Texts in Adaptation

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It is not often I have time to sit down and enjoy a movie. We don’t watch much television. It’s probably because I refuse to pay for streaming services and there’s very little worth watching on the free to air channels. So we read or occasionally watch one of the movies or tv shows we have on DVD. 

However yesterday I sat down to watch the 2017 live action movie of Beauty and the Beast. Bec and I went to see it when it premiered here in the cinemas. It had special meaning for Bec as she was in the chorus when her school staged the Beauty and the Beast musical. It was quite interesting to sit in a cinema packed with adults to see a film about a Disney princess. And of course, we loved it.

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This time though, I was required to watch the film for my studies this semester. What kind of course requires me to watch a Disney film, you might well ask. The best kind of course I would think. A course that studies texts and their various screen adaptations, such as Beauty and the Beast, Pride and Prejudice, Logan, and an Australian film you may not be so familiar with, Jindabyne.  

Texts in Adaptation (that is indeed the title of the course) delves into the world of both literary and screen adaptations. As readers we all have opinions about much loved books being turned into movies, usually with the declaration – “It’s not as good as the book!” And until recently I would have said the same. However this course is challenging us to rethink the concept of an adaptation, to reject the idea of fidelity (faithfulness to the text) and to consider adaptations as texts in of themselves. The definition of text here also includes other media such as movies, tv and computer games.

It has prompted me to think about why we tend to think that the book is always better. Most often I think it is because we are readers first. We first experience the story and fall in love with it as a reader. The reading experience is completely different to the screen experience. Reading involves using our imagination to see the setting, the characters and the action unfold in our minds. We can choose the pace of the story, whether to read it slowly over a number of days or weeks, or to indulge in a binge read of a complete series. We can delight in the beauty of language as the authors creates worlds in our mind, arouses our sense, and taps into our emotions. We can reread parts or even skip ahead to the end. Our mind is actively engaged in making meaning from the text.

 

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Watching a movie, on the other hand, is a very different experience. While it can be exciting to see a beloved text on the big screen, we lose the choice of how the characters are depicted. Scenes and characters can be added or deleted. The setting or time frame or even the ending can be completely changed. We can come away thrilled at the experience or disappointed that it does not live up to the text that lives in our imaginations.

Sometimes there are practical reasons for changes. Sometimes the director or producers have a completely different interpretation of the text or motivation for even making the adaptation in the first place. Every reader interacts with a text in a different and personal way so it is impossible for an adaptation to please every one. But I think that one of the main reasons that we believe the book is always better, is that it is the way we first interact with the story. It’s not to say that screen adaptations are necessarily inferior, (although some probably are) – they are just different. The book is our first love and no adaptation can ever really replace that. 

 

The fidelity of an adaptation is often the thing that can get readers in a tizzy. We may love the text so much that any change is considered sacrilegious. But we might like to think a bit more about this idea of a text as original. Beauty and the Beast is a good example. Most people are probably familiar with the Disney version of this tale, however the origins of Beauty and the Beast date back to at least the second century CE with the story of Cupid and Psyche. There are numerous variations of the tale, including the one often considered as the original, de Beaumont’s version published in 1756. But as we know, fairy tales come from a long tradition of oral storytelling, so all these variations could be considered adaptations of adaptations…the original tale has been probably long lost. Do we really then have any right to be picky about screen adaptations? Aren’t they just another retelling in a long line of retellings which will continue as each successive generation retells the story for its own time?

It will be interesting to learn more about the business of adapting a text for the screen and the way that we can learn to appreciate an adaptation for what it brings to the story and the new meanings it may create, even when it may not be to our liking. I will still probably prefer the book, but that’s because I am a reader and the book will always be my first love. 

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Good Intentions

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Every semester I swear that I will be better organised and plan it all out. (it never happens)

I swear that I will start early and not leave things to the last minute. (yeah, so much for that idea)

I even print out the very useful planning templates from the university and put them on the pinup board that has been painted for that very purpose. (at least it looked nice)

And still life turns out like this …

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Despite all the promises and beginning of semester resolutions, the last few weeks have been a mad sprint to the finish as I suddenly realised how many words I yet had to write before a series of fast looming due dates.

So I’ve been reading, reading, reading….and writing, writing, writing….

And at the end of that, I felt very much like this….

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So I promised myself that the next day I would just chill out.

I didn’t want to look at a screen.

I didn’t want to read a single word, let alone write one.

Just for one day.

One day stretched into a whole week.

I couldn’t even muster the energy to read for fun, and as someone who thinks that life without reading would be like living without breathing, well, that is so bad in so many ways.

