We are now living in an age where the senses are constantly stimulated. Our eyes are bombarded with images both beautiful and terrifying and the same could be said for our ears. Movies and TV give us story after story, most of them adapted in some way from books. After seeing the film versions of these books we think or feel that we no longer need to go back and read the original material. We have been fooled that the movies have said it all.
But this is not really the case. All mediums of art speak in different ways. A movie tells a visual story which in many ways is limited by what film makers can produce. A comic book also tells a visual story but the limitation set on a comic book are less intrusive on a story as these are static pictures with words. A book has no limits on how to tell a story. It is pure words and so has pure freedom.
Several years ago there was a program to get kids to read more. It was called RIF or Reading Is Fundamental. The program allowed kids to get free books. It’s goal was to get kids to spend less time in front of the TV and more time reading. Now with computers and smart TVs and other devices the need to read has become less and and less and this presents some problems. Problems that could well effect our society in years to come.
When a book is made into a movie or a TV show it goes under a fundamental change. One author’s work is reinterpreted by another author and turned into a script. This script will have, sometimes large portions of the original work taken out to fit in to a two- or three-hour time period. In some cases, the script writer feels he or she can improve on the original author’s work and writes into it new characters and situations. Sometimes the movie will look nothing at all like the original novel it was based on.
Here is a list of ten books that should never be forgotten. These are books that there or may not have been good film adaptations but should be read for themselves because there is no way a script writer can ever capture what the original author intended.
Peter Jackson did a great job of adapting The Lord of the Rings to the screen but when it came to The Hobbit, Mr Jackson missed the boat by a mile. Here is a case where new characters are written in and a love story is developed that never appeared in the book at all. The Hobbit became a distortion of the original source material.
JRR Tolkien published The Hobbit in 1937. It was and is a Children’s book about a Hobbit that goes off for an adventure with 13 Dwarves and a wizard. Along the way the Hobbit, whose name is Bilbo Baggins, is confronted by trolls, befriended by elves, captured by goblins and finally has to face a dragon. Throughout the book Bilbo finds out more and more about himself and learns that there is more to him than he ever thought.
Tolkien wrote this book almost by accident. He was grading papers one day, the author was a college professor, when all of the sudden he jotted down, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” From there started an adventure that has delighted generations of readers.
Peter Pan is one of the few cases where the complete opposite is true. Peter Pan was first written as a play and produced in 1904. The play was a huge success and is it’s author’s, JM Barrie’s, most endearing work. It would not be until 1911 that Barrie would publish a novelization of his play. He would title the book Peter Pan and Wendy, but now, in most instances the book is known simply as Peter Pan.
The Play Peter Pan has been re imagined countless times. It is constantly being brought to life on stage. There are both movie and television versions of the story and more than one musical. There have been sequels both as novels and films some of them quite successful, such as Hook starring Robin Williams as Peter that chose to grow up and have a family and now needs to find his true self again.
Peter Pan is the story of the boy who would not grow up. One night he flies into the Darling Nursery and takes Wendy her brothers John and Michael to Neverland where they face pirates and Indians and have all sorts of adventures before the Darling children realize their need to go home.
Peter Pan The Book would go on to delight both children and adults. There are treasures in the novel that cannot be found in any stage or screen version of the story. Barrie’s style as a novelist gives us a glimpse into the minds of children and a mother’s love. We learn more about Peter and the very stars themselves become characters in the novel as Peter’s cohorts.
It is a wonderful book that once read will never be forgotten.
Aesop’s Fables has never fully been turned into a film or a stage play. Animators such as Walt Disney have brought some his stories to the screen, most notably The Tortoise and the Hare and The Grasshopper and the Ants. Somehow Aesop and his fables have lost popularity in recent years and yet these stories should never go out of style.
Aesop lived between 620 and 564 BC. He was a slave in Greece and many stories are credited to him. What is unique about Aesop’s stories is that each of them is a little morality tale. Some of his stories are no more than a paragraph long, yet each has a point to make and lesson that every child should learn, and every adult should remember.
Many of our popular proverbs have their origin in Aesop’s stories. “Slow and steady wins the race”, belongs to Aesop as well as the term ‘sour grapes.” If you are a parent or a grandparent, an uncle or an aunt Aesop’s Fables in the perfect gift to give to the young person in your life. It’s and even better gift to give yourself.
THE SECRET GARDEN
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett was published in 1911 has had several film and stage version produced. Two of the best are The Hallmark Hall of Fame in 1987 and the stage musical produced on Broadway in 1991. Honorable mention goes to the MGM version which made its debut in 1949.
The Secret Garden in the story of the bitter and orphaned little girl Mary Lennox, who after her parents die of the cholera in India, is sent to live with her slightly crippled Uncle in Yorkshire at his estate called Misselthwaite Manor. There are many secrets in the manor house, the garden only being one of them, but as Mary uncovers each of the mysteries she learns more of herself and discovers a deep joy in life.
