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I recently started my first MOOC focusing on Rhizomatic Learning and the topic for Week 1 was ‘Cheating as Learning’. After seeing Michael Petroni’s film adaptation of Markus Zuzak’s The Book Thief today and it got me wondering, is seeing the film before reading the book cheating? Does the book come first or are they both completely different?
It is usually argued that the book has primacy. Why else would the film be described as an ‘adaptation’? The very term suggests that the book has some sort of pride of place, that it is the thing that is changed for a new medium. However, what is often denied is the place of the adapted text to be a text-in-itself. For example, can you watch the film Tomb Raider without having played the game? Can you listen to Cedric Gervais’ remix of Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness”, without listening to the original album version? What is the place of the adapted when considering adaptations?
After discussing the film and Zuzak’s text with my wife, I got wondering about the notion of historical fiction. The film included many significant historical events, such as Kristallnacht, the burning of the books and the bombing of Germany. This got me thinking, is history itself the ‘original’ text in all of this? Should the film really say “Based on Markus Zuzak’s novel The Book Thief, which in turn was adapted from history”. The problem with this is that it then prioritises history, but whose history is it? Whose perspective is it from? What evidence is this understanding based upon?
In the end, it may well be cheating to see an adaptation before reading the print version, however it is better to consider such texts as merely a collection of traces whose true origins are forever lost. Although we may feel that we know or understand a text the more we look into it, really we just get more and more caught up in the mire.