Is the Book Always Better?

The answer to my headline is "Yes, the book is always better than the TV or movie adaptation," we all know that.  Books offer more detail, they allow the reader to see the actual thoughts of the characters, and they spark the imagination far more vividly than a live-action recreation can ever hope to achieve. Having said that, HBO's Game of Thrones comes pretty close to matching, if not necessarily topping, the excellence of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire epic fantasy book series.

The television show is a hit not just because of the sex and violence, but also because it has remained so true to the original source material. Almost beat for beat it has followed Martin's exquisite plot. The casting has been superb. All the fantasy elements, which could have made it appear silly if not done right, have been portrayed perfectly, keeping the viewer in the moment, believing all the actions taking place in the land of Westeros.

So often, a movie or a TV show fails to fully capture the essence of a beloved book, whether Lord of the Flies by William Golding or Dune by Frank Herbert. Some have managed to come close, such as Peter Jackson's amazing version of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Yet, for the most part, the adage still rings true that it's never as good as the book.

In the case of Game of Thrones, people who have never read the novels are falling in love with the characters and being mesmerized by the gripping story. Kudos to the books' fans for not revealing all the twists and turns of the plot, so that folks watching for the first time are not having the huge surprises spoiled.  (Season three should have a doozy!)

For me, at least, it's preferable to read a book first before seeing the adaptation, but I confess I've occasionally done the reverse and seen a movie or TV show without knowing anything about the source material and then having a wonderful, richer experience reading the book. In those cases, however, I fall into the trap of seeing the characters in the book as the actors who played them on the screen. I can never see Sookie Stackhouse in the novels by Charlaine Harris, for example, as anyone else other than Anna Paquin who plays her on True Blood.

Whether you see the movies first or read the books beforehand, you must admit it's tough not to picture Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint as Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley. Although I've read The Hobbit a bunch of times since I was a kid, I now cannot avoid seeing Gandalf as Ian McKellen. This isn't necessarily bad, just a blurring of the media.

I hope Game of Thrones continues to excel on HBO and hopefully drive more curious fans to pick up the books that inspired it if they haven't done so already. Will they love the story even more?