There is much to be said for The Secret Garden. It’s story of hard work and faith is not one that should be ignored in these troubled times. It teaches in many ways that nothing is impossible, and we can become our very best selves if we are willing to work and sacrifice our preconceived ideas to achieve those goals.
THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
I don’t know if The Wind in the Willows holds the distinction of having the most stage and film versions of its story produced, but it has to come close.
The Wind in the Willows was written by Kenneth Graham and published in 1908. It has had many stage adaptations one written by the author himself and one written By AA Milne, the author of the Winnie the Pooh books. Milne changed the title to Toad of Toad Hall. There are musical versions of the story as well as several animated versions of the story. One a stop action version that was first a film and then a TV series for British television. On Amazon right now there are approximately 50 DVD versions of the story available to purchase. Some these are reissues and some are the TV series.
Why is The Wind in the Willows such an enduring story? Why does the popularity of this tale, at least on film and stage, never seem to grow old? The answer in simple. Friendship.
The Wind in the Willows is the story of four friends Ratty, Mole, Toad and Badger. These four friends live on the river bank or in the wild wood or in Mr. Toad’s case and estate called Toad hall. Mole is the good fellow, Ratty the practical one, Badger the wise one and Toad the one who seems to find himself in trouble more often than not.
These four characters support, protect and admonish one another and along the way teach us about the value of friendship. They sacrifice for each other, they share their triumphs and they are not afraid to correct each other when one of them is headed in the wrong direction. The Wind in the Willows gives a glimpse of what a wonderful thing friendship can be. It is another story from which children can learn and adults can remember things they may forgotten along the way.
Little Women was written by Louisa May Alcott and published in two volumes in the first in 1868 and the second in 1869. The book is now published, for the most part, in one volume. Little Women has been performed both on stage and screen as well as having a short-lived TV series. The best version of Little Women to date would have to be the one made by MGM in 1949. This version had the stellar cast of June Allyson, Janet Leigh, Margaret O’Brian and a young Elizabeth Taylor.
There are several other versions of the book as well. One a musical and one done recently as 2018 by The BBC. There are five major motion pictures releases of the story. The very first being a vehicle that starred a young Katherine Hepburn from 1933.
Though as mentioned above the 1949 version maybe the best of the lot none of the films captured the full essence of the story.
Little Women takes place during and after The Civil War and is the story of the four March sisters, Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth. The story tells the tale of young love, broken dreams, the lost of a loved one and the reality that growing up is hard.
The story is large in its scale as it goes from New England to New York and to Europe. The girls fight and argue and hurt each other but forgiveness is always a part of the story and family loves prevails. There is also a lot of fun in Little Women. Choosing the right Christmas gift for their mother, amateur theatricals, dances and first loves all play into the story. To read Little Women as an adult reminds you of the values you were taught growing up and the value of holding close those we love.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL
No list of books that should be read can leave off A Christmas Carol. Written and published by Charles Dickens in 1843 A Christmas Carol is pivotal in story telling and the history of the holiday itself.
Dickens wrote the story in six short weeks due to his lack of cash. His latest novels had not done very well, and Dickens became desperate. He decided to publish a Christmas Story and went to his publishers with the idea, but they rejected him. Having faith in his project he decided to self-publish the book and so not have to share the profits.
Dickens had little to worry about. The first printing of the book sold out almost immediately upon hitting the book sellers. It continued to do well through out the year and reestablished Dickens as England’s foremost author.
There was no stopping the adaptations of the story either. The very year the book was published more than one stage version was being offered to the public. There have been many stage versions since. More than one musical, TV adaptations, film adaptations, lavish comic book adaptations, and animated versions of the story. There was even a book published a few years ago that cataloged all of the different versions A Christmas Carol, but by now the book is out of date as almost every year someone is redoing A Christmas Carol. To add to that there is even a film titled, The Man Who Invented Christmas, that tells the story of how and why the book came to be written.
Why does A Christmas Carol maintain such a large following? The book is closing in on it’s two hundredth anniversary and the tale of the redemption of the miser Scrooge through the intervention of four ghost remains as popular today as ever. The answer is hope. Dickens gives us the hope that even the very worst of us has a chance to change, to become better and to make a difference in the world. All of Dickens characters are memorable. Scrooge himself, Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, Mrs. Cratchit and the Fezziwigs all endure because they are timeless. We have all had bosses that were hard to deal with or know someone who has a sick child or someone else that brings joy to all they meet.
The film adaptations can never quite capture the fullness of Dickens’ message in his “Carol”. He is the most intimate with his readers in this book. At one point he even mentions where he is standing in the your room while youy are reading his book
A Christmas Carol is also readable. Many of Dickens works from Oliver Twist to Bleak House can be slow going. English has changed in two hundred years and Dickens writing style was typical of the time but sometimes difficult for the modern reader. Not so with A Christmas Carol. A Christmas Carol could be written today almost word for word and still become an overnight best seller.
