I read The Hobbit for the first time when I was a child. Tolkien‘s book immediately captured me, and made me fall in love with the fantasy genre. Some years ago I decided to reread it and gladly discovered that I still enjoyed it as thoroughly as I did on my first read. Indeed, great books and great wines are the same, they both age with grace.
Of lately I’ve watched the third episode of Peter Jackson’s adaptation–The Battle of the Five Armies. Even though Jackson’s work is quite different from the novel, I enjoyed it as well. In particular, I found the special effects simply terrific. For sure the first scene, in which Smaug is playing havoc over Lake-town, is a treat from the visual and aural point of view.
Indeed, over the last few years computer graphic has made possible the creation of settings and special effects that were unthinkable even only a handful of years ago. This notwithstanding, I believe that movies aren’t at all the most immersive fictional experience one can enjoy. As a matter of fact, I believe that books can be much more immersive than movies. And I think this is the case at least for three reasons.
For sure, at first sight the descriptive power of movies seems unbeatable. The best among them can offer moviegoers astounding sound effects, compelling musics, ultra defined and dynamic pictures, and first-class acting, all packaged into a tight and well structured narrative work.
Alien, Terminator, The Silence of the Lambs. These are all great examples of first rate movies–and I love them all. However, all this descriptive abundance, seems to refrain the moviegoers from taking an active role while watching a movie. In fact, on the whole they let the story unfold. They enjoy the ride, so to speak.
Instead, with books, readers have to recreate the story within their heads, and this leads to a deeper level of involvement. Besides, according to research, this work readers are required to carry out can dramatically improve their creative muscles.
In addition, words possess a sort of flexible indeterminacy that allows them a unique way to accommodate contradictions. For example, the portrait of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, another classic I read with great pleasure, is based on contradictions.
1) Dark skinned and gypsy, 2) yet a gentleman
However, thanks to the flexible indeterminacy of words, we readers manage to put together a mental image that not only does work, but also bestows on the character a mysterious aura. Conversely, images do not offer the same opportunity, at least not so effortlessly. What they show is necessarily an entity whose characteristics are inescapable. I mean, in a picture a man is either dark haired or not. You cannot suggest he comes across, let’s say, as fair haired.
First Person Narrator
Another strength of books is how effectively they can make use of a first person narrator. Instead, even though this technique can be easily implemented, it is sparingly used in movies, and only for short passages.
Indeed, if we compare Daniel Keyes‘ book with the movie adaptation by Ralph Nelson it is immediately apparent that in the latter we are completely deprived of the first person narrative, a characteristic of Flowers for Algernon that gives the book a terrific pull and that the film is notably lacking.
Books are mostly the result of the efforts of a single individual, and thanks to the advent of digital self-publishing they can be distributed at virtually no cost. Movies instead require the concerted effort of hundreds of people and cost a lot of money. As a result, it is much more likely to come across a refreshingly new and really daring book than a movie. After all, writers have ‘only’ to invest their time to write whatever they want to. Film makers and producers instead have to mediate the opinions of many different people, besides they constantly run the risk of losing millions of dollars if their movie turns out to be a flop. They are therefore far less fearless and willing to experiment.
Indeed, as old as they are, thanks to the digital revolution books have probably never been in a better shape. And never before readers have had access to them so readily either.
Picture by mengelnkemper