7 English Lit Classics I’ve had to Watch the Movie to Understand

Anybody ever like a movie adaptation better than the book because of confusion regarding the themes/language/historical context of the story? Below I’ve listed some that I’ve come across during my English Lit education.

1. Great Expectations

I heartily tried a few times to read this book, but I just couldn’t seem to get past the beginning. I think also the sheer weight of the novel was a bit intimidating for me—and given my young age when I first tackled it, I found the old Victorian language a bit difficult to understand. However, after watching the movie, I was able to not only recollect the bit I did read, but also see how the story evolved and Pip’s character developed, making it a memorable story.

2. The Secret Garden

I think this movie highlights all the best points of the book and introduces some new ones pleasing to the young mind. I first watched the film when I was around 7 or 8, long before I tried to read the book as a high school sophomore, and loved the mystery, the music, and the characters portrayed by very talented actors (Maggie Smith? Of course!). The costumes and the 1900’s English setting were also very well done, which I think first spurred my interest in the era. I really wanted to read the book and finally did in 10th grade…only to find it more disappointing than the film. Mary Lennox seemed a lot more hateable to me, given her sour attitude that never seemed to change, and Dickon, who is to this day one of my favorite supporting characters in film, did not seem that essential to the story or Mary’s character development. The only one who I saw real character growth in the book was Colin (who I didn’t care for that much in the movie…how ironic).

3. Nicholas Nickleby

I also watched this movie before reading the book and have to say that I enjoyed it a little more than the book. I’ll admit that I read an abridged version of the audiobook instead of tackling the million-paged book, so this opinion had spawned from the fault of my own lazy actions. I was most disappointed with the fact that the abridged book (at least, the version that I read) left out The Crummles Troupe! Why??

4. To Kill A Mockingbird

In high school, no matter what I did, I could not stay focused while reading this book. To me, it was a collection of dialogue in a time and an era that did not seem to make sense to me. However, once I watched the classic film with Gregory Peck, I was able to understand more about the prejudice of the era and other themes contained in this book.

5. Romeo and Juliet

As classic as this tale is, I won’t deny that reading it in its original language and format is quite difficult for middle and high schoolers. Luckily, my middle school English teacher also showed us clips from film adaptations while learning the gist of Shakespearean plays. This is something I plan to do when/if I teach Shakespeare.

6. Beowulf

I don’t remember much about this story, except how grateful I was when my teacher showed us a clip from a film adaptation. Being the example of Old English it is, it’s sad that something classic like this should be misunderstood from its language and history that may be unfamiliar to students of today’s age. Like Romeo and Juliet, I plan to combine visual clips with this literature to help students better understand this epic that has been defined as the bedrock of English literature.

7. The Island

1984 was a novel that I was not a fan of from the get-go, but I liked the idea of the possible existence of a dystopian society. Sensing our class’s confusion, in order to help us better visualize the new world that Orwell created, my English teacher showed us clips from the film The Island, which drew upon the storyline and the themes contained in Orwell’s work (so I’m told). I turned out actually liking the film and was able to understand the concepts in Orwell’s imagination a bit better.

Published by Ashley Weaver

Author of historical fiction with a hint of the supernatural/fantasy

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