Saturday, May 21, 2005

TV: making or breaking readers?

Good news from The Telegraph:

It is customary now to bewail the rise of television-viewing when compared with the decline of book-reading, but there are several reasons to pause over this before weeping into your cornflakes. First of all, and not to put too fine a point on the matter: it isn't true. More books are being published in English than at any time in history, and children - mainly thanks to Jacqueline Wilson, JK Rowling and their imitators - are reading more. The second point is that television - mainly thanks to the BBC - has actually served British literature very well, keeping certain books alive and creating an audience for literary work where otherwise there would have been none.

Yes, let's think about that. How many people do you know who beat it to the bookstore to buy the Lord of the Rings books after seeing that first movie? My Number Two Son, then 17 and never a great reader, was part of the stampede. And think back a few years to those Jane Austen films that seemed to pop up every week on PBS and A&E. Even before Gwenneth Paltrow got involved and became Emma, everyone was mad for Jane Austen--the books as well as the movies.

There may be a coming generation who will know the literary classics only from television's adaptation of them, but that knowledge is better than no knowledge at all. I'm a novelist, so I'm hardly going to argue against the irreplaceable conditions of prose, the pattern and rhythm and truth of good writing. But literature is also about narrative and morality; if it takes a television show to get some of that over to an audience - and possibly to send them to the original source - then there are small grounds for moaning.
It's a great article. Run over there and read the whole thing.


Susan Kaye said...

Though I had read LoTR well before the latest trilogy went in the can, I have to admit that I am alway doing things backwards. Were it not for adaptations I would have missed out on Ruth Rendell, P. D. James, Jane Austen, sir Walter Scott, a couple of Brontes and who knows how many others?

I suppose this is a little bit of "try before you buy."

Even a good adaptation will never take the place of the original author's work, but it can certainly whet the appetite.

Anonymous said...

Books into Movies is a topic that I find intriguing and yet frustrating. I spend more of my free time reading than anything else - I've been known to forget to eat because I'm lost in a book. However most of the book adaptations to movies I've seen are a distinct disappointment to a bibliphile like myself. They leave out too much or take so much artistic license it is no longer the story the author wrote. A notable example of this poor adaptation is Little Women. Alcott is a favorite author of mine I have read Little Women as well as the sequels. The movie that came out a few years ago with Winona Ryder ended at about the middle of the book and left many loose ends that should have been resolved. Even a great book leaves a bit of room for speculation at the end in order to allow for sequels if so desired however leaving the main plot lines unresolved is annoying to me as a reader. Although I was familiar with Little Women prior to wasting my time on the movie I still felt like the movie was incomplete.

A notable anti-example to this however is Francine River's book The Last Sin Eater which was recently made into a feature film. I read the book first as I make a habit of doing that way at least I can have the fun of finding where they changed things in the movie. The Last Sin Eater movie was very well done and stuck quite close to the book. I was actually riveted to both the book and the movie for a change and the message of the book also came through just as clearly in the film.