As a writer, I’m also a pretty voracious reader. It began when I was five and I first discovered that school required us to read books. While some of my classmates balked at the idea of assigned reading, I was in my own special little heaven where the clouds were made of pages, and my bed was between the covers of a book.
When I was barely into my teens, I lost the ankle in my left foot in an accident, and spent an entire summer with a plaster cast from my toes to my hip. As I resided in Michigan then, it was a miserable season. What made it so much better, though, were books. I worked my way through my mother’s entire library of Jacqueline Susanne, Sidney Sheldon, and John Saul novels, and then began haunting the local library, where I discovered Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and other writers who scared the crap out of me. But the first book to truly do that was King’s “The Shining.” I spent twenty-four hours with the lights on, so engrossed in Danny Torrance’s story that the world could’ve ended around me and I wouldn’t have noticed or cared. And it was the first book to show what was possible with really good writing.
I was hooked.
Though prior to discovering King’s work I had a good idea that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, that book solidified my passion.
When Stanley Kubrick did the movie version of “The Shining,” I was quite excited. I had journeyed to Estes Park to view the Stanley Hotel, which was the inspiration for The Overlook in King’s story. I had a very specific idea of what Jack Torrance looked like, and Danny, and Wendy. Imagine my surprise (and horror) when I learned that Kubrick reinterpreted the story and chose some very different stylistic set designs and characters than I held dear in my imagination. It was the first film I had ever stood up in the middle of and walked out, so angry that it wasn’t even close to what King had written. Since then, I understand creative liberty, but then, barely in high school, I was naive to the ways of Hollywood and didn’t know someone could so thoroughly ruin the best book I had ever read.
As an adult now, and a professional writer, I have a different perspective on that event.
When a writer — any writer — is able to transport us so thoroughly into his or her story, into the minds and emotions of the characters, and onto the imagined set on which the story takes place, readers hold very specific ideas of what the characters look and act like, what the surroundings look, feel, and smell like, and we don’t want anyone messing with our imagination, because let’s face it, it’s much more powerful than anyone else’s idea of what we read.
So I learned that a film is merely one person’s interpretation of the story. Sometimes the film matches the book, but with a writer like King, whose imagination is light years beyond what most of us can ever match, and writes his books and stories so thoroughly and so well, anybody’s version of the same story is always, always, ALWAYS going to fall well short of the mark. Look at the uproar when Tom Cruise was tapped to play the titular vampire in “Interview With The Vampire.” Many people could not picture a leading man type as the lead character. There were even rumors that Anne Rice, author of the book, was against putting Cruise in the driver’s seat. If the interpretation of the original story is too stylistic, it definitely loses something in the translation. That’s one film that I happened to agree with all the casting choices. But when it comes to books that I deeply enjoy, I can no longer see the film, because I know that a director’s version of the story will never be as good as the film I see in my mind. The written word holds so much more potential, and I can’t have someone else telling me what to see, who to envision as the characters, or what the surroundings look like.
Is it possible to match the power of the book? Of course, and it’s been done numerous times. Before I’ll put down my $15 to see it, though, I must be sure that the director at least tried to follow the story. In that way, I’m not disappointed. To me, the book is always sacred.