Questions that are rarely asked

Richard Green writes to me:

If the likes of Hitchcock and others could turn works that were mediocre in literature into great films, I wonder what mediocre films could have been great literature.

The point is not to come up with a list (though some of you will) but rather to ponder what we can learn about literature as a medium.  He continues:

…literature adapted from films is almost (and this is a hedge because my experience says invariably) hack work, rushed and held in the lowest regard...Is it because literature is the elder medium, and has a higher status which would prevent condescension to recognising a prior from another medium? Is it because creation is more personal to a individual writer than the inevitable collaboration of film, and so they are loath to allow others’ work in?

Movies need (at least) a plot and a script and that can be taken from a book, with results of varying quality of course.  But I do not have an equal understanding of which factor of production is scarce to writing a good novel.  Do professional writers benefit more from showing originality in creating a world and also creating a language?  There is plenty of fan fiction based on Star Trek and the like but few professional writers take this same tack.

A simple default hypothesis is that movies are more powerful and more real than books.  So a movie based on a book won’t necessarily be overwhelmed by its source but a book based on a movie will be.  Of course there are many books adapted from oral tales so maybe it is the addition of the pictures that is so overwhelming.  I know only a few books adapted from paintings, most notably Gert Hofmann’s excellent Der Blindensturz.


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