TV: keeping literature alive?

Andrew O’Hagan, whose short fiction I tend to admire, but whose criticism has occasionally struck me as remarkably wrong-headed (third item), credits television with keeping literary classics alive.

We should feel grateful that today’s book-averse youths are exposed to at least some form of the classics, the argument goes. Says O’Hagan:

There may be a coming generation who will know the literary classics only from television’s adaptation of them, but that knowledge is better than no knowledge at all. I’m a novelist, so I’m hardly going to argue against the irreplaceable conditions of prose, the pattern and rhythm and truth of good writing. But literature is also about narrative and morality; if it takes a television show to get some of that over to an audience — and possibly to send them to the original source — then there are small grounds for moaning.

(Via the Literary Saloon.)

As a fan of books that have been butchered, or at least twisted, by film and television adaptations, I’m disinclined to agree. Too often viewers believe they’ve been spoonfed the moral — or at least the gist — of a book when they’ve been given something else entirely. (If someone reads a book because he liked the TV version, great. But more often than not, he probably won’t.) That’s not to detract from the independent value of the adaptation itself, just to say that it cannot serve as a substitute for the book.

I’ve broadcast my hatred of Neil Jordan’s The End of the Affair far and wide, but have hesitated to explain the reasons for my loathing, because I don’t want to ruin the book for you. I will say this: Jordan reduces Greene’s story to the simple tale of a jilted lover’s obsession with the woman who loved him. He neglects the larger, transcendent story, the one that forces even the staunchest unbelievers to confront the possibility of the divine.

Anyhow, I’m not the only dissident in a sea of admirers. Earlier this week, Jessa Crispin called for Bookslut’s readership to read the novel immediately, “and then go out and burn any copy of the Neil Jordan adaptation you run across.”

Annie Reid, Maud’s usual Friday blogger, writes both fiction and screenplays. She may disagree with some or all of the things I’ve said here, so I’m filing this post under “Conversations.”

Your reactions are welcome.


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