In recent years I’ve seen several literature-to-film adaptations I enjoyed and could recommend, even as a lover of literature. However, as a children’s librarian and teacher concerned about the wave of aliteracy sweeping the United States, I am cautious. It’s hard enough getting young people to read good books without telling them there is a passive, visually stimulating alternative.
If a film is the only exposure some kids will get to a great literary work, I’ve learned to take what I can get. On the other hand, I honestly believe a good literary adaptation can lead moviegoers to the original work, just as one WonderWorks production of Anne of Green Gables led me to discover—and devour—the novels of Lucy Maude Montgomery.
Still, The Birth of a Nation was adapted from somebody’s idea of great literature. That, along with having seen cinema “auteurs” butcher some genuine classics, makes me wary. One has to be careful, not only of adaptations of books people might want to think twice about reading, but also of screen renditions of worthy books that run roughshod over the original work. For example, there’s a movie I like to call “Demi Moore’s Scarlet Letter.” I won’t even count the ways the film diverges from Hawthorne’s novel.
Jane Austen’s work has fared only slightly better in Hollywood; some aficionados describe both the 1940 Pride and Prejudice with Greer Garson and the 2005 version with Keira Knightley as “Austen Light.” A standout exception, however, is director Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility (1995). Based on Emma Thompson’s outstanding screenplay, the film beautifully captures the essence of the novel and, I’d say, honors Austen’s work as successfully as Peter Jackson did Tolkien’s in The Lord of the Rings movies.
Such happy exceptions may be on the rise. This is due in part to Walden Media’s ongoing efforts to bring literary excellence, particularly in children’s literature, to the big screen. From this rich well sprang fine adaptations of the first two installments in The Chronicles of Narnia, Charlotte’s Web, Because of Winn Dixie, and Holes, just to name a few. And there are more to come—C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters has found a place among Walden’s future releases. Spread the word that the movie is based on a book!
reviewed by Ron VandenBurg
The South African film Son of Man moves the life and death of Jesus Christ from Roman-ruled Judea to a modern day African shantytown. Using the biblical story as a framework, the film delves into African social and political concerns. Here, those in charge watch via television as Jesus leads spontaneous labor rallies calling for the end of injustices toward the workers and the poor. Roman guards are replaced with machine-gun toting thugs. Finally, Jesus’ resurrection points to an optimistic new hope for Africa. (Spier)
Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession
by Anne Ricereviewed by Robert N. Hosack
Long before the current bestselling Twilight vampire series, Anne Rice ruled with her gothic horror classics, such as Interview with the Vampire. In Called Out of Darkness, her powerful spiritual autobiography, Rice deftly describes how geography, aesthetics, and family tragedy shaped a Christ-haunting conversion that has transformed her life and literary goals. Readers learn the sometimes ponderous details of Rice’s early days of ultra-Catholic church upbringing in New Orleans and how she rediscovered and fully embraced her childhood faith after 38 years of virulent atheism. (Knopf)
by Gloria Whelanreviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema
Silvia and Eduardo once believed “nothing evil could reach us.” But they were mistaken. As civil conflict in 1970s Argentina escalates, and government forces cause protesting citizens to “disappear,” the teenage siblings face imprisonment, torture, and the prospect of death. Told in the alternating voices of Silvia and Eduardo, readers encounter a society where, though evil seems victorious, “small creatures” who work together “are stronger than all the generals.” Whelan handles her difficult subject matter deftly and with great sensitivity for her teen audience. (Dial)
by Anathalloreviewed by Elizabeth Gonzalez
Anathallo is living proof that seven people can make music together, artfully and compellingly, as demonstrated in their second release, Canopy Glow. Eighteen national tours have given Anathallo a unified heart that shines through their songs. In “John J. Audubon,” the singers urge the consideration of nature conservation through art. With every member playing multiple instruments, their sound and harmonies melt together so that each song feels as natural as breathing, making Canopy Glow a must for music aficionados. (anticon.)
reviewed by Steph DeBoer
Debating “where media and the church converge” can reveal very different opinions, and now there’s a magazine dedicated to the discussion. Collide presents a variety of articles exploring the use of media in the church. For example, one recent article asked “Should There Be a Video Standard for Churches?” Though the magazine emphasizes how media enhances the overall church experience, the possible negative aspects are also examined. Readers will appreciate Collide’s willingness to discuss both sides of the issue.
The Book of Negroes (Canada)Someone Knows My Name (USA)
by Lawrence Hillreviewed by Rev. Jim Poelman
This gripping novel introduces one of the many people from Africa forced into slavery. Aminata Diallo is the djeli (the storyteller with a purpose) of her own life. Her wisdom and skill will draw readers in, giving a human face and an original name to one of those who became their masters’ property. Aminata’s question, “How could humans do this to each other?” reaches beyond the story of her life into our own. (HarperCollins Canada/W. W. Norton)
Seize the Day: April 26 is Internet Evangelism Day. Go to http://www.internetevangelismday.com to find out how your church can use its website and other Internet tools to reach out.A Daily Dose of Calvin: Princeton Theological Seminary is celebrating John Calvin’s 500th by offering online readings of the Institutes. Read them, listen to them, or download them to your iPod. Go to www.ptsem.edu/calvin2009.Add Some Color: The Charley Harper Coloring Book takes some of Harper’s distinctive illustrations and turns them into coloring pages that no one could resist. (Ammo)