Origins of Disney Fairy Tales

Disney has had no trouble remaking and reimagining some of the most beloved fairy tales. Disney continues to inspire and promote the now often thought of as “original” Disney magic—from the live action retelling of the Jungle Book to the newly released villain origin story of Cruella. However, many of the most well-known princesses and plots that are famously attributed to Disney actually get their original magic from books. Here is a list of some of the most well known and oldest Disney stories originally inspired from novels.


Tarzan. This adventure classic is probably one of the first Disney movies many people see, however it was originally a book published in 1914 by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Tarzan of the Apes consists of the same beloved plot: a young boy is raised by apes within an African jungle but when White explorers arrive within the area, the adult Tarzan adopts their ways to gain the love of Jane Porter. Ring any bells? However similarly Disney adapted the story, the original text highlights the differences, conflict, and struggle between what is considered the “wild” and the “civilized.” While the Disney version definitely provided some heartwarming magic and toe-tapping music to the story, the book provides a little more introspection.


The Jungle Book. The well-known author and Nobel Prize winner, Rudyard Kipling, is the original writer of the now Disney classic The Jungle Book. Originally published in 1894 the story follows the unlikely friendships between a young boy and various animals within the jungle. Disney adopted this classic into an animated film in 1967 and eventually created a live action remake in 2016. The Jungle Book is undoubtedly another example of Disney’s capability to not only popularize 100+ year old stories, but to bring them to life in a new way. I wonder what Kipling would have thought of his characters as Disney merchandise?


101 Dalmatians. The Hundred and One Dalmatians is actually a children’s novel written by Dodie Smith and originally published in 1956. The plot between the two works is similar, with Disney adapting original characters such as Pongo and Missis as well as the now infamous Cruella de Vil. The book is only 32 pages long, which is considerably shorter than the two plus hours of watch time for each 101 Dalmatians-themed movie. Nevertheless, we have Disney to thank for not only bringing life to these characters but expanding on and developing the heart behind Smith’s work


Peter Pan. The story and character of Peter Pan is as deep in history as the character and story originally created by J.M. Barrie in 1906. The story of Peter Pan began with the character who initially appeared in Barrie’s 1906 Novel The Little White Bird. This appearance was transferred into the 1906 lesser-known story Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Peter’s story wasn’t fully developed until Barrie’s 1911 novel Peter and Wendy. The character is famous as a symbol of youth, and many of the characters and themes from this story are now the hallmark of Disney’s brand—from Tinker Bell’s prominent presence in marketing to the popular idea of “being a kid at heart” that builds the Disney aesthetic. Peter Pan is one of the most iconic characters in popular culture and in Disney, all thanks to the imagination of J.M. Barrie.


Pinocchio. Pinocchio is one of Disney’s earliest movies and stories. The animated film Pinocchio dates back to 1940, but the plot and character were originally created by Italian author Carlo Collodi in 1883. The original Italian story, however, is much darker than the beloved Disney adaption. Pinocchio, rather than becoming woodworker Geppetto’s friend and adoptive son, begins abusing him and eventually runs away as his feet are carved by the old man. Geppetto is eventually arrested for trying to recapture Pinocchio, after which Pinocchio returns to Geppetto’s house where he kills Jiminy Cricket. Additionally, Pinocchio is almost hanged by the Fox and Cat who want to steal Pinocchio’s gold, but he is saved by a Fairy at the last moment. However, Pinocchio doesn’t learn his lesson and after losing his gold to the Fox and Cat, he lives with the Fairy and her son where his mischievous lessons and dire consequences continue up until he turns into a real boy. The much longer and darker original story is meant to serve as a lesson for children and emphasize good behavior—a similar idea perhaps, although less lighthearted, than the Disney adaptation.


Bauer, P. & Lowne, C. (2018, October 23). The Adventures of Pinocchio. Britannica.
https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Adventures-of-Pinocchio

The Little White Bird. (2021, May 19). In Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Little_White_Bird

Photo Credits: Changing Hands Bookstore

4 Books Turning the Big 5-0 in 2021

Birthdays are a funny thing. As I turn fifty this month, I realize that half a century is a big deal, and not just for people! As the years go by, books come and books go—but the really great ones stick around. So, to celebrate my birthday, I look to some novels and books that have truly stood the test of the time.


