I’m taking a break from editing Frostwalker today. Instead, I thought I’d share some thinking that hit me in the shower, of all places. I do a lot of good thinking in the shower…
How many times have we been talking with friends when the subject turns to a recent movie? Inevitably, someone (maybe you) has to say it: “The book was way better.” It’s said so often that it has become a cliché. Now, I love both books and movies – I think most of us do. When you’re watching a movie, you’re usually not thinking about the book being so much better. Why is it that, after the experience, a book feels like it was better?
The truth is that books connect with us in a completely different way. We’re comparing apples to oranges in a sense. Both apples and oranges are fruit, both are delicious, but eating one is a wildly different experience from the other. So it is with movies and books. Both are story-telling media, both are highly entertaining, but the experiences are very different.
Let’s look at two (somewhat) similar stories from my own experience. For a movie, there’s the first Spider-Man movie, with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. It’s been a few years, but I’ve seen it several times. It’s great – I love that movie!
For a book, Stephen King’s Wizard And Glass, from the Dark Tower series, is a good comparison. Both are ostensibly fantastical action stories, both have strong heroes we cheer for, and both have strong romantic subplots. Both are stories that I love. I’ve only read Wizard And Glass once or twice, and it’s been a few years – longer than it’s been since the last time I saw Spider-Man, at least.
Now, I don’t have the greatest memory. I’m economical that way. I can read a book or see a movie and, a year later, enjoy it again like I’d never seen it before. Cheaper than buying something new, right? But, both of these stories left their mark on me, as the best stories do. What do I remember from them now, years later?
From Spider-Man, the only thing that clearly stuck with me was the upside-down kiss. Spidey is hanging, inverted, from a fire escape and Mary Jane Watson kisses him. It’s raining and her shirt is soaked, to great effect. Hey, I’m a guy, I’m hard-wired to notice nipples. It’s what we do. Aside from that, not a lot remains in the old memory banks.
What do I recall from Wizard And Glass? In detail, not much, to be honest. But I remember the glint in Roland’s eye as he went to work with his guns. I remember the heart-wrenching pain of his loss. I remember his rage. I remember it because I felt it.
Did I feel Peter Parker’s anguish of unrequited love? Sure, I did – at least, on a fleeting, surface level. But it wasn’t the same. What I felt for Spidey was sympathy. I felt sympathy for Roland also, but I felt his love, and loss, with Susan Delgado as well.
When we engage in these stories, when we hand over the reins to a writer and let them take us on a jaunt, we’re just observers. We’re along for the ride, but not in control. That’s fine, of course. We want them to take control and tell us a story and we let ‘em do it. But, when we watch a movie, we’re riding on the shoulder of these characters we love – when we read a book, we’re riding in their hearts.
And that is why the book was way better than the movie.