Monday, February 8, 2010

I’ve Seen the Movie, Why Read the Book?

I recently read War of the Rats by David L. Robbins. I had seen the 2001 movie Enemy at the Gate a while ago and seemed to remember that the movie was based on a book. I liked the movie and so I checked out the book.

Both the movie and book follow the same story, but from significantly different perspectives. The movie also has a pivotal character that is not to be found in the book. So there are those differences.

But the largest difference is to be found in that the story is told through two very different mediums. The movie is image driven, while the book is idea and imagination driven. In the movie we need to surmise why the different characters act the way they do, although in truth, the director and actors leave little that is left to doubt. In the book we are allowed inside the different characters heads so that we learn their thoughts, feelings and motivations. Not only do we read the action, we have the added bonus of knowing the individual characters perception of what is occurring.

And this is part of the reason why I think most people feel that the book is almost always better then the movie. But there is one additional crucial element that a book provides: the individual reading the book uses their own imagination to work with the ideas the author has provided. It is an interactive experience. You bring something of yourself to the book when you open the pages. But in order for this to happen there is a catch: it has to be a story that the reader can connect with. When you go to a movie you are seeing a number of different people’s interpretation of the idea(s). With a book, you are supplying your own back-story to whatever you are reading. You are supplying yourself. So, in the best of cases, the experience of reading the novel allows the reader to become part of the storyline. The novel becomes are own.

And what is even more interesting is that we don’t actually have to have done any of the things that the characters are doing or have done. We just need to believe that we understand their needs, motivations and desires. We don’t have to have murdered someone, fought with dragons, climbed mountains, sailed oceans or planted fields of grain. We just need to understand why the character is doing those things. And to do that we need to be engaged. We need to use our imagination to make the words on the paper come alive. In a movie someone else has done that for us. With a book we get to do it ourselves.

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