Weekly Geeks: Books and Movies

March 29, 2011 at 2:15 am 17 comments

For Weekly Geeks this week, we have been asked to turn out minds towards books and their film versions. I think this is such a broad and hot-button issue for me (and one that we’ve touched on here at LT in the past), that I’m going to save my more general gripes and praise in favor of focusing more particularly on Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.

I have a long history with Neverwhere despite the fact that, until last week, I had never read it. Not only was it one of those books that everyone and their mother said I should read and that I would love, the miniseries version of it was one of my college roommate’s favorite things. She alone championed that production and, as much as everyone else urged me to read the book, she highly recommended the miniseries version. Be that as it may, I acted neither on her recommendation nor anyone else’s. The book remained unread and the miniseries unwatched.

Finding myself in London this year, it finally seemed like the most appropriate time possible to read Neverwhere. The setting (London, as you’ve never imagined it) is of utmost importance to the novel and I could have some quality “You’re there!” reading. So I hunkered down with Neverwhere in my flat’s shared kitchen as I made cookies.

As I read Gaiman’s introduction about how the book came out of the miniseries rather than the usual other way around, one of my flatmates came in and promptly warned me that, if I liked the book, I should never watch the miniseries. It was just terrible, he claimed. This was all he would say about the book but agreed that I seemed the sort who would enjoy it and then left the kitchen, a cookie in hand. Judging by Gaiman’s professed difficulties with the production and all the things they apparently cut, it wasn’t surprising to me that the miniseries would be bad. But, still, my old roommate had loved it so much that I couldn’t just write it off so easily.

So I read the book (and it was totally amazing, needless to say) and then had every good intention of giving the miniseries a go. But then a strange thing happened. As I read the book and got engaged with the characters, the less I cared for the idea of some actors walking around as them. The more imaginative the book’s plot and settings became, the more I wanted them to remain solely in my own mind, untainted by the visual ideas of someone else, even if those ideas were Gaiman’s himself. And the more I enjoyed the novel as a whole, the less I had any desire to see it on the screen. I finished the book and realized I literally couldn’t watch the miniseries. The book was too good to be ruined by something as dodgy as a film adaption.

And the crazy thing is that the film version came first! Unlike practically every other film/book duo I can think of, in Neverwhere‘s case, the miniseries was created and then only afterward did Gaiman decide to write the novel. And yet the novel still feels like the source material. It’s the original and the miniseries is the impostor.

To tie this back around to the prompt as best I can, I think the more imaginative and interesting the book is, the less I want to see the film version. I’ve avoided the Harry Potter films as much as possible (although not entirely) for just that reason. Imaginative books stir the personal imagination more than any other kind and I treasure my own imaginings about a book too highly to dash them against the film version. Because, sadly, in my experience, as soon as you see that first opening frame, your own version is gone forever.

So far so good on the Neverwhere front: I haven’t gone any nearer to the miniseries than one misguided YouTube video watching (which totally convinced me that to watch the rest would be a C.A.A.V., or Crime Against the Author’s Vision). Although I did lose two hours of my life watching the film version of Possession lately. Trust me, where A.S. Byatt is concerned, I think its best for everyone to just leave her beautiful words on the page.

What about you guys? Do you have gripes about film and books to share? Or have you seen the miniseries version of ‘Neverwhere’?



Entry filed under: Fantasy, Musings and Essays, Weekly Geeks. Tags: , , , , , .

Classics Challenge: Possession by A.S. Byatt Fairy Tale Friday: The Laidly Worm of Spindleston Heugh

17 Comments Add your own

  • 1. naomipenn  |  March 29, 2011 at 2:42 am

    I feel quite similarly, at least about Neverwhere! I have read the book but not yet finished watching the miniseries – I started but couldn’t get past the first 5 minutes. It wasn’t awful, something just came up and I’ve never cared enough to sit down again (and I OWN the DVD). Maybe I will one day. Maybe not. I’m not fussed, and like you, I don’t feel compelled to see it. Plus, with the exception of the Marquis de Carabas, the casting seemed really off.

    I am very interested in adaptations as a whole but tend to prefer the book. The only instance in which the case is reversed is for Gaimain’s Stardust, and that’s probably because I watched the film first (before I’d read Gaiman at all – this was the catalyst) and it was a wonderful viewing experience that took me back to the first time I watched The Princess Bride, possibly my all-time favourite pairing of book and film.

    I find the interplay between book and film and their ensuing contribution to popular culture fascinating. Most people will agree the book is almost always better, but it could often be the film that encourages them to read it in the first place. (Like with Never Let Me Go recently, which flew to the top of the charts several years after being published, despite a lack of expected Oscar recognition)

    BTW, I actually had the privilege of interviewing the man himself in 2009: http://popcultureplaypen.com/2010/01/03/neil-gaiman-the-prince-of-stories/ – in case you’d like to read more about him.

    • 2. Britney  |  March 29, 2011 at 4:39 am

      I loved the Stardust movie, and I was disappointed when I read the book after and realized that my favorite character (Captain Shakespeare) wasn’t in it. The Stardust film was also my catalyst for finally reading all the Neil Gaiman books I had collected over the course of a few years. (I read his blog long before I read any of his books.)

    • 3. Corey  |  March 29, 2011 at 6:41 am

      It’s so funny you should mention Stardust; I almost did in my post as the absolute exception to the rule. It was my Gaiman gateway drug, too, and I still like the film version far better than the book.

      And I really like your point about the film versions inspiring more people to read. I never thought of that, but you’re absolutely right. I’ll take any little way we can get more reading converts!