Our Bodies, Ourselves—Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, Judy Norsigian. In 1969, some women met at an Emmanuel College conference to discuss women and their bodies. From this gathering grew a group that eventually formed a collective that left nothing off the table when it came to women, their bodies, their sexuality, and even reproductive rights. “Women and Their Bodies,” a 193 page pamphlet, was published in 1970 and in 1971 was renamed Our Bodies Ourselves to reaffirm the ownership that women need to take in regards to their physical selves.

Several other niche editions have appeared as well, tackling menopause and pregnancy and birth. It has been updated every three to four years, but unfortunately due to some financial pressure the group’s last edition was in 2011. However, the information and spirit of Our Bodies Ourselves still holds on strong!


Go Ask AliceAnonymous. Promoted as a real-life account of a teenage girl’s disturbing foray into the world of drugs, the authorship of Go Ask Alice has been called into question for quite some time. It has been suggested that the book is actually the combined efforts of several authors and not a true account at all.

Be that as it may, that does not negate the powerful story of “Alice,” who is never named in the novel, as she descends into a life of drugs and sexual abuse. Go Ask Alice is a cautionary tale that—despite its age—still holds up today, as proven by the 50th anniversary edition that was published in late December.


That Was Then, This Is NowS. E. Hinton. While novelist Hinton is best known for The Outsiders, you cannot discuss groundbreaking young adult fiction without including That Was Then, This Is Now.

Set in what would be referred to now as the same “universe” as The Outsiders, the novel features some of the same characters, but focuses mainly on two close friends, Mark and Bryon. As a coming of age story, it explores the inevitable growth and tensions that come with being not only being a teenager, but the specific challenges of the 1960s.


The ExorcistWilliam Peter Blatty. Terrifying then, terrifying now, Blatty’s novel continues to define the horror genre with its disturbing imagery and details.

The novel explores themes of religion, faith, and death through the story of Regan, an 11-year-old who suffers possession at the hand of a demon. Her shocking journey is laid out graphically, and ultimately becomes a battle of good versus evil and a test of faith. The Exorcist has not only held up as a novel but it spawned a critically acclaimed film, and a recent television series.


Good books are like a fine wine, they only get better with age, so give one of these oldie-but-goodies a try!

5 Books Entering the Public Domain in 2021

The start of this new year brought with it a collection of books entering the public domain. So many fascinating tales are now available for the public to adapt, share, and create with—from compelling dramas, to absurdists allegories, to tragic tales of love and loss, this year’s batch is truly extraordinary. To celebrate the arrival of these classic stories, I’ve complied a list of my favorite books that have entered the public domain this year! May they continue to inspire for generations.


The Great Gatsby—F. Scott Fitzgerald. You may remember this story of greed and love from your high school English class. Set in the early 1920s, young businessman Nick Carroway rents a home in New York for the summer and finds himself entangled with an eccentric ‘new money’ millionaire named Jay Gatsby who assists him in his quest to win the heart of Daisy Buchanan. There’s only one problem; Daisy is married to a rich (and unfaithful) husband. The death of the American Dream in the face of unfettered ambition is an idea that still rings true today, and I, for one, cannot wait to see what stories come from this book’s entry into the public domain.


In Our Time—Ernest Hemingway. If you love stories of the trials of war, this collection of short stories is right up your alley! Set around the First World War, In Our Time is a collection of tales surrounding all aspects of wartime—from scenes of evacuations, to the experiences of soldiers, to life after the war, this book showcases the ever present humanity behind one of the world’s bloodiest wars.


