N°2 |“A Distinct Novel of the Same Name”: Adapting Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Honeymoon from Stage to Page

Suzanne Bray


Although most works of adaptation theory acknowledge that many forms of adaptation exist, most of them are concerned with the transformation of written texts or true-life stories for the screen. Equally, as Linda Hutcheon remarks, “an adaptation is likely to be greeted as minor and subsidiary and certainly never as good as the original” (xiv), except when the adapter is more famous than the author of the source text. Evaluating the adaptation is made more complicated by the fact that the adapter often has different ideas and priorities from the original author. The case of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Busman’s Honeymoon provides an exception to these norms, thus facilitating its use as an example of adaptation techniques. The play was written first and then adapted into a novel immediately afterwards by the author. The context of the two works is therefore identical. The novel is better known than the play, but both works enjoy approximately the same degree of critical esteem. Moreover, in Sayers’ correspondence with Muriel St Clair Byrne, her collaborator for the play and one of her advisors during the novelization process, the author explains her intentions and adaptation difficulties.

This article traces Sayers’ writing processes during the composition of the play and the novel, showing how the original play is both an adaptation of the principles of detective fiction’s “fair-play rule” for the stage and a traditional comedy of manners. On the other hand, the novel represents a complete rethinking of the plot in terms of narrative, replacing the visual with the verbal, resulting in a work that is “not the ordinary novel of the play, but a distinct novel of the same name” (Letters 2 3). The two works fully support Kamilla Elliott’s controversial insistence that adaptation proves that “form (expression) can be separated from content (ideas)” (3-5), even if the novel contains additional ideas which are not present in the play.


Bien que la majorité des écrits sur les théories d’adaptation reconnaissent qu’il existe de nombreuses formes d’adaptation, la plupart d’entre eux aborde surtout la transformation de textes écrits ou d’histoires vraies pour l’écran. De même, comme le constate Linda Hutcheon, “le plus souvent on reçoit une adaptation comme une version mineure ou inférieure, jamais aussi bien que l’originale”, sauf quand l’adaptateur est plus célèbre que l’auteur du support d’origine. Évaluer l’adaptation se complique encore davantage parce que l’adaptateur a souvent des priorités et des idées différentes de celles de l’auteur. Le cas de Busman’s Honeymoon (Noces de crime) de Dorothy L. Sayers présente une exception à ces règles, ce qui facilite son utilisation comme exemple des techniques d’adaptation. Sayers écrit d’abord la pièce de théâtre et l’adapte la même année pour en faire un roman. Le contexte des deux œuvres est donc identique. Le roman est plus connu que la pièce, mais les deux ont été reçus avec le même enthousiasme par les critiques. D’ailleurs, dans les lettres rédigées par Sayers à Muriel St Clair Byrne, sa co-autrice pour la pièce, elle explique ses intentions et ses difficultés pendant le processus de transposition en roman.

Cet article suit les méthodes d’écriture de Sayers pendant la rédaction de la pièce et du roman pour montrer comment la pièce est à la fois une adaptation pour la scène du principe de “fair-play” dans le roman policier et une comédie de mœurs traditionnelle. En revanche, pour le roman, Sayers a dû repenser complètement l’intrigue en termes de stratégie narrative, en remplaçant le visuel par le verbal pour en faire une œuvre qui n’est pas “le roman de la pièce, mais un ouvrage distinct avec le même titre”. Les deux œuvres illustrent pleinement l’idée polémique de Kamilla Elliott que l’adaptation fournit la preuve que “la forme (l’expression) peut être séparée du contenu (les idées)”, même si le roman comporte des éléments supplémentaires par rapport à la pièce.


        While most works of adaptation theory acknowledge that many forms of adaptation exist, the vast majority of them are principally concerned with the transformation of written texts (mainly novels) or true-life stories for the cinema or television. Equally, as Linda Hutcheon points out, “an adaptation is likely to be greeted as minor and subsidiary and certainly never as good as the original” (xiv), except in the rare instances when the adapter is more famous than the author of the source text. In most cases, evaluating the adaptation is made more complicated by the fact that the adapter often, quite legitimately, has a different context, different ideas and priorities from the original author, which influence critics’ perception of the later work. The case of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Busman’s Honeymoon provides an exception to these rules, thus facilitating its use as an example of adaptation techniques. The play, which was a great success when first performed in 1936, was written first and then adapted into a novel immediately afterwards by the principal author of the play. The context of the two works is therefore identical. In addition, the novel is better known than the play, but both works enjoy approximately the same degree of critical esteem. Moreover, in Sayers’ correspondence with Muriel St Clair Byrne, her collaborator for the play and one of her three advisors during the novelization process, the author explains her intentions and adaptation difficulties in some detail.

        This paper will trace Sayers’ writing processes and intentions during the composition of the play and the novel, to show how the original play is, in itself, an adaptation of the principles of detective fiction’s “fair-play rule” for the stage, while combining this with the traditional romantic comedy of manners. On the other hand, the novel represents a complete rethinking of the plot in terms of narrative, replacing the visual with the verbal, resulting in a work which, as Sayers hoped, is “not the ordinary novel of the play, but a distinct novel of the same name” (Letters 2 13), with a completely different structure from the play. The two works fully support Kamilla Elliott’s controversial insistence that adaptation proves that “form (expression) can be separated from content (ideas)” (Hutcheon 9, Elliott 3-5),even if the novel contains additional ideas which are not present in the play.


        In early 1935, while she was writing her penultimate novel Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers was obliged to employ a sweep to clear the chimneys in her Essex home. As Barbara Reynolds recounts, the sweep “wore a number of pullovers, which he peeled off, one after the other as he warmed to his task” (Sayers, Letters 1 342). Sayers found this highly amusing and, when visiting her friends Muriel St. Clair Byrne and Marjorie Barber in London “entertained her friends to a pantomime representation of the sweep’s methods as he tried to insert his body into the chimney” (Williams 213). As Sayers later stated in an interview for The Evening Standard, their subsequent conversation went as follows:


“Splendid,” said Miss Byrne; “there’s an ideal opening to a play.” “I don’t want to write a play,” said Miss Sayers; “I can’t start learning a new technique.” “Well, we’ll write it together then,” said Miss Byrne. So they did. (Williams 213)


        Muriel St. Clair Byrne and Dorothy Sayers had been close friends since their student days at Somerville College, Oxford, where they were fellow members of the Mutual Admiration Society. Since graduating in English in 1917, Byrne had become a lecturer at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and a member of the governing body of the Royal Shakespeare Company. She was therefore the ideal collaborator in writing a play on account of her thorough knowledge of acting and stage technique. Sayers and Byrne both believed, controversially, like Linda Hutcheon and Kamilla Elliott, that the form of a work can be separated from its content or ideas. Sayers would later explain her theories of creativity in her 1941 book The Mind of the Maker. In this study, Sayers presents a trinitarian theory of literary creation where the Creative Idea in the mind of the maker becomes incarnate through the working in time of the Creative Energy or Activity, finally producing, through the Creative Power, a response in the soul of the reader (Mind of the Maker 28). From this point of view, the same idea can give birth to several concrete manifestations, more or less perfectly communicating the idea to the world.

        For their collaboration, Sayers and Byrne decided to write a detective play. Both co-authors thought, like Aristotle, that all good plays and all good detective stories should be plot-driven. Just a year before this, Sayers had in fact delivered a lecture in Oxford where she claimed that the “Poetics remains the finest guide to the writing of [detective] fiction that could be put, at this day, into the hands of an aspiring author” (Aristotle 179). As a result, the authors worked on the murder method first (Letters 1 389), then the final dramatic climax and then a plot outline before they started to write at all. From then on:


Sayers would write a draft and Byrne would go over it, making notes, cuts and revisions; then, Sayers would take the manuscript or typescript and produce another version, with Byrne editing that. (Dale xxvii)


Sayers was quite hesitant, being only too aware that “the novelist’s approach by argument and explanation is clearly unsuited to the stage” (Love All 5) and relied heavily on her co-author, telling Byrne: “Please don’t mind altering anything at all that seems to you weak or inadequate. I trust your judgement quite implicitly” (Letters 1 348). Part of Sayers’ problem was how to convey the idea in words in a theatrical context. She wrote to her collaborator: “As regards Kirk and Sellon – I think what really happened is this […] I don’t see how the situation can be made clear in the dialogue” (Letters 1 348). Although it may seem strange to refer to “what really happened” with regard to a work of fiction, this indicates that, in Sayers’ mind, there is an original idea with which she is struggling in order to find an appropriate form or expression to reveal it to the theatre audience.

        Sayers referred to their work as “this highly experimental play” (Love All 6) as the co-authors saw Busman’s Honeymoon as “an attempt to show in dramatic terms […] the fair-play rule” (Love All 5) famous in Golden Age detective fiction. This meant that, as in a detective novel or short story, “every clue must be shown at the same time to the public and to the detective” (Love All 5), giving the members of the audience every opportunity to solve the mystery for themselves before the solution is revealed in the final scene. However, in a play, these clues must be shown visually as much as, if not more than, verbally. As a result, for Sayers, the challenge comes from the fact that “every movement is done, every clue is laid, in full sight of the audience” (Williams 213), but ideally when the audience’s attention is focussed elsewhere. For example, in Busman’s Honeymoon, the murderer cleans the blood and hair off the murder weapon while everyone is paying attention to a fascinating conversation on the other side of the stage (Love All 22).

        In the “Author’s Note” to the published version of the play, Sayers explains how this was achieved. To start with, “for the First Act, the chosen method is that of visual presentation […] the clues as to the Means are displayed, silently but conspicuously, down-stage” (Love All 5). This means that the murder weapon, a very large cactus in a heavy metal pot, hanging from the ceiling on a chain, is clearly visible on the stage, as is the murder victim’s radio, used to spring the trap. The audience cannot miss them, although the authors hoped that their significance would not be apparent. In the Second Act, the technique changes. As Sayers remarks: “the method, while still contrapuntal, is slightly varied. While the inquiry is ostensibly directed to the Motive, the information actually conveyed to the audience chiefly concerns opportunity, or lack of it” (Love All 5). In this Act, all the characters are introduced and their potential, and numerous, reasons for committing the murder become apparent. The authors deliberately introduce red herrings to lead the audience astray, in the hope that “they will gallop off on the trail of the motive” (Letters 1 390) and forget the practicalities of the crime. In the first scene of the Third Act, the atmosphere changes and “an effort here is made to do for the detective play what has already been achieved for the detective novel – that is, to combine it with the comedy of manners” (Love All 6). The interaction between the characters sheds light not only on the motives for murder, but also on the essential foundations of a happy marriage and what makes relationships between the sexes go wrong. The detective couple, Harriet and Peter, are seen adapting to their newly married state and creating a creative balance in their relationship, while other characters show they do not know how to control their emotions and become unbalanced. In the final scene, “both the disguised and ostensible clues, extracted from the previous scenes, are presented afresh in a visual reconstruction to solve the problem on purely theatrical lines” (Love All 6). In front of the audience, as Sayers explains, “the stage is literally cleared […] of almost everything” (Letters 1 389) except the murder apparatus, and a dramatic reconstruction of the crime enables Peter to trap the murderer into an admission of his guilt.


            By September 1935, Sayers’ previous novel Gaudy Night was finished, as was the script for Busman’s Honeymoon,and Sayers decided to start work immediately on the book of the play, adapting her own and Muriel St. Clair Byrne’s work into a novel. This time Sayers was the sole author, but she frequently met Muriel St. Clair Byrne, Marjorie Barber and Helen Simpson in London and discussed the novel at length with them. The novel is dedicated to these three women whom, she claimed, were “wantonly sacrificed on the altar of that friendship of which the female sex is said to be incapable” (Honeymoon v), and who provided helpful criticism and insights.

            Very little has been written about the novelization process in general. For Linda Hutcheon, adapting a novel into a film is first and foremost “a labour of simplification” (1). It is therefore, perhaps, legitimate to claim that novelization implies a labour of complexification. The novel Busman’s Honeymoon is certainly longer than the play and moves forward at a more leisurely pace; there are 451 pages in the latest paperback edition of the novel and only 113 in the script of the play. Sayers refers to her novel as “the limbs and outward flourishes” (Honeymoon v) of the play, which implies a form of embellishment, also adding a means of moving around to a static body. However, the plot remains identical. For Sayers, novelization implied principally “rethinking the story in terms of narrative” (Letters 2 3), which implied changing the order of appearance of several elements in the plot and rethinking how information is to be communicated. The author pointed out to a potential backer: “You will see how much general information has been extracted from the first act and expanded into novelist’s rigmarole” (Letters 1 389). The key word here being “expanded,” as if the skeleton was gaining extra flesh.

        Linda Hutcheon points out that “fans of films enjoy their novelizations because they provide insight into the characters’ thought processes and more details about their background” (118). Part of the difficulty in Busman’s Honeymoon comes from the fact that those who have already read Sayers’ other detective novels already know three of the characters fairly well. In the play, however, very little attempt is made to connect the murder mystery to the rest of their lives. On the other hand, the novel takes its place in the Wimsey series and is deliberately presented as a continuation of the story told in Gaudy Night. This is achieved by restructuring the work and adding a “Prothalamion”at the beginning and an “Epithalamion”at the end which provide a framework for the action. Equally, as Thomas Leitch remarks, “stage plays have to be opened up” (69) when they are adapted and move beyond the physical limitations of the theatre. It is no longer realistic, for example, to have all the action taking place in just one location, as it does in the play of Busman’s Honeymoon,or for so few people to be involved in the events.

        In the novel of Busman’s Honeymoon, Sayers solves this problem by bridging the gap in the Prothalamion between Peter and Harriet’s engagement at the end of Gaudy Night and the first morning of their honeymoon, which is where the play begins. Various characters, many of whom the reader has already met in previous novels, give their opinion on the wedding and on Peter and Harriet’s chances of happiness. This not only sets the scene for the comedy of manners elements in the plot, it also enables Sayers to introduce one of her most popular characters, the Dowager Duchess of Denver, Peter’s mother. Peter, Harriet and Bunter are all replaced in their context and reconnect with their past, their families and friends, making them both more credible for the reader and more complex. On a more practical level, Talboys, Peter and Harriet’s honeymoon house, has to be given a geographical location in the novel with consistent distances from the other places mentioned. In the play, it is just in some rural village in the south of England. The restructuring of the plot and the framework also allow more time and space to be devoted to the more serious themes: what makes for a happy marriage and the pros and cons of capital punishment, which was still practised in England at the time. It is also important that the murderer can be seen outside his employer’s living room, enabling Sayers to give him a private life and thus adding realism to his motive.


         However, the principal change implied in the novelization process is moving from the visual to the verbal. This also involves a lot of necessary description. For example, in the incident with the sweep which both inspired and opens the play, Mr Puffett’s very unsexy clothing is described using terms which start off  very technical, but in the end remind the reader of an attractive actress’s attire:


His costume […] had reached what, in recent medical jargon, is known as ‘a high degree of onionisation’, consisting as it did of a greenish-black coat and trousers and a series of variegated pullovers one on top of the other, which peeped out at the throat in a graduated scale of décolleté. (Honeymoon 77)


One page on, we learn that Mr Puffett removed “his coat […] displaying the outermost sweater in a glory of red and yellow horizontal stripes” (78). A page later, Sayers writes that “he removed his top sweater to display a blue one” (79). After six more pages, we read that Puffett “stripped off another sweater to reveal himself in emerald green” (85) and shortly afterwards “peeled off his green uppermost layer,” to show the world “a Fair-Isle jumper of complicated pattern” (88). It is another twenty pages before it is revealed that “he had piled his cast-off sweaters” (108) in a visible location. All this, obviously, does not need to be mentioned in the play as the audience sees Mr Puffett’s progressive, multi-coloured striptease act on the stage. However, the vocabulary chosen in the narrative: “peeped,” “décolleté,” “display,” “glory,” “stripped” and “reveal himself,” conveys the parallel with a cabaret dancer’s performance.

        This movement from the visual to the verbal is also needed for the detective plot and the respect of the fair-play rule in the novel. When Frank, the murderer, enters the scene of the crime for the first time after his victim’s death, the stage directions merely say that he is “taking it all in” (Love All 18), but it is to be supposed that the actor looks around the stage, including at all the key elements of the murder machinery. He then goes to get a watering can and a cloth to inconspicuously wipe any blood or hair off the cactus pot, although he, obviously, does not explain what he is doing to the other characters. All this occurs without him saying a word. In the novel, Sayers has to describe his actions: “Frank Crutchley’s eyes wandered over the room as though seeking counsel from the dust-sheets, the aspidistras, the chimney, the bronze horsemen, Mr Puffett’s bowler, the cactus and the radio cabinet” (Honeymoon 92). By adding several other things that Frank sees to the important objects, she successfully disguises his intentions while giving the reader the necessary information. One of the principal difficulties for Sayers, as a novelist, was how to give the reader enough information about the cactus without drawing attention to it and inviting suspicion. As she wrote to Muriel St Clair Byrne:


I realise that the technical difficulty of the book version will be to keep the cactus out of the centre of the picture. In a play it’s all right never to ask the question “suppose the cactus wasn’t there when Sellon looked in?” because you can cut off one act and begin another on a new note. But in a book, it’s going to look obvious. Also, in a book, it’s going to be stupid of Peter not to suggest that there may have been a murder-machine… Must think of a way round these difficulties… (Letters 1 364)


In the end, she solved the problems by ending chapter six in exactly the same place as the end of Act I, thus allowing a change of focus, away from the living room, at the beginning of chapter seven, and by Kirk suggesting that the cactus had been removed from its pot and then proving that this was not possible.

        The problem with the cactus continues because, on stage, it is visually obvious that this heavy object swinging on a long chain is sufficiently dangerous that it could kill anybody tall enough who got in its way. In the novel, the fair-play rule obliges Sayers to communicate this information in words. The weight of the pot is estimated: “getting on for fourteen pound” (398) and the fishing line which held it out of sight is described as able to “hold a twenty-pound salmon” (398) and thus, by definition, also a fourteen-pound pot. The sinkers on each end of the line are also mentioned, enabling the reader with a minimal knowledge of mechanics to understand how they would counterbalance the pot. The reader can then imagine what must have happened.

        Although the detective plot in both works is identical and the fair-play rule duly observed, it is not unfair to say that the extra embellishments in the novel mean that, while the play may be described as a detective drama with romantic interruptions, the novel is clearly, as was written on the cover of the Victor Gollancz first edition, “a love story with detective interruptions.” In spite of this, the most frequently quoted sentence in the novel, and the only one from Busman’s Honeymoon to found on Wikiquotes, is not about crime but is a declaration of love, and can be found both in the play and in the novel: “And what do all the great words come to in the end, but that? I love you—I am at rest with you—I have come home” (Honeymoon 326, Love All 91).


