Which Way Will Hugo?

Brian Selznick’s illustrated novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret was released to great acclaim in 2007, winning the Caldecott Medal and deservedly so. It’s a big, beautiful book with lots of atmospheric black and white pencil drawings, published lovingly on nice paper and with real sewn bindings. Although it’s large, it reads quite quickly. The story–about a boy who lives in hidden rooms in a Paris train station, keeping the clocks running after the death of his father and the disappearance of his cruel, drunken uncle–has appeal for all ages. It’s a love letter to mechanical things, to families of all kinds, and to early cinema, the fantastic works of George Méliès in particular.

I would have found this book utterly delightful, but I didn’t catch it when it was released. Instead, when one of my book groups decided to spend a meeting on books adapted into films, I went searching for the source of my favorite film of 2011, the Martin Scorsese-directed Hugo. I’m a film buff as well as a book fan, and I fell in love with the visuals of this film. Scenes from the Orsay Train Station (which has since become the famous Musée d’Orsay) and the recreations of Méliès films are still dancing in my head. Ben Kingsley is perfect as the mysterious toy shop owner, and the child actors give good performances too. The film adds some fun subplots that aren’t in the book as well. For me, it was that rare situation where the film surpassed the source material. As a result, my first encounter with the book, though pleasant, didn’t capture my visual imagination nearly as well. For a work about the cinema, a cinematic creation was more satisfying.

Films that surpass their source material are a rarity. It might make an interesting theme for a book group evening, one that would certainly generate discussion, but then again, some of your readers might have a hard time coming up with examples. What films did you find more worthwhile than the books from which they came?




About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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