Friday, 21 November 2014

Which is better, the Book or the Film? Edge author Dave Cousins throws down a gauntlet for a discussion on book to film adaptations.

One of our aims when starting the Edge was to provide a focus for discussion about books for young people. When I visit schools, either on my own or as part of the Edge, I'm always keen to get students talking about the books they like—and the ones they don't. On occasions though, getting students to admit that they read at all can be a struggle. However, ask who likes films and most people in the room will raise a hand. I have found that this can be a useful starting point for a discussion about film adaptations of books. This invariably leads to arguments—sorry, exchanges of opinions—about the best and worst screen versions, and of course the big question: which is better, the book or the film? Suddenly, students who didn't raise their hand when I asked "who likes to read?" are vociferously arguing that Perks of Being a Wallflower the book, is miles better than, Perks of Being a Wallflower the movie.

So, in the hope of sparking such a discussion online, here is a list of ten film adaptations and a brief word on each from me. I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts on any of the films I have offered, whether you agree or disagree, and of course, please add your own titles to the list in the comments box at the end of this post.

1. Holes (Louis Sachar)—I quite liked the film, but as this book is as close to perfect as I think it's possible to get, it had a lot to live up to.
2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky)—Watching the film made me want to read the book, which can't be a bad thing. This was a very popular novel amongst some of our guest bloggers here on the Edge, so I'd be interested to know what people thought of the film, if they read the book first. It is worth noting that the author himself wrote the screenplay and directed the movie.
3. It's Kind of a Funny Story (Ned Vizzini)—I really like this film, and again bought the book as a result, but so far have struggled to get beyond the first few pages. For some reason I didn't connect with the voice on the page as well as I did with the character in the movie.
4. Billy Elliot (Lee Hall/Melvin Burgess)—This started life as a very good film and has gone on to be a very successful stage show, but I think the novel version by Melvin Burgess does a superb job of translating the story onto the page. As far as I remember, the book matches the film scene for scene, keeping the same grit and urgency, and Burgess' use of multiple first person narrators is really effective in keeping the emotional storyline centre stage.)
5. The Princess Bride (William Goldman)—This is one of my favourite films—a work of genius. However, I know I'm not alone in finding the book something of a disappointment by comparison. One of those times when the film is better than the book that inspired it.
6. Hugo (Brian Selznick)—This one is interesting because the original book (The Invention of Hugo Cabret) is highly illustrated. There are no words for the first forty pages, which makes the opening very reminiscent of a movie storyboard, a technique that is used throughout.
7. Harry Potter (JK Rowling)—You can't argue with the phenomenal success of these books, but I have to admit I prefer the films, especially the early ones. The world and characters that Rowling creates were begging for the big screen treatment. Watching one of the early Harry Potters has become a pre-Christmas ritual in our house.
8. Scott Pilgrim vs The World (Bryan Lee O'Malley)—I had to include this simply because it's one of my favourite films, inspired by one of my favourite series of comic books. I struggle to find fault with either, but maybe there are those of you out there who would disagree.
9. The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)—I thought the first two books especially, were superb. I was worried the films wouldn't be able to do the books justice. My jury is still out on that one, but what do you think?
10. Stand by Me (Stephen King)—Deciding which Stephen King story to include was tricky, as so many of his books have found their way onto the screen with varying degrees of success. I think this one worked well, and is a good adaptation of a fine novella called The Body. Which Stephen King would you have picked?

I hope my list has got you talking—if you are currently ranting in disbelief over the films I left out, or pointing a finger at the screen shouting "how could he say that!", please let me know by leaving a comment below. This is just a starter for ten (there's another one!)—it would be great to compile a longer list for the Edge archives.

Thanks for watching!

Waiting for Gonzo by Dave Cousins has yet to be optioned for a movie deal, however it does already have its own soundtrack and accompanying music videos


  1. Off the top of my head, I'd have to add John Wyndham's Day of the Triffids as far superior to either of the film versions. Lord of the Rings, one of my favourite books, is also one of my favourite films, but they're almost different entities for me. The Book Thief - the film doesn't touch the brilliance of the book, nor does the film version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I think most film versions aren't better than the books for me, unless I set them apart from the books, and then I can enjoy them in thier own right.

    1. Your comment about Lord of the Rings is interesting, Savita—the fact that you really like both, but see them as different entities. I would also agree that normally the original book version is better, especially if I read the book before seeing the film, but there are occasions when a film takes the best parts of a story and gives it new life.