        Dorothy L. Sayers was aware that she was taking a risk in immediately adapting the play into a novel, particularly if anyone got the false idea that the novel had been written first. The author was aware that adaptations from page to stage or screen were often looked down on by the general public. As she wrote to her agent, David Higham:


It is extremely important from the management’s point of view that people should not suppose the Play to be ‘the novel with all the best bits left out’ which is the sort of thing critics and audiences always say if they imagine that the Play has been taken from the book. (Letters 1 400)


Fortunately for Sayers, the risk paid off and both works were successful. An initial short run at the Birmingham Theatre Royal in November 1936 went very well and Sayers wrote that the company had “had a very successful first night and a splendid press” (Letters 1 405). It then transferred to the Comedy Theatre in London’s West End and ran for nine months before being transferred to the Victoria Palace. All in all Busman’s Honeymoon played for over 500 performances in the West End before going on tour. It has frequently been revived, including a very successful staging at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, in 1988 with Edward Petherbridge and Emily Richard as Peter and Harriet. The script was first published in 1937 at about the same time as the novel.

        As for the novel, ever since its publication in 1937 it has gone through numerous editions and never been out of print. An Audiobook also exists and it has been serialised for radio by the BBC. It has also been translated into several languages.

        Is the novel the same as the play or was Sayers right in referring to it as “a distinct novel of the same name?” This depends on your point of view. The plot is identical. Much of the dialogue from the play has been imported into the novel. The characters are all recognisably the same people. There are no contradictions between the two works. And yet, the novel is in many ways a much more serious piece of writing than the play. The extra space for reflection on relationships between the sexes and the exploration of the results of detection in a country which practises capital punishment give the novel extra depth. Busman’s Honeymoon is probably the only Golden Age story where the detective is fully confronted with the horrible consequences of his detection in the person of an unrepentant murderer who dies hating him. As Lizzie Seal has noted, Busman’s Honeymoon “link[s] trauma with capital punishment” (42) and also “highlighted the moral ambivalence of the detective’s role, in which he is implicated in the violence which he ostensibly opposes” (43).


        And yet, this does not detract in any way from the merits of the play. As Gary Bortolotti and Linda Hutcheon observe: “an adaptation stands on its own as an independent work, separate from the source, and can be judged accordingly” (445). In fact, both works, original and adaptation, should be judged separately, according to the constraints and specificities of their own genre. Busman’s Honeymoon, the play, is a detective drama that observes the fair-play rule; it is also a comedy. It is dramatic and full of suspense, with a forward-driving plot that builds up successfully to a satisfying dramatic climax. It ends with the triumph of justice. The novel, part of a series featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, combines a detective plot, which scrupulously observes the fair-play rule, and contains an interlinked exploration of two important social issues. It has several climaxes and periods of suspense, but ends with the triumph of love. Both works, with their different forms, successfully convey their authors’ idea to the general public and provide a different incarnation of what, in Sayers’ words, “really happened.”


Works Cited

Bortolotti Gary R. and Linda Hutcheon. “Rethinking Fidelty Discourse and Success: Biologically.” New Literary History 38.3 (Summer 2007): 443-58. Print.

Dale, Alzina Stone. “Introduction.” Dorothy L. Sayers, Love All and Busman’s Honeymoon. Kent OH: Kent State UP, 1985. xv-xxxvii. Print.

Elliott, Kamilla. Rethinking the Novel/Film Debate. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003. Print.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Adaptation. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Leitch, Thomas. “Adaptation Studies at a Crossroads.” Adaptation 1.1 (2008): 63-77. Print.

Sayers, Dorothy L. “Aristotle on Detective Fiction.” Unpopular Opinions. London: Methuen, 1946. 178-90. Print.

—. Busman’s Honeymoon. 1937. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2003. Print.

—. Love All and Busman’s Honeymoon. Kent OH: Kent State UP, 1985. Print.

—. The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers 1, 1899-1936: The Making of a Detective Novelist. Ed. Barbara Reynolds. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1995. Print.

—. The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers vol.2: from Novelist to Playwright. Ed. Barbara Reynolds. Hurstpierpoint: The Dorothy L. Sayers Society, 1997. Print.

—. The Mind of the Maker.1941. London: Mowbray, 1994. Print.

Seal, Lizzie. Capital Punishment in Twentieth-Century Britain: Audience, Justice, Memory. London: Routledge, 2014. Print.

Williams, Stephen. “Lord Peter Wimsey Takes to the Stage,” London Evening Standard, 5 November 1936. Qtd in Dorothy L. Sayers, Love All and Busman’s Honeymoon. Ed. Alzina Stone Dale. Kent OH: Kent State UP, 1985. 213-14. Print.


The Author Suzanne Bray is professor of British literature and civilisation at Lille Catholic University. Her research concerns the history of religious ideas in England during the 20th century and she has published many works on the relationship between theology and popular literature.

N°2 | From History to Page to Screen: A Mise-en-Abyme of History in The Other Boleyn Girl Novel and Film

Alison Offe

In 2001 Philippa Gregory published The Other Boleyn Girl which recounts Anne Boleyn’s story. It is a difficult task to reconstruct Boleyn’s life through the different—insufficient and usually biased—sources that have made their way from the 16th century to the 21st, yet Gregory’s interpretation of the events seems to be based on the most controversial academic histories available today. An analysis of her methods as a novelist and of her perception of the characters makes it possible to understand her adaptation of this famous queen’s life. The novel was turned into a film in 2008. Whilst keeping to the fundamentals of the novel, that is overall plot and major characters, director Justin Chadwick has also developed a distinctive narrative voice and some new subplots. It is be interesting to see how the film translates a first-person narrative into an audiovisual medium. Relying on current adaptation theories, this essay attempts to assess the techniques of transfer and adaptation to the film, in addition to the techniques of (re)presenting the past on screen.


En 2001, Philippa Gregory publie The Other Boleyn Girl relatant l’histoire d’Anne Boleyn. Reconstruire la vie de Boleyn n’est pas chose aisée car les différentes sources de l’époque qui ont survécu aujourd’hui sont insuffisantes et souvent biaisées. Gregory représente cependant les événements de l’histoire en se fondant sur les histoires universitaires les plus controversées qui existent. L’analyse de ses méthodes d’écrivain et de sa perception des personnages permettent de comprendre son interprétation de la vie de la reine. Le roman a été adapté au cinéma en 2008 et bien que gardant les bases du roman, l’intrigue générale et les personnages principaux, Justin Chadwick a également développé une narration distincte et de nouveaux éléments d’intrigue. Il est intéressant de voir la façon dont le film traduit la narration autodiégétique dans un format audiovisuel. S’appuyant sur les théories actuelles d’adaptation, cet article évalue les techniques de transfert et d’adaptation d’un roman au cinéma ainsi que les techniques de (re)présentation de l’histoire à l’écran.


        Representing history in literature and cinema requires knowledge about the time period and the key players from the novelist and the filmmaker. In both arts, specific techniques are used to portray the past according to the artist’s point of view with the elements s/he chooses to present to their audience. The duality between “high” scholarship and “low” popular texts manifests itself in the tension between academic research and romantic narratives, or at least the critical reception of texts from these perspectives.

        The Other Boleyn Girl is a historical novel by Philippa Gregory published in 2001. It tells the story of Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII, and Mary Boleyn, her sister. This novel was acclaimed by a large readership, which propelled Gregory’s career forward. The book sold over 800,000 copies worldwide between 2001 and 2009 (Groot, 12) and it has won several prizes including the Pen Parker Novel of the Year in 2002 and the Romantic Fictional Biography Award the same year (Chrisafis). The Hollywood film of the same name was produced in 2008, starring Natalie Portman who plays Anne Boleyn, Scarlett Johansson as Mary Boleyn and Eric Bana as Henry VIII. It is a period drama directed by Justin Chadwick largely based on Gregory’s work and has made over $26 million profit in the USA and over $77 million worldwide (IMDb).

        Anne Boleyn, the common denominator of both works’ success, is the “other” woman for whom England and its religious establishment were torn apart. Indeed, she advised the King, along with many other reformers, to break with the Roman Catholic Church in order to obtain his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. The story of a woman who captures the heart of the King and turns the country upside-down fascinates history and period drama enthusiasts who wish to discover who was behind those dark eyes, which contributed to her myth as a witch.

        This paper will thus focus on the novelistic and cinematic strategies developed to adapt a true life story. With scholarly as well as online “pop journalist”/fandom sources, it will examine whether a historical novel should be a literal rendition of history, or remain mainly a medium of entertainment. Likewise, it will study whether a historical film should be a literal adaptation of the novel or make revisions for the cinema and the requirements of visual entertainment.


From History to Page

Gregory’s Research Methods

        Philippa Gregory was born in January 1954. She studied at the National Council for the Training of Journalists in Cardiff, after which she became a journalist for the Portsmouth News, and then a journalist and producer for BBC radio. She resumed her studies after a while and obtained her Master’s degree in history at the University of Sussex in Brighton. She finally got her PhD from the University of Edinburgh on 18th century literature. Her first novel and success, entitled Wideacre, part of a gothic trilogy, was published in 1987. Besides writing novels, Gregory also wrote the screenplay for the adaptation of her novel A Respectable Trade for the BBC; she also collaborated with the Hollywood studio for the adaptation of The Other Boleyn Girl. Finally, she regularly takes part in Time Team on BBC4 as a Tudor expert.

        For each novel, Gregory spends many hours researching the subject, starting with secondary sources and travelling to historical places. Gregory usually chooses women who have been left out of history to be her main protagonists. Her methods of research rarely vary and for The Other Boleyn Girl she proceeded as follows: She read seven or eight academic histories and almost a dozen biographies as she confided in an interview (Bookbrowse). She had first thought of writing a novel on the Royal Navy set in the Tudor period when she came across a ship called The Mary Boleyn, a name she had rarely heard (Fahle). From there, she chose Mary Boleyn as her chief heroine and she drew a timeline of her life stressing the major events. She went to Rochford Manor, Essex, to get as many details as she could on the place where Mary had lived to set her narrative. Finally, she went to the library in Southend-on-Sea where information on Mary Boleyn can be found in the archives.


Novelistic Choices: Narration and Characters

        As far as Gregory’s way of writing is concerned, her novels are usually written in the first person which makes the reader more sympathetic to the character who is telling the story. She uses a homodiegetic narrative in The Other Boleyn Girl, which enables a greater connection between the reader and the character-narrator. Gregory pointed out in an interview: “I have a great liking for the first person narrative because I think it gets the reader into the head of the character: it’s a very immediate style” (Bookbrowse). Assuredly, it entails a direct way of perceiving the events as they unfold. Adrian Goldsworthy, British historian at the University of Oxford, posits the first person narrative as a style that allows some intimacy with the character:


First person narration readily lends itself to focusing on the main character’s thoughts and experiences. We see other people and events through their eyes and the story is told from their perspective. The narrator may either be the key protagonist or someone close to him, a Dr Watson to his Sherlock Holmes, telling the story and revealing the greatness and flaws of someone else. (Goldsworthy)


Mary Boleyn is the main protagonist of Gregory’s novel, although she is not the central character from a historical point of view. She recounts the story of her elder sister’s swift rise in society until she becomes Queen of England and then the struggles she faces to stay there. Overall, although the novel is quite long (over 700 pages) the style is simple and the paragraphs are short. As a reviewer of an entertainment website, Tasha Robinson, comments, “it glides along easily, with a lot of broad, summing-up narratives and a lot of quick-moving dialogues.”

        Gregory is a skilled novelist as her successes attest: she knows how to create suspense, how to construct love scenes, how to invent endearing characters. She has even been nicknamed “The Queen of Historical Fiction” (Naylor) by an online marketplace for books. However, some elements in her adaptations of true life stories into fiction deserve a more minute examination. First, Gregory took the rather debateable decision of making Anne the elder of the two sisters and George, their brother, the eldest child. This hypothesis can be found in Retha Warnicke’s controversial The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn in which she attributes the birthdates as follows: George: 1504, Anne: 1507 and Mary: 1508 (9). On the contrary, most other modern scholars have come to the conclusion that Mary was the eldest: 1499, then came Anne: 1500-1, and finally George was born in 1504.[1] Gregory might have chosen to make Anne the older sister to give a motive to better her younger sister who had achieved a decent marriage at quite an early age and who had been noticed by the King. Secondly, recent historians have worked hard to soften Anne Boleyn’s reputation damaged five hundred years ago by Catholic commentators who vilified her for the role she played in the English Reformation (e.g. Nicholas Sander). In The Other Boleyn Girl, Anne is viewed by Mary as a detestable girl who gives credit to the rumours. Claire Ridgway, author of the website The Anne Boleyn Files comments:


There is no other way to describe the Anne Boleyn of The Other Boleyn Girl, she is a complete b**ch and it’s no wonder I get emails asking why I “defend” such a b**ch!


And finally, in complete disregard of the historical facts, Gregory hardly mentions Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell is utterly absent from the foreground in her novel, whereas they actually both played a major role in the Anne-Henry story, as well as in the history of England. Her novelistic strategies reflect her choices to tell a story of ambition, female agency and family, rather than an accurate depiction of historical events.

        However, it must not be forgotten that Gregory is writing historical fiction. A historical novel is therefore a work of literature, an invented story with a historical setting. As Francisco Carrasquer particularly stresses:


Because if it is a subgenre of the novel, the historical novel has to be and cannot be anything other than a novel. Not ‘primarily’ or ‘particularly’ a novel, but a novel from head to toe. After being a novel, only afterwards, can it be imbued, dyed or painted as historical. (qtd. in Indurain)


Historical fiction writers draw up a theory from their research and then imagine the consequences and the reactions of the people from a given situation. Richard Slotkin, cultural critic and historian, suggests that “[f]or the thought-experiment to work, the fiction writer must treat a theory which may be true as if it was certainly true, without quibble or qualification; and credibly represent a material world in which that theory appears to work”. So Gregory’s work must be handled cautiously as a work of fiction, or at least far-fetched theory.


Anne Boleyn’s Guilt

        Yet, what really bothers historical critics is Gregory’s ambiguity about Anne’s guilt for the charges of witchcraft, incest and murder. Anne Boleyn was arrested on 2 May 1536 for having allegedly had adulterous relationships with five lovers, for plotting the King’s death and for speaking ill of the King’s virility. She probably was guilty of the last charge. Those five presumed lovers were three noblemen, Henry Norris, Francis Weston and William Brereton, a musician, Mark Smeaton, and more importantly her brother George, Lord Rochford, so he and Anne both faced the accusation of incest. Nevertheless, as Eric Ives points out and nearly all contemporary historians agree:


No, she had not been unfaithful; no, she had not promised to marry Norris; no, she had not hoped for the King’s death; no, she had not given secret tokens to Norris; no, she had neither poisoned Katherine nor planned to poison Mary. (340)


        Philippa Gregory seems to have taken and combined all the rumours about Anne Boleyn and injected them into her fiction to create a more dramatic story. Gregory’s Anne is guilty. First, Anne was accused of witchcraft by Catholic supporters as, according to Eustace Chapuys (imperial ambassador for Charles V) who heard it from a courtier, the King himself pronounced the fatal words that he had “made this marriage seduced and constrained by sortileges” (298). These words, however, do not necessarily mean that Anne was a practising witch with charms and potions as Ives underlines:


Did Henry use the word ‘sortilege’, or was the word provided en route? Even if Henry did use the noun, since its primary English translation was ‘divination’ and since Henry spoke in the same breath of male heirs, the simple construction is that he was referring to the premarital predictions that union with Anne would produce sons. … In any case, alleging witchcraft was a commonplace excuse for foolish male behaviour. … No accusation that she had dabbled in the black arts was ever levelled against Anne. (298)


         In The Other Boleyn Girl, this is rather ambiguous because Anne does not use witchcraft directly but pays for the service of a wise woman in order to expulse a dead foetus from inside her body. The setting of the scene however, combined with the atmosphere, the secrecy and the costumes carry the weight of sorcery:


He was back within the hour with a surprisingly clean young woman, with a small sack of bottles and herbs. I took her to the little room where George’s pageboy slept and she looked around the darkened room and recoiled. In some grotesque moment of fancy George and Anne had raided the palace costume box to find a mask to hide her well-known face. Instead of a simple disguise they had found a golden bird face mask, which she had worn in France to dance with the King. Anne, panting with pain, half-lit by guttering candles, lay back on a narrow bed, her huge belly straining under the sheet and above it a glittering gold mask with a face like a hawk, a great gilt beak and flaring eyebrows. (400)


The midwife brewed a potion which Anne drank and then gave birth to a mass of flesh and blood. The witchcraft depicted in the scene differs from the sixteenth-century reports of Anne ensnaring the King into marriage; it is rather used in the novel as a helping instrument for the birth of sons.


        Another heavy accusation brought against Anne is incest with her brother George. Historians have refuted the possibility that Anne could be guilty of that, but Gregory uses this element of the plot to encourage her depiction of Anne as a woman afraid of nothing to get what she wants. Although she does not say it explicitly, the reader understands very well that Anne has slept with her brother to produce the child she could not have with the King, but eventually she loses the baby:


‘I thought you might be afraid to touch me,’ she said softly.

[George] shook his head. ‘Oh, Anne. According to the law of the land and the church I am anathemetised ten times over before breakfast.’

I shuddered at that; but she giggled like a girl.

‘And whatever we have done, it was done for love,’ he said gently. […] ‘Even if the outcome was monstrous?’ (482)


        Mary is so unreliable a narrator that readers, if they do not pay attention, might easily believe every rumour Mary reports about her sister. Bishop Fisher, a fervent supporter of Catherine of Aragon, was causing difficulties for the King to obtain his title of Supreme Head of the Church of England. During a dinner, the broth that was served to him was poisoned and two of his guests died. Although he was not himself poisoned, Catholic partisans were quick to blame Anne for this. In the novel, Mary does not really understand her sister’s character and thus suspects, leading the reader with her, that Anne may well be a sleeping partner in attempted murder as well as guilty of dabbling in black magic and enchantments.

        Gregory certainly made use of her imagination to compose such a novel from the life of a real woman. Nevertheless, she clearly decided to make Anne an anti-heroine as she herself stated during an interview: “Anne is undeniably an interesting character, she’s incredibly courageous but I wouldn’t regard her as a heroine in the sense that she is utterly unscrupulous and her intentions are purely her own satisfaction, her own ambition” (Fahle). Conveniently, Mary Boleyn’s life is difficult to uncover and she is usually in the footnotes of academic histories rather than their subject, which leaves room for invention. The adaptation of the novel into a film is therefore an adaptation of an adaptation that pushes the act of invention and reinterpretation even further away from the events. Here we have a mise-en-abyme of a story from real life to one medium and then to another. The process of adapting from history to page to screen takes the public one step further from the facts as, according to Kamilla Elliott (162): “if art draws from real life, then an art adapting another art is one step further away from real life as a representation of a representation.” It begs the question as whether a film must render a literal transcription of the novel and of history and whether any deviation is to the film’s credit.


From Page to Screen

The Director’s Choice: Plot and Subplots

        Peter Morgan is a well-known screenwriter for dramatic political productions such as The Queen (2006) or Frost/Nixon (2008). He wrote in 2006 the script for the film The Other Boleyn Girl,directed by Justin Chadwick. Before this film, Chadwick had only directed TV series and, since then, has directed five films including Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013). The main element of the film at hand is the rivalry between the Boleyn sisters. The synopsis of the movie distinctly focuses on a love triangle, not between the King, the Queen and his mistress—as it is usually portrayed in other historical fictions as a fight between Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn for Henry’s heart—but between the King, his mistress and his mistress’s sister. Critic Tasha Robinson severally sums up the film as “a fight between two sisters who want the same dude.” The film respects the fundamentals of the book to provide the main storyline. It is the story of Henry VIII’s first two wives: the failure of Catherine of Aragon to give him a male heir, Henry’s taking Mary Boleyn as his mistress and having children with her; his defying the Pope to divorce Catherine and to marry Anne. However, she, too, fails to give him the promised son. She is finally accused of terrible crimes and executed.

