Does the order really matter?

Can the Hutcheon’s notion of the adaptation as “the other” be applied to an individual who experiences both the novel and the film, regardless of order?

In paragraphs 14 and 15 Hutcheon tackles the order in which one reads the book and/or watches the film. What if you read the book first, and then go see the film? Or vice versa? How does this affect your experience or understanding? In paragraph 14, she notes the (re)launch of a book’s popularity with a film adaptation often comes with a fresh new cover with images from the film. She writes, “if I buy and read the book after seeing the movie, I read it differently than I would have before I had seen the film: in effect the book, not the adaptation, has become the second and even secondary text for me. And as I read I can only ‘see’ characters as imagined by the director”. This has always been my personal reason for choosing to read the book first- to get an “untainted” personal experience with the literary text. In reading any text after experiencing the film, the images created in my mind are indeed heavily influenced by the film, yet differences still exist. However, after going through the motion of the course, I began to wonder, does that matter?

The question of fidelity that is so often explored compares the film adaptation to the text, and in that comparison, differences clearly exist. We have talked of “the spirit” of original being present in an adaptation, yet whether this “spirit” is considered alive and well or not, differences are still there. Endings may change, or characters fused together, but the adaptation can still provide a new and different experience. I find that often, whether seeing the film first or reading the book first, I infuse both experiences together. It is the differences, not the similarities that allow me to create this infusion and my own take on the meaning of the experiences. This seems to speak to what Hutcheon writes in paragraph 15 of “fill[ing] in the blank” during “The Dead” Irish song scene. Having read the novel, she fills in the blank with what is in the book, however, others, may fill in the blank with a completely different idea of what is going on having not read the book prior to going to see the film. Who’s to say that this concept is not communicated for the audience already without words- that it’s simply hard to grasp having already been exposed to the idea? Even with prior knowledge of the novel, it is not blatantly clear that the intention of the director is to communicate this aspect of the novel “without words” or to provide a completely different take on that moment. I haven’t read the book or seen the film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close yet, but I heard somewhere that the main protagonist, a little boy, in the film version is said to likely belong on the Autism Spectrum. The author of the novel, Jonathan Safran Foer, responded that he had never thought of this character as autistic, but that “ it is not to say he isn’t – it’s really up for readers to decide. It’s not to say that plenty of descriptions of him wouldn’t be fitting, only that I didn’t have them in mind at the time”. The film adaptation clearly decided to interpret the character in that specific way, though never getting this diagnosis or even mention of it in the novel. Does this take away from the film at all? Or the novel at all? I would say no. Hutcheon later writes in paragraph 25, “Literary adaptations are their own thing…something different, something other”. I think this can speak to both the adaptations themselves, but also the experience of an individual who becomes involved in both the book and film.

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3 Responses to Does the order really matter?

  1. I love that you are questioning whether it really matters if you read a novel with a ‘tainted’ vision of how characters should be understood, based on the beliefs of a film director. As a teacher, I understand that so many people who do not read choose not to read because of the learning difficulties that they experience when trying to decipher and comprehend text – let alone further analyze deeper meanings intended by the author. I believe that film adaptations can be used as teaching tools in and out of the classroom, setting up a mental concept for readers before they being their journey of exploring a written text. Readers still have the right to question a film adaptation as they read the source novel, just as movie-goers question a film as they view it after they have already read the novel. Maybe this course is helping me to see that order really doesn’t matter.

  2. Melissa M says:

    A film can be as visually descriptive as the novel if it is adapted appropriately. As you said, if you watch the film first, the images are already visually captured in your mind, and there is no longer room for creativity. Also, when you are reading the novel, you are layering and building the images one chapter at a time, building character traits, piece by piece, chapter by chapter. In a film, you are immediately experiencing the image, and missing all the fun adventures of creating a vision yourself.
    A perfect example of this is Harry Potter. Reading the text you are given the detailed description of the lighting bolt on his forehead. When you first see Harry in the film, it is one of the traits you immediately see, losing that sense of description.

  3. Laura Callei says:

    Lisa- I think you make a great point about using film adaptations as a teaching tools. Some students can become more excited to read a novel or, in certain cases, finish the novel if they see a clip of the film. I still find myself buying a book after seeing the film first. I had posted about the film We Need to Talk About Kevin and the fact that I watched the movie and directly after I finished it I purchased the novel. I was curious, and I think for students they could experience this as well if they see adaptations before they read even if it is just a glimpse.

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