I was thinking last night that maybe the girls were ready to see the recent movie Troy, the version of the Greek story starring Brad Pitt. We’re at this weird stage in the house where the new teen is thirsting for things well beyond her years and the tween is sort of squeamish (often needlessly so) over certain elements in movies. The girls (all of them) are deep into Buffy the Vampire Slayer right now, but the word “violence” in a PG-13 rating will cause the tween to reel in horror at the thought of watching for fear it may contain “blood and guts” (her words).
But as I was pondering Troy‘s merits – action, spectacle, eye candy – I suddenly wondered if I wanted this to be the way the girls should first learn about the battle of Troy. It’s pretty clear-cut that when it comes to movie adaptations of recent books, and some classics like To Kill A Mockingbird, we insist on reading the book first, but Troy makes me think this doesn’t always have to be the case.
First, there’s the whole question of which version they should read. Should we say they have to read Homer, or Adele Geras recent version, or one the dozens of others in between? I try to think back, to when I first heard the story of the Trojan horse when I was young and I can’t place that first exposure. Was it in a Bugs Bunny cartoon? An anonymous collection of Greek myths and legends? In school? I certainly knew the story well enough to get the joke when I was fifteen when Monty Python spoofed it with their giant Trojan Rabbit, and the girls already get the joke, so is a cultural awareness enough?
Certainly nothing prevents younger readers from exploring the story on their own after seeing a movie, and in this case there are many versions to choose from. With an adaptation of something more recent, like Coraline I think the book is much darker because of how Gaiman’s scenes play out in our own minds, where the movie adaptation plays with 3-D visuals that gives it a different sort of appeal. I’d still say it is better to read the book (and not the graphic novel version, which I found ugly) before seeing the movie.
And with The Wizard of Oz I’m torn because I would say that there are pre-reading lap-sitters who would enjoy hearing Baum’s original story long before they could handle the creepiness of those flying monkeys in the movie, but I don’t think I’d insist that they read the book before seeing the movie.
And there are other mixed quandaries: Romeo and Juliet before West Side Story? Patricia Highsmith’s novel before Hitchcock’s filming of Strangers on a Train? I’m pretty sure I heard of Orson Welles’ version of War of the Worlds before I ever read (if ever?) H.G. Wells’ classic. Does anyone read Burroughs anymore, or do they just learn about Tarzan from Disney?
So I find myself softening on the book-before-the-movie maxim. Partly because I think it really does come down to a case-by-case basis, partly because I’d like to hope this film version inspires the girls to maybe check back into some classics, but mostly because I think it would be fun to watch together.