The last episode of Game of Thrones season one has aired, and damn was it good! I must confess, however, that worse than the cliffhanger final scene the show ends with is the response I get from everyone who has read the books when I bemoan the 9 month wait for season 2: "Read the books!"
I've had people trying to get me to read these books for years. In fact, name any popular book series adapted for TV or movies, and odds are good I've had at least one person trying to sell me on reading the books. (Except the Twilight series. Those who recommend books to me know I have good taste. Besides, I'm done with the whole vampires in the media thing now. Moving on...) And there's one thing I'd like to tell those of you who insist that I should read the books, that they're so much better than the show/movie, that I'm missing out on so much story by not reading them:
As an author (albeit unpublished, but that will change soon), I know full well the depth of storytelling that goes into a book, and how little of that actually makes it into any adaptation for stage and screen (both the big screen and the one at home). When I was younger, I read Jurassic Park before it was made into a movie and walked out of the theater wondering where 2/3 of the story went. I did the same more recently with The Dresden Files. Having read Harry Dresden's adventures and come to know the people around him in the story, I spent more time wondering why they changed things as arbitrarily as it seems they did, instead of enjoying the show for what it was.
Enjoying something for what it is. It needs to be said again, because some people let loose with both barrels when a movie or TV show doesn't include all of their favorite bits from a series. Comic book fandom is especially guilty of this whenever a big-budget movie comes out and liberties are taken with their continuity-laden comic book heroes and their sometimes cheesy, often rewritten backstory and adventures. The Harry Potter movies have taken their share of liberties with its literary source material, but each film is better than the last. Some movies leave out and/or change so much that it's almost an entirely different story (I'm looking at you, Percy Jackson and the Olympians), and that's OK, too.
Why? Because it's impossible for a movie to express everything that a book can. A book isn't limited by budget constraints, or available actors, or studio politics. A book is limited only by the talent of its writer and the imagination of its reader. OF COURSE a movie isn't going to be able to give you all the backstory and hidden thoughts that a book can. OF COURSE the big CGI effects aren't going to be as grand as what your imagination conjured. OF COURSE it's not going to be the same experience, because it's not meant to be. Unless you get out there and direct your own fan film imagining of your favorite book, you're never going to get the exact experience you'll expect from reading your favorite story. That's the wondrous power of books, and why I'll always love them over any blockbuster movie. Sometimes, though, the imagination needs a rest and wants to be spoonfed a good story.
I'll always want to explore the literary world of whatever awesome series ends up in movies or on TV. But personally, if I haven't read it already, I like to wait until after I see the adaptation before launching into the book series, especially if it has a definitive beginning, middle and end, and that end is in sight. That way, I feel like I'm getting a special behind-the-scenes look at the real story behind the story!
What are your thoughts on book adaptations for stage and screen? How do you tackle the "read the books" retort? Leave your comments below!