        The advancement of noble families in the sixteenth century is plainly what triggers the whole plot, “particularly the idea that women were helpless pawns in Tudor society, which the film plays up far more than the book” (Robinson). As it happens, the story presents the Duke of Norfolk and his brother-in-law Thomas Boleyn who are, from an early stage, aware that the King’s marriage is under strain. Both of them are determined to gain favour, power and wealth. In the first fifteen minutes of the film, the scene to push the King to take Anne as his mistress is set:


        SIR THOMAS

An opportunity has arisen. An opportunity in which, were you to succeed, you could secure for yourself and this family incalculable wealth and position.


There is a strain on the King’s marriage. In such circumstances, a man sometimes seeks comfort elsewhere.

        SIR THOMAS

At present, because of your Uncle’s close friendship with His Majesty, we’re alone in knowing this. But it won’t be long before all the other noble families discover the truth and came to parade their daughters under his nose.


The favour he would bestow upon us, I mean upon you, if he liked you (The Other Boleyn Girl. Dir. Justin Chadwick, 11’).


Yet, shots of Elizabeth Boleyn, the girls’ mother, looking disapprovingly at the merchandising of her daughters punctuate the story of reproach that women are not just goods to show off for favours. This depiction of the sisters’ mother is in opposition with the character in the novel who behaves coldly and detachedly regarding her daughters’ emotional turmoil.

        The screenwriter and director took some liberties with the source text. It is commonly accepted in adaptation theory that, in films, the themes serve the story whereas in books, the story serves the themes. It is thus understandable that the plot and the subplots of a novel can be transformed for the purposes of the film. Linda Seger, script consultant, points out that, in adaptation, events may have to be adjusted, the centre of the storyline may be heightened and that adapting means making choices and thus leaving out what is undramatic to emphasise what is dramatically important (9). In The Other Boleyn Girl, the centre of attention is Anne Boleyn becoming jealous of her sister for attracting the King’s attention and, once she finally obtains it, striving to become and remain Queen of England. The dramatisation of the film reduces and simplifies the novel; it “takes the two [Boleyn girls] as the one single focus that ties events together” (Robinson).


Narrative and Point of View

        Linda Hutcheon posits that “[i]n the move from telling to showing, a performance adaptation must dramatize: description, narration and represented thoughts must be transcoded into speech, actions, sounds and visual images” (40). In her work, she asserts that dramatisation means a re-accentuation and a refocusing of themes, characters and plots. Gregory’s novel is written with Mary Boleyn as the narrator, therefore the whole work is from her point of view. Linda Hutcheon remarks that attempts to use the camera for a first-person narrative are infrequent because they are judged clumsy. Most films use the camera for a third-person narrative to represent the point of view of various characters at different moments (54). Although the script of The Other Boleyn Girl attempted to put Mary in the foreground, the film rather concentrates on Anne and the Boleyn family’s greed. In fact, the film does not try at all to render the homodiegetic focalisation, thus giving a more holistic but less nuanced approach to the events. Mary is too passive in the film to carry the major role (Robinson).

        The way of filming that is most used in the film is the shoulder shot, which enables the viewer to connect with a character who is listening to another. Thus, during one to one discussions, the focus is only fixed on the two main protagonists, blurring the rest of the scene. Close-ups are also employed to show the characters’ emotions and reactions and therefore to emphasise the sense of betrayal or despair that each character feels in turn. For instance, one passage of the film (The Other Boleyn Girl. Dir. Justin Chadwick, 57’) shows a discussion between Anne and Mary and takes place in the room Mary is using for her confinement. Anne is presented as the sister with power and full of energy coming to take revenge while Mary is in bed resting to assure a safe delivery. While Anne blames Mary for the failure of her intended marriage to Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, a close-up displays Anne’s cruel and mean look, but when a messenger comes in to bring a gift from the King to Anne, her change of expression can be clearly seen and she becomes once more the courtier.


(Re)presenting the Past on Screen

        Being a period drama, The Other Boleyn Girl needed to translate the past onto the screen. The setting should be relevant to the sixteenth century in which the action takes place. The evident primary means to achieve this sense of historical period is the costumes. According to actress Scarlett Johansson, it really was her dress that helped her to get into her character as well as the time period. She says:


Anything that you have to help you get into character is helpful. The costumes were certainly a major part of that. It’s not only uncomfortable to wear, but it affects how people move around you and how you walk. It affects your intimacy, so I [felt] kind of vulnerable and statue-like. (NYCmovieguru)


One commentator on the film posted a remark that reads: “It looks like they spent a lot of money on the sets and costumes” (Tracy). The codpieces for men and the cleavages and hoods of the women were clearly reproduced after contemporary portraits. The settings, too, were distinctly used to transport the viewer into the Renaissance period with reverse-angle shots at castles and manors. The crew and the cast travelled to England to capture the British atmosphere of the story. Robinson mentions in her review “how sumptuous and pretty the movie is, in an Elizabeth-esque costume-drama way, which is one of the big draws.” In addition, one of the heightened historical issues addressed in this film is “the way women suffered historically as second-class citizens with limited power to determine their own fate” (Robinson) which gives one perspective of how it could have been.

        The film also tries to be modern to appeal to a wide audience. Natalie Portman suggests that the film is “a story that’s resonant now because you know that there are people who think of marriage as empire-building, which still exists today” (NYCmovieguru). As for Scarlett Johansson, she remarks that the director modernised the events in order for people to escape into a story (Glamour Magazine). For instance, Anne’s determination to bring, by her own means, wealth and power to herself and her family brings up the question of feminism, which is much more of a question in the 21st century. In addition, the rivalry between women suggests the many reproaches that are aimed at women. As Johansson says: “a lot of the stigma that are put against women and the feminist movement are to do with the fact that women can be so catty against one another. It really brings us back instead of … moving forwards” (Glamour Magazine).

            In contrast, the film has been the subject of much disapproval about its handling of history and especially the English Reformation of the Church and Anne’s role in it. Christopher Orr, American film critic, reveals and comments on what he sees as the film’s weakest point:


The Other Boleyn Girl takes vanishingly little interest in the broader history unfolding around its love triangle. It gives not a hint of Anne’s religiosity or crucial role in the Reformation. … Henry’s decision to abandon the Catholic Church is given approximately 90 seconds of screen time, and the closest the film comes to making a case for or against it is Anne’s purposeful vow, “Somehow I need to make him understand that this” ―i.e., the contents of her petticoats―“will be worth it.”


Consequently, the film was remarkable for its efforts at period costumes and scenery, but the historical aspect of it did not convince many. The Reformation process and the political game which Henry VIII played all his life is non-existent. The struggle between Catholics and Protestants is not portrayed in the film. The problem, as one person commented on Goodreads, is that too many viewers seem to think the film is an accurate representation of past events and do not appreciate the art for what it is: fiction.

        The overall perception of the film by critics shows signs of disappointment as much regarding the directing as the characters and cast. If some of them recognize a well-built story, it is not enough to counterbalance the general feeling of dissatisfaction. After the release of the film, Josh Taylor said in an article online: “Ultimately it’s a clumsy film with performances ranging all over the place and a story that while well-constructed, just isn’t that compelling. It’s a[sic] blithely mediocre.”

        Finally, many film experts remark on the poor quality of the shooting, describing it as “oddly plotted and frantically paced pastiche” (Dargis), and claiming that: “Shot in high-definition video with a murky brown palette (perhaps to suggest tea-stained porcelain and teeth), the film is both underwritten and overedited” (Dargis). Consequently, Dave Calhoun observes for Time Out:


The pair’s stellar presence at least fits the film’s Holbein-meets-Annie Leibovitz colour palette; let’s call it the Vanity Fayre look. Polite, well-made, adequately performed, moderately paced – television director Justin Chadwick’s take on Philippa Gregory’s racy, trashy novel is everything you don’t want it to be.


        Adapting a true life story into an artistic medium, be it a film or a novel, already requires some rearrangement of the facts, a pre-selection of events. As Seger underlines:


The true-life epic demands much more detective work. What event, out of an entire lifetime, will be the focus of the drama? How do you keep a true-life story from becoming episodic? Clearly it is impossible to tell the “womb to tomb” story in two hours. Even if you could tell it, the story would be unfocused and unconnected and would not add up to compelling drama. (52)


Adapting a novel into a film requires a further remodelling of the source material, and often a condensing of the source text. Seger adds that,


The nature of condensing involves losing material. Condensing often includes losing subplots, combining or cutting characters, leaving out of the many themes that might be contained in a long novel, and finding within the material the beginning, middle, and end of a dramatic storyline. (3)


In the novel, the story of Anne Boleyn has been refocused in order to put forward her manipulation of the King, her treatment of her siblings, her role in the family business, and her self-centred determination. The political and diplomatic events of the time have been minimised, as, in the eyes of Mary Boleyn, the narrator, they were a side issue to Anne’s searing rise to power and her just as swift downfall. In the film, the history of England during this crucial period has been trivialised to attract the widest possible audience. Consequently, the story of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, who are considered as “the lovers who changed history” (Lipscomb), is reduced to a romantic affair with some collateral damage.

        Brian McFarlane states that “[f]idelity criticism depends on a notion of the text as [having a] rendering up to the (intelligent) reader a single, correct “meaning” which the film-maker has either adhered to or in some sense violated or tampered with”(8). For many critics, the fidelity debate did not so much concern the relationship between the novel and the film, although Robinson stated that the film “strips things down”. It rather concerns the relationship between all works of fiction and History. All the rumours about the King’s second wife seem to find a place in Gregory’s and Chadwick’s works which Susan Bordo, author of The Creation of Anne Boleyn, captions as “Chapuys’ Revenge: Fiction Becomes Fact Once Again” (219). As it happens, Chapuys often reported hearsay and rumours about Anne Boleyn and her relationship with the King, therefore, giving resonance to these rumours looks like Chapuys’ portrait of Anne is being passed down in history. However, it is worth noticing that Chapuys did not believe in the charges of adultery and incest brought against Anne at her trial. Despite their immediate success, the film and the novel received some severe comments: “it’s shallow, melodramatic, and sometimes campy, […] it plays fast and loose with history, […] it hollows out a book that was already kind of hollow to begin with” (Robinson). Gregory is nevertheless praised for her rehabilitation of forgotten women in history; her narration in the eyes of the main characters brings forth the restrictions imposed on the female sex in the 16th century, as well as giving female protagonists will and power to transcend their limits and the rules they live under. As for the film, as Geoffrey Wagner defined, it is a case of commentary in which “an original is taken and either purposely or inadvertently altered in some respects […] when there has been a different intention on the part of the film-maker, rather than infidelity or outright violation” (McFarlane 10-11). Chadwick’s work can be said to follow the major elements of the novel, even trying to breathe a sense of the Renaissance into the film, yet leaving out what does not plainly influence the romantic affair between the lovers or the family relationships.


Works Cited


Bookbrowse. “An Interview with Philippa Gregory.” 2006.Web. 16/03/15.

Bordo, Susan. The Creation of Anne Boleyn. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. Print.

Boxofficemojo. “The Other Boleyn Girl.” IMDb. 20/04/2008. Web. 18/04/15.

Calhoun, Dave. “The Other Boleyn Girl.” Time Out. 03/03/2008. Web. 18/04/15.

Chrisafis, Angelique. “Everyday story of courtly folk takes romantic fiction award.” The Guardian, 19/04/2002. Web. 20/05/15.

Dargis, Manohla. “Rival Sisters Duke It Out for the Passion of a King.” The New York Times, 29/02/2008. Web. 12/05/15.

Elliott, Kamilla. Rethinking the Novel/Film Debate. Cambridge UP, 2003. Print.

Fahle, Rich. “Philippa Gregory Talks about The Other Boleyn Girl.” Bordersmedia. 02.03.2008. Youtube. Web. 12/05/15.

Glamour Magazine UK. “Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman Interview: The Other Boleyn Girl Movie.” 06/03/2008. Youtube. Web. Web. 12/05/15.

Goldsworthy, Adrian. “On First-Person Narration in Historical Novel”. Writing Historical Novels. 15/09/2013. Web. 15/05/15.

Gregory, Philippa. The Other Boleyn Girl. 2001. London: HarperCollins, 2011. Print.

—. The Women of the Cousin’s War, The Real White Queen and her Rivals. Introduction. London: Simon & Schuster, 2011. Print.

Groot, Jerome (de). Consuming History: Historians and Heritage in Contemporary Popular Culture. Abingdon: Routledge, 2009. Print.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Adaptation. 2006. Abingdon: Routledge, 2013. Print.

Indurain, Carlos, Mata. “Brief Definition and Characterization of a Historical Novel”. Cultura Historica. University of Navarra, 2009. Print.

Ives, Eric. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn. 2004. Oxford: Blackwell, 2011. Print.

Lipscomb, Suzannah. Henry and Anne, the Lovers Who Changed History. Prod. Lion Television, 20/02/2014. Web. 15/05/15.

McFarlane, Brian. Novel to Film: An Introduction to the Theory of Adaptation. “Part I: Backgrounds, Issues, and a New Agenda.” Oxford: Clarendon P, 1996. Print.

Naylor, Stephanie, “The Queen of Historical Fiction: Philippa Gregory.” AbeBooks. Web. 18/06/18.

NYCmovieguru. “Interview with Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman, stars of The Other Boleyn Girl.” 16/03/2008. Web. 15/05/15.

Orr, Christopher. “The Movie Review: The Other Boleyn Girl.” New Republic. 29/02/2008. Web. 15/05/15.

Ridgway, Claire. “Anne Boleyn and The Other Boleyn Girl.” The Anne Boleyn Files. 22/09/2010. Web. 15/05/15.

Robinson, Tasha. “Book vs. Film: The Other Boleyn Girl”. AVClub. 27/03/2008. Web. 15/05/15.

Seger, Linda. The Art of Adaptation: Turning Fact and Fiction into Film. New York: Henry Holt & Cie, 1992. Print.

Slotkin, Richard. “Fiction for the Purposes of History.” Rethinking History 9.2/3 (June/September 2005): 221-36. Print.

Taylor, Josh. “The Other Boleyn Girl.” Cinema Blend. 29/02/2008. Web. 15/05/15.

The Other Boleyn Girl. Dir. Justin Chadwick. Perf. Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson and Eric Bana. BBC Film, 2008. DVD.

Tracy. “Movie review: The Other Boleyn Girl.” GoodReads. 27/05/2010. Web. 15/05/15.

Warnicke, Retha. The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (1989). Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996. Print.


Alison Offe est doctorante à l’Université Catholique de Lille en cotutelle avec Liverpool Hope University. Ses recherches portent sur la représentation des Tudors dans la culture populaire britannique entre 1995 et 2015. Elle a obtenu son Master en 2015 et son mémoire s’intitulait : “Les six femmes d’Henri VIII dans les fictions historiques de Philippa Gregory, Jean Plaidy et C. J. Sansom.” Elle a depuis publié : “Katherine Parr, Protestant Scholar and Role Model” dans Résonances 15, “Women and Vocation, La Vocation au féminin, Volume I” (2015) ; et “Popularising the Tudors: The Case of Anne Boleyn” dans Theorising the Popular, ed. Michael Brennan, Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017.


Alison Offe is a doctoral student with joint supervision between Liverpool Hope University and Lille Catholic University. Her research focusses on the depiction of the Tudors in British popular culture between 1995 and 2015. She obtained her MA in English in 2015 with a dissertation entitled “The Six Wives of Henry VIII in the historical fiction of Philippa Gregory, Jean Plaidy and C.J. Sansom.” Since then, she has published “Katherine Parr, Protestant Scholar and Role Model” in Résonances 15, “Women and Vocation, La Vocation au féminin, Volume I” (2015) ; and “Popularising the Tudors: The Case of Anne Boleyn” in Theorising the Popular, ed. Michael Brennan, Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017.



[1] Eric Ives’s The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn (15); Antonia Fraser’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII (141); David Starkey’s Six Wives, The Queen’s of Henry VIII (258); Alison Weir’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII (147); Linda de Lisle’s Tudor (16) to name but a few works in which scholars have established Anne Boleyn’s birth date as 1501.

N°2 | Adapting Don Quixote: Terry Gilliam’s Picaresque Journey in the Film Industry

Jonathan Fruoco


Terry Gilliam has often been described as a ‘cursed’ filmmaker, a curse that has expressed itself in various ways throughout his career. However, his most notorious failure still remains his attempts to adapt Don Quixote. It is accordingly of great importance to see what lies at the heart of Gilliam’s cinematic vision and to understand that his desire to adapt Cervantes’s novel is representative of the filmmaker’s own relationship with reality and with art. Gilliam’s cinema is indeed marked by a confrontation between the need to tell stories and to live as much as possible in one’s imagination, with the harsh reality of the economic, industrial and bureaucratic world. This paper analyses Gilliam’s attempts to film Don Quixote as a form of metafilmic adaptation, in which the documentary Lost in La Mancha plays a vital role.


Terry Gilliam a souvent été décrit comme un réalisateur “maudit”, du fait des nombreux ennuis rencontrés durant la production de ses films. Pourtant son plus grand échec à ce jour reste ses tentatives d’adaptation de Don Quixote. Il est ainsi très important de voir ce qui est au cœur même de la vision cinématographique de Gilliam et de comprendre que son désir d’adapter le roman de Cervantès est représentatif de la relation qu’entretient le cinéaste avec la réalité et l’art. Le cinéma de Gilliam est en effet marqué par une confrontation entre le besoin de raconter des histoires, de vivre autant que possible dans sa propre imagination, et la dure réalité d’un monde économique, industriel et bureaucratique. Cet article considère ses tentatives d’adaptations de Don Quixote comme une forme d’adaptation métafilmique, dans laquelle le documentaire Lost in La Mancha joue un rôle crucial.


        Terry Gilliam has often been unfairly described by the media as a ‘cursed’ filmmaker, a curse that has expressed itself in various ways throughout his career (the death of Heath Ledger while shooting The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, multiple wars with his producers, going over budget, etc.). But his most notorious and spectacular failure to date still remains his attempt to adapt Don Quixote, during which everything that could have gone wrong went wrong, from pre-production to production, eventually forcing Gilliam to stop shooting the movie altogether.

        The aim of this article is to try to see what lies at the heart of Gilliam’s cinematic vision and to understand that his attempts (for there have been many before and since 2000) to adapt Cervantes’s novel are representative of the filmmaker’s own relationship with reality and with art. Indeed, Gilliam’s cinema is marked by a confrontation between the need to tell stories and to live as much as possible in one’s imagination, with the harsh reality of the economic, industrial and bureaucratic world. He has positioned himself as the champion of impossible dreams, ready to fight for us—or with us—against “the oppressive yoke of [a] new corporate management” (The Crimson Permanent Assurance, 1983). And yet, despite having successfully adapted several novels into movies (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 1998, Tideland, 2005…), Gilliam struggled for a long time to shoot his own vision of Don Quixote. One could thus ask where to draw the line at what we call an adaptation: should it necessarily be a form of art adapted, transformed into a different medium? Or a story, a legend into a painting or a sculpture? I propose to look at Gilliam’s attempts to film Don Quixote as a form of metafilmic adaptation, in which the documentary Lost in La Mancha plays a vital role.

