Film and Books in the Classroom

(Imported from: [link])

In my current Survey of Shakespeare class, we’re watching a movie version of A Comedy of Errors as we’re reading the play.  That’s fine because Shakespeare is hard to understand, and seeing the scenes acted out makes the text easier to understand.

What would not be fine is if a teacher were to teach, for example, Harry Potter, and show the movie as the students read the book.  Harry Potter is fairly recent, you don’t need the film to understand the text, it’s more likely that you’ll need the book to better understand the movie because they leave so much stuff out.  And you should be starting with the book in the first place; I was unfortunate enough to read the books after watching the movies, so all I saw as I read were the faces of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, etc.–not that they’re not attractive people–I just missed out on the opportunity to give the characters my own faces.

Over the years, I’ve sometimes asked classmates if they’ve read a particular book for class and one of the responses was, “Nope, but I saw the movie.  Same thing, right?”  No.  That’s such a lazy thing to do, and anyone who does that is missing out on so much. Imagining a novel is a much different experience than having it imagined for you and having it displayed on a screen.  There are always things you see that others will see differently from reading the same text.  You don’t get that experience sitting in front of a TV.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t show movies in the classroom.  It’s the 21st century, you might as well get Netflix and hook up your laptop to a projector.  But be smart about it.  Not only should you choose books that don’t have movie adaptations, but you should also choose films that at first glance have nothing to do with the books you’re teaching.

My high school English teacher taught Beowulf as an example of the genre of epics.  Instead of showing the horrible film to the class, he showed Whale Rider.  What?  How does that have anything to do with Beowulf?  Quite a bit, actually.  We soon learned that the storyline of Whale Rider shares many conventions with the epic.  If you’re going to show a movie to the class, which you should, have them make thematic connections between two texts of different media.  Pretty soon they’ll be comparing Doctor Who to Plato.  Or something, I don’t know.


4 thoughts on “Film and Books in the Classroom

  1. Christopher Dunlap

    I definitely observe that the full imagining of a novel is left on the page when it is adapted to screen. But, do I think this makes the novel better than the movie? My answer is not really. I hold them as two different flavors of the same story. For example, I really enjoy the book series ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ that is currently being adapted for the television as ‘Game of Thrones’. These novels are very complex with dozens of character perspectives and 7 or more story lines. Is much of the story left on the page with this adaptation? Yes. I do not think that this diminishes the grandeur and artistic value of the show. I truly enjoy both of them. Another example is the forthcoming Hobbit movie that is coming out. Tolkien’s works are the greatest fantasies ever written, and the ‘The Hobbit’ is a particular favorite of mine. Will Hollywood take liberties with the story telling? Do I think it is weird that they will be including characters from ‘Lord of the Rings’ that were never in ‘The Hobbit’. Yes to all, but I am still more excited for that movie than any other film in my life. I will gladly take a visual imagining of my favorite stories, even if the creator adds or removes some elements as they see fit.

  2. Michelle Zamora

    I do find that watching Shakespeare plays as I’m reading it helps me better understand exactly what is going on. But at the same time I chastise myself because I should be far enough along in my English Lit. education to be able to understand it all on my own!! Double edged sword I think…Anyway, I do agree that watching the movie is not the same thing as reading the book. I am guilty of doing that if I’m really not all the interested in reading the book. The first time I watched a movie and saw that it was based on a book, I was so in love with the film version that I went ahead and read the book, only to literally inhale the next four books that followed. What fun that was!! But it doesn’t usually happen. And Beowulf with Whale Rider? I’m going to check that out! After the semester…

  3. Mildred

    The trend these days is to bring out movies based on books so I get where you are coming from but just to show another point of view I’ll point out that just watching the movie isn’t as bad as you say. I’ll say this because reading isn’t what it used to be like radios aren’t as big as they were when they were the only popular thing. Most people don’t like to read and learn most of their facts from documentaries, television or movies. It really all depends on the person. There for watching the movie is preferable in comparison to the individual never knowing anything about that particular book. The movie might even lead the person to want to read the book. I don’t know just saying 😀

  4. Alicia Ponce

    I completely agree that it’s a lazy thing for someone to do. To watch a move instead of a book has the watcher miss out on what they could have been reading in the books. The movie always has missing pieces that a reader should be able to get from the book. I’ve always wanted to read books so that allows for me to not have that problem. When I watch the movies, I never liked how they had to leave out so many important things. It’s odd.

    Technology has definitely been changing the world – we no longer rely on paperback as much. We’re in the transition from books to eBooks, Kindles, and Nooks.


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