Ferndale Public Library Staff Recommends: Coping With Movie Adaptations

Reference Librarian Darlene Hellenberg offers advice for experiencing your favorite book on the big screen, plus a list of her favorites.

Photo credit: Courtesy of the Ferndale Public Library
Photo credit: Courtesy of the Ferndale Public Library

This article was written by Jeff Milo and Darlene Hellenberg. 

I just finished repairing some books (with broken spines) at the mending table before filing these enlightening and effervescent suggestions from our Reference Librarian Darlene Hellenberg. That’s fitting because Darlene is here to help mend those whose hearts have been broken by the dreaded film adaptation of some of their favorite novels! It can be quite a damaging crime to the stories and characters you love (and envisioned) when some director takes your novel, your novel, and performs a tone-deaf nosedive with its narrative.

Darlene, who’s always the first stop for any patron wondering “what to read next ...” is now prescribing ways you can cope with the movie versions of books.

Darlene’s rules (and coping mechanisms) for experiencing the movie-versions of your favorite books:

I’m sure this is happening to you, too. You’re an unsuspecting movie-goer, enjoying the previews, and then BAM! the title of your favorite book flashes on the screen. Oh no, you think, this can’t be! How are they going to make a movie of The Book Thief? That book is so amazing. They’re going to ruin it. And you’re right, they’ll probably ruin it. But maybe ... just maybe ... they’ll make a pretty good movie that captures all the things you love about the book and only changes a few things?

Personally, I put myself through a lot of torture and see the movie version of most of books I read. Sometimes I even end up liking the movie better than the book. What I’m saying is, give the movie a chance. Don’t worry, I’ve made you a list of rules to help you on your way and I’ve included a few movies that are very good adaptations. 

Rules to view by:

1. Wait at least two to three months between reading and viewing. Any sooner and you’ll spend the entire time cursing the filmmaker under your breath, subsequently annoying everyone around you and wasting the $10 it cost to get into the theater.

2. The characters will almost never look like you pictured them. I’m sorry, Hollywood doesn’t care how So-and-So looks in the book. Don’t let it ruin the movie.

3. There will be changes. It’s nearly impossible to make a movie that is exactly the same as a book. Please consider my recommended coping strategies: Consider the changes made to the film; did they alter the story drastically or was the overall feeling still intact? Even if you didn’t like a change did it help to propel the story to the same conclusion in the book?

4. If you followed the rules and still found fault with the film version, then by all means, tell everyone you know that it was a complete waste of money! 

Here’s a list of some of my favorite book-to-movie adaptations:

By Roald Dahl
J Fic Dahl

I’ve been known to drop everything I’m doing and watch this movie when it comes on television. I love everything about it: Matilda’s delight at learning how to use the library, the magical powers she discovers, Miss Honey’s classroom, and Matilda’s fearlessness. I recently read the book and found it to be just as delightful as the film. There were a few changes but nothing that took away from the story.


The Help 
By Kathryn Stockett
Fic Stockett

I believe the movie adaptation of The Help is a really good one. The feeling of the book translated perfectly to film. I rooted for Skeeter, cried along with Aibileen, and cheered for Minny and her amazing pie equally. There were some changes but I felt that they didn’t hurt the overall story (see Rule 3).  It also made a complicated back story easier to explain on film.


Whale Rider 
By Witi Ihimaera
Fic Ihimaera

This is a beautifully written story about a young girl challenging the beliefs of her people. Kahu is the granddaughter of the chief of her people, The Whangara, a Maori tribe in New Zealand. There has never been a female leader and Kahu must convince her people that she is the right one to lead. Please read this book and/or watch the movie. Both are beautiful. (Tip: In both cases, you’ll need a large box of tissue.)


By Neil Gaiman
YA Gaiman

I hope you’re sitting down for this. I like the movie better. There, I said it. In fact, I really love this movie. The book is good and I enjoyed it but the movie ... well, it’s delightful. The story in both film and book, follows a young man on his quest to bring back a fallen star. The young man must leave his village of Wall and enter into the magical land of Faerie. I highly recommend the movie, especially to fans of “The Princess Bride” (another movie I like more than the book).


Breakfast at Tiffany’s 
By Truman Capote
Fic Capote

This is another example of a movie I like better than the book. Here’s the thing, Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s is sad. Audrey Hepburn’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is romantic, mostly light-hearted, and sealed with a happy ending. Capote’s story is worth reading though; especially if you want to see how far a film adaptation can stray from the original story. 


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