        Gilliam’s journey in life and art has been, as we are about to see, nothing if not picaresque. We will thus consider the possibility that Gilliam has in fact accomplished one of the most faithful adaptions of Cervantes’s novel, a perfect intersemiotic transposition from art to life and life to art.


        Upon reading Terry Gilliam’s memoirs, one cannot help but notice that they could have been written as a picaresque novel, describing the formative strolling of a modern day pícaro, whose actions, both tragic and comic, form a mirror reflecting the injustices and abuses of the world he lives in. Indeed, a picaresque novel is first and foremost the autobiographical story of a character whose purpose in life is to extract himself from the social conditions he was born into and who tries to find his place in the world, no matter what the cost. He is, as Helios Jaime wrote in Le Siècle d’Or, “a young man without scruples who, spurred on by his precarious situation, takes advantage […] of circumstances” (81).[1] The pícaro in both La Vida de Lazarillo de Tormes and La Vida del Buscón is ready to resort to all sorts of stratagems and subterfuges to escape hunger, thirst, and poverty. His life is a continual journey, and he can be alternately beggar, servant, and thief. Yet most importantly, he embodies the rejection of social values: in a society driven by profit, the pícaro’s actions reflect a certain form of hostility towards the system. Cervantes’s own novel, however, was written both in reaction and as an answer to the picaresque: it has been widely associated with the genre, though Don Quixote does not seem to follow all of its codes. Cervantes recognizes the richness of the picaresque and borrows many of its motifs, but rejects the first person narrative and completely transforms the role of his “hero.” Quixote is a delusional old man, living the end of his life in a fantasy world, not a young pícaro at the beginning of his own story. The confrontation between these visions is especially obvious when Quixote frees a prisoner called Ginés de Pasamonte, who tells his saviour that he has been writing the story of his own life: “So good is it,” says Ginés, “that ‘a fig for ‘Lazarillo de Tormes,’ and all of that kind that have been written, or shall be written compared with it: all I will say about it is that it deals with facts, and facts so neat and diverting that no lies could match them” (Chapter XXII). Quixote lives in a world of lies and delusions, Ginés in a world of fact, and that distinction is what makes the difference between Don Quixote and other picaresque novels.  

        Now, what about Terry Gilliam? Where does he fit in this particular picture and how is that connected to his career and his attempts to adapt Don Quixote? As we will see, Gilliam has lived most of his life as a quixotic pícaro, and his decision to adapt Cervantes’s novel, when he turned fifty, was accordingly thought of as the logical coda to his career. Gilliam’s picaresque journey remarkably began with a happy childhood. He writes that missing out on the opening of Disneyland in 1954 was “about the closest I ever came to real childhood trauma. In fact, that’s probably why I had to go into film-making—to acquire the deep emotional and spiritual wounds which my shockingly happy childhood had so callously denied me” (21). Being spared any childhood trauma, Gilliam spent most of his early years in the countryside, which anchored his imagination in a brutal reality. For if he has been described as a fantasist and a dreamer, Gilliam’s artistic sensibility and cinematic vision have, in fact, never been cut off from the real world. They are, on the contrary, a reaction to the reality we live in, to the “messy, weird, unexpected things that only come out of the way reality works” (234). Living with animals and being in contact with death and the cruelty of the food chain thus gave him a respectful understanding of how nature works and reinforced in him the beauty of fantasy. Reading was also a huge formative experience for Gilliam, and although he loved cinema, books gave him the chance to develop his ability to adapt and visualize stories: “the great thing about reading as a spur to the imagination,” he explains, “is that you’re doing all the visualisation yourself. However good the author might be at painting a picture with words, the final stage of translating that mental picture from two dimensions into three is up to you” (9). Here, one can already see the future “adapter” at work. And the same thing happened with the radio. A show called Let’s Pretend became his first gateway to the fantastical and taught him to conjure up visuals based, this time, on voices rather than written words. Surreal comedy then further forged his imagination and helped him realize that things did not have to be the way they truly are. “In terms of constructing a home for my youthful imagination,” Gilliam writes, “the two sure foundations which Ernie Kovacs and Walt Disney had to build upon were Grimms’ fairy tales and stories from the Bible” (10).

        All these elements formed, as you can see, the basis of the surreal imaginative fantasy that would later characterize his animations and his films. Yet, Gilliam was still far from the end of his journey. Upon moving with his family to Los Angeles, he discovered that the place was far from being as dramatic as on film, but his disappointment quickly turned into contentment as his mind bridged the gap between reality and fantasy, a junction, he says, that would later be the setting of his movies (Gilliam 14). From that point on, Gilliam embarked on a picaresque journey that would occupy most of his life, from childhood until he joined the Monty Pythons. He tried to become a magician, which taught him to keep the audience on his side when the tricks invariably went wrong, developed his talents as a cartoonist, and even worked one summer at a children’s theater, where his first major adaptation had to be canceled. He worked for six weeks on a rather lavish production of Alice in Wonderland, a project that gradually became too elaborate for a children’s theater. “My ambitious plans,” he remembers, “foundered on the lack of any organisational infrastructure to help translate my vision from two dimensions into three—imagining the whole thing was the easy part, the difficult bit was the reality of actually doing it without the facilities, time, money, or basic talent to make it happen” (Gilliam 53). It apparently did not help that the children were engaging in other activities such as archery or horse riding and would spend most of their holidays not following Gilliam’s instructions. He is still marked by this “formative trauma,” which happened to be the first time a whole community had expected him to accomplish something, but which ended in the most “disastrous summer-camp theater productions of all time” (53). He then tried his hand at different jobs, became a cartoonist, worked for the magazine Help! on photographic strips and was drafted in the early days of the Vietnam war. He was forced to join the National Guard, but you will not be surprised to read that Gilliam is not the kind of person who really thrives on the order of the military. His talents as a cartoonist helped him in the army, but when his commanding officer asked him to do a portrait of his fiancée and of himself, which kept him safely in the barracks for a while, he could simply not resist the temptation to defy authority and started doing caricatures which ridiculed the officer in front of all his recruits (81). However, that was not the only time he defied authority in the armed forces. During one of the maneuvers, they were expected to “take a hill.” Gilliam recalls:


I’d be running around like a kid playing soldiers, shouting “Boom!’, ‘Bang!’ and ‘Taka-taka-taka” (my best shot at a convincing machine-gun sound). “What’s wrong with you, Gilliam?” an exasperated commanding officer would ask. “C’mon, these blanks are practically silent,” I would reply. “If you’re going to fire a gun, it should at least make the right noise.” Obviously I was taking the piss, but I was also trying to make this foolishness as entertaining as possible […] and as a result soon found myself widely acknowledged as a bit of a joke. (80)


        His experience in the National Guard and the perspective of being sent to Vietnam then encouraged him to tell the Army that he was being transferred to the obviously non-existent European bureau of Help! in 1965. Far from the “institutional incompetence” of “capable authority” (83), he embarked on his most picaresque journey yet. He bought himself a motorbike in North Africa, which prophetically became his own personal Rocinante. Cervantes describes Don Quixote’s horse as ‘the first and foremost of the hacks in the world’ (Chapter 1), all skin and bones, and Gilliam recognizes that his bike was “possessed by the spirit of Don Quixote, because it seemed to be doing everything it could to humiliate” him (Gilliam 94). He drove off into Spain, and within an hour hit a dog and crashed in front of a bar, where the locals cauterized his wounds with a bottle of liquor. Now deprived of front headlight, he had to follow as close as possible any car that came by so as to be able to see the road by night. The bike would then stop every now and then, especially when he had to drive up a hill, it would continually run out of petrol, which convinced Gilliam that it was a demon sent to destroy him. Once in Barcelona, he decided to act first:


When night fell I got all the guys and girls from the hostel to march up with me for the act of sacrifice, but the infernal machine got the better of me one more time. The petrol cap I’d never been able to loosen had now come undone of its own accord. Most of the fuel had leaked out so the grand explosion I’d planned to impress everyone with was now not going to happen. Luckily there was just enough fuel remaining to get a fire going, so I pushed it off the cliff with just enough aplomb to save face. (94)


Of course, the place was an area well-known for smuggling operations, so the minute the bike went up in flames, the police were all over the place, which forced Gilliam to hide for over an hour in a bamboo thicket…


        These are but a few examples of the many events associating Gilliam with the picaresque, well before he directed his first movie. Yet this little detour by his formative years, as entertaining as it may be, helps us get a better look at how his mind works, where his art comes from, and also contributes to our understanding of him as a modern iconoclast. His fantasies enable his characters—and himself—to escape, but they are also a reaction to the world. How could one not think about Don Quixote and Rocinante when faced with Gilliam’s journey through Spain? He was not simply on a holiday; he was genuinely fleeing the grasp of the army and lying to the Government in order to live the way he wanted to live. And it is this fantasy that turned the pícaro into an authentically quixotic figure: his aim is not to take advantage of the world but to make it a better place by showing us its beauties and its darkness. “When you grow up—as I did—reading Grimms’ fairy tales and the Bible,” Gilliam explains, “there’s no question that you see it as your duty to change the world for the better. And I think that’s why, for all my frequent recourse to irony and/or sardonic sarcasm, my films have always been repositories of idealism—both in terms of the process of making them and of the subject matter of the films themselves” (199). Writing about picaresque irony, Caroline Pascal remarks that such a text is built upon a supplantation of reality by a deception used to force readers to become aware of the existence of a narrow interstice between truth and lies, “the difficult space of fiction” (qtd. in Carrasco 104). A picaresque novel thus proposes a mixed vision of reality, both comic and tragic, and which provokes a bittersweet reaction. This literary anamorphosis is one of the specificities of picaresque comedy: a change of perspective on a particular event changes the event and our reaction to it, making us both laugh and cry (Pascal qtd. in Carrasco 108). And once more it is particularly difficult not to see that this definition applies perfectly to most of Gilliam’s films. Adaptation is both a process and a product, as Linda Hutcheon famously remarked. In Gilliam’s case, it has always seemed to be a process during which he not only adapts a book or a script (that he may, or may not, have written) into a film but during which he also communes with his main character and then tries to adapt the world to his fantasies. Indeed, an adapted text is not something that should be merely reproduced; on the contrary, it is interpreted and transformed into a reservoir of diegetic, narrative and axiological instructions that the adapter is liable to use or ignore (Gardies 68-71). Before he can become a creator, the adapter must be an interpreter, for the creative transposition of a story is “subject not only to genre and medium demands […] but also to the temperament and talent of the adapter” (Hutcheon 84). This delicate balance of fantasy, reality, and iconoclasm, is the very essence of a Gilliamesque artistic sensibility, an extension of Cervantes’s own vision of the picaresque, amplified by Gilliam’s artistic voice. And it is consequently unsurprising that when he finally started directing movies, Gilliam became, somehow, the victim of a magical process whereby “the making of the film becomes the story of the film” (58). As he explains, “I would never have found myself in the director’s chair […] without an approximately equal and opposite propensity for imagining my way into pre-existing narratives. This staple resource of the child’s imagination is one I have adapted to become the motor of my adult life” (58-59).


        Two movies seem especially revealing of Gilliam’s pre-Quixote career and show that his later attempt to turn Cervantes’s words into moving pictures was actually inevitable. Indeed, both Brazil and Baron Munchausen had Gilliam painting the portrait of societies where fantasy is the only possible escape[2] and forced him to fight his own personal windmills.

        In the case of Brazil, both Gilliam and his producer Arnon Milchan engaged in a historical battle with the head of Universal Pictures, Sidney Sheinberg, to have him release the director’s cut of the movie. As Jack Mathews remarks, Brazil is still today a “textbook example of how the creative process is so often subverted by commercial interests in Hollywood” (Mathews 1). The film has often been described as Orwellian, but Gilliam’s ambition was not to criticize and attack a social system limiting individual freedoms; what he wanted to show was that bureaucratic societies provoke an inevitable loss of passion, inducing people to surrender their individuality so that they can be assimilated by the system that feeds them. The heart of Brazil is accordingly about that unnatural drift toward conformity, which inevitably costs us our humanity as we turn a blind eye to the injustices and horrors committed by the system. Gilliam’s hero in the film, Sam Lowry, is the perfect example of a passionless bureaucrat, whose only escape from reality is his fantasy. But when he finally meets the girl he was dreaming about, a suspected terrorist, his reaction is to enter into conflict with the system: “[a]s he falls in love, he takes bolder and bolder actions, and begins to regain his passion and humanity, until the system reacts defensively to quash him” (Mathews 22). Gilliam’s imagination has always been stimulated by enclosed worlds with their rules and hierarchies, and Brazil gave him his first major opportunity to react against such well-defined social structures (Gilliam 22). Sadly, although he finished the movie on time and on budget, and edited a version accepted by Fox for the European market, Universal and, more precisely, Sidney Sheinberg, deemed the movie too long for American audiences and demanded a happy ending. The head of the movie corporation ironically wanted the movie to end on what was initially shot as a fantasy sequence, with Sam living happily ever after with his girlfriend. Gilliam, on the other hand, fantasist that he is, ended that dream sequence with a brutal return to reality: Sam has only escaped in his dreams, in order to save himself from the fact that his girlfriend has been shot and that he is in prison, being tortured. Once again, fantasy was meant to help Gilliam reflect reality: “he’d taken his most cynical views on Bureaucracy in the 20th Century and exorcised them all in a satirical fantasy about the myth of individual freedom—apparently only to serve it up as a self-fulfilling, self-destructive professional and personal prophecy” (Mathews 12). Gilliam became Sam Lowry, reacting violently against Universal, while Sidney Sheinberg willingly accepted the role of Jack Lint, Sam’s friend and torturer, asking Gilliam to let him be “the friend that tortures you” (Mathews 78). Sheinberg refused to release the movie in America and started editing it on his own, while Gilliam worked on a shorter cut that would suit the American market. But although the director won his battle, three versions of the same movie existed for a while: the European version, the director’s cut, and Sheinberg’s cut. In that context, one can wonder who is the real adapter in a film? The screenwriter, the director, or the editor? Indeed, the editor works on the construction of the film, he “identifies and exploits underlying patterns of sound and image that are not obvious on the surface” (Walter Murch qtd. in Ondaatje 10). Editing has, accordingly, long been considered as the true voice of cinematic discourse, most notably by Russian formalist filmmakers such as Sergei Eisenstein. The Universal version of Brazil is, as a result, not so much a shorter version of Gilliam’s film, as its adaptation: an adaptation both to the requirements of the studio (length of the movie) but also to the sensibility of the producer (happy ending).


        Gilliam’s battle with Universal was thought of as largely quixotic, most notably by Orson Welles. His victory, however, was a surprise, albeit one that would have consequences on Gilliam’s career. In the case of Baron Munchausen, his next film, things became much more dramatic and saw Gilliam abandon Sam Lowry’s shadow to follow in the footsteps of the Baron himself. In the film, Munchausen is accepted by everyone as a legendary character whose fantastical adventures are considered to be nothing more than legends. Thus, when the real Munchausen (an old and dying man) arrives, nobody believes in him, or in the veracity of his tales, except for a little girl. As he is dying, he says: I’m tired and the world is tired of me,” a feeling that was then shared by Gilliam himself (218). But, as Andrew Yule writes, his intrepid efforts “to translate the free-spirited, dramatic and romantic adventures of Baron von Munchausen to the screen is in itself a fascinating tale of the ‘reality’ of Hollywood filmmaking—and a lesson in the price of achieving a dream” (iv).

        Gilliam found himself working with a German producer named Thomas Schuhly, who convinced him to shoot the movie in Rome, where the costs of production would be lower to what America or England could offer. Gilliam accepted, of course, and soon realized that if he is himself a fantasist, he was now working with someone living in what Bernd Eichinger called “hyper-reality,” which he usually translated in layman’s terms as meaning that most of Schuhly’s claims were “bullshit” (Yule 10). Nothing was organized as Gilliam wanted it to be, sets were not built, money disappeared, corruption was paramount[3] and the filmmaker found himself blamed, probably because of Brazil, for one of the most disastrous shoots in the history of cinema.[4] The set was filled with people from different nationalities and evidently, no one spoke the same language. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen quickly became a project as calamitous as the Tower of Babel and, as Eric Idle, a former Monty Python who played the part of Berthold in the film, remarked they were trying to make a movie with all those European nationalities, while the only thing they had successfully been able to make together for the last four-hundred years was war (qtd. in Yule 70). Gilliam started being haunted by his failure in his children’s theater production of Alice in Wonderland: “I’d set my own rules and gone against the system and pulled it off with small budget movies time and again. Now I felt that Munchausen was the one I was going to get caught on” (Yule 72-73). The fate of the Baron became Gilliam’s destiny, but he was ready to follow Munchausen to the bitter end. He once threatened Sidney Sheinberg to burn both Brazil and the Universal tower if they touched his movie; this time, he knew his priorities were right: “I will sacrifice myself’, he said, ‘or anyone else for the movie. It will last. We’ll all be dust” (Yule 217). The movie was and still is a masterpiece, but sadly Columbia backed out of a major launch, refused to make 70mm prints available, and refused to spend money on its promotion… They decided the movie would not work, that it had been produced by the former executives of Columbia, that it was a product from the past… Or, to put it in another way, the new management tried to wipe the slate clean. Sidney Sheinberg had turned into the very essence of bureaucracy, but as Andrew Yule reports, if one must consider the head of Columbia, think “in terms of Horatio Jackson and his functionary’, the epitome of rationality in Munchausen, ‘and you’re getting closer” (227).

