Tag Archives: Reading

Reading the book after watching the movie. [UPDATED]

I still remember watching the “Lonesome Dove” miniseries on TV in the mid-1980s. My parents let me stay up past my bed time to watch a couple of episodes, although when it got violent I was no longer allowed to watch. I saw enough to be moved emotionally and in my imagination. I was hooked on that story. “Lonesome Dove” follows the story of a handful of old Texas Rangers who decide to drive several thousand head of cattle and horses from south Texas up to Montana, as yet unsettled.

I’ve watched the series a number of times since, having bought it on VHS in university (and since then the DVD version and recently a remastered wide-screen version). About two weeks ago, I picked up the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Larry McMurtry on which the miniseries was based. I’ve owned the book for years, but at more than 900 pages, it’s quite intimidating to start. This time I was immediately hooked and managed to read through the whole thing in less than two weeks. It’s a wonderful novel, with well-rounded characters. A great tale of the trials and tribulation of this motley cattle crew. 

What struck me was that the miniseries—at least, as it exists in my memory, since it has been about a decade since I watched it last—was incredibly faithful to the book. So much so, in fact, that right from the beginning, in my mind the characters in the book looked and sounded liked depicted by their respective actors (Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones in particular). In some cases, a book is spoiled by watching the film version first, but I can think of a number of cases where I’ve read the book after its film version and thoroughly enjoyed the book. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if the film was one I particularly enjoyed, my experience of the book is enhanced by the viewing.

Lonesome Dove. As I read I began to realize that both Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones played their roles perfectly, but I don’t know if I can say that retrospectively. I might think this simply because I’m reading their performances into the novel.
– Pride and Prejudice. I don’t know if I would have read this one if I hadn’t seen the A&E miniseries (the Colin Firth one) first.
A Prairie Home Companion. There is no novel version. But there is a screenplay published in book form. I read it after watching the movie and loved it.
True Grit. I’m about a third of the way through this one. The recent Coen Brothers’ version is what’s in my mind as I read (in fact, my copy of the book is the movie tie-in version). I’ve read that the Coen Brothers’ version is more faithful to the book than the 1969 John Wayne version.
– No Country for Old Men. Another Coen Brothers film, based on the Cormac McCarthy novel. Also a very faithful adaptation.

I used to insist that it was better to read the book before watching the film version. But looking at the above examples, I’m inclined to say that reading a book after watching its movie version is a much better experience than watching the movie version after reading the book.

The Lord of the Rings films were good adaptations of the books, though as the years pass I think less and less of the performances (with the exception of Saruman and Denethor). That’s because they don’t live up to my mental vision of those characters. The Hobbit films are terrible adaptations of a childhood favourite, but are otherwise well done and for the most part entertaining (although I can’t stand all the battles). The Da Vinci Code is a unique instance of me being neutral on the film vs. book question. I could say that the film wins by a hair because the writing in the book is terrible. But then the book was an incredible page-turner, which the movie didn’t match with engagement/tension.

And then there’s Simon Birch, the atrocious “adaptation” of John Irving’s wonderful A Prayer for Owen Meany. (Although, reading up on the film a bit more now, I realize that the film doesn’t bear the title of the book because Irving thought it was too unfaithful an adaptation, but because Irving didn’t think the book could be successfully adapted to the screen and therefore sold the rights with conditions about the name. In which case, perhaps I should take it a little easier on the film.)

UPDATE: As it turns out, reading the book has in a small way ruined the “Lonesome Dove” TV miniseries. In an unexpected turn of events, my fond memories of the miniseries which were revived and relived through the reading of the book took some of the “magic” away from the miniseries.

In favour of simple and direct prayer (we don’t need to be heroes).

Dallas Willard on simple prayer, which I found very helpful:

“Prayer, like all of the practices into which Jesus leads by word and example, will be self-validating to all who will simply pray as he says [that is, the Lord’s Prayer] and not give up. It is much harder to learn if we succumb to the temptation to engage in “heroic” efforts in prayer. This is important. Heroism, generally, is totally out of place in the spiritual life, until we grow to the point at which it would never be thought of as heroism anyway.

“There are, of course, people who pray heroically, and they are to be respected for what God has called them to… But that is a special calling and is for very few of us. To look to this calling as the ideal for our prayer life is only to assume a burden of uncalled-for guilt, and, quite surely, it is to choose an approach that will lead to abandoning prayer as a realistic…aspect of life in the kingdom. There will be heroic periods as they may be called for, but with no intention to be heroic. Always, we are simply children walking and talking with our Father at hand.

“…Prayer is never just asking, nor is it merely a matter of asking for what I want. God is not a cosmic butler or a fix-it man, and the aim of the universe is not to fulfill my desires and needs. On the other hand, I am to pray for what concerns me, and many people have found prayer impossible because they thought they should only pray for wonderful but remote needs they actually had little or no interest in or even knowledge of. 