But eventually life has returned to normal. I have finished agonising over what I should have written in that essay and didn’t and I’m slowly getting back to all the things that I pushed aside until… well, after.

It’s been hard getting the mojo back but I don’t think you can force these things. Sometimes we need to be kind to ourselves, follow our own schedule for a while and take time out to do the things that bring us joy.

And next semester I swear I will plan. I will actually fill in those templates. I will start early.  I will be better organised. (yeah, right)

Why Study History?

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Photo by Darran Shen on Unsplash

Studying history often gets a bad rap. It is seen just as a long dull list of dates and dead people. However, I find history really interesting. It can also be sobering, tragic and sometimes, downright horrific. But I believe that if you want to know where we are going in the future, you need to know where we have been

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” – Marcus Garvey

When we delve into the past, we can trace the movement of people, ideas and changes in cultures and societies. History provides a fascinating revelation of how our forebears thought, lived and died. It highlights achievements in medicine and science, as well as the devastating consequences of war, famine and disease.

Ancient history often seems quite remote to us here in the 21st century, but it is surprising how we can join the dots from then to here and now, one thought leading to another, one event leading to another, one era evolving into another. History is not just the story of some ancient people, in a far away land, in a time forgotten. History is the story of us.

“History is who we are and why we are the way we are.” – David McCullough

We can go back hundreds or even thousands of years, to medieval Europe or to ancient Greece, or we can just go back to a time that is still in living memory. Even though we are now living in the 21st century, the events of the 20th century are still clear as bell for many of us. Some of us might still remember where we were when JFK was shot, when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon or when the twin towers came down. However, it still feels somewhat startling to discover that the time of your childhood is now considered history, even if it only feels like yesterday.

Photos by Cristina Gottardi, Tom Parkes & Holger Link on Unsplash

When we wander back through history, we can find stories of ordinary people, just like us, living, working, breeding and dying, and events that changed the world, like fire, sea navigation, the printing press. For many of us, the 20th century has been a period of rapid change, of great achievements and of unspeakable horror. If you were to make a list of the top ten events of the 20th century that changed the world, what would you choose?

While everybody’s list might look a little different, I think there would be some events that would make it onto every list. Here’s a list that I came across recently.

Top 10 Most Important Events of the 20th Century

  1. World War I and World War II
  2. Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1945)
  3. Holocaust (1933-1945)
  4. Rise of Hitler (1919-1933)
  5. Great Depression (1929-1939)
  6. Discovery of Penicillin (1928)
  7. Fall of Berlin Wall (1989)
  8. Landing on the Moon (1969)
  9. Bombing of Pearl Harbor (1941)
  10. Assassination of JFK (1963)

How does it compare with your list? For me, the two World Wars and the Holocaust always rank highly in my mind. And it doesn’t seem to matter how much we think we already know about these events, there is always more for us to learn. We can read about the facts of WWI and the Holocaust, but we can only imagine how it must have actually felt for those who went through it and for those who survived. With Europe in ruins and the horror of the Holocaust revealed, the question both then and now is – how did we come to this?

And this is where the study of history comes in. We can look back years, even decades before, and trace the ideas, the events, the people. But – we need to be careful.

“historians always know how the story ended; vision in hindsight is always perfect.” (Findley & Rothney, 2011, p77)

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. In the full knowledge of what we know now, we can look back and see what could or should have happened, what world leaders should have or should not have done. It’s so easy to point the finger and cast judgement. Would we have chosen any differently?

Perhaps we might wish we could turn back time and change the course of history, but then we would not be where we are today. It could be better or it could be worse – we will never know. Whether tragic or horrific, amazing or marvellous, the events of the past have made us who we are today. The things we do today will be the history of the future. Let’s do all we can to make it a good one.

 

Findley, CV & Rothney, JAM 2011, Twentieth-Century World, 7th edn, Wadsworth, Belmont CA.

Studying in the 21st Century

 

 

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The holidays are over and it’s time to get my head back into the books. The art of being a student has changed quite remarkably since I began my first university course way back in the 80’s. 

In those days …

  • We lined up for hours to enrol in subjects only to discover, when we finally got to the desk, that all the best tutorial times were already taken
  • We waited in the sun, wind and rain for the bus to arrive to take us into the city and back home again
  • We huddled in freezing lecture theatres, writing madly as the lecturer droned on and on and on
  • We spent hours in the library thumbing through the card catalogue, paging through the journal indexes, lugging journal volumes the size of a brick to the photocopier which needed to be fed with numerous coins in order to produce a blurry take-home copy
  • We stood nervously in front of the tutorial class, stammering through those dreaded oral presentations, only to be flummoxed by a tricky question 
  • We wrote our assignments by hand, on real paper, and pushed them under the lecturer’s door, just in the nick of time
  • We groped our way through the heavy cloud of smoke that filled the cafeteria just to grab a cup of the student’s best friend – coffee!