        From that point on, Gilliam worked on several other movies. But when he turned fifty, his connection with Quixote seemed to reach a new dimension. He had been obsessed with the character for years, without ever reading the novel, but had felt the similarities between his own cinematic vision and Cervantes’s character. The association of reality, fantasy, madness, and sanity is a key element of Gilliam’s cinema, and Don Quixote encompasses all of it, especially in our collective imagination. “Quixote struck me more powerfully,” explains Gilliam, “when I reached middle-age because that’s what I thought Quixote was very much about. He’s an older man, he’s been through life […], he has one last chance to make the world as interesting as he dreams it to be” (Fulton & Pepe, 2003, DVD). Gilliam started reading the novel and writing his script in 1991, and with every year that passed, he became more aware that he had only filmed a few of the many movies he had in mind. Filming Quixote gradually became necessary for Gilliam, as he identified more than ever with his hero. He needed to go through this cathartic experience, with life imitating art, and Gilliam making the world a little more like he dreams it to be. For the way Quixote sees the world is close to the way we saw it as children, with objects keeping their magical significance, which is something that appealed immensely to Gilliam. So when he started adapting the novel into The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, he rapidly began to change Cervantes’s perspective on his story. He realized that it would be difficult to adapt a picaresque novel since, in the book, the stories are linked thematically, but there are no central plots. Picaresque novels are indeed episodic, which is difficult to transpose onto the big screen. Most people would not be able to tell the difference between the 13th and 17th centuries, so having Quixote, someone from the past, talking about an even older past and the return of chivalry would be complicated to handle and most the references would be lost on the audience. However, Gilliam found a way to adapt the story for a modern audience: he borrowed Mark Twain’s idea in A Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and created the character of Toby Grisoni, a young, arrogant and rational man, working in advertising. In the script, Toby is sent back in time, and finds himself riding with Quixote who saves him and mistakes him for Sancho Pança. This allowed Gilliam to create a plot for the whole movie, but also to add another layer of fantasy to Don Quixote: Toby would be the connection with a modern audience and would allow them to look at Quixote’s madness through his eyes. However, unlike Cervantes, Gilliam had no desire to mock his main character or his visions. On the contrary, he decided to show his audience the world through his eyes: we would see the windmills, but also the giants. This concretization of Quixote’s surreal visions through Gilliam’s film lenses would reinforce the beauty of his fantasy and underline its importance, leaving us to wonder: are we seeing through Quixote’s eyes, or through Gilliam’s? W.K. Wimsatt explained that an “art work is something which emerges from the private, individual, dynamic, and intentionalist realm of its maker’s mind and personality” (11). As we have seen, Gilliam is in most of his movies both himself and his character. Michael Taussig argued that our propensity to behave like someone else marks a capacity to be Other (19), it is through alterity that we manage to maintain sameness (129). For Gilliam, this mimetic faculty is the capacity to “copy, imitate, make models, explore difference, yield into and become Other” (xiii). Thus when Gilliam identifies with his characters, he pushes his adaptive ability to “repeat without copying, to embed difference in similarity, to be at once both self and Other” (Hutcheon 174) to fully explore the realm of imagination, with his feet firmly planted at the junction between fantasy and reality.

        In other words, when Gilliam started adapting Quixote, he not only adapted Cervantes’s novel, but also the character and its universe to his own cinematic sensibility. But, as Lost in la Mancha shows us, and as the film had to be canceled, Gilliam gradually shifted from the role of adapter to the role of main character in the story. Indeed, when he invited Louis Pepe and Keith Fulton to film the making of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, nobody expected it to turn into the making of the “unmaking” of a movie. As soon as preproduction began, the film was in complete disarray, but things really became tragic during the first week of principal photography. On day one, Gilliam realized that his extras did not know the choreography of the sequence he was meant to shoot and then F-16 planes started flying over the location, ruining the sound. On day two, a biblical storm destroyed the set, most of the gear and significantly changed the look of the desert. On day three, the insurance company defined the storm as an act of God and refused to pay for the time lost. On day four, they changed location, tried to film but the F-16s flew once more over the set. On day five, Jean Rochefort, who played Quixote, got hurt and had to be sent back to France. Days passed and it became obvious that Rochefort would never be able to come back: production was stopped, insurance companies and the completion bond company stepped in and the movie was officially abandoned… Lost in La Mancha shows Gilliam gradually becoming a tragic figure, fighting to keep his movie going against all odds, and ultimately failing. We have here a unique transition from adapter to “adaptee”: Gilliam became his main character on film. Ten years after he started writing the script, he was forced to abandon his dream project, and to forfeit the rights of the movie to the insurance company. As he remarks in Lost in La Mancha, the windmills of reality fought back. 


        When he was shooting Baron Munchausen, Gilliam started wondering if the film industry was really about making movies, or if movies were byproducts of the system (Yule 231). For him, making films has always been the best way to express the beauty of the world as seen through the eyes of children and dreamers. Adapting Don Quixote was not so much something he wanted to do, as something he needed to do. He started writing the script in 1991, tried for a decade to shoot it and had to give up after a week of production. Now, fifteen years after Lost in La Mancha, and almost thirty years after he started writing the script, Gilliam finally managed to get back on his horse to save us from the desert of the real. After several new incidents that postponed the production of the movie for a few more years, and then its release (he had to fight his former producer Paulo Branco in court), The Man Who Killed Don Quixote was released in France in May 2018 and shown at the Cannes Film Festival, starring Jonathan Pryce[5] (Sam Lowry in Brazil) as Quixote. In the film, Gilliam shows us what it means to follow one’s dreams to the end: if he previously identified with Quixote, Gilliam realized in the recent past that he was actually Sancho Pança madly following Quixote. And as Toby gradually enters Quixote’s world and starts seeing the world as the old knight sees it, so does the audience. It is only with Quixote’s death that Toby’s journey really starts: he himself becomes Quixote, fighting windmills, which the audience sees for the first time as giants too. After having followed Quixote for so long, Toby/Gilliam managed to become one with the myth. He began his life and career as a quixotic pícaro and has since become a Gilliamesque Don Quixote, fighting against the windmills of reality.


Works Cited

Carrasco, Rafael, ed. Le Roman picaresque : La vida de Larazillo de Tormes, Francisco de Quevedo, La vidal del Buscón, Ilamado don Pablos. Paris: Ellipses, 2006. Print.

Gardies, André. “Le narrateur sonne toujours deux fois.” La Transécriture : Pour une théorie de l’adaptation. Ed. Thierry Groensteen. Québec: Editions Nota Bene, 1998. 65-80. Print.

Gilliam, Terry and Ben Thompson. Gilliamesque: A Pre-Posthumous Memoir. London-Edimburgh: Canongate, 2015. Print.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Adaptation. New York-London: Routledge: 2006. Print.

Jaime, Helios. Le Siècle d’Or. Paris: Ellipses, 1999. Print.

Mathews, Jack. The Battle of Brazil With the Director’s-Cut Screenplay Complete and Updated by Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, & Charles McKeown. New York: Applause Books, 1987. Print.

Ondaatje, Michael. The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2002. Print.

Taussig, Michael. Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses. New York-London: Routledge, 1993. Print.

Yule, Andrew. Losing the Light: Terry Gilliam & The Munchausen Saga. New York: Applause Books, 1991. Print.



Fulton, Keith & Pepe, Louis, Lost in La Mancha. Quixote Films & Low Key Pictures, Editions Montparnasse, 2003. 2 DVD.

Gilliam Terry, The Crimson Permanent Assurance. Included in Terry Jones, Monty Python: Le sens de la vie. Universal Studios, 2003. 2 DVD.

____. Brazil, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2011. 1 BLU-RAY-1 DVD.

____. The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen (20th Anniversary Edition). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2008. 1 BLU-RAY.

____. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Lionsgate, 2010. 1 BLU-RAY.


The Author

Jonathan Fruoco is a medieval scholar affiliated to the Institute of European, African, American, Asian and Australian Languages (ILCEA4) and Cultures at the University of Grenoble. His research is concerned with the cultural and linguistic development of medieval England and, more particularly, the work of Geoffrey Chaucer. His translated and edited, for the first time in the French language, the original Robin Hood ballads in Les Faits et gestes de Robin des Bois (UGA Editions, 2017) and is the author of Chaucer’s Polyphony: The Modern in Medieval Poetry (to be published in April 2020 by Medieval Institute Publications).


[1] Translated by the author.

[2] Most of Gilliam’s films could be used to illustrate this point, but a selection had to be made to avoid turning this paper into a book.

[3] Gilliam jokingly remarks that ‘Italy is number four in the league of industrial nations, thanks to us. We put them back on their feet. We should be proud of that!’ (Yule 218).

[4] The original budget of the movie was $23.02 million (August 15, 1987). Its final cost turned out to be $46.34 million.

[5] There would be a lot to say about Jonathan Pryce’s presence in the movie and the connection between Sam Lowry and Quixote. Gilliam seems to have come full circle with this casting choice and logically connects his vision in Brazil and what The Man Who Killed Don Quixote stands for. 

N°2 | Mythopoetic Adaptation in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy

David Goldie

The debate on adaptation often focuses on a perceived rivalry between the arts when considering the transformation of narratives from one media to another. This paper seeks to go beyond the problem of comparison by opposition by considering one element in the question of adaptation more specifically. Somewhat paradoxically, this is the story itself. Despite being at the heart of the adaptive process, it is a partner that rarely has a voice in any of these discussions.


Trop souvent, la question de l’adaptation se focalise sur la transformation des récits à travers différents médias, ainsi elle met en évidence une certaine rivalité entre les arts. Au lieu de se heurter aux problèmes issus de la comparaison d’œuvres par l’opposition, cette contribution se concentre sur l’un des éléments mis en jeu par l’adaptation. Paradoxalement, il s’agit de l’histoire. Malgré le fait qu’elle devrait se trouver au cœur même du processus d’adaptation, nous n’entendons que rarement sa voix.  


For all our delight in the impermanent, the entrancing flicker of electronics, we also long for the unalterable.

Ursula Le Guin (Introduction, Tales from Earthsea xv).


         Ursula Le Guin neatly captures a dilemma we face when considering cinematic adaptations of mythological texts. On one hand, modern CGI technology allows incredibly lifelike rendering of places, peoples and events that would have previously been impossible. On the other hand, mythological storytelling has ancient origins and the messages contained in such tales remain as true today as they ever have. These points would seem quite favourable for adapting such stories. However Le Guin points out that exploiting modern technology to accurately portray ancient narratives is often a difficult balancing act.

         In his 1939 On Fairy Stories lecture, J. R. R. Tolkien describes the art of the storyteller as weaving a magical spell on the reader. He does this through the creative act of mythopoeia. While this term existed before him, it has become associated with Tolkien as the title of a poem he wrote for C. S. Lewis. Tolkien presents a discussion between “Philomythos” (myth-lover) and “Misomythos” (myth-hater) and defends the creation of myths, underlining the importance of their narratives. These two characters represent Tolkien and Lewis and the poem re-enacts the conversation between the two on the evening of the 19th September 1931. This was a formative moment in Lewis’ spiritual renaissance. Lewis held the view that myths, however attractive and appealing as stories, were worthless since they were “Lies breathed through silver.” Tolkien managed to convince Lewis that this was wrong. In his opinion myths contained universal truths offering glimpses of the great truth of Christianity. Mythopoeia is extremely important to Tolkien. It is the art of producing myths and stories that bring these truths to the surface.

         Before the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), Christopher Tolkien adopted an unequivocally negative stance towards Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy in an interview with Raphaelle Rerolle for Le Monde.


“They eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25, (…) The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has overwhelmed me. The commercialization has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing.”[1]


According to Christopher Tolkien the adaptations are disrespectful. Blockbuster action films are neither aesthetically pleasing nor intellectually stimulating. Ignoring the fact that The Lord of the Rings is not without detractors in the world of literary criticism[2] he also condemns a large part of the readership who fuelled the book’s early success.

        J. R. R. Tolkien and Peter Jackson are both mythopoetic storytellers. When debate focuses on aesthetic and essential differences in adaptations, the central importance of the stories and what they have to say is often forgotten. While such oppositional comparison is understandable, this is a crucial omission for The Lord of the Rings.J. R. R. Tolkien’s point of view was expressed in On Fairy Stories where he famously declared: “The Cauldron of Story, has always been boiling, and to it have continually been added new bits, dainty and undainty” (The Monsters and the Critics, 125). This metaphor neatly captures the idea that stories exist in a historical continuum and that ideas can be communicated across space and time. As new ingredients are stirred in, the original constituents resurface and new flavours are created from the mix of old and new. Just like a cook, the storyteller’s art is to draw them out and present them to a contemporary audience. J. R. R. Tolkien thus provides a philosophical support for the process and the practice of adaptation.

        This article aims to discuss how mythopoeia, the art of myth creation, has become central to the Hollywood blockbuster. Taking The Lord of the Rings as example of mythopoetic storytelling we will question Christopher Tolkien’s dismissal of Peter Jackson’s works as mere action films. Structuring his narrative on “The Hero’s Journey” concept that has informed Hollywood blockbusters since Star Wars, Jackson certainly follows a familiar format. Yet his adaptations have succeeded in reintroducing the narratives to a post-Millennial audience. The fundamental questions are how and why do such stories as continue to attract and fascinate audiences?

        Firstly, we will consider mythopoeia and its significance for J. R. R. Tolkien. Next, we will see where the mythical pretensions of Hollywood blockbusters come from by examining the “The Hero’s Journey” story cycle. Finally, we will analyse a passage from The Two Towers,comparing Tolkien’s view of stories with the representation of the same sequence in the film version.

‘Philomythus to Misomythus’

J. R. R. Tolkien, Mythopoeia


        J. R. R. Tolkien explains his own theories on the importance of stories in On Fairy Tales. Mythopoeia should be the ultimate aim of a writer in a creative process he terms “subcreation.” An author should assume a role akin to a deity by creating a universe for his story. He should know it intimately and make certain it functions coherently so that there can be no doubting any part of it. Tolkien compares his role with that of God, the Creator in what he calls the Primary World. In this sense, the author is the creator of a Secondary World, a subcreation in respect to God’s Primary World.

[1] Worldcrunch. “My Father’s ‘Eviscerated’ Work – Son of Hobbit Scribe J.R.R. Tolkien Finally Speaks Out.” Trans. Jeff Israely (Web. 19/07/14).

[2] Harold Bloom

In a mythopoetic context it is appropriate to incorporate and adapt other elements from myths and legends. According to Tolkien this is what has always happened unconsciously. Glimpses of the Gospel, the “true” myth, are contained and distilled in other tales that blend and mix in the cauldron of “Story” Although Tolkien never uses the word “adaptation” it is clear in On Fairy Stories that it is not something to be avoided. In fact it is fundamental to Tolkien’s thinking and writing.

        Regarding the process of cinematic adaptation, Brian McFarlane advocates moving away from comparison via a narrow oppositional paradigm in his essay “Reading Film and Literature” from 2007. He argues for placing the narrative at the centre of discussion and considering the relations between the different versions as a starting point for evaluation of the work in question. Since good storytelling exists just as much in cinema as in literature, it is necessary to appreciate that the narrative mode is different and interpretation comes through different semiotic messages.

        McFarlane suggests approaching cinematic adaptation through the concept of intertext as developed by Julia Kristeva in Sèmiôtikè. Recherches sur une sémanalyse and Gérard Genette in Palimpsestes. This means not only taking into account a number of influencing factors from the story’s roots to the cultural context of the adaptation but also its place within a cinematic context, all of which contribute to its newly adapted form

        Despite Christopher Tolkien seeing his father’s work as a unique creation, intertextuality is actually at the heart of The Lord of the Rings and it is extremely important to bear this in mind. As a Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford, Tolkien’s particular expertise was in philology, retracing the origins of words. His extensive study of ancient texts afforded him a vast knowledge of mythology that he set about employing and indeed adapting to achieve his aim of creating a specifically English mythology. Tom Shippey demonstrates this in his book The Road to Middle-Earth, citing numerous references in Tolkien’s works to legendary texts such as the Icelandic Kalevala.

        Where mythopoetic texts are concerned, adaptation is not a case of opposition between art forms, but rather part of an ongoing process that facilitates the transmission of ideas. Tolkien discusses this last point extensively in On Fairy Stories. Indeed, his main interest is this communication of ideas via stories rather than an anthropological search for their origins. Tolkien’s Christian faith is inseparable from his concept of mythopoeia. However, the idea that myths contain universal truths transmitted in an indirect and palatable way is not exclusively Tolkien’s. Other writers have examined this question from radically different standpoints

        In A Theory of Adaptation Linda Hutcheon explains the continual transmission of ideas by borrowing from Richard Dawkins’ concept of the “meme” in The Selfish Gene. The meme represents a unit of cultural identity or idea and is analogous to the gene. Just as the process of natural selection contributes to an ongoing evolution in the natural world, the same is true in culture. Hutcheon therefore encourages us to regard stories as such evolving units of culture. While contexts may change over space and time, the essential messages remain the same.

        Before them both Joseph Campbell took an anthropological approach to explain the transmission of ideas through mythology. In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, he studied myths from around the world, referencing many different cultures and religions. We can compare Tolkien’s concept of “Story” to the idea of the existence of a universal mythological story cycle such as the “Monomyth” or “The Hero’s Journey” developed by Campbell. Campbell’s two major aims were to prove the universality of these narratives and to establish their importance as formative stories for human society.

        As a specialist of mythology and comparative religion, Campbell concluded the existence of a common human inheritance to be found in myths. To develop his concept of the hero, Campbell based his own theory on the work of structuralists like Lévi-Strauss or Saussure. He supported his interpretation of myths by using the Jungian theory of a universal consciousness and Freudian dream interpretation. While admitting to being open to spirituality in his interview with Bill Moyers, Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, Campbell underlined the pattern at the heart of all mythological narratives. Remarking such similarity that he could not attribute it to one source or another, he underlined the commonality to be found in all cultures and religions.

        There is an inherent opposition between them. Tolkien would certainly would not have believed in Campbell’s approach. In his opinion, every myth contains elements of the “true” myth of Jesus Christ. Meanwhile Campbell was suspicious of monotheism, centred on humanity and the shared inheritance of a collective consciousness. Yet Tolkien’s cauldron analogy allows for different ingredients within his soup. Tolkien and Campbell both uphold the importance of myths containing messages to be communicated to humanity. Mythological narratives bear witness to universal truths that will appear again and again. Debating the merits of one view over another is not really the issue here. Instead, we come back to one central point. If an idea is strong enough it will survive through adaptation

        As a specialist of mythology and comparative religion, Campbell concluded the existence of a common human inheritance to be found in myths. To develop his concept of the hero, Campbell based his own theory on the work of structuralists like Lévi-Strauss or Saussure. He supported his interpretation of myths by using the Jungian theory of a universal consciousness and Freudian dream interpretation. While admitting to being open to spirituality in his interview with Bill Moyers, Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, Campbell underlined the pattern at the heart of all mythological narratives. Remarking such similarity that he could not attribute it to one source or another, he underlined the commonality to be found in all cultures and religions.


(…) a lesson disguised as entertainment. Christopher Vogler (The Writer’s Journey, 2007, 300)


        “The Hero’s Journey” lends itself to adaptation, retelling of stories and recycling themes. In 1979, Syd Field published Screenplay, the Foundations of Screenwriting. He developed a form he called the “Paradigm” and explained how to stage events in order to keep the narration moving forward. Similar to Aristotle’s story structure of context, conflict & resolution, this emphasised the traditional three act structure, plotting the number of pages required for each section against the time this would take in a film. This is illustrated by the table below, today freely available for download.


        In the 2005 version of his book Field analysed how The Lord of the Rings Trilogy fits into this structure:


In Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo becomes the ring bearer to return the ring to its place of origin, Mount Doom, so he can destroy it. That is his dramatic need. How he gets there and completes the task is the story. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring sets up the characters and situation and narrative through line; it establishes Frodo and the Shire, as well as the Fellowship, who set off on their mission to Mount Doom. Part II, The Two Towers, dramatizes the obstacles Frodo, Sam, and the Fellowship confront on their journey to destroy the ring. They are confronted with obstacle after obstacle that hinder their mission. At the same time, Aragorn and the others must overcome many challenges to defeat the Orcs at Helm’s Deep. And Part III, The Return of the King, resolves the story: Frodo and Sam reach Mount Doom and watch as the ring and the Gollum fall into the fires and are destroyed. Aragorn is crowned king, and the hobbits return to the Shire and their life plays out. (19)


While we are not suggesting a direct link between Field’s Paradigm and Campbell, there are certain points in common. Since the Paradigm is a general approach for a screenplay, the details of the narrative arc are not clearly defined like Campbell’s monomyth. Despite this, the Paradigm is also based on a three act structure where the main characters are on a journey towards resolution. What is certain is that this form is the basis of the blockbuster and The Lord of the Rings trilogy clearly subscribes to a similar structure.