      I will definitely go check out your piece, too! I’m sure Gaiman was quite the interesting character to interview. :)

  • 4. Erotic Horizon  |  March 29, 2011 at 2:48 am

    Another thought provoking post and I agree with you on the CAAV..

    I have read Neverwhere – and it’s brilliant, but such is the imagination of Gaiman in my opinion..

    Years and yrear ago – I watch the film “From Here to Eternity” after much kudos and even an Oscar or two I think, but me being me I read the book and I just could not believe how santized the film version was…

    I was never ever drawn to the mini series of Neverwher and I am quite pleased I never followed my family and binged infront of the telly on it – I really think the book itself rock…

    There is one film, “Ladyhawk” where the book came after the movie and I watch the film first and read the book lastly – and i am glad iread the book because other that the fluiditiy of words and some really streching some historical fact i thought the movie held up to the book pretty well..

    I did this post a whileback HERE

    I sitll have NEVER watched or read a Harry Potter…


    • 5. Corey  |  March 29, 2011 at 6:45 am

      It is always kind of fun to see the film first and then get to read the book and realize how much was cut out. Particularly if you liked the film, the book can serve as bonus features after a sort!

      No Harry Potter for you, really? I’m sure you’ve heard it all already, but the books are quite wonderful. Rowling has a great sense of humor and flair for creation. I did a post on what I most liked about them after rereading them here if you’re interested. :)

      • 6. Erotic Horizon  |  March 29, 2011 at 6:52 am

        My kids love Pottermania – but I work literally next door to where all the film premiers are done and I was never really drawn to the book in the first place..

        but after encountering the fans and potter-heads for the first few primiers I am dead set against that entire bandwagon – book and film. ( They are some kinda scary I tell you)

        For the last three premier I have request days off months in advance – I am that paranoid about not having anything to do with them…

        Nightmare scenarios….


      • 7. Corey  |  March 29, 2011 at 7:06 am

        That seems a bit extreme! I’m sure the premiere attendees can be quite mad, but you can’t judge the books based on those film fanatics. That’s like judging the tastiness of an entire cake after seeing a smooshed piece on the sidewalk. You have to try it to really know if it’s any good or not. :) (And I even read Twilight in this spirit of fairness despite the truly mental people who go to those films’ premieres! I didn’t end up liking it, but I did give it a fair shake.)

        But, on the bright side, there’s only one more film left and you’ll be rid of the lot of them forever! :)

  • 8. Britney  |  March 29, 2011 at 4:35 am

    The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is another example of the book not coming first – it was originally a radio play. :)

    I really enjoyed reading Neverwhere but I haven’t seen the miniseries, though I intend to watch it at some point, eventually, in the future.

    • 9. Corey  |  March 29, 2011 at 6:46 am

      Good call! And Hitchhiker’s turned out all right, too, so perhaps there is something to an author working out the kinks in radio or film form before doing the novel version!

      • 10. Britney  |  March 29, 2011 at 8:48 am

        What I love about Hitchhiker’s is that it does exist in so many mediums (my favorite is the 80s television miniseries!.No, it’s not as sophisticated as the movie but it’s fun).

      • 11. Corey  |  March 30, 2011 at 2:49 am

        I had no idea! I’ve just read the book and seen the more recent movie (the one with Martin Freeman and the impressive dolphin musical number).

  • 12. Redhead  |  March 29, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    Neverwhere was my first Gaiman, and only last year did I see the miniseries. I liked the beginning, and cared for it less as I progressed.

    I read Coraline and Stardust before I saw the movies, but in those cases I liked the movie versions better.

    • 13. Corey  |  March 30, 2011 at 2:50 am

      I guess from your evidence we can gather than Gaiman has a spotty film-to-book (and visa-versa) record!

  • 14. Eva  |  March 30, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    I will definitely never watch Neverwhere or Possession. :) I think Stardust is an exception too: I loved the book and then loved the film! I did not like the movie version of Coraline, although I know that makes me the huge philistine exception.

    I go back and forth on whether to watch movie adaptations of books I’ve loved…I’m really tempted to give Never Let Me Go a shot, because the aesthetics of the preview looked lovely and Carey Mulligan is so wonderful. I think in part I’m influenced by my likelihood to reread the book later, since I don’t like having actor’s performances in my head as I read. So I can’t see myself ever watching Remains of the Day, to stick with Ishiguro.

    Also, I’ve learned the hard way that watching a BBC period adaptation of a classic before reading the classic can be a bad thing; with North and South, I felt quite ‘meh’ about the book, and I’m sure that’s because I loved the film adaptation so much and one of my favourite characters (Nicholas Higgins) is SO different in the book.

    • 15. Corey  |  March 31, 2011 at 1:05 am

      I think it is an extremely wise decision to avoid those two productions in particular!

      You raise an interesting point about the reasons for watching a film version or not: affection for the book itself. I hadn’t thought of it from this angle, but you are so right! The more I like a book, the less likely I am to see the film version. Whereas with a book I liked okay but didn’t adore, I would be much more likely to check out the film. (And, on the other end, if I hated the book, I probably wouldn’t see the movie at all.)

      And, related to your last point, I think part of the reason I don’t like Emma the book is because I saw (and loved) the film version first! It can be dangerous territory watching things without reading the source material first. :)

  • […] the movie, but had also grown to appreciate Gaiman much more than I did when I first read Stardust. Neverwhere had by this point opened my eyes to all that Gaiman was able to do as an author (and so seemingly […]

  • […] but this will probably end up being one of those things I can’t watch simply because the version in my head is too beloved and too vivid to bear interruption. Anyone else going to give it a […]


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