Karen is a fan of Harry Potter. She’s read the novels, and seen the movies. I have nothing against Harry Potter, and I understand that its extremely well-written…its just not really my thing. However, as we haven’t really had a date night together since our daughter joined us nearly seven weeks ago, I took Karen, very belatedly, to see the final Harry Potter movie. For me, it was entertaining, but I didn’t have enough backstory to really put the pieces together. She was impressed, and discussed with me after the movie how the film had differed from the novels in various ways. Her final conclusion, though, was that the adaptation had worked well.

A few years ago, I rushed to the film adaptation of Phantom of the Opera, as the show has been my favorite musical for years (the Broadway production remains one of the most amazing pieces of theatre I’ve seen). There were differences in the film, very notable differences and additions. I accepted them, however, because Webber had co-written the screenplay, and my thought was that, if the adaptation comes from the author, then the purity is maintained despite any differences. Now, I suppose that particular comparison might break down eventually, as Webber himself adapted Leroux’s novel from the early 1900’s. My point, though, is that I would have considered myself a purist where the storyline of Phantom is concerned. At the time, I accepted the changes readily because I felt that they had still come from Webber’s vision. Had another writer dominated the screenplay, I doubt I would have been as receptive.

A conversation with a family member over the weekend revolved around our inability to accept historical inaccuracies in film. I have the same problem with film adaptations of literature: liberties taken with the story drive me to distraction, because I’m very passionate about staying true the original work. All too often, stories are completely altered away from the author’s vision in order to make a “good film” (from Hollywood’s standards, at least, which are typically poor at best). This is particularly problematic when working with literature of historical importance, and occurs far too frequently in far too many spheres. Apparently, there were some significant differences between the latest Harry Potter film and the novel (fans can feel free to comment here), but Karen was okay with it because, in her perspective, it was a re-telling more so than a reinterpretation of the story.

As recording our stories in written form is a relatively new phenomenon in mankind’s history, perhaps our tendency toward literalness is also very recent. I say that because when stories were told in oral traditions, there were naturally some variations. This occurred not so much out of error, I think, but because storytellers, like historians, have a proverbial axe to grind; that is, a different part of the story to emphasize. That doesn’t mean that they’re telling the story incorrectly, but rather taking care to point out different things. We see this continue in our political realm today, and I would say that this would even account for some of what Biblical historians discuss as a set of perceived discrepancies among the Synoptic Gospels.

With this view in mind, I’m hard pressed to remain as much a purist in my favorite stories as I was previously. Of course, there is still a difference between a re-telling of a story, and a complete re-interpretation of a story. I’m still very selective in my tolerance of the second, but I think I am becoming more tolerant of the first.

This is sort of like seeing the same event from different perspectives, or vantage points. When we share those differing perspectives with others, we all come out better for it. Our stories deserve that same treatment, I think. A lack of literalness just might be a good thing.

Photo Attribution: Rosenfeld Media 

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