Thursday, August 11, 2011

Read-Book-See-Movie or See-Movie-Read-Book?

I love to read and I love to go to the movies; two of my favorite means of personal entertainment. Some of my favorites to read are fictional stories where the characters interact with actual historical events and characters, like John Jakes’ series of novels the Kent Family Chronicles, Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series of novels, or Jack Whyte’s Camulod Chronicles. Several of John Jakes’ Kent family stories were filmed as miniseries for television: “The Bastard,” “The Rebels,” “The Seekers,” and the North and South trilogy (made into 3 miniseries). I loved that Patrick Swayze played my favorite character in the North and South trilogy: Jared Kent. (I think I fell in love with Jared Kent before Patrick Swayze portrayed his character – I named my son after him, Jared that is.) I have not yet seen Ms. Gabaldon’s or Mr. Whyte’s stories brought to film – might be fun though.

Through the years I have heard several arguments over whether to read the book, or not, before seeing the movie. My daughter read all of the Twilight books by Stephanie Meyer, before the movies were made. She loved the books; those and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series sparked her interest in reading. But when the movies came out, she was very disappointed – they cut a lot of stuff out, they messed it up, the book was better, … You’ve heard all the arguments before. And with the Twilight movies, she felt the characters were better defined in the book, well except maybe for Jacob – she was definitely on Team Jacob! I personally, do not mind what the order, read-book-see-movie or see-movie-read-book. Sometimes I enjoy a movie so much I just have to read the book, if there is one, to get more information – I know they did not get it all in the 2-hour movie. Then I can start with a vision of the characters and go from there on a treasure hunt: which characters did they combine into one in the movie, what did the screenwriters or the director’s cut leave out (yes, I watch all the cut scenes on the dvd too).

A couple months ago, I saw the trailer for “The Help,” and just knew that it was going to be one of those love-hate stories for me. You know a good story on the human condition, reflecting how cruel we can treat one another. Like I said, I like fictional stories woven into actual historical events. I knew I was going to love the movie, the story, but hate the cruelty or potential inhumanity toward the people. Then I saw the book by Kathryn Stockett, and picked it up for a read before the movie came out. Okay ... I could not get through the book. Mind you, I am the type of person who reads a book with a red pen close by to mark the typos. I sometimes wonder if I should send my redlined books to the publisher – yeah right.

Let me explain. “The Help” is the story about black housekeepers who work in upper class white homes in Jackson, Mississippi, pre-civil rights movement (1961-1963). A story where I was going to love the strong characters excelling beyond the humiliation in their lives, but hate that as a God-fearing people we have the capacity to be so cruel and loathsome toward one another. I knew from the trailers that a young white female journalist would write a book describing how the help was treated in this southern neighborhood. What I did not know – the story is told from the housekeeper’s perspective. I tried for a couple of weeks to get through the story. But: “Taking care a white babies, that’s what I do.” “And Law, do that room get quiet.” “I do like she tell me to, even though they cups is full to the rim.” “I know they ain’t discussing no politic. They talking about what Miss Jackie [Kennedy] done wore on the tee vee.” Sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, page after page – the editor in me is not enjoying this reading! Where is my red pen?

I have since learned that Ms. Stockett’s life was similar in some ways to her character Skeeter’s:

  • She was raised in the south by a black caretaker (but in the 70’s, not the 60’s).
  • She moved to New York in her early 20’s (and is now living back in the south).
  • “The Help” was her first manuscript.

Unlike Skeeter, Ms. Stockett took 5 years to write her novel and had a hard time getting it published – she had somewhere in the neighborhood of 45-50 rejections. It took her quite a while to be taken seriously: a young well off southern white woman writing in a black voice, a southern-black vernacular. But she did get published in February 2009, and now less than a year and a half later the movie is out. I saw the movie on opening night, August 10, 2011. The main characters were very likable, and I felt for them. They were very proud, strong women doing a remarkable job in a contemptuous environment. Yes the uppity socialites were a little hard to take, but I wondered as I usually do – being raised in the same environment would I be just as capable of such haughtiness. I would like to think not, but you never know.

So, I tried to read the book first, but could not get through it. I saw the movie, love the story-line and the characters. I read that “The Help,” the book, is told by the three main characters: Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter. I have had trouble getting into other books before, but have been able to pick them up again later. Maybe “The Help” will be one of those books for me, now that I know I like the characters, the storyline, and part of the book might actually be told by Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan. Happy reading!

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