“Prayer simply dies from efforts to pray about “good things” that honestly do not matter to us. The way to get to meaningful prayer for those good things is to start by praying for what we are truly interested in. The circle of our interests will inevitably grow in the largeness of God’s love.

“What prayer as asking presupposes is simply a personal…relationship between us and God, just as with a request of child to parent or friend to friend. It assumes that our natural concerns will be naturally expressed, and that God will hear our prayers for ourselves as well as for others. Once again, this is clear from the biblical practice of prayer. It is seen at its best in that greatest of all prayer books, Psalms.

Accordingly, I believe the most adequate description of prayer is simply, “Talking to God about what we are doing together.”

~ Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God, pp. 241, 242, 243.

Three questions ‘ere I go.

Leaving for a two week holiday tomorrow in which I plan to spend a significant amount of time on the beach. I’m in between books and in the middle of a bunch of others and I can’t decide what I should bring along. “I’m just going to bring a box of books,” I told Dixie. I can’t seem to just pick a book and go with it. I need time to browse, flip through a couple of books, and let settle on settle on me, but I don’t have time for that now.

I’m actively reading Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God, so that one will come along for sure. But I suspect that bringing a book about the Sermon on the Mount to the beach is something I will regret. I’ve got stacks next to my bed and indecision weighs heavy.

What about some of the books I’ve started but put aside for the time being: The Brothers Karamazov; Bury My Heart at Wounded KneeA Brief History of TeaA Thousand Splendid SunsBeyond Belfast: A 560-Mile Walk Across Northern Ireland on Sore Feet; The Grapes of Wrath; Wolf Willow (started it ages ago, couldn’t get past the fiction bits but want to get to the non-fiction); Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to “Holy Land” Theology.

Or maybe some new fiction or non-theology/Bible non-fiction, something to take my mind off the things that need doing: A Confederacy of DuncesLonesome DoveSuch is My BelovedRumpole for the DefenceAbout a BoyInto Thin AirQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop TalkingThe Neverending Story (which I started today to see if it would stick); perhaps another Wodehouse novel; perhaps I should start reading The Lord of the Rings again.

Or maybe it’s okay to walk that fuzzy line between work and play and read one of those theological/spiritual books I’ve been wanting to get into: Patience with God: The Story of Zacchaeus Continuing in Us; A Thomas Merton ReaderChrist Plays in Ten Thousand PlacesIncarnation.

Or maybe I should just take Willard and find something else at that wonderful used bookstore in Penticton. I’ll probably do less reading than I think I will. Here it is 11:20. I’m fighting a cold and I should be sleeping, but these are important decisions.

Dixie loves packing, bless her heart. So my worries prior to our trips, outside of the cleaning and organizing that needs doing, are: do I have a book to read? do I have several changes of underwear? is my deodorant packed?

One way or another, I’ll have all three ‘ere we go.

Doubt, unbelief and the community of believers.

“…two of the monks remarked in different ways that although Thomas did not believe in the resurrection of the Lord, he kept faithful to the community of the apostles. In that community the Lord appeared to him and strengthened his faith. I find this a very profound and consoling thought. In times of doubt or unbelief, the community can ‘carry you along,’ so to speak; it can even offer on your behalf what you yourself overlook, and can be the context in which you may recognize the Lord again.

“[the Abbot] remarked that Dydimus, the name of Thomas, means ‘twin,’ as the Gospel says, and that the fathers had commented that all of us are ‘two people,’ a doubting one and a believing one. We need the support and love of our brothers and sisters to prevent our doubting person from becoming dominant and destroying our capacity for belief.” (Henri Nouwen, The Genesee Diary, 56-7)

More from Tolkien’s letters.

Some more fun and interesting tid-bits from Tolkien’s letters:

From 1959, in response to a request from cat breeder to register a litter of Siamese kittens under names taken from The Lord of the RIngs:

I fear that to me Siamese cats belong to the fauna of Mordor, but you need not tell the cat breeder that. (300)

An example of something that has become quite clear in reading Tolkien’s letters. The man had a sense of humour.

On writing fiction specifically for children (including “appropriate” vocabulary, etc.), which Tolkien did not like (he regretted much of how he’d written at least the first half of The Hobbit):

I am not interested in the ‘child’ as such, modern or otherwise, and certainly have no intention of meeting him/her halfway, or a quarter of the way. It is a mistaken thing to do anyway, either useless (when applied to the stupid) or pernicious (when inflicted on the gifted). I have only once made the mistake of trying to do it, to my lasting regret, and (I am glad to say) with the disapproval of intelligent children: in the earlier part of The Hobbit. But I had not then given any serious thought to the matter: I had not freed myself from the contemporary delusions about ‘fairy-stories’ and children.

