a modern Dickensian fable



Books I’m currently reading John Grisham’s 2001 novel(la?) Skipping Christmas. It’s a modern Dickensian fable about a couple who decide, since their daughter is away for the first time, to save the money they would have spent on the festive season and go on a cruise instead. No tree, no parties, no presents, nothing. Their friends and neighbours are incredulous. Christmas in this community is like an eco-system. Because the Kranks aren’t celebrating, it just isn't the same. They won’t be putting a competition snowman on their roof, they won’t be buying the charity calendars and cards and … I’ve reached page eighty so far so can’t tell you what happens next, though it can’t be good. Thematically it’s similar to an education drama from the 90s about tenants in a Liverpool terrace who refused to paint their house pink and they were run out of town.

The problem is, and if the surname of the protagonists in that paragraph hasn’t tipped you off, Grisham’s novel(la?) has been adapted into a film, the slightly more obviously titled Christmas With The Kranks, which since it’s a Christmas movie featuring Tim Allen I’d avoided like an office party. But as soon as I saw that surname, I realised the connection and suddenly my enjoyment was diminished because despite only having seen the poster and the shots which appeared in the advert which was playing on Channel Five for the past two months, the embryonic version of those characters I had in my head have now been replaced by Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis and there’s an ever present nagging calculation of how each scene appeared in the film (which given the cast and pedigree couldn’t have been subtle).

This was one of the reasons I stopped reading fiction. Most best selling books have been turned into films and from experience unless they're significantly different entities it's almost impossible to psychologically divorce the two. No matter how vivid an author’s characterisation, actor who last portayed the character on-screen becomes the avatar within the imagination. Reading High Fidelity, despite the change in location from book to film, it was almost impossible not to see John Cusack walking about in those pages. Similarly for quite some time, until I watched the film again much later on dvd, there were scenes from the book which I’d somehow decided were also in Stephen Friers’ adaptation. Eventually I decided to simply just wait for the film to come out, over and over again, so that I wouldn’t be shackled with making a comparison between the two.

When you picked up Pride & Prejudice did you find yourself casting Lizzie Bennet? Was she played by Gemma Arterton, Keira Knightly, Jennifer Ehle, Elizabeth Garvie or Greer Garson or another actress who’s yet to swoon over Mr Darcy? Or were you able to set aside the images and let your imagination and Jane Austen’s words take control? I do think this matters. Unlike films and television, books have a singular authorial voice. True, arguably it becomes a collaboration when the words reach our imagination and there will have been interventions at some point in the process from agents, editors and publishers and in some cases franchise collaborators, but most literature offers a world that should exist outside in and of itself. When it hits another medium it’s changed, especially if we see that first (or in the case of Skipping Christmas, a shard of it), the author's intention irrevocably interfered with.

I’d welcome the advise of people who are much more widely read than I am on how they cope with returning the communication to one that's just between them and the author.

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