The TrialFranz Kafka. (German Version) Much like Alice In Wonderland or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Trial by Franz Kafka follows the story of the ‘every man’ thrust into a world of madness and confusion, where the rules don’t matter, except when they do, and chaos runs rampant. It follows a man named Josef K. who is awoken late one night by two officers informing him that he has been accused of a crime and that he must prepare his case. The problem? Josef has no clue what he’s been accused of, nor does he know where these men came from or for whom they work. From then on it only gets more complicated for poor Josef as he desperately tries to navigate a world of increasingly intricate bureaucracy to prove that he is innocent of a crime that he knows nothing about. With a world as bizarre as our own criminal justice system, this story will have you entranced till the end as you too try to understand the peculiar world of Franz Kafka’s The Trial.


An American Tragedy—Theodore Dreiser. The 1900s era of storytelling is best known for being about the “lost generation,” which refers to the feeling of displacement that many young men felt after returning from war and finding it difficult to believe in the American Dream again. Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy perfectly encapsulates the sorrow that was often synonymous with this theme. This book tells the story of Clyde Griffiths, a factory worker who becomes entangled in a love triangle between a wealthy socialite and a fellow factory worker whom he got pregnant. Based on the murder of Grace Brown in 1906, this story is perfect for those who enjoy a look into the darker side of love and ambition.


Mrs. Dalloway—Virginia Woolf. In yet another perfect example of the ‘lost generation’ theme of the 1900s, Mrs. Dalloway follows the life of Clarissa as she prepares for a party that she plans to throw that night. Throughout the day, she interacts with various people and ponders her life and whether she will be happy with her choices as she continues to grow old. Running parallel to her story is the life of Septimus Warren Smith, a World War I veteran who struggles with his past and relives the horrors of war. Mrs. Dalloway, at it’s core, is a story of choice and the effects they can have—even years down the line. I related greatly to Clarissa Dalloway’s insecurities regarding her choices, as I know what it’s like to worry that you one day you will harbor regrets. Overall, Mrs. Dalloway shows the joy that can come from embracing one’s choices and living in the present, and the despair that can come from clinging to the past.

Adulting in Wonderland

There are some books that one should read only as a child because they sit better with those who are still impressionable. Then there are stories that are written for children but can only truly be appreciated by adults. Alice in Wonderland is one such book. The first time I read it I was in kindergarten. Back then, I felt like it was a regular magical story about a young girl who has a colorful dream. Like every other kid who read it, I was fairly surprised and disappointed to find that it was just a dream. Reading it again as an adult, knowing how it ends, I am in love with the metaphors and the little nuggets of worldly wisdom disguised as childish humor.

Alice is the embodiment of childish innocence. In contrast, her sister, to whom she excitedly relates her dream in the end, is nearly an adult—and more somber for it. She ruefully acknowledges that Alice will grow up to be a woman and Wonderland will be tucked away in some corner of her mind.

In the backdrop of Alice’s innocent young mind, Carroll paints pictures from real life but in funny, quirky shapes and colors. On the outside it looks exactly like something a child would dream up. But to grown-up eyes, it seems wretchedly familiar. I’m not sure if Lewis Carroll intended for readers to find symbolism in this book. It’s possible he really was just writing it for a pre-teen audience and inadvertently put some satire in there. But a great book is like a mirror: you often find exactly what you wish to find in it.

As for me, I imagined the whole rabbit hole saga to be a metaphor for introspection. Alice falls so slowly down the famed rabbit hole that she can pick books off the walls, flip through them, and put them back. When she finally lands, she is in a long hallway with numerous doors that are all locked.

Falling forever and landing nowhere is exactly what an introspective spiral feels like.

Throughout the book Alice drinks potions and eats mushrooms and literally grows and shrinks countless times. It’s a dream, so of course, she doesn’t think it’s odd after a while. Several times she is induced by one or more of the many strange characters to ask herself, “Who am I?” This brilliant metaphor for an identity crisis and personal growth is so prominent, it makes you wonder why this book is not reclassified as “for all ages”.

The various characters created by Alice’s sleeping brain are fantastical but accurate depictions of the kinds of people we know in real life. There’s the Hatter and the Hare, deep thinkers who are misunderstood and branded as “mad.” The Mock Turtle (of mock turtle soup), whose greatest sorrow is that he has no sorrow. And of course, the Queen of Hearts, who likes to execute anyone who ever annoys her. The world has probably seen too many leaders like the Queen and misjudged too many revolutionary thinkers like the Hatter.