[3] “The Paradigm Blank Worksheet,” Sid Field, The Art of Visual Storytelling (http://sydfield.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/paradigm.pdf)


        As Hunter explains in his essay “Post-Classical Fantasy Cinema” from 2007, “The Hero’s Journey” has had a major influence on Hollywood productions since the 1970s.


If The Lord of the Rings reminds us of Star Wars, this is not only because Star Wars borrowed heavily from Tolkien’s novel, or even that both happened to mine identical archetypes: all Hollywood films now draw inspiration from Star Wars’s Joseph Campbell-influenced pseudo-myth of individual liberation, sacrifice, and enlightenment. (161)


A clearer understanding of “The Hero’s Journey” and how it has permeated Hollywood will now allow us to see how it affects the narrative structure of Peter Jackson’s films in more detail.


        Campbell divides the Monomyth into three parts, comprising seventeen stages of a narrative he called “The Hero’s Journey.” The journey takes place in three phases of “Departure,” “Initiation” and “Return” as we can see below:

This is a story of personal development with consequences on a societal level. To sum it up, in the departure section the context of the story is established. The hero is put in a position, often reluctantly, where he has to respond to a problem threatening the society he lives in. The next is his initiation into a position where he possesses the necessary knowledge and experience to be able to address and resolve this problem. This is the section where the major personal development occurs. Past these points the hero is prepared to return to society and bring his new-found knowledge to bear on the problem affecting his society. This may take some time and involve various adventures on the way back. Once back, he is the master of two worlds, the spiritual and the real, ready to bring resolution.

        Star Wars is the most obvious example of “The Hero’s Journey” in cinema and its links to The Lord of the Rings are more than anecdotal as Cyril Rolland points out in his 2010 article. George Lucas discovered Campbell’s work in the 1960s while studying anthropology at the University of Southern California. Lucas’ storytelling impulse was identical to Tolkien’s. He wanted to make his films for a generation growing up without fairy tales and create his own mythology based on fundamental morality. Despite apparently harbouring some ambition to make his own version of The Lord of the Rings, he eventually decided against it and set about creating his own mythopoetic story. We clearly see elements of “The Hero’s Journey” in the story of Luke Skywalker. As Hunter points out, post-Star Wars, myth-making has become a central part of Hollywood production. If such stories can teach us universal truths, it is unsurprising that we constantly return to them and narratives that resemble them.

        In the 1980s, the mythopoetic impulse of Hollywood increased when Christopher Vogler, a script analyst for the Walt Disney Company, wrote a famous memo to his staff arguing that the most successful screenplays were variations on “The Hero’s Journey.” In Vogler’s opinion Star Wars was the perfect example and fantasy the ideal genre as archetypes are freely represented and spirituality is untouched by religious dogma. Having studied Campbell, Vogler developed a simplified version of “The Hero’s Journey,” incorporated into The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers in 1990.

         In the 2007 edition of this book Vogler spoke his belief that “stories are alive” (300) thus echoing the thoughts of Tolkien and Campbell. Vogler’s version of “The Hero’s Journey” plots twelve stages which outline both the outer and inner progression of the main character through trials and tribulations before arriving at a place of enlightenment. Its simplification of Campbell’s cycle has made it an ideal format for screenwriters, neatly dividing into three equal sections or acts.

        Championing the blockbuster format, Vogler repeatedly tells us that we should not be too quick to dismiss “The Hero’s Journey.” As he says, stories “want to teach you a lesson disguised as entertainment” (300). Vogler may have only increased the formulaic tendency of the blockbuster, yet he also gave classical narrative forms a chance to survive and thrive today. Unsurprisingly we can also find examples of “The Hero’s Journey” in characters such as Neo in The Matrix (1999 – 2003), Jake Sully in Avatar (2009), Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games (2012-15) and, of course, Harry Potter. While acknowledging the obvious commercial aspects of a cinema industry looking for universally exportable stories, we could also say that the mythopoetic pretensions of these stories are precisely what make them so attractive to audiences.

        Vogler’s “Hero’s Journey” travels between two worlds. While strict applicability in the overall positioning of the stages is open to discussion we should not forget that The Lord of the Rings is a trilogy. Peter Jackson recognised the overall unity of the narrative arc before beginning shooting. He then made the three films continuously as one largely chronological work over a six-year period. Vogler’s pattern is represented below and applied to the primary narrative of Frodo’s journey.

This may appear as an oversimplification of the complex interlacing of narratives within The Lord of the Rings. Frodo is not the only hero in The Lord of the Rings. If his journey to Mordor represents the Primary narrative, the Secondary one relates Aragorn’s personal journey towards accepting his place as the true king of Middle-Earth and a similar plotting could be achieved for him.

        Beyond the scenario structure Tom Shippey’s comments regarding Peter Jackson’s intentions are particularly insightful. Shippey is in a unique position regarding The Lord of the Rings trilogy. As a renowned Tolkien expert, he was invited to be a consultant for the production. During a conference given at Swarthmore College in 2010 he emphasises several points of interest.

        The comparisons with Star Wars are very important. According to Shippey, George Lucas’ production was the model for The Lord of the Rings production. As he puts it, “Peter Jackson wanted to out-Star Wars, Star Wars.” Shippey supports the idea of Jackson as a mythopoetic storyteller for the 2000s, obeying the cinematic conventions imposed on him by showing a story rather than telling it. From a purely technical point of view, in the early 2000s, the time was right for another story of epic proportions to speak to audiences. Cinematic technology was advanced enough to be able present Middle-Earth on film and thereby bypass some of the problems that had led to disappointment with previous attempts such as the animated version by Ralph Bakshi in 1976 and its follow-up The Return of the King by Rankin and Bass in 1980.

        However Jackson shares a deeper mythopoetic intention with Tolkien and Lucas. Writing in 2013, the psychologist Serge Tisseron remarked on the renaissance of fantasy during this period pointing out that the success of the Harry Potter (2001-11) can at least be partly attributed to a desire to recapture certain cultural references or supposedly universal images and ideas which Western society felt it had lost after the attacks of 9/11.

        It could be argued that this merely provides escapism. However, in On Fairy Stories, J. R. R. Tolkien states that this is not necessarily negative. On the contrary, conceptualizing it in the image of the “Escape of the Prisoner,” he asks if we should really be contemptuous of anyone trying to escape their own difficult situation by immersing themselves in a story. The “prisoner” is still allowed to dream of the free world outside of their cell. It is real, even if they cannot see it. In the same way, we can escape into stories in the search for fundamental truths.

        Tolkien created Middle-Earth during the difficult circumstances of the beginning of the twentieth century, convinced that England needed a mythology of its own to turn to in times of crisis. For Tolkien fantastic escapism is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it is a mechanism for presenting reality and indeed truth in a palatable way. The mythopoetic heart of The Lord of the Rings was perfectly suited to responding to the problems faced by society at the beginning of the twenty-first century. It would not be an overstatement to say that Peter Jackson’s adaptations at least partly paved the way for the rebirth of fantasy that culminated in the Harry Potter phenomenon.

        Perhaps Christopher Tolkien’s criticism hinges on the fact that Jackson often plays up the adventurous side of The Lord of the Rings. Jackson certainly employs a great deal of CGI. This point was regretfully conceded by Viggo Mortensen who played Aragorn in the film. In an interview from 2014 he confessed to much preferring The Fellowship of the Ring to its sequels as more time was given over to the reflective elements of the text. In his 2005 article “Peter Jackson’s Film Versions” Shippey also recognises a tendency to play up to a contemporary audiences’ expectations. He cites the prominence of Arwen as just one example. She provides a strong female character thus responding to potential criticism of Tolkien’s gender politics. If these points support Christopher Tolkien’s view, Peter Jackson does not ignore the text’s mythopoetic intentions as we will now see in one of the most memorable sequences of the films.

The great stories … the ones that really mattered

Sam Gamgee, The Two Towers (2002)


         The reflective side of the stories is not completely forgotten. For example we see it during the steady development of relations between Frodo, Sam and Gollum. There are some masterful sequences which provide visual representation of Smeagol’s inner struggle with Gollum, such as conversation between the two parts of his personality via a reflection in a pool at the beginning of The Return of the King (2003) and on either side of a tree which splits the screen in two in the final scene of The Two Towers (2002).

         One of the most memorable sequences of the trilogy juxtaposes the epic with the reflective. We find it at the climax of The Two Towers. Comparing its treatment in the book with how it appears in the film will allow us to see how mythopoeia is just as close to Peter Jackson’s heart as it was to Tolkien’s.

         Towards the end of the literary version, Frodo, Sam and Gollum try to enter into Mordor by taking a secret passage at the top of the rocky steps of Cirith Ungol. It is a very arduous path and the hobbits decide to rest and eat a last meal before crossing over the frontier. At this point Sam begins a conversation about storytelling:


(….) The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo, adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind.” (738-39)


On first sight it is an episode which could seem an entirely insignificant example of Tolkienian digression and may well have been among the first passages a Hollywood executive might consider cutting. The two companions just seem to be momentarily escaping their plight by talking about their favourite stories before they move on. However, on further examination, Tolkien is clearly explaining his own theories on storytelling. Within his own mythopoetic text, this passage presents a discussion on the value of mythical stories and the importance of his “Story” concept. This fact is emphasised by Sam who describes them as “the tales that really mattered.” He continues:


“I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on, and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. (…) I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?” (The Two Towers,739)


Frodo and Sam’s determination in the face of extreme adversity is a lesson for us all. To the casual observer hobbits are clearly defined by their height and outer timidity. Thus, they are presumed to be insignificant by the great powers of Middle-Earth. Tolkien informs us that this is clearly the wrong way to judge a person. In spite of all the power that can be wielded on the battlefield it is the action of self-sacrifice of two small individuals that will ultimately decide the fate of Middle-Earth. Sam thus equates himself with a person in a tale and the reader begins to understand that heroes can come in all shapes and forms.

        It is particularly significant that Sam presents Tolkien’s ideas here. The friendship between Frodo and Sam is thus integral to this narrative. Sam is Frodo’s gardener and far from extraordinary. However, he volunteers to accompany Frodo on his quest and steadfastly holds to this task. In J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography, Carpenter reminds us that Sam represents the rank and file soldiers Tolkien met as an officer in the First World War. Tolkien wanted to pay homage to these anonymous men. In his opinion, they were the real heroes who did their duty despite incredibly difficult circumstances

        To really understand Tolkien’s conception of myths we need to recognise the universality of the narratives the hobbits are discussing. If Tolkien’s major argument treats the common roots of myths, here Sam underlines that myths are universal stories in the sense that they can touch each of us. Anyone, even the least sophisticated, can find meaning in myths. Perceiving the similarities between old tales from his childhood and his present situation, Sam finds comfort here.

        Peter Jackson does not ignore this passage. In fact he transposes the text of this conversation to another scene of his own invention, using all the cinematic means at his disposal to underline its importance and touch his audience on an emotional level. The hobbits have been captured by Faramir of Gondor and the Ring is bound for the city where it will be taken into the possession of men. The hobbits are therefore facing the imminent failure of their quest to destroy the Ring once and for all. To make matters worse, as they pass through the outpost at Osgiliath which guards Gondor, the company is attacked by the Nazgûl. These Ringwraiths are attracted to the Ring. Frodo’s strength and resolve fail and he almost gives it over to the enemy. At the last moment Sam stops him. Frodo realises the enormity of his task and despondently wonders if he can really achieve his aim. At this point Sam launches into an epic speech.


Frodo: (slowly) I can’t do this, Sam.

Sam: (sadly) I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here.

Sam stumbles to his feet and leans against a wall.

Sam: (cont’d) But we are.

Sam keeps watching the terrible scene, and speaks absently.

Sam: (cont’d) It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy?

Sam: (Voice Over) (cont’d) How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.

Frodo: (skeptically) What are we holding on to, Sam?

Sam looks at Frodo… Sam walks over and lifts FRODO to his feet.

Sam: (resolute) There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.

Frodo is moved by Sam’s determination. He smiles grimly.

(“The Two Towers Screenplay Transcript”)


        This dialogue condenses the first part of the text from the book and places it in a different context. It thus loses some of the important references which Sam makes to other stories from the legends of Middle-Earth. In the book he compares their situation to events from The Silmarillion and realises that he and Frodo are participating in the continuation of stories began long ago. They are actively involved in their mythopoetic creation. Crucially, theirs is a real story.

        Peter Jackson replaces the whole discussion by an emotional monologue. At the centre of a close-up shot, Sam, leans against the wall of their hiding place in the ruins of Osgiliath and looks out to the horizon. As he begins his speech he is framed in a medium close shot. Frodo lies on the ground listening and seems visibly affected. Accompanied by stirring romantic music, Sam’s speech continues as a voice-over to a montage of images of the Battle of Helm’s Deep between the forces of Rohan and Isengard which is taking place far away at the same time. Firstly we see the monstruous Uruk-Hai fleeing before the horseriders of Rohan led by Gandalf and Aragorn. Against all odds men have been victorious. This fact is underlined by a full shot of King Theoden crying victory with his sword held aloft, then close-ups of Gandalf and Aragorn in the melee. Next we jump another long distance to Orthanc where the Ents, together with Merry and Pippin, are destroying Saruman’s evil industry. Liberating the force of a dammed river, it floods the land all around and bring Saruman’s projects to an end. We return to Sam in full shot to conclude with the final part of the dialogue. When Frodo asks him “What are we holding on to, Sam?” he helps his companion to his feet before delivering his final words.

        It is a stirring speech, typical of a blockbuster and an element which could support Christopher Tolkien’s criticism. However Peter Jackson believes that stories are an essential part of our humanity too. In an interview with Sean Woods for Rolling Stone in 2013, he was asked, “With all the advances in technology, which you clearly love, do you ever worry that storytelling will fall by the wayside?” Jackson simply replied: “No. No. No. No. No. Look, we’re human beings and we want stories. We’re always going to be entertained and have our emotions touched by humanity and by things that we recognize in our own lives.”

        His images support this point of view and the audience can hardly fail to take notice. Just as Frodo and Sam are living through it, we are watching a great tale, one that really matters and the emotion conveyed by the speech and its mise en scène cannot fail to move us. In fact it is so powerful a speech that even Gollum seems visibly affected. More importantly for the narrative, Faramir has also been listening. Thanks to Sam he sees that the situation goes beyond the laws of the city he is supposed to be defending. He is a good soldier but also a righteous man and decides to free Frodo and let him continue his quest despite knowing this decision means the death penalty for him.

        This is definitely an emotional sequence which places the speech in a different context to the novel and for another effect. However, does this difference make the speech any less appreciable or diminish its artistic value? The central theme is still the power of stories and it entirely supports J. R. R. Tolkien’s points. If we have taken this particular example it is because it illustrates how an adaptation can condense and change a text then employ cinematic language to provoke a strong reaction in the viewer. Even if the point is made according to the norms of a stirring speech in an action movie, is startlingly clear. The great stories teach us values and advice necessary to stand up to all challenges. This is precisely what “The Hero’s Journey” tells us in all its forms. The “tales that mattered” now become “great stories … the ones that really mattered” and “the stories that stayed with you, that meant something.” It is a turning point in the narrative and links intrinsically to mythopoeia. Here Jackson succeeds in visually representing a message that may well have remained hidden in Tolkien’s text. Dramatising and emphasising it, Jackson succeeds in making the fundamental impulse of Tolkien’s storytelling clear to all who see it.

        In conclusion we return to our initial point of departure. Christopher Tolkien finds Peter Jackson’s film versions of The Lord of the Rings difficult to digest since he regards them as merely shallow escapist action films. In holding this opinion, he certainly does an injustice to the films and his father’s notion of escapism. The mythopoetic impulse that inspired his father’s work is just as present in Peter Jackson’s films, not only in his direction but also in the blockbuster format. If this mythopoetic format has established itself so soundly in Hollywood it is not necessarily because of economic expediency and a lack of creativity. It is because myths are able to touch us profoundly even within the context of merely entertaining us.

        Even if we cannot and should not forget the essential differences that inform the arguments that Tolkien, Campbell, Vogler and Jackson present to us on the value of myths, we cannot deny the mythopoetic impulse that lies at the heart of their ideas. Mythopoeia uses the common roots of mythological narratives to adapt and re-present universal ideas that remain as relevant today as they ever have. Blockbuster action movies may be formulaic but in their adaptation of “The Hero’s Journey” they follow a pattern that has existed since long before cinema and even literature. Following on directly from the opening quotation of this article, Ursula Le Guin neatly sums up the attraction of such stories in her introduction to Tales from Earthsea:


We cherish the old stories for their changelessness. Arthur dreams eternally in Avalon. Bilbo can go “there and back again,” and “there” is always the beloved familiar Shire. Don Quixote sets out forever to kill a windmill […]. So people turn to the realms of fantasy for stability, ancient truths, immutable simplicities. (xv)


        The sequence we have examined helps to underline the fact that in the context of The Lord of the Rings, the story should be perceived as something which exists for its own and our own sakes. Studying stories as J. R. R. Tolkien did himself, what really matters is not the differences between representations of their narratives but rather how these fit into our overall cultural inheritance.

        With this in mind, we finish now with another quotation from Sam and Frodo’s conversation in the book:


(Sam) “Don’t the great tales never end?” “No, they never end as tales,” said Frodo. “But the people in them come, and go when their part’s ended.” (The Two Towers,739)


This is of course true for both the characters and the storytellers. Instead of creating an opposition between them as authors, maybe it is preferable to view J. R. R. Tolkien and Peter Jackson as collaborators playing their respective parts in the process of adapting and telling stories. Contrary to Christopher Tolkien’s assertion, an action film should be not a term of abuse. As we have demonstrated, it is completely appropriate that Tolkien’s epic work should have been adapted in this way. The way we tell the stories may change but our need for them and the messages they provide remain as strong as ever.


Works Cited

Bakshi, Ralph. dir. The Lord of the Rings. Fantasy Films. 1978. Film.      

Bloom, Harold. The Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien. 1999. New Edition. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2009. Print.

Cameron, James., dir. Avatar. Twentieth Century Fox. 2009. Film.

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 2nd edition. 1949. Princeton. New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1968. Print.

Carpenter, Humphrey. J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography. 1977. London: HarperCollins, 2002. Print.

Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition—with a New Introduction by the Author. 30th Anniversary edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Print.

Field, Syd. Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting. 1979. Revised edition. New York: Delta, 2005. Print.

Genette, Gérard. Palimpsestes. Paris: Seuil, 1992. Print.

Gunner, Shaun. “The Hobbit Fails to Impress at the Oscars.” The Tolkien Society. Web. 19/01/15.

Hunter, I. Q. “Post-Classical Fantasy Cinema: The Lord of the Rings.” Literature on Screen. Eds. Deborah Cartmell and Imelda Whelehan. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007. 154-67. Print.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Adaptation. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Jackson, Peter. dir. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. New Line Cinema. 2012. Film.

—. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. New Line Cinema. 2001. Film.

—. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. New Line Cinema. 2003. Film.

—. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. New Line Cinema. 2002. Film.

Jackson, Peter, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. “The Lord of the Rings. The Two Towers Screenplay Transcript.” The Internet Movie Script Database. No publication date. Web. 12/06/13.

Kristeva, Julia. Sèmiôtikè. Recherches sur une sémanalyse. Paris: Seuil, coll. “Tel Quel,” 1969. Print.

Le Guin, Ursula K. Tales From Earthsea: Short Stories. 2001. London: Orion Childrens, 2003.

Lucas, George, dir. Star Wars : Episode IV – A New Hope. Lucasfilm, 1977. Film.

McFarlane, Brian. “Reading Film and Literature.” Literature on Screen. Eds. Cartmell and Whelehan. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007. 15-29.

Moyers, Bill, prod. Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth. PBS. 1988. Television Documentary Series.

Rankin, Arthur, Jr. and Jules Bass, dirs. The Return of the King. Rankin/Bass Productions. 1980.

Rerolle, Raphaëlle. “Tolkien, l’anneau de la discorde.” Le Monde. 5th July 2012. Web. 12/08/12.

Robey, Tim. “Viggo Mortensen Interview: Peter Jackson Sacrificed Subtlety for CGI.” The Daily Telegraph, 14th May 2014. Web. 1/05/15.

Rolland, Cyril. “Hobbits et Jedi: l’influence du Seigneur des Anneaux sur la saga Star Wars.” Un autre regard sur le Terre du Milieu. Ed. Matthias Daval.Paris: Editions Edysseus, 2010. 41-52. Print.

Ross, Gary. dir. The Hunger Games. Lionsgate. 2012. Film.

Shippey, Tom. J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century. London: HarperCollins, 2001. Print.

–. “Peter Jackson’s Film Versions.” The Road to Middle-Earth: How J. R. R. Tolkien Created a New Mythology. 1982. Revised & enlarged third edition. London: HarperCollins, 2005. 409-30. Print.

—. The Road to Middle-Earth: How J. R. R. Tolkien Created a New Mythology. 1982. Revised & enlarged third edition. London: HarperCollins, 2005. Print.

—. “Tolkien Book to Jackson Script: The Medium and the Message.” Swarthmore College. 16/02/10.Web. 20/04/2015.

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings. Book 1. The Fellowship of the Ring. 1954. Book 2. The Two Towers, 1954. Book 3. The Return of the King.1955. One Volume Edition with Index and Appendices. London: Unwin Hyman, 1998. Print.

—. The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays. 1983. London: HarperCollins, 2006. Print.

—. The Silmarillion. 1977. London: HarperCollins, 2001. Print.

Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. 1998. 3rd Revised edition. Studio City. California: Michael Wiese Productions, 2007. Print.

Wachowski, Lana & Lilly, dirs. The Matrix. Warner Bros, 1999. Film.

Woods, Sean. “Q&A: Peter Jackson. Master of Middle-Earth.” Rolling Stone. 19/02/13. Web. 24/04/13.

        The Author:

After graduating in Modern Languages from the University of Manchester, David Goldie taught English both in Italy and the United Kingdom. Since his arrival in France in 2001, he has worked in a variety of contexts both in industry and in higher education. He now occupies a post in the UFR Sciences at Aix-Marseille University where he teaches English to non-specialist students in cinema in the SATIS department and collaborates regularly on screenwriting courses. He is affiliated to the LERMA laboratory where his research centres on English literature and adaptation studies. His doctoral thesis deals with the cinematic adaptations of fantasy novels, including the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis & J. K. Rowling.

Frodo is moved by Sam’s determination. He smiles grimly.


N°2 | “History was in the making all around us”: Writing and Screening a Changing South in Rich in Love (Josephine Humphreys, 1987; Bruce Beresford, 1993)

Gérald Préher

Rich in Love is the only Humphreys novel that has been adapted for the screen. The book was well received when it came out in 1987 and the movie was also generally well-reviewed even though commentators were not always as laudatory as those dealing with the novel. Still, the film captures the southern flavor of the book and makes the landscape of South Carolina a central character. The region’s history as well as that of the characters constantly intermingle making place and self inseparable.


Rich in Love est le seul roman de Humphreys a avoir été adapté à l’écran. Le livre a été bien accueilli lorsqu’il est sorti en 1987 et le film a également été généralement bien reçu, même si les commentateurs n’ont pas toujours été aussi élogieux que ceux qui traitent du roman. Pourtant, le film capture la saveur du livre et fait du paysage de la Caroline du Sud un personnage à part entière. L’histoire de la région ainsi que celle des personnages s’entremêlent constamment, rendant le lieu et ses habitants inséparables.


“[T]heir voices, their lives and words and stories are so clear, so familiar as if there have been no changes at all.”

Jill McCorkle, Tending to Virginia


Far from being as productive as fellow writers Kaye Gibbons or Jill McCorkle, Josephine Humphreys has published four novels; the latest, Nowhere Else on Earth, came out in 2000. Still, as Joan Wylie Hall observes, she “is one of the South’s most respected novelists at the start of the twenty-first century” (174). Humphreys has won several awards and grants: the Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award for Dreams of Sleep, her debut novel, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation grant, which she used while writing Rich in Love, a novel, which, in turn, led to Humphreys being awarded the Lyndhurst Foundation Award. Nowhere Else on Earth won the Southern Book Award. The limited number of books she has written in the thirty years following Dreams of Sleep might be justified by a comment she made in a 1991 interview: “What I like best about being a writer is writing; and the hardest part of being a writer is writing” (Magee 802).

        Rich in Love is the only Humphreys novel to have been adapted for the screen. It focuses on Lucille Odom, a seventeen-year-old girl, who has to cope with a domestic crisis when her mother suddenly disappears. As the narrative unfolds, Lucille becomes more and more active in keeping what is left of her family together for, unlike her mother, she is not looking for a “second life”, but for the comfort only the past can bring. When her sister, Rae, comes back from the North, pregnant and accompanied by a husband no one had heard about, things do change: Lucille’s attraction to him grows more and more each day and the two of them ultimately make love. This event coincides with Rae’s giving birth to her child and, as the novel comes to a close, husband and wife reunite, leaving Lucille on her own again. With many references to the changing South, Rich in Love speaks for the region from which it originates: “Humphreys’s characters are the place they live. Or better, their place is so much a part of them that their identity depends on the relation, whether it is the identity, present or past, of individual, family, community, city, state, or region” (Gretlund 225). The book was well received when it came out in 1987 and has been reprinted in at least four different editions since its original publication.[1] Fellow Duke Alumni Fred Chappell concludes his New York Times book review saying that it is “hard to resist a young girl who talks, who thinks, like [Lucille Odom].” Echoing a reference Lucille makes in the course of the action, Jim Stover, writing for the English Journal, feels that Humphreys’s main character “is at least as vividly portrayed as Huck [Finn]” (83) and Suzanne Rowen, writing in Commonweal, notes that “Lucille’s initiation story is powerful because we are drawn into the subjectivity of her perspective . . . and are forced to go back and rethink her perspective on her family’s own individual journeys” (188). Although Rowen is not convinced by the depiction of “the racial presence in [the characters’ lives]” and is critical of the way men are portrayed (188), she believes that “Humphreys has crafted a very tight novel: every character has a purpose; every observation folds into a later discovery; every action intentionally shapes the outcome of characters” (188).

        The movie was also generally well-reviewed even though the voices were not always as laudatory as those commenting on the novel. John Harkness exemplifies the negative views as he wonders, “What on earth possessed Bruce Beresford to make the film . . .?” (56). Harkness’s point is that Beresford and the author of the screenplay “manage to make every key dramatic sequence happen off-screen. Anything that might upset an audience on the conservative side of Queen Victoria has been trimmed away” (56).[2] The reviewer also complains about the cast, though “all fine actors . . . create one of those strange movie families in which nobody has the same accent”: their “sound . . . offends anyone who takes pleasure in the specific sounds of America’s various accents” (56). Unlike Harkness, Janet Maslin, in her New York Times review, is quite enthusiastic about the actors’ performances, especially Albert Finney’s as Warren Odom, Lucille’s father. Maslin’s only objection is that the film does not follow Humphreys’s novel very closely and pictures Lucille in a way that makes her “impervious to the story’s painful possibilities” (C8). It is obvious from the various opinions recapitulated here that the movie was not as highly acclaimed as the novel. Nevertheless, it would be unfair to call the adaptation a bad film since it does capture the southern flavor of the novel and makes the landscape of South Carolina one of the central characters. The whole performance certainly has a southern feel to it even though the actors do not necessarily speak with a southern drawl; when they do, it seems they are mocking the South for being backward in the way marital issues are perceived but, after all, this is also the point Humphreys was trying to make.

        The film opens with a view of a marsh with birds tweeting; the camera then takes the viewer to a window and then inside a house with shots of ordinary items: a lamp, empty glass bottles on a window sill, a laundry basket, figurines on a cupboard, a child’s bedroom and then, supposedly, that of the parents with a close-up on the bed. While these shots appear consecutively on the screen, the voice of one of the characters, Lucille, can be heard: “One afternoon last May, my life veered from its day-in-day-out course and became for a short while the kind of life that can be told as a story—one of us betrayed the rest and set off a series of events worth telling.” This sentence constitutes a summary of the first section of the first chapter in the novel, which also serves to introduce other central characters: Lucille’s mother, Helen; her father, Warren; her sister; Rae; and Lucille’s boyfriend, Wayne. The initial focus on the marsh and on the house points out the importance of the setting, as well as that of the domestic sphere—trademarks in Humphreys’s fiction. The progression from the outside to the inside of a house that looks abandoned makes it clear that a vital element is no longer there when the movie opens. Likewise, the movement from one room to another is suggestive of what is really at stake: Lucille is forced to become “the angel in the house” when she realizes that her mother has left her father. Unlike the opening sentence of the novel, which has Lucille tell the reader that the events “appear to have meaning” (1), the screenplay, written by Alfred Uhry,[3] makes it clear that they do—a choice that catches the viewer’s attention from the outset.

        Throughout the novel, Humphreys is critical of the development of the South and she uses Lucille’s voice to indict various forms of progress that have changed her region’s identity. Quite early, Lucille complains, “Originally we had the city of Charleston, the town of Mount Pleasant, and then the country, but now they were jumbled, haphazard as a frontier settlement. This new section of highway had been laid out with no regard to preexisting roads, and some of the old roads came up to the highway and dead-ended in striped barricades” (3). This particular comment echoes Humphreys’ concerns in her essay “A Disappearing Subject Called the South,” in which she urges southern writers to “continue to write about development. We must prevent it. Writers in particular have a duty to prevent it, because for us what’s at stake is lifeblood” (297). Lucille notes that it is “as if new places had been slapped down over the old ones, but some of the old was still showing through” (3)—traces of the past remain in spite of developers’ attempts to erase it completely.

Unlike her creator, Lucille is not discussing “visible ruin”—“the destruction of our places,” to quote from Humphreys’ essay (297); she is looking at a new form of ruin, reminiscent of the fake ruins that inspired the gothic trend in British literature[4]: she is staring at what she calls “dream house[s],” places “that somebody started but never finished. They were scattered through the woods like ruins of a defunct civilization, but they were only the ruins of defunct families” (3). Lucille’s observations mirror her primary concerns: the fragmentation of her own family. Indeed, if the movie begins with a reference to what happened “last May,” the novel’s chronology is slightly different: everything happened two years before Lucille decided to tell her story—the narrating-I, which is only present through the use of voice-over at the beginning and the end of the film, is essential to the novel as it helps understand the character’s identity changes. Lucille’s considerations about place are also missing at the beginning of the movie: instead of hearing her voice telling the viewer about her South, she is only seen riding her bike from school to home. Humphreys feels that “Ultimately, the biggest change from book to movie was the loss of the first person narrative, which I think makes it quite a different thing. On the other hand, the movie provides a visual beauty that the book never could. I considered it a fair trade-off!” (Letter to author, January 10, 2014). The architecture and the vegetation clearly help identify the region and when Lucille reaches the family house, the southern backdrop is made even more obvious: the background takes up most of the screen implying that the story is rooted in a specific location. Rich in Love thus illustrates Elinor Ann Walker’s idea that “in much contemporary fiction by women the question of space, whether it concerns a personal or historical dimension, has become more significant than the question of place” (312). Throughout the film and the novel, Lucille endeavors to place herself in a space that only she can define, be it her surroundings—Charleston—or within the family home.

        Noticing her mother’s van in the alley leading up to the house, Lucille hurries in and calls for her but, instead of finding her, she discovers a note, which she decides to rewrite. Critics have analyzed this scene from the novel extensively. Shelley M. Jackson makes a useful point that “rejecting her mother’s use of a word processor,” Lucille “believes she can rewrite . . . the story” (279), which also foreshadows her self-imposed responsibilities within the family. In the film, Lucille does not rewrite the note by hand but uses the word processor as well, which tones down her gesture—using the same instrument as her mother, part of her abilities are discarded and she does not prove to the viewer that she can forge more than her mother’s signature. In fact, as Barbara Bennett puts it, “Lucille’s attempts to maintain order actually create more chaos, leading to an ironic misunderstanding on her father’s part because he claims the tone of the note is wrong” (Bennett, Comic Visions 44). The first consequence of Lucille’s forged note is her father’s decision to go on a search for Helen. Although inconclusive, the way it is carried out makes Lucille’s symbolic desire to kill her mother—she compares their search to deer hunting (27)—and take her place even more blatant: since her father “lost his license after a number of speeding offenses” (9), Helen had been chauffeuring him around but now that she is gone, Lucille is the only one with that power. Helen’s departure thus makes the importance of women in Warren’s life even more obvious even if, as Jackson explains, “never once in the novel does he begin to understand why Helen left him” (285).

        Helen’s driving Warren everywhere does not appear on screen but is used as a reason for her decision to leave when, upon Lucille and her father’s return home, Helen calls and asks to talk to her daughter over the phone. In the novel, Lucille “tried to talk sense into her [mother]” (26), while in the film she basically listens. This additional scene partly restores to Lucille the credit that was taken away from her in the rewriting of the note: she is the one who reports to her father and thus rephrases her mother’s words, and she is also seen imitating her mother’s signature on checks, which puts her in charge of the household. In addition, a long scene that shows Lucille driving her father around town on the next day confirms that she is in control—Warren admits that “a man without a driver’s license is a miserable creature.” He only takes the wheel once after thinking he has spotted his wife on his way out from a bookstore: believing he might regain what he has lost, he pushes Lucille away from the driver’s seat and starts the car. Unfortunately, his frantic search does not lead anywhere—in fact, it forces him to see that he must move on with his life.

        Unable to assert his masculinity behind the wheel, Warren also feels at fault in his own house. In a distinctly southern way, he looks back at the past, remembering his parents: his mother, “a tragic figure,” and his father, who left the family. Taking the past into consideration, Warren tells Lucille, “I don’t see us as poor, I see us as rich in love,” proving that he has found a way to see the positive side of things. The film offers a much more condensed version of the story and several changes have been made regarding Warren’s family history. In the novel, his father did not leave the family and Warren explains that “he had quit trying to make money, but sat on the porch all day” (93). The addition made to the movie script is justified considering that all the details would make the film twice as long. It makes a short cut possible to explain Warren’s fast recovery from the loss of his wife.

        Warren finds a girlfriend, Vera Oxendine (renamed Delmage in the film), rather quickly and the two of them are seen together quite a lot, which contradicts the uninterrupted search described in the novel and Lucille’s comment that Warren “was addicted to the memory of [Helen], to the idea of her. He could not give her up” (185). Vera’s status within the family is thus more complicated in the novel as it is minimized because Lucille is the narrator. In both the film and the book, Lucille’s goal is eventually made clearer: she does not want her father to find another woman because she hopes the family will get back together. Although she hides his keys and tells him, “‘It’s too late to be starting life all over again. You’re married, you have children’” (254), Warren decides to go to Vera. The scene constitutes a variation on the events leading up to the first encounter between the two characters—Warren had been mowing the lawn before he went to the hairdresser’s—and it proves particularly interesting as it presents Warren as a new breed of gentlemen: “He sat tall, almost noble, riding his Snapper lawn mower into the dark of the oaks along Bennett Street” (256).

        The reader/viewer has already been made aware of the importance of honor for Warren—earlier, he claimed they did not need outside help when searching for Helen (28)—but this scene also elucidates Humphreys’ ideas on the spirit of the New South that she links to place: “it is not that we lost a war. It is that we lost our place” (298). This idea is taken up in the movie when, sitting outside on the porch with Vera, Lucille, and Billy, Rae’s husband. Warren reads an article on how the coastline of Charleston will look in 2041: “they did a scientific computer map of how the coast of South Carolina’s gonna look in fifty years’ time due to the greenhouse effect. The dock, the beach, the very spot where we’re all sitting—all blue, covered with water.” Humphreys had also included similar comments as part of the introductory chapter (8), but the movie makes the article more vivid to the viewer who can actually see what will disappear. Although it comes later in the film, Warren’s discovery of what the future holds in store for him seems to be linked to his desire to acquire books[5]—what he calls “permanent books” (92).

        The selection in the film is wide but it suggests an interest in referencing the region and reading the classics. Humphreys’s readers might also notice that a poster advertising her novel The Fireman’s Fair can be seen at the entrance of the local bookstore, a sign that it too might provide Warren with the knowledge he lacks about his region—the set designer was probably having some fun here, giving Humphreys additional publicity. The errand is followed by a view of Charleston’s recognizable sites (the market and the streets nearby), but what is striking is that the streets are empty as if the action were set in a ghost town. Such emptiness reflects the void inside Warren and soon after they get back home, he tells Lucille, “We need to move on.”

        The transition between the Old South and the New South, so important in the novel, is preserved in the film. As the New South imposed itself on the Old South, traditional values were updated to fit new requirements, but their meaning was lost in the process and came close to parody. This is particularly true of male characterization. For Michael Kreyling, “the males of Rich in Love are clearly prisoners of their expectations that a certain kind of action is called for when, in fact, it is not” (117). Wayne has old fashioned ideas about how a man should behave with a woman—Lucille compares his innocence to Huck Finn’s (146, 163)—but she has a mind of her own and is after her own pleasure, which Wayne fails to understand. For her, he is just a boy and it is a man she is looking for; realizing that “[b]oys have that extended phase of innocence” (146), she becomes more and more interested in her sister’s husband. The ideological gap between Lucille and Wayne is more obvious in the film since after a night together, Wayne tells her, “you have no idea what love is. . . . You just don’t want to be [the girl for me]. . . . Don’t call me,” and they never meet again, while in the novel Wayne is present from the beginning till the end in spite of the trials and tribulations.

        Lucille’s hopes that Billy could be the man for her do not materialize. His failure appears in his confession to Lucille that he sabotaged condoms to get Rae pregnant for fear that she might ultimately leave him. Humphreys has Lucille suspect Billy of being a fraud long before the cat is out of the bag[6]—“Maybe he had tricked her into it” (62)—but she soon forgets about her suspicions and fantasizes about him.[7] When things become critical between Rae and Billy, she is always there, hoping she will look like the perfect woman to him, illustrating what Barbara Bennett has called her “need for control and structure,” which “results from her fear of change and loss of control” (“Making Peace” 198). Lucille asserts her importance by reasoning with her sister when the latter starts talking about abortion or sending her child for adoption (“you’re keeping it and you’re raising it”), she scolds her father for seeing Vera and endangering the whole structure she keeps clinging to and, in some amusing instances, she sounds like a lady from another time,[8] something Rae has noticed for she tells Lucille “you are such an old lady.”

