology) for her Dorothy Must Die series. I figured I couldn’t be the only one whose beloved tomes have been irrevocably blended with the pop culture recreations that permeate our lives, so I interrogated my fellow Rioters:

Mathilda by Roald Dahl has been one of my favorite books since I was a little girl. It wasn’t until recently that I realized I haven’t actually read it in a very long time but I have seen the movie probably every time it’s played on TV. It left me wondering if all my favorite quotes are actually from the movie? And how many of those are directly from the book? Whenever someone else mentions Matilda, or says a quote, my first image is Mara Wilson followed by the doodled illustration of Matilda sitting on books. It’s clearly time I sat down with my favorite book for a long overdue reread to finally settle what memories belong to which medium.” — Jamie Canaves

“Top of the list for me is probably all of the Harry Potter movies, which were so pitch-perfect to me that they effectively replaced all mental images I had generated while reading the books. It’s been years, and I still only see the movie’s actors and scenes and tones when I’m reading the book. This is pretty cool most of the time — picturing Alan Rickman as Snape is no burden — but it gets especially jarring as the series rolls along and gets darker. The movies got a lot darker than the books, in part because they just stopped being young adult and just became dark fantasy movies. So it always throws me when the books would have roughly the same plots…but feel different, or sound different, with how they were approaching it.” — Peter Damien

“HBO’s Game of Thrones has probably altered at least half my memories of the books in A Song of Ice and Fire, and I read those books recently! For example, Tyrion being ugly is a big part of his personal arc in the book, but I now see him as Peter Dinklage (although that is not a problem, really). My biggest issue is that I keep forgetting how young all the kids in the books are. Dany is 13 when she’s married off to Kal Drogo and 15 maybe when she invades Mereen. (What were YOU doing at 15? High school Spanish Club?) Jon is something like 15 or 16 when he’s made Lord High Commander. Tommen is what — eight, maybe? — when he’s married. The show aged up the characters for obvious reasons (the law, the child actors got older between seasons, and the law) but it’s going to be hard to go back to thinking of Dany as a 16-year-old twice-married khaleesi, queen, and conqueror when Winds of Winter finally comes out.” — A.J. O’Connell

“I have no idea how many times I’ve re-read Pride and Prejudice. It’s one of those books that I never get tired of. I also adore the BBC’s adaptation of this book, and have watched it a slightly smaller, but still ridiculous number of times. Over the years, Colin Firth has slowly infiltrated my mental image of Mr. Darcy, and I can’t help but picture him whenever I re-read the book. Since Colin Firth is, well, Colin Firth, I’m okay with that! The same thing is true for Sense and Sensibility and the 1995 adaptation. There’s a scene near the end of the movie where Alan Rickman, as Colonel Brandon, sits reading poetry to a heartbroken Marianne Dashwood. Something about this scene just gets to me – I cry every time. It doesn’t actually happen in the book, but it captures the emotion behind the plot perfectly. Every time I read the book I think of this scene and feel its absence.” — Zoe Dickinson

So how has pop culture affected your bookish memories?