… I think that this writing down, flattening, Bible-in-basic-English attitude is responsible for the fact that so many older children and younger people have little respect and no love for words, and very limited vocabularies—and alas! little desire left (even when they had the gift which has been stultified) to refine or enlarge them. (309-10, 310-11)

Tolkien on a film adaptation of Lord of the Rings.

I picked up The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien again last night (the blurb on the back says, “J.R.R. Tolkien was one of the twentieth century’s most prolific letter writers.” How could they possibly know this?) and came across some interesting stuff regarding an American film adaptation that was in the works in the late 1950s. Tolkien was given a treatment of the film to read. His comments are scathing and more or less completely disapproving.

A few simple words stood out to me: “He [the film writer] has cut the parts of the story upon which its characteristic and peculiar tone principally depends, showing a preference for fights…”(271). As good as Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings were, I’ve always thought that they included far too much fighting, too many battle scenes. As I recall, in the books the details of battle are generally limited and implied. The films focus quite a bit on battle heroics (and in The Hobbit Jackson went to far as to make warrior-heroes out of character who had no business being such), but as I suspected, Tolkien would likely not have approved. (And on a personal note, I’ve always found those portions of the films to be the most dull.) I believe in The Hobbit we don’t really see any of the battle up close at all, but see everything from Bilbo’s vantage point away from the fray. I suspect we won’t get that from Jackson’s third Hobbit instalment. “Showing a preference for fights,” indeed.

Something else of note: the Black Riders’ signature ‘screams’ as heard in the films, are unnecessary. From the same letter: “The Black Riders do not scream but keep a more terrifying silence” (273).

Fans were miffed when they discovered that there would be no Scouring of the Shire in Jackson’s adaptation. It seems that was omitted from the 1950s proposal, too, but Jackson may have followed Tolkien’s advice in this case (I assume Jackson and his team would have read at least those letters that were relevant to making a film version):

[The writer] has cut out the end of the book, including Saruman’s proper death.In that case I can see no good reason for making him die. Saruman would never have committed suicide: to cling to life to its basest dregs is the way of the sort of person he had become. If [the writer] wants Saruman tidied up…Gandalf should say something to this effect: as Saruman collapses under the excommunication: “Since you will not come out and aid us, here in Orthanc you shall stay till you rot, Saruman. Let the Ents look to it!” (277)

This is, if memory serves, more or less what Jackson did.

Worship and the Psalms

“Good liturgy, whether formal or informal, ought never to be simply a corporate emoting session, however ‘Christian,’ but a fresh and awed attempt to inhabit the great unceasing liturgy that is going on all the time in the heavenly realms. (That’s what those great chapters, Revelation 4 and 5, are all about.) The Psalms offer us a way of joining a chorus of praise and prayer that has been going on for millennia and across all cultures. Not to try to inhabit them, while continuing to invent non-psalmic ‘worship’ based on our own feelings of the moment, risks being like a spoiled child who, taken to the summit of Table Mountain with the city and the ocean spread out before him, refuses to gaze at the view because he is playing with his Game Boy.”

~ N. T. Wright, The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential, 6.

 

Jayber Crow: “Did Jesus put on our flesh that we might despise it?”

I’ve just started reading Wendell Berry’s novel Jayber Crow. I’m going in with high expectations, so I hope I’m not disappointed. I’ve come across some good bits so far, though:

“A window opening on nothing but the blank sky was endlessly attractive to me; if I watched long enough, a bird or a cloud would appear within the frame, and I watched with patience. A window that looked out into a tree was a source of inexpressible happiness, for it permitted me to observe the foraging of the birds and the life history of leaves.” (34)

An odd thing to quote, I suppose, if it wasn’t for the fact that it is true of me as well.

Later, the main character (Jayber Crow) is thinking through what he thought was a call to preach. He thinks back to the orphanage he was at (The Good Shepherd) and the Bible college he’s at now (Pigeonville College) and how his views don’t seem to line up with those of his teachers.

“I took to studying the ones of my teachers who were also preachers, and also the preachers who came to speak in the chapel and at various exercises. In most of them I saw the old division of body and soul that I had known at The Good Shepherd. The same rift ran through everything at Pigeonville College; the only difference was that I was able to see it more clearly, and to wonder at it. Everything bead was laid on the body, and everything good was credited to the soul. It scared me a little when I realized that I saw it the other way around. If the soul and body really were divided, then it seemed to me that all the worst sins—hatred and anger and self-righteousness and even greed and lust—came from the soul. But these preachers I’m talking about all thought that the soul could do no wrong, but always had its face washed and its pants on and was in agony over having to associate with the flesh and the world. And yet these same people believed in the resurrection of the body.” (49)

Exactly. This is the way the old dualistic Gnostic heresy—spiritual world=good, physical world=bad—creeps in. Jayber wonders, “Did Jesus put on our flesh that we might despise it?” (50) What a great question!