The best part of the novel is quite possibly the trial at the end. It is a satirical take on how justice is served, or is often not served, as the case is in our society. If people like the Queen had their way it would probably be “sentence first, verdict afterwards!” Underneath the surreal nonsense, it depicts how prejudice, unfair treatment of witnesses, and misrepresentation of facts are often a large part of court trials. Reading this chapter makes you think that Carroll was frustrated with the judicial system and thought it was a farce. The style in which it is written suggests that it was a cathartic exercise for himself.

Whether Carroll wanted adults to enjoy his book or not, he scattered enough of his brilliant thoughts and ideas about people and society all over the story to engage mature readers. Like all great classics, it is still relevant and has something for people in every stage of life.

Impact of Romance Novels on Young Readers

Twilight. Divergent. Matched. Pride and Prejudice. Romeo and Juliet. These stories are classics; known by readers everywhere for their intricate detail and swoon-worthy love interests. However, is it possible that these stories have ruined the young reader’s current perception of relationships?

I’ve thought a lot about the role of YA romance novels in the last couple years. I once praised the gooey-feel-good, yet often simplistic plot line of romantic comedies and the “bad boy/good girl” archetype I read throughout my tween and teen years. While these books are wonderful for many reasons, I couldn’t help but realize as I got older that the protagonists were much younger than myself, and yet they had their life easily figured out by the end of 300 pages. This led me waiting throughout my teen years to be older; but as I grew into my late teens, I found the end of high school didn’t mean the completion of my self development—and more importantly—no attractively mysterious love interest would randomly come into my life. 

In a blog post about why they hate YA novels, Vivian DeRosa discusses two important points surrounding the typical themes within teen-romances: first, teenagers are inherently awkward, underdeveloped, and immature people; second, YA relationships are pure fiction. I don’t think there is a single person who looks back at their early teens and thinks they were at their peak. Being a teenager, even well into someone’s twenties, is awkward both physically and mentally; developing into who we are and finding who we want to be is a lifelong process that doesn’t conclude when one problem is solved. It is difficult for young adults to read these iconic stories and not receive the impression that they are supposed to be stunningly attractive and fully mentally developed, especially when Hollywood casts older actors to play these characters. It is impossible to think that 16-year-old Tris, while just beginning to understand her “Divergence,” could possibly build an actually sustainable relationship with Four. Or that 17-year old Bella not only found true love with a 104-year-old Vampire but gets married and fights in an ancient feud between the vampires and werewolves all while still in high school.

To this point, “YA tends to treat teenage relationships like they’re going to last forever. Many epilogues show the main character and their love interest happily married. But that’s not how most teen relationships shake out…” (DeRosa, 2017). Most teenagers are focused on typical high school and young adult things, and if they are in a relationship usually it doesn’t develop into a life-altering love story that will take precedence of their life and last forever. However, these stories have young readers believing that not only are relationships purely built on “finding the one,” but that there is no effort involved in finding, cultivating, and sustaining an actual romantic relationship. This thought process is detrimental to the perception of good relationships because it doesn’t offer the difficult perspective of how much work and time relationships actually take; it gives young readers a false foundation that life is just like these stories and all two people need is an attractive counterpart and one very passionate kiss.

Additionally, the perception of love through not just YA romance novels but all romance media is dangerous for all genders and sexualities. Because while Twilight, Divergent, and Romeo and Juliet are all coming of age stories where the protagonist’s journey takes the reader on one of self discovery as well, these mediums are often excluding the storylines of non-cis gendered, racially diverse, or gay protagonists. That a male protagonist without abs might fall in love with another male, female, or nonbinary peer who might have a diverse set of beliefs or culture is almost unheard of in YA romances, while today this is the reality of relationships. These stories, while considered classics, cater to a specific female fantasy—and without the diversity of representation, there is a whole population who may either lack a well-rounded understanding of relationships and/or see love as an unreachable fantasy.

