Friday, May 18, 2007

On Page or Screen

I just finished a delightfully charming book - Baroness Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel. Set in 1792, it tells the story of an Englishman who sets out to smuggle French royals out of France to save them from the guillotine during the French Revolution. He is a master of deception and disguise and his identity is known only to his closest comrades - to all others he is simply The Scarlet Pimpernel - a nickname granted from the symbol of the small flower (see left) that he signs to all his messages. ***Warning Spoilers Ahead - if you want to read the book or see the movie without knowing anything about it stop reading now!*** The book follows the tale of Marguerite who secretly admires the Pimpernel while scorning her foppish husband Sir Percy Blackeney. Astute readers (or those that have seen a film or stage version prior to reading it) will easily deduce that the effete Percy and the daring Pimpernel are one in the same. Oddly enough (or shall I say "Odd's Fish!"), one could easily argue that the 1905 novel created the original model for a superhero with a secret identity - over a decade before Johnston McCulley's Don Diego de la Vega, aka Zorro. Plenty of literary critics have compared Percy's witless persona with the mild-mannered Clark Kent or have noted that as one of the wealthiest men in London, the Blackeney fortune is similar to that of Bruce Wayne's.

On reading the book, I was far from new to the tale of the Pimpernel. Sometime in high school I watched the 1982 version of the film The Scarlet Pimpernel starring Anthony Andrews as the lead with supporting roles by a very young Jane Seymour and a dark haired Sir Ian McKellan. (I also saw the 1999 version that was on TV, but I think I liked the '82 film better. And no I haven't seen the musical but I'll jump at the chance to if it comes back to Chicago.) I can't say the I preferred the book or the movie - both are equally charming - but as I read the novel, I had a very clear picture of Anthony Andrews playing Percy. And it brought up some interesting thoughts of the Books vs. Movies debate. Would I have liked the book as much if I had never seen the movie? Would I have pictured a different Pimpernel without the preconceived notions I had in my head?

Generally, I'm a Read the Book Before Seeing the Movie type of person. Mostly because I would rather hate a movie that butchered a good book rather than being disappointed by a book that wasn't as good as it's on screen counterpart. Anyone else have any thoughts on the matter?

As a random side note, I have a "movie" tag in my LibraryThing library and it's interesting to see that over 40 of the books I've read lately have had movie tie-ins. Not sure if this means that my book choices are getting too Hollywood inspired or if screen writers are just getting kind of lazy.


Anonymous said...

Speaking of movies of books, I noticed you also "recently read" Howl's Moving Castle. Did you like the book or movie better?

lisa :) said...

I actually never saw the movie of HMC but the book was delightful. Even from the first paragraph I was enjoying it. Cute fantasy tale with a not too sappy love story mixed into it.