        Lucille devotes her time and energy to her father, leaving her studies behind. Her “doubt that parents have an inkling of how deep a child’s love goes” (29) and the sacrifices she is making driving around with her father, instead of studying appear in an early scene which takes place on graduation day. When Warren asks about her graduation she explains that she felt it was her duty to stay with her father (“did you think that I’d just go on with my normal life that I’d sit in some hot lunch room and tick off multiple choice answers while my family was falling apart?”[9]) and she reproaches him for not noticing that she has stopped going to school. Again, the situation emphasizes Warren’s narrow-mindedness and even though he apologizes (“Guess I haven’t been thinking properly”), he knows he depends on Lucille for transportation and that until he decides to stop looking for Helen, his daughter’s future will be compromised. Rae’s arrival with Billy changes everything in the novel,[10] as Lucille’s time becomes more clearly divided between family and studies. Rae tells Lucille “you’re the one that’s big on family, Lulu,” confirming her role as the keeper of the family unity. When Lucille understands that things cannot improve in the household if no one takes action, she ponders: “The time had come for me to do more than let life happen all around me. The time had come, because of my mother’s abdication and my sister’s carelessness, to take the reins of this family” (150). She hopes she can succeed where all the other women in the family have failed.

        After testing Billy for some time, Lucille begins to trust him and accepts his offer to help her with her studies, which brings them closer. His feelings about Charleston also influence her opinion of him. One night, the two of them are sitting on the dock and Billy compares the sight to Michigan while Lucille talks about her love of the place: “I love it here. I love the live oak trees, the sag and the veranda, pop’s lawnmower. I never want any of it to change” (also in the novel, 159). What brings Lucille and Billy together is their attempt to read everything through their own past experience—to a certain extent, they are both after permanence and stability. Despite its use of what one reviewer called a “seductive South Carolina setting” (Maslin), the film does not include historical references the way the novel does. As a consequence, Lucille’s interest in history disappears completely and Billy’s background and work as a history teacher is only evoked in passing. Wayne’s early comment to Lucille that she should “forget about Latin” and that she “ought to be dealing with something that’s alive” is a leitmotiv in the film as opposed to the novel, which has Lucille make numerous references to etymology in order to direct her understanding of the world around her. For example, when she uses the word “premonition,” she is calling the reader’s attention to its root, explaining that there is a hint “at what you are being warned against” (2). Of course, when she had the odd feeling that something was happening at home, she had no idea her mother had left and her knowledge of etymology was thus of no direct use with the ordeal. Likewise, when she reflects upon passion, she observes that it “means suffering, if you go back to Latin,” which she often does when she wants “to know what a word really means,” adding, “Love needs passion, but marriage needs the opposite—steady comfort” (19). Only at the end of the novel does Lucille realize that explaining everything by tracing its origin is not always helpful because “pure words” no longer stand for “single things” (260). Looking at only one facet is limiting, a sign of narrow-mindedness; however, as the novel progresses, Lucille learns new meanings and comes to terms with the changing reality of family life.

        It is not surprising that Humphreys’ Rich in Love has garnered many feminist readings for, apart from Lucille who clings to the past, her female characters are strong-willed and independent-minded. The film is disappointing as far as this aspect of the novel is concerned; Janet Maslin has noted in her review of the film that “as the long-missing Helen Odom, Jill Clayburgh [the actress] appears so briefly and late in the story that she seems to have straggled back from An Unmarried Woman” (C8).[11] In Humphreys’ novel, Helen is omnipresent through her phone calls and the memories of her that are shared among the characters. The most shocking revelation about her has to do with Lucille and has been kept in the film even though it is presented differently: “She never intended to have a second child”; she meant to “get the egg vacuumed out” (49), but it turned out that “there were two. Twins. It got one. [Lucille was] the other one. They did not know [she was] in there” (50), as Rae later tells Lucille.[12] In the film, the revelation is used to cut off Lucille’s “romanticizing” about her mother; it makes the story more dramatic and forces Lucille to perceive Helen as a kind of monster, which justifies the fact that the search for the mother is not so intense afterwards.[13]

        Another central element is Helen’s creation of a space of her own—in one of the “dream houses” Lucille is so intrigued about. Towards the end of the film, Lucille pays a visit to an African American family friend, Rhody, to tell her about Rae’s issues and how “ever since Mother left everything’s been crazy.” Rhody asks Lucille if she has ever thought “about getting a place of [her] own” and takes her to an unfinished house in the middle of the woods where, Lucille finally understands, her mother lives. Helen’s choice of a place is obvious in the film: she can start from scratch in a place that she can design herself. The natural world mirrors her desire to reunite with her nature as a woman and the surroundings offer peace and quietness. She can be herself, which is the reason why she tells Lucille she would not want Warren to change:


Helen: I don’t want him to change. I love him just the way he is.

Lucille: Then why did you leave?

Helen: Because it was so permanent. The house. The family. Everything. I’ve been in it for more than half my life. . . . Change wouldn’t hurt any of us. . . . We carried love to its conclusion.


Helen only appears three times after this exchange: at the hospital after Rae has given birth to her daughter, Phoebe; once at the Odoms’ house where she has lunch with Billy, Lucille and Warren; and at the end of the film when it is time for everyone to part and move on. The film’s dénouement does not match the intricacies of Humphreys’ plot—Lucille does not find out that Helen has been seeing Rae without telling her, Rhody is not writing a book about racial relations in the South, and Lucille’s interest in her city never filters through. If, in the novel, Lucille’s search for her mother makes it possible for her to get “to know streets [she] had never seen before, parts of Charleston County [she] didn’t know existed” (27) and thus further her own knowledge of space, the film emphasizes other aspects: her discovery of love with her sister’s husband. It appears that the author of the screenplay and the director read the title from a very limited perspective, leaving aside Lucille’s love for her region—a love that Humphreys promoted in her essay “A Disappearing Subject Called the South.”

        Paradoxically, as noted by John Harkness, the sexual dimension of the novel has been toned down—it is suggested but never shown. Jim Stover’s concern that “probably some people will object to [Rich in Love, the novel] because of the sex in it” (83) is therefore solved in the screen adaptation. The best example is to be found when Warren visits Parnell, one of his former business partners and Helen’s third cousin. Upon arriving at Parnell’s workplace, Sharon, his secretary, comes out of his office, fixing her collar while he is re-arranging his clothes. Both of them look a bit awkward but no comment is made. The screenplay is faithful to the novel in its rewriting of Warren’s conversation with Parnell, but Lucille does not find out from Sharon anything about Helen’s coming there (182). Again, the script has been edited to make the inquiry less active. What the film adds to the book is Lucille’s seduction ritual to attract Billy’s attention—the way she looks at or out for him,[14] her awkwardness when he is around her—but it also presents a very different Lucille. In the novel, Lucille is more attracted to “behind-the-scenes passion” (47), which is exemplified in her subscribing to theories about Lincoln’s paternity of John C. Calhoun. As Elinor Ann Walker observes, “Lucille believes that Billy is the one who recognizes the very essence of her identity” (311). Billy tells her: “You have a lot of love,” which she feels defines her true self: “[T]hat was me; that was the me. I had been recognized” (160). The irony of Lucille’s statement is that she and Billy actually make love on Halloween[15]—when they are both dressed up and thus not exposed as their true selves[16]—, after an evening that has started with costume-crafting, scaring children and discussing the future. It is confirmed as a masquerade when, on the same evening, Rae gives birth to her daughter and Billy returns to her, forgetting all about splitting up with her and starting something new with Lucille.[17] In the film, the final confrontation between Lucille and Billy in the kitchen after Phoebe’s birth shows Lucille telling Billy that she had planned everything out and was satisfied with the outcome because she got what she aimed for—she thus becomes as much of a trickster as Billy who punched holes in the condoms he and Rae used so as to get her pregnant.[18] In the novel, Lucille simply promises never to mention their affair, claiming she “had forgotten what [they] did” (257) while in fact she rejoices in remembering everything (259).

        The last scene of the film has everyone reunited for a farewell. Warren is moving out of the house and in with Vera, Rae and Billy have probably found a house for themselves and the baby, Lucille is going to study at Duke; and Helen and Rhody have come to help. Having altered Rhody’s part quite a lot, the author of the screenplay gives her an important line as regards the changes that will be made on the house: “I hear the new owner’s gonna do over your whole house—total renovation: central air conditioning, automatic vacuuming. . .” The New South seems to have won. Shelley M. Jackson’s comment that “the ‘sense of place’ of the Southern Agrarians has never been the same since K-Mart came to town” (275) is confirmed and progress will soon take over the place: a sign announcing that the house has been sold can be seen as all the cars are leaving. Even Lucille has moved on from her “old maid” ideas, saying, “I think it’s time for a change,” before she hits the road. A new kind of family has emerged and Helen’s last call to Lucille sums it up nicely: “And call when you get there. With all these different houses somebody’s bound to be home.” Home can be more than one place as long as there is love.

        Despite the changes that have been made to the end of the novel, Lucille’s words towards the end of Humphreys’s book are used as a conclusion, bringing the story full circle by resorting to the narrator as was the case at the beginning of the film: “In the old days, ‘family’ meant people in a house together. But that was in a language so far back that all its words are gone, a language we can only imagine.” As Lucille drives away and crosses a bridge, the soundtrack confirms what the viewers have understood:


Days go by, nothing stays the same

As you and I move on, move on

Tonight is tomorrow’s memory

Who knows where we both may be by dawn (Caffey, Crewe, and Corbetta)


As a film, Rich in Love succeeds in depicting the dysfunctional Odom family while charming the viewer with magnificent sights of Charleston. Apart from the ending, the story is generally in line with that of the novel, even though history does not play as important a part as it does in the novel. Humphreys observes that “Bruce Beresford, the director, told me that he was not fond of voiceovers, and I understood his reasons. But he did want to have two short voiceovers, one at the beginning and one at the end. […] I can see many differences between the film and the book, but it all balances out in the end” (Letter to author, January 19, 2014). The writer of the screenplay seems to have favored a personal interpretation of Lucille’s comment that in Charleston, history “was in the making all around us” (53). Humphreys’ novel also questions traditional gender roles, which the film only hints at briefly when Helen voices her complaints. It would have been impossible to do justice to all the meanings the expression “rich in love” covers in the novel, but the film does focus on one of them: family. Unlike Warren who believes that “the higher you go, the better it looks” (84), Lucille finally understands that “We ride farther and farther to get a view; we forget more and more what ought to be remembered” (261)—namely, the richness of love.


Works Cited

Bennett, Barbara. Comic Visions, Female Voices: Contemporary Women Novelists and Southern Humor. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998. Print.

—. “Making Peace with the (M)other.” The World is Our Home: Society and Culture in Contemporary Southern Writing. Eds. Jeffrey Folks and Nancy Summers Folks. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2000. 186-200. Print.

Caffey, Charlotte, Bob Crewe, and Jerry Corbetta. “Time Waits For No One.” Perfect View, performed by The Graces, A&M Records, 1989. Compact disc.

Chappell, Fred. “Good Girls Can Turn Out Well: Rich in Love by Josephine Humphreys.” New York Times, September 13, 1987: 568. Print.

Gretlund, Jan Nordby. Frames of Southern Mind: Reflections on the Stoic, Bi-Racial and Existential South. Odense: Odense University Press, 1998. Print.

Hall, Joan Wylie. “Josephine Humphreys (2 February 1945–).” Twenty-First-Century American Novelists. Eds. Lisa Abney, and Suzanne Disheroon Green. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 292. Detroit: Gale, 2004. 173-81. Print.

Harkness, John. “Rich in Love.” Sight and Sound 3.5 (May 1, 1993): 56. Print.

Henley, Ann. “‘Space for Herself’: Nadine Gordimer’s A Sport of Nature and Josephine Humphreys’ Rich in Love.” Frontiers13.1 (1992): 81-89. Print.

Humphreys, Josephine. Rich in Love. New York: Viking, 1987. Print.

—. “A Disappearing Subject Called the South.” Friendship and Sympathy: Communities of Southern Women Writers. Ed. Rosemary M. Magee. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1992. 297-301. Print.

Jackson, Shelley M. “Josephine Humphreys and the Politics of Postmodern Desire.” Mississippi Quarterly 47.2 (Spring 1994): 275-85. Print.

Kreyling, Michael. Inventing Southern Literature. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1998. Print.

Lévy, Maurice. “Les ruines dans l’art et l’écriture: Esthétique et idéologie.” XVII-XVIII: Revue de la Société d’études anglo-américaines des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles 13 (1981): 141-58. Print.

Magee, Rosemary. “Continuity and Separation: An Interview with Josephine Humphreys.” Southern Review 27.2 (1991): 792-802. Print.

Maslin, Janet. “About a Life-After-Wife Experience: Rich in Love Directed by Bruce.” New York Times, March 5, 1993: C8. Print.

Pearlman, Mickey. “Josephine Humphreys.” A Voice of One’s Own: Conversations with America’s Writing Women. Ed. Mickey Pearlman and Katherine Usher Henderson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990. 188-93. Print.

Stover, Jim. Review of Rich in Love. English Journal 79.6 (October 1990): 83. Print.

Walker, Elinor Ann. “Josephine Humphreys’s Rich in Love: Redefining Southern Fiction.” Mississippi Quarterly47.2 (Spring 1994): 301-15. Print.



Rich in Love. Dir. Bruce Beresford. 1992. MGM Home Entertainment, 2009. DVD.


The Author

Gerald Preher is a professor of American Studies at Lille Catholic University, France. He defended a doctoral dissertation on the timelessness of the past in works by Walker Percy, Peter Taylor, Shirley Ann Grau and Reynolds Price. He is the author of essays on southern literature, short fiction, and has co-edited several books on various aspects of American literature and culture. He is the editor of the Journal of the Short Story in English and is currently completing a monograph on Elizabeth Spencer.



[1] The Viking hardback edition was followed in 1988 by a paperback in the Penguin “Contemporary American Fiction” series. In 1992, a few months prior to the release of the film, Penguin produced a new edition with a cover promoting the film and, in 2000 upon the publication of Nowhere Else on Earth, Humphreys’ three previously published novels received new covers.

[2] Humphreys herself remembers meeting Bruce Beresford and “suggest[ing] that there were parts of the book that I didn’t think would be good for a film. He dismissed my doubts. He said he was always dedicated to the book, whenever he made a film based on one.” She also reflects upon Richard Zanuck, the producer: “He told me that his company ‘makes hand-made movies,’ meaning that he took on only one project at a time and gave it everything he had” (Josephine Humphreys, letter to author, January 10, 2014).

[3] Uhry is the author of the play Driving Miss Daisy for which he also wrote the screenplay. When promoting Rich in Love, MGM/United Artists used the success of Driving Miss Daisy as a teaser to attract potential viewers. On the poster, the book cover that was designed to promote the film, and the video tape that followed, it says “From the Oscar-Winning Team that Brought You Driving Miss Daisy” or “From the creators of Driving Miss Daisy.” Unfortunately, Rich in Love failed to achieve the same success even though the budget it had been allotted was rather generous compared to that of Driving Miss Daisy. For details on budget and box office see the Imdb website: http://www.imdb.com.

[4] Maurice Lévy has called attention to this in an article on the aesthetic and ideological dimension of ruins. He mentions how, as early as 1747, the architect Sanderson Miller was hired to build a reproduction of the ruins of a gothic castle for Sir Thomas Lyttleton’s garden (146). For Lévy, this endeavor has to do with people’s wish to buy a past for themselves they would not have access to otherwise (148).

[5] The link is confirmed by looking at the way Warren’s decision is presented in the novel: “I’m tired of magazines. I want books. Heavy hardback books” (88).

[6] It might also be the time distance in the narrative (the two years that have gone by) that makes Lucille pretend she felt there was something strange about Billy from the start.

[7] Chapter 7 is essential to understanding how fantasy takes over Lucille’s better judgment.

[8] For example, Lucille is suspicious of VCRs, thinking that people only use them to watch x-rated movies (103-04) and has a conversation about this with Rae when her father says he has planned to go to see Vera to watch some films. In the novel, Humphreys has prepared the reader for such comments by having Lucille reflect upon her spinsterish habits: “The old-maid way of life seemed like one that would suit me. I had it planned how to wear my chignon, I liked those shoes with wavy foam soles and stacked heels. . .” (32-33).

[9] In the novel, “everything that counted was falling apart” (29). The change confirms the film’s more limited scope.

[10] Rae’s announcement that she has just married leads Warren to say that “marriage is a wonderful institution” to which Lucille retorts: “How can you say that? It hasn’t been that wonderful to you!” (also in the novel, 34). Unlike Lucille, Warren sees marriage as a symbol of stability and happiness. Helen’s interpretation is significantly different: the problem for her was that everything was “permanent” (204), she felt trapped and felt the need “to live a completely different existence” (26).

[11] Paul Mazursky’s 1978 film An Unmarried Woman shows Clayburgh playing quite a different role: her husband suddenly decides he loves someone else and she spends most of the film trying to rebuild herself. In both films, though, she exemplifies feminine emancipation and strives to find love when everything around her is falling apart.

[12] Humphreys uses this information as a justification for Helen’s estrangement from Lucille which is presented at length in the novel (see 23-24) and only hinted at in the film.

[13] Rae suggests Lucille start “being a little bit pissed off,” as “she ditched us. You and I are abandoned children.”

[14] She is shown watching out to see if Billy is spying on them when she and Wayne are making love in the garden.

[15] It is not obvious that they have sex in the film since they hear Rae’s cries as soon as they enter the kitchen. Still, they are not wearing their Halloween costumes any longer and Lucille, who drinks alcohol for the first time, declares “I think it’s appropriate.”

[16] In a scene where they end up scaring little children, Billy tells Lucille that “they think you’re a real giant cat” to which she replies: “No, they think you’re a real bum”—an exchange that shows the importance of outsiders’ perception when it comes to judgment. Significantly, when Billy reveals his Halloween outfit, he exclaims: “My true self.” The evening does reveal his true self but it also has him make up with his wife the next day when Phoebe, the daughter of Billy and Rae, is born.

[17] Ann Henley sees a link between Lucille’s “transgression” and the grotesque, connecting Humphreys’ character to Madeline Usher from Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” and Caddy Compson from Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (85).

[18] Rae finds out about it and “after the baby is born she wants [Billy] out.” In his confession to Lucille, Billy tries to appear as a wounded animal—a tactic to attract her. He tells her that “Rae]’s got a point hating [him].” In the film, the situation clearly leaves the door open for Lucille, but in the novel, Lucille also sees a repeat of her own “start in this life” (233), something which draws her to the baby when it born. According to Elinor Ann Walker, “Lucille has found a new sister [in her niece], who will hear her stories and recognize [her]. Lucille is not paralyzed by her past; she reconstructs her history . . .” (314).