What if rest came first?

That last post was actually written a week or two ago. I’m now about halfway through Alan Fadling’s An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest. So far he’s written about apprenticeship to an unhurried Jesus; our notions of productivity; and being unhurried enough to resist temptation, to care (or pay attention), and to pray.

I’ve just started the chapter entitled “Rest: The Rhythm of Creation” and came across this interesting insight (it begins with a quote from Eugene Peterson):

“The Hebrew evening/morning sequence conditions us to the rhythm of grace. We go to sleep, and God begins his work. As we sleep he develops his covenant. We wake and are called out to participate in God’s creative action. We respond in faith, in work. But always grace is previous. Grace is primary. We wake into a world we didn’t make, into a salvation we didn’t earn. Evening: God begins, without our help, his creative day. Morning: God calls us to enjoy and share and develop the work he initiated. Creation and covenant are sheer grace and there to greet us every morning.

The Hebrew mindset saw the day beginning with rest, not with work. In the West, our day begins at sunrise and, basically, with work. This sequence, as Peterson points out, is telling. We tend to see rest as the place we fall into after we’ve worn ourselves out with work. But what if our best work begins from a place of rest? What if rest takes first priority rather than the last?” (110)

What if indeed? Rest in our culture is often seen as weakness, as laziness, and Christians are often no different. But perhaps this is another place where Christians are called to live in a way counter to the culture, to live, as it were, prophetically.

Unhurried time

I just started reading a book called An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest, which was given to me in my registration packet at Midwinter (denominational pastors’ conference) this year. I’ve only read the first chapter, but it promises to be a good read.

I tend to think of myself of as a generally relaxed person, but this line stuck out to me: “I feel hurried inside even when nothing actually urgent is on my schedule… Even when nothing outward is pressuring me to pick up the pace, I feel an internal impulse to get to some ill-defined ‘next thing’ that needs my attention” (10). I would have put these feelings down as “anxiety” related to other things, and perhaps they partly are that as well, but there is a sense of strong hurriedness and vague urgency in me these days.

The basic argument of the book is that Jesus led an unhurried life and that his followers should do the same. “Since, for example, Jesus often stepped away from the needs of people to be alone with his Father in unhurried communion, might we, his followers, do well to learn to do the same?… I live not at the mercy of the culture’s pace, but blessed by the mercy of my unhurried Savior” (16).

So this has me thinking about urgency, time, a hurried pace and a hurried heart. I’ve been reading through the gospel of John with my junior high Sunday school class, and reading the story of the death (and raising) of Lazarus in chapter 11 a week or two ago, I was struck by these words: “So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days” (v6). Lazarus was sick enough to warrant sending a message to Jesus about it, but Jesus waits two days to start the journey to Lazarus’ home in Bethany. One commentator suggested that Jesus spent these days in prayer to hear the Father’s will about this situation (which would account for Jesus thanking the Father for hearing a prayer not mentioned in the text [vv. 41-42]), though we can’t know for sure.

I don’t want to read too much “follow by example” into Jesus’ actions here, but it does suggest something: a need is not necessarily as urgent as we may think it is. Of course, I’m not suggesting that we ignore illnesses and emergencies so that we can pause to pray and find out what God wants us to do about them. However, sometimes we get unnecessarily anxious about things and they become much more urgent in our minds than they really are.

The author calls for a major change in our perspective, taking the long view: “How would our pace of life be affected if we fully realized that, as followers of Christ, we are living eternal life now? Since eternal life isn’t just a dim future promise but a vital present reality, what could be different about how we live our moments and our days?” (18)

If eternal life has already begun, what are we hurrying for?

This puts me in mind of the story I heard about the 2005 documentary called “Into Great Silence.” It follows the lives of a monastic order in France (who have taken vows of silence). The story goes that the director had an interest in entering the monastery to film its life, so he wrote them a letter requesting as much. Sixteen years later—sixteen!—they wrote back to say they would allow it.

Quite a remarkable thing. It’s a good story precisely because that’s not how our world works or how it expects things to happen. We have deadlines to keep, we have the courtesies of time to respect. The notion of an even larger story that has a different perspective on time—after all, what does time really mean if it’s eternal?—is so foreign in our culture that even as Christians we have difficulty breaking ourselves free from hurry. In fact, I write this with a certain amount of hesitation, as schedules and deadlines and punctuality are so deeply embedded in my own worldview.