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Today …

  • I complete my enrolment with just a few clicks 
  • I study from the comfort of my own home
  • I listen to recorded lectures at my desk,  pausing the lecturer midstream to jot down a brief note on the powerpoint slides I have already downloaded, printed out and skimmed beforehand
  • I peruse the online library catalogue, download journal articles and read online books without having to leave home, though I still do borrow some real books from the library – not everything is online
  • I work through the readings and coursework independently and complete the tutorial activities in the online student forums
  • I type up my assignments in Word and submit them electronically, just in the nick of time – some things never change!
  • I no longer need to hold my breath if I happen to visit the cafeteria – coffee is still a student’s best friend 

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The Advantages of Studying Online

You might think that studying from home can get a bit lonely. Some people prefer to learn in a more social environment so studying online is probably not for them. However, for me, it means I can organise my study schedule around family commitments and listen to lectures when it’s convenient for me. I still get to know other students – just in a different way. We may never meet face to face, but we get to know each other in the online forums. After a while, you start to see familiar names popping up again and again in classes. At USQ, most of the students are studying online. It’s not uncommon at all for most of the students in my classes to also be studying online from anywhere in Australia and across the world. They bring a variety of perspectives and life experiences to the online classroom and enrich the learning of us all.

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Life Long Learning

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I am often asked why I am studying or what do I hope to do with my Arts Degree when I am finished. Sometimes I find it difficult to give a satisfactory answer because the answer isn’t always straightforward. I study because I love learning. I study to learn more about subjects that are of special interest to me, such as English Literature, History and Creative Writing. I study because I wanted a career change. I study because I want to challenge myself and try something new. I study because I believe in life long learning.

We are all life long learners. Our learning doesn’t stop the day we leave school or graduate with a degree. Every day we learn from each other – at home, at work, at school, in the community. It’s often said that we learn something new every day. It doesn’t have to be anything truly earth-shattering. It can be something very simple. And even when we make a mistake or have a disaster, we learn what not to do.

Over the past few years I have learned quite a few new things. As an online student, I have learned some new things about technology. Even though I now live in Toowoomba, and the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) is based here in Toowoomba, I still find online study to be a more flexible option for me. And I am not the only one. Many of the students at USQ are distance students from across Australia and even the world. Studying online is a popular choice for people trying to balance work, family and study.

It hasn’t always been easy to balance study with family responsibilities. I try to organise my study timetable while Dan is at Yellow Bridge and this works most of the time. It’s not that Dan is difficult to manage, it’s just that he really loves computer screens and it’s very difficult to concentrate when you have someone peering over your shoulder. There are times though, when it has been a bit of a mad scramble to get an assignment in on time and that’s when I vow to be better organised in the next semester.

Well, the first semester for 2018 is just around the corner and for the first time, we will have two uni students in the family continuing their journey of life long learning. While I will be parked in front of my computer here in Toowoomba, Bec will begin studying in Brisbane. Even though I am just over half way through my degree, we joke that she will probably graduate before me. It’s okay. It’s the journey that matters, not the speed. It will be strange not having her around so much, but it is very exciting to see the next generation of students full of enthusiasm about the learning opportunities available to them. I wonder if their enthusiasm will have dimmed when the first round of assignments are due.

A new semester is a bit like New Year. We promise to be better organised, to keep up with the readings, to start our assignments well in advance and to not be reduced to pulling all-nighters to get them in on time. Every semester we promise it will be different – and then life happens. Family crises strike. We get sick, and tired. Appointments take up space in an already crowded schedule.  Perhaps this year it will be different.

So what will I be learning this semester? I’m about to get my head into Ethics and Human Rights, as well as Speculative and Science Fiction. I think Ethics will be quite challenging and require a fair bit of mental acrobatics, but at the same time I think it will be interesting to think about the difference between ethics and morality, how we determine right and wrong and how we know what we think we know. And as an avid reader, I am definitely looking forward to  Speculative and Science Fiction, although I hardly need an excuse to get into some sf classics like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Dune by Frank Herbert.

I have really enjoyed my learning experience at USQ but you don’t need to go to Uni to be a life long learner. Every day is an opportunity to learn something new. Read a book. Watch a foreign movie. Make a new friend. Join a club. Accept a challenge. Embrace change. Be a life long learner.

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