Hello, my darling readers!
I finally got around to checking out a novel (and its adaptation) that has been on my radar for such a long time. So, without further ado, let’s dive right in!
The Plot (as found on Goodreads):
Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.
Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”
Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.
Book vs. Movie:
I’ve had Joe Hill’s novel on my radar for the longest time, even since before the show was announced. However, somehow, I just never got around to reading it, even though I enjoyed everything I’ve ever picked up by him. Well, I finally found some time in my schedule, and all I can say is that I loved the book. It is dark, it is twisted, it is spooky, it is smart.
Joe Hill does an amazing job weaving this story that spans the course of so many years, feeding the reader bits of information, always leaving you wondering, wanting more. Writing horror stories really must be in his genes, but I have to say I think I prefer his writing style of his father’s (Stephen King). Even though the novel comes with quite a hefty page count, it never drags on or feels too long. Hill really enraptures the reader and leaves you unable to put the book down.
I swear, I was hooked from the first chapter on. That was enough to give anyone the chills! The story is super creative and I don’t think I’ve ever read or seen anything quite like it before. There’s also something in the construction of Hill’s characters, something in their development that I really enjoy. I can’t put my finger on it, but he sets himself apart from other writers in that regard as well. Furthermore, I think I need to give him a shoutout for actually writing women well. The protagonist is female and I didn’t have any cringe moments! (looking at you, menwritingwomen reddit)
Reading the book I immediately felt that it would make for a great TV show. There are many elements to the story that I expected to work great on screen, so I was very excited to watch the adaptation.
My excitement was short-lived. The show starts off in a bit of a different spot than the novel, not just because the first chapter that was so intriguing doesn’t roll around until a lot later, but mainly because we meet Vic at a different point in her life. While in the novel she discovers the Shorter Way Bridge as a kid, she’s 18 in the show. And that’s just the first of *many* changes. Essentially, they took Joe Hill’s idea, but they changed all the details. It already irked me in the first episode but I can’t stop watching 10 minutes in, just because it isn’t exactly like the book! I wanted to give the adaptation a fair chance, so I finished the season. I still feel ambivalent about it. I might have been able to overlook that they simply tried to condense the story into a shorter time period. But there were many other details that bothered me. For example, for some reason, Vic gets two love interests in this season (at least we didn’t get any annoying love triangle scenes), whereas in the book there were none until Lou. I see why they included one of them, but even that wasn’t necessary. The story still could have done nicely without either of them, and I would have preferred it if instead of those scenes we had gotten more insight into some of the specifics. But then again, they couldn’t have done that because they changed so many details, not all of them making sense.
Another thing that really annoyed me was Maggie Leigh. I do like her character, even though she also differs substantially from the book. But, hear me out, this one made me roll my eyes. In the novel, we learn that using your ability, takes a toll on you. In Maggie’s case, using her Scrabble bag gave her a stutter that gets a bit worse every time. She has a stutter the first time we encounter her, and it gets worse of the course of the novel. In the show, however, literally the only time, the singular instance, she actually stutters is when she explains this to Vic and says “I didn’t always have a s-s-stutter”. That’s it. Girl, you don’t have a stutter now. At least you didn’t stutter in any of the episodes you were in! My best guess is that the producers thought it would annoy the audience or something??? Otherwise, I don’t know why they chose to a) simply ignore this important part of the character and then b) make this beyond shitty attempt at something still including it in the show.
Another interesting change occurred in terms of Charlie Manx. Let me preface this by saying they did an amazing job showing his aging and de-aging process. Two thumbs up for that. Zachary Quinto plays the role to perfection as well! The change I’m talking about tackles his motivation. In the novel, he often talks about his first wife and what a bitch he was, and that somehow he rescued their kids from her by taking them to Christmasland. His growing hatred for that woman seems to have fueled his distaste for women and certain behaviors in general (for example, he comments on Vic’s tattoos and her clothes). In the show, the blinking neon sign instead screams “MOMMY ISSUES”. He somehow seems to have an unhealthy fixation on women having sex after they had kids. (I know this sounds weird, but I don’t have a better way of describing it). It somehow struck me as a very different vibe from the book. In this season, we see him abduct three kids, and in two cases he specifically raises the point I just laid out. His henchman Bing also gives off a bit of a different vibe here. I think he was so, so much worse in the novel. However, my theory here is that they dialed down some of the most disturbing bits from the book to avoid an 18+ rating.
What also really didn’t help the show is including Vic’s parents a lot more. They are both gunning for that “parent of the year” sticker for sure. Her father is just an absolute cunt. Her mother, while annoying yet somewhat tolerable in the book, just continuously pissed me off in the show. At least in the novel we leave them behind as a big part is about Vic as an adult, but here they are present throughout the entire first season. Hell no.
I understand that some changes were made to fill one season and somehow give it a bit of an ending while still leaving a crack open for season two. But I feel like none of the changes made actually were for the better. At least, there was nothing that stood out as being an extreme improvement over the novel. For example, adding in the character Jolene was intriguing but her ability lacked some information and details for me to fully make sense. So, while this had potential, ultimately it was a bit of a letdown. Another thing that came with the changes is Vic’s mental struggles. In the book, we learn how over many years she kept hearing voices, kept thinking she was insane, kept struggling. In an attempt to include this in the show she is in hospital for her mental health for a bit, but that also just lacks depth, especially on Vic’s part. Something I also wondered was who paid for that hospital stay? Both her parents apparently work under the table and constantly complain about money. Neither one of them strikes me as the kind of person to have health insurance, and hospitals in the U.S. are expensive. At least in the book her rehab and mental facility stays are explained in being financed with the money she made with an illustrated children’s book she wrote. See, that’s just what I mean with all those little details they changed that don’t really make sense. I know many people would yell at me to just not question everything so much, but that’s what I like to do. Also, the book simply did a much better job! It might not have been perfect either but at least there were no gaping holes in its logic.
This adaptation is a pale attempt at capturing the uniqueness of the novel. They took the idea and tried to make it work, but as we all know, the devil’s in the details. And those were changed so much that the show failed to enrapture and fascinate me as the book did. I’m curious to see if they’ll do a better job in season two. Maybe if they stick closer to the original story this could be salvaged.
Did you prefer the book or the show? Let me know in the comments!