April 26, 2009

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Do the Movies Make the Book or the Book Make the Movies?

While there are a number of examples of book-to-movie and movie-to-book combinations, I’m choosing to look at one fantasy series and one science fiction series, that began as books and were later made into movies.

First off, I’ll point out that what makes a SF/F book into a movie is the magic of the SERIES. One-off movies of SF/F books don’t seem to make it well as movies. As well, if there IS only one book, moviemakers add movies to make it into a series (“2001”, “2010”, “3001”; “Starship Troopers I, II, III”; “Contact” and “War of the Worlds” are the exceptions to the rule I’ve made up – though WOTW has been made into 2 movies and a musical, so that sort of counts as a series…)

For now though, I want to stick with two book-to-movie combinations and mine those phenomenon for insight: Frank Herbert’s DUNE and J. K. Rowling’s HARRY POTTER.

The first HP book was published in 1997 – with a print run of 1000 books. But it was well-reviewed, winning three awards given for children’s books. The world had not yet experienced Harrypottermania and while the book was undeniably good and critics were comparing Rowling to Roald Dahl, no one was really interested in the movie rights at that time.

DUNE came out in 1965 and won the Hugo and the Nebula (science fiction and fantasy’s Emmy and Oscar awards). Many people loved it and its sequels, but there was no battle over the movie rights at that time, either. It was eventually hailed as “the greatest SF novel ever written”.

It would be four years until the first HP movie hit the silver screen and Daniel Radcliffe was forever branded with the lightning bolt. It would be nineteen years before DUNE was made into a movie for the first time, with rock star “Sting” (Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner) cast as the nephew of the arch-villain Baron Harkonnen.

The HP franchise – books, movies, merchandise – is a tightly woven web and I wasn’t able to find direct figures to back up my guess. HOWEVER, following the release of the first HP movie in 2001 right after the publication of GOBLET, sales of all the books skyrocketed, ending in 2007 with the publication of DEATHLY HALLOW and a total of nearly 28 million books in print. In the past two years, the total number of HP books has reached 400 million in 62 languages. A two-part movie based on DH is slated for release in 2010 and 2011.

On Arrakis, a rumor that a new screen version of DUNE is in the works directed by Peter Berg recently received confirmation. Clearly, this will drive sales of both the original series of six books and the abundance of sequels and prequels written by Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert.

My conclusion?

Not yet. I need to ask the question: what does all this have to do with FAITH? That should be obvious – to have a really popular SF/F books that are made into movies – you need a series and you need RELIGION. Specifically, you need NOT-Christianity. Harry Potter has his roots in paganism/wicca/witchcraft (duh). DUNE is intentionally Buddhist (specifically Zen Buddhist). Both promote their NOT-Christianity to a post-modern world dying for the spiritual.

Author Reggie McNeal in his book THE PRESENT FUTURE, prods the institutional church to get off its religion-club keester and reach the masses. He says: “…although intrigue with institutional religion is down, interest in spirituality is up…there is a spiritual awakening occurring in America. However, it is not informed by Christian theology, and it’s not happening in the church (p 11-12)…Left to their own imagination people will devise all sorts of…stuff about God, from New Age crystals to self-enlightenment. But this is also the opportunity of the current spiritual landscape. People are open to revealed truth of God if they can get it. Unfortunately, the North American church has lost its influence…lost its identity…lost its mission (p 18)...the church’s mission: to join God in his redemptive efforts to save the world (p 19).”

As a writer, my most important question is how can I incorporate this mission into my writing – because CLEARLY people are buying religion. I must become a writer so GOOD that I can sell mine!

My answer to the teaser at the top is that they make each other – but they need a deep religion to do it. I suppose you might say that any book aspiring to be a series or a movie needs to “look a little farther back, in the still and darkness before Time dawned…and read there a different incantation.*”


Steven Brandt said...

I think that the Harry Potter series does not link to paganism/wicca/witchcraft. While it is true that the Potter books are about witches and wizards, I can seen no real ties to the beliefs or practices of the Western occult tradition.

There is no use of Tarot, or worship of gods or goddesses or any kind. In the Potter series, magic is more like an alternate physics triggered by saying words that sound like they could be Latin and pointing a wand.

Having said that, the way they talk to pictures in the Potter novels does remind me of Catholic veneration of the saints, and the immunity to the death curse that Mrs. Potter purchases with her life makes me think of how Christ's death made us able to resist Original Sin, etc.

TheMadItalian said...

I wouldn't classify Dune as Zen Buddhist, thinking on it not sure how I would classify it. :-)

Star Wars Jedi are probably closer to the Buddhist faith.

You'll probably get a lot of messages on Lord of the Ring and Narnia as being Christian themed series that have done pretty well. But they maybe more of the exception that proves the rule.

Rambling here, but you should check out the following book: Summa Elvetica. You can buy the book via Amazon or download it from the author here:


It does a fine job of mixing fantasy with Christian religion. Would make an excellent movie too (IMvHO).

I think there is a very strong market for Christian themed movies and book series - I just don't think the establishment themselves are religious anymore and are in fact overtly hostile to Christian themed stories/movies.

The gems are out there, just getting harder and harder to find.