I saw Disney’s Saving Mr Banks recently and it made me think about other literary characters that have been interpreted for the screen in a way that might have differed from the author’s original vision. Of course, the film referred to above must be viewed with the understanding that it is essentially a feature length self-tribute by the Walt Disney Company in which truths have inevitably been romanticised so as not to not damage its producer's credibility, but nonetheless I found the tale of P.L.Traver's reluctant consignment of Mary Poppins to the Mickey Mouse hands of Walt Disney to be totally engaging and nostalgic.
After a little research, I discovered that Travers refused to sanction any Mary Poppins sequels as a result of her scarring experience—Disney’s defilement of her beloved characters. This decision is understandable—due to the exposure (and huge success) of Disney’s Mary Poppins in 1964 the characters depicted in Travers’ literary sequels would forever be interpreted in his fashion by a young audience who knew no different—Mary would perpetually carry the bestowed image of the 'twinkly, rosy cheeked delight' that her creator had feared and detested in the first place. A screen version of a character can have a lasting impact on our interpretation of a novel. I know that the characters that I imagined when first reading the Harry Potter novels (pre-blockbuster releases) were forever deceased after I saw the first film and the image of Daniel Radcliffe and his co-stars were imprinted onto my understanding of the characters; the original faces and mannerisms that I personally created have not come back to life. This could be due to my impressionable age when The Philosopher’s Stone was cinematically released in 2001, but it can't be denied that the eight films devoted to the book series have bought Harry Potter to life in every way external to the imagination.
No interpretation of anything will be equally appreciated and inspire the same opinion—where one might see a snake and run a mile in fright, another might be fascinated by the creature and go so far as to keep it in a tank in their home. And where one might read an autobiography in awe and admiration, another might read it with contempt and disagreement. A film creator cannot delve into a writer's mind and accurately reproduce his or her idea, and I'm sure that in almost all cases of a novelist handing over their work, they either have to concede collaborative changes or be forever dissatisfied with some aspect of the process, though the pay cheque may soften the blow a little. In Travers' case, Mary Poppins was not only a character in a book that she wrote for children, but based on a family member and therefore an integrated part of her life. As a life-long fan of the Disney interpretation (it was a big part of my childhood) I found it difficult, when investigating Travers' story, to come to terms with the fact that the writer hated the interpretation that I had loved. If I had read the book before being exposed to the film then I might have created something in my mind influenced only by the writer's words and my imagination. I feel slightly robbed of this opportunity but children of today are robbed of it on a regular basis.
I love film, and after studying a cinema module as part of my current degree, my appreciation for this art form is increasingly expanding. But I'm a firm believer that the imagination is an underrated human tool, irrespective of any categorisation. A book can move me to tears, make me laugh out loud, build tension and fear, and evoke emotion as much as any film can with the best special effects, actors and musical score. When finishing a book that I love, I mourn the end of it and am unable to start a new one for a couple of weeks, an effect which I put down to the extremely personal experience it is to read something that's totally yours to imagine—the words guiding you along the way and playing puppet master. In a time where absolutely everything can be shared through social media, I think that it’s important to incorporate creative ‘selfishness’ into your life by reading. The beauty of the imagination is that not one in the world is the same and I admire P.L.Travers’ reluctance; the hard time she gave Disney in order to protect and dignify her creation—this fragment of her own existence as a writer.