This is not to say that these stories aren’t good. They are. There is a reason why Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is continuously taught and referenced through different mediums; why John Green’s “Okay? Okay.,” line reference has taken off with readers; and why the promotion of “sparkly, chiseled-abed vampires” has become a teen cliché. These stories are beautiful, incite strong emotions, and are oftentimes powerful. Despite having contradicting emotions about the genre, I still love and appreciate these stories. Don’t stop reading them, but don’t take them as a bible to your literary world. Teach each other that these books are not a guide for how to look, act, or love—and, most importantly, expand to local and diverse authors dedicated to telling the story that is not only special but realistic. In this way, we can indulge in the beauty and power of love, but remember that love is nothing without a relationship—which is often much more complicated than 300 pages would suggest.

Aviles, G. (2019, March 10). The rise of young adult books with LGBTQ characters – and what’s next. NBCNews. https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/rise-young-adult-books-lgbtq-characters-what-s-next-n981176

DeRosa, V.P. (2017, June 21). I’m a teenager and I don’t like young adult novels. Here’s why. Huffingtonpost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/what-ya-gets-wrong-about-teenagers-from-a-teen_b_594a8e4de4b062254f3a5a94

Perfect Imperfections

If Sense and Sensibility were a twenty-first century novel, Marianne would be the heroine, not Elinor. There is no way a woman with perfect composure who never offends anybody would take the spotlight. Marianne always speaks her mind, sometimes to the degree of incivility. She wears her heart on her sleeve and gets it broken. This brings a drastic change in her personality as she adopts discretion for the first time in her life. Elinor, whose perspective we have the most access to, and can therefore be considered the primary character, is politically correct from the beginning. She is fully functional when she’s down in the dumps and low-key patronizes her sister for indulging in a mourning period.

Granted, it’s Jane Austen. But even Thomas Hardy with his candid, earthy writing could not do worse than Bathsheba Everdene in Far from the Madding Crowd, whose only fault is that she dares to run a farm without consulting a man. She is punished for it by being put through a series of toxic relationships that break her spirit and rob her of her independence until, spoiler alert, she finally submits to the man she spurns in the first chapter.

Many of our revered classics—The Picture of Dorian Gray, Anna Karenina and The Great Gatsby for example—were highly controversial when they were first published and received mixed reviews. It had a lot to do with the fact that the main characters sinned repeatedly without obvious remorse, and that readers of that time could not stomach the acres of moral grey area that these fictional worlds presented. One could say that they were ahead of their time, like most great works of art. They paved the way for eminent writers of our time to create realistic characters with quirks, vulnerabilities, and impulses.

It’s more than just the artistic cliche of romanticizing pain. I think society became more accepting of imperfection as time went by—or at least less ashamed of it. We finally admit that we relate well to flawed characters because they give us hope that we too can experience amazing, extraordinary things, battered and dented as we are. The last thing the modern reader wants is a morally unscrupulous hero or heroine. What we want is to witness growth.

4 Modern Movies Adapted from Classics

Some stories are evergreen. They are told and retold in new ways, through new media. They are as relevant today as they ever were. Four of the most popular movie adaptations of well-known classics are listed below.

CluelessJane Austen’s Emma is about the eponymous heroine’s knack for matchmaking and keen eye for finding the perfect partner for everyone but herself. In its 1995 adaptation, Clueless, starring Alicia Silverstone, Cher is a poised teenager who is on the top rung of the social ladder in her high school, like Emma Woodhouse is in her village, Highbury. Having made two successful matches, Cher and her best friend Dionne (played by Stacey Dash) decide to take the newly arrived Tai Frasier (Brittany Murphy) under their wing. All goes well until Cher misreads a situation and Tai gets her heart broken. The resident cupid of Bronson Alcott High School makes a few surprising discoveries about her own feelings and, for the first time in her perfectly organized life, loses her composure.


10 Things I Hate About YouThis is adapted from the Shakespearean comedy, The Taming of the Shrew. Julia Stiles plays Kat Stratford, the present-day version of the infamous Katherina. The movie gives her a much deeper personality than the original. She is headstrong, cynical, and independent in a generally “unfeminine” way, which, of course, makes her undesirable to most men—especially in contrast with her affable sister, Bianca (Larisa Oleynik). But Kat is far from a shrew, and the movie deserves credit for voicing her opinions and not stuffing her into the “difficult women” drawer. Patrick, played by the legendary Heath Ledger, is a refreshing upgrade from Petruchio as he makes no attempt to “tame” Kat. It’s a delight to watch the two find their way into each other’s hearts.