Reading A Christmas Carol can be a joy. It can also be a fun yearly event. Try this, read chapter one in the evening of December 21st and the subsequent three chapters on each of the following evenings. Read the last chapter as soon as you get up on Christmas morning, and experience Scrooge’s joy as your own.
ONE HUNDRED AND ONE DALMATIANS
One Hundred and One Dalmatians was written by Dodie Smith and published in 1956. Disney did two adaptations of the book, one was animated in 1961 and a second was live action and made in 1996 starring Glenn Close as the evil Cruella DeVille. Fun fact, the famous Character actress Mary Wickes was used as the model for Cruella in the 1961 animated version.
One Hundred and One Dalmatians is the story of Pongo and Missis Pongo a Dalmatian couple who have a litter of 15 puppies. These puppies are then dog-napped by Cruella DevIlle to turn them into a dalmatian fur coat. Pongo and Missis set out to rescue their children and are helped and thwarted along the way both by human and animal characters. Upon finding their own puppies, Pongo and Missis also find that Cruella has stolen close to 85 more so she could have a never-ending supply of fur.
The story is a heroic adventure tale, or should I say tail. Many of the best and most endearing parts of the book are left out of the films as film could never quite capture the sweet parts of this story and the sweet parts would slow down a film but make you feel warm and cozy while reading the novel.
The Puppies themselves come into play. Patch, Rolly Poly, Lucky and the others have unique positions in the story which get lost a bit in the films. If your looking for a fun and at the same time not too scary adventure for your children or yourself pick up a copy of One Hundred and One Dalmatians and read it today.
THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH
The Phantom Tollbooth was written by Norton Juster and published in 1961. It has only had one film version made. The film was mostly animated and produced by Warner Brothers. It is notable as it was directed by Chuck Jones and many voice characterizations were done by the great Mel Blanc. Sadly, it suffered from a bad script and a bad score. No one has attempted to put the book back on the screen again and it should be with the new film technology available The Phantom Tollbooth would make a wonderful movie.
The Phantom Tollbooth is the story of a boy named Milo who is bored with his life. Nothing new or exciting ever happens to him and he can see no point to school at all. One day he comes home and finds a giant box in his bedroom. He opens the box and finds inside the pieces of a tollbooth which he quickly puts together he gets into his toy car and drives through to The Lands Beyond.
Milo quickly realizes he is a place like none he has known before. He meets The Whether Man who tells him it is more important to “know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be.” He gets caught in the land of the doldrums where he is rescued by a watchdog named Tock who guards time. Tock teaches Milo it is important to think to escape the doldrums.
Milo’s journey takes him to the kingdom of Dictionopolis where words are considered the most important thing, he then travels to Digitopolis where number are the most important thing. Milo finds that the two kings of these lands are brothers who have been arguing whether numbers or words are what matter most. In their haste they had banished the princesses Rhyme and Reason to the Castle in the Air when they the women dared to say that words and numbers had equal importance. Realizing their error they send Milo his friend Tock and another friend, The Humbug, to rescue the princesses, but Milo must face many obstacles before reaching the princesses including scaling the Mountains of Ignorance.
This is probably one of the cleverest books ever written. It’s constant play on words are laughs for both children and adults and its emphasis on thinking, using your mind to solve your own problems and make an exciting life is not pushed at you but joyfully celebrated with you.
MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN
Written by Jean Craighead George and published in 1959. My Side of the Mountain was only made into a film once and a good thing it was only done once. My Side of the Mountain will never translate well to film. No screen writer could do the book justice. As a novel either for adults or children My Side of the Mountain stands completely unique.
My Side of the Mountain in it’s essence tells the story of Sam Gribley, a boy, who runs away from his home in the city to the land owned by his grandfather in the Catskill mountains. There Sam makes a life for himself by successfully adapting to the wilderness.
My Side of The Mountain is a great adventure story with wonderful surprises throughout the book, but it is much more than that as well. It’s a how-to manual on how to survive in the wilderness. In its pages you learn how to, hollow out a tree to make a place to live in, make a fish hook out of twigs, catch a falcon and train her to hunt for you, make flour out of acorns and all sorts of other wonderful things. Somehow a manual turned into a novel and has delighted kids for almost 60 years.
We live in a day and age where so many things are handed to us. Simple skills like fishing are rarely taught anymore. Even basic survival skills seem to be ignored because we believe there is a never-ending supply of energy at our disposal. But what if we lost that? What if the power went away and out computers and microwaves, our furnaces and our ovens stopped running? Most of us wouldn’t even know how to start a fire and those that do would automatically become those who lead. It is hoped that we never face a disaster that would make those things happen but reading My Side of the Mountain and keeping it on our shelf as a book, not an E-Book, will at least give us a tool to be able to survive the worst of times.
There you have it. Ten books that have been made into movies that you really need to read. There are wonders and delights in all these books that the screen or the stage could never replicate. You do yourself an injustice by just sitting and watching the screen tell the story. So today go out and grab one of these ten books. Tonight, make yourself a nice cup of something hot or a glass of good wine, find a comfortable spot and lose yourself in the wonder of reading.