Classic Books Made into Films, Pt. 2

Here’s the second post on the worthwhile choices brought to the table at a recent meeting of the Williamsburg Regional Library Staff book group. Our theme was books made into films, and most of the book choices were classics.

Sean from Outreach Service selected our most recent book, but I suspect that it too will become a kind of classic, because it deals with a timeless issue. John Krakauer’s Into the Wild is the tale of a young man who felt the call of adventure and the need to rebel against society. Following free spirits like Thoreau and the Beat Generation, he set off on an epic journey to see the world’s wild places and live free of societal strictures. It sounds romantic, but Krakauer’s point is that there is real danger to pursuing such adventures if one isn’t prepared. Chris McCandless didn’t make it out of the Alaskan wilds alive, a victim of silly mistakes that could have been easily avoided with a little preparation. While he liked the film some, Sean preferred the book, as he likes Krakauer’s aside about his own foolhardy adventures and felt the film didn’t give enough background to problems in McCandless’s family relationships.

Gail brought Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit. The book is a marvelous condensation of all things Dickens, with a plucky hero and heroine, mysterious pasts, memorable secondary characters, surprising family connections, pointed satire of government bureaucracy and social class mores, and an ending that turns many tables. The book was captured delightfully in the 2008 BBC miniseries that featured Claire Foy, Matthew Macfadyen, Tom Courtenay, Alun Armstrong, Eddie Marsan, and a slew of other great English character actors.

Our fearless leader Cheryl finished the meeting with two interesting choices. The first was Marie Belloc Lowndes’s atmospheric classic of psychological suspense, The Lodger. It’s an underappreciated classic, first published in 1913, about a husband and wife who take in a strange lodger who may or may not be the serial killer, “The Avenger” (a stand-in for Jack the Ripper). The book has been made into a film five times, perhaps most famously as Hitchcock’s breakout film back in 1927. Cheryl, however, recommends the less dated acting in the version with Merle Oberon, George Sanders, and Laird Cregar made in 1944.

Cheryl also brought Edmund Yorke’s books about battles in the Zulu War, Battle Story: Isandlwana 1879 and Zulu! The Battle for Rorke’s Drift (soon to be updated in a September entry in the Battle Story series). A firm believer that the truth is often more exciting than fiction, Cheryl loves these tales of heroic stands and stiff upper lip in a mistaken war. The two battles have been brought to the screen memorably in 1964’s Zulu, starring Stanley Baker, Jack Hawkins, and a young Michael Caine and 1979’s Zulu Dawn with Bob Hoskins, Burt Lancaster, and Peter O’Toole.

I loved the mix of fiction and nonfiction that our readers unearthed at this meeting. Talking about film adaptations is successful in most book groups because the lesser time requirements of watching a film mean that more of your participants will have a frame of reference for the work in question. Whether you like the film or not, it’s always a great reminder of how successful the original book was!

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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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