Bridget Jones’ DiaryThe movie is based on a novel of the same name by Helen Fielding, which is inspired by the beloved classic Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Bridget Jones, played by Renee Zellweger, is the modern-day reincarnation of Elizabeth Bennet, with the same characteristic wit and tendency to get herself into awkward situations from which she needs to be extricated by her friends, who are her lifeline for surviving single life in London. Much like the Bennets, Bridget’s family, especially her mother, never fails to mortify her in public gatherings. Love seems a baffling mystery as Bridget trudges through heartbreak and disappointment and finds resonance in unexpected places.


She’s the ManAlso adapted from a Shakespearean comedy, Twelfth Night, this hilarious movie features Amanda Bynes as Viola who, after a humiliating fight with her boyfriend on the soccer field at school, goes to her brother Sebastian’s (James Kirk) private school, disguised as him, to cover for Sebastian while he goes to London to play music, his true passion. Viola, posing as Sebastian, gets an attractive new roommate in the form of Duke (played by Channing Tatum), and rises to become the star soccer player of the school with Duke’s help. Amidst a few secret crushes and a lot of confusion resulting from Viola hastily switching between her aliases, the day of the game against her old school arrives.

3 Books You Should Read before You’re Thirteen

Whether or not you’re a nostalgic person, you will never forget your favorite books growing up. Your taste in literature may change, along with your reading habits, but the books you read when you’re young are imprinted in your brain forever. Here are a couple books I read and re-read through middle school, along with one I wish I had read before my teenage years.


What Katy DidSarah Chauncey Woolsey. In college, Sarah Chauncey Woolsey wrote this charming novel under the pen name of Susan Coolidge. It follows Katy Carr, a twelve-year-old daydreamer, into adolescence. As the oldest of six children who lost their mother years ago, she is constantly expected to set an example to her younger siblings, which she often fails to do, but not for lack of enthusiasm. She is reminded of this frequently by her father, Dr. Carr, and Aunt Izzie, a strict disciplinarian who has been raising the children since their mother died. Aunt Izzie’s general disapproval of her only adds to Katy’s disappointment at being “all legs and elbows, and angles and joints.”

Among the many relationships that the book explores, a notable one is the strong bond between Katy and her sister Clover, second oldest of the Carr siblings. Shy, soft-spoken Clover complements Katy’s wild, whimsical nature. Katy doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do when she grows up, but she’s sure it will be something marvelous, and Clover faithfully agrees. Through the countless escapades, Katy grows on you with her wit and artlessness. It is a heartwarming story filled with colorful characters with interesting turns in the plot.


Black BeautyAnna Sewell. This famous autobiography of a horse personifies a handsome black stallion with a white star on his forehead. He begins at his dewy days as a foal on a farm. After he is broken in, he is bought by the village squire. Here he meets a few other horses, some of whom, he realizes, have not been as well-treated as he has. As he grows older, he moves from the countryside to the city, and has a diverse experience at the hands of several owners with varying temperaments. There are instances of animal cruelty in the book that give you the victim’s perspective on the subject.

The theme of empathy towards animals and their reciprocation to it is prominent throughout the book. When Black Beauty describes how uncomfortable it is to wear a bit, and how his first owner takes great care to make sure his breaking in is as comfortable as it can get, his affection for the farmer becomes prominent. Later, he grows to love his first ever groom, John. Black Beauty is the first popular novel to change the way we look at animal welfare, and is a classic for all ages.


Anne of Green GablesL.M. Montgomery. The novel is set in the picturesque, fictional town of Avonlea where life is uneventful until the Cuthberts decide to adopt a boy from an orphanage to help around the farm. Matthew and his sister, Marilla Cuthbert, live in Green Gables, a house on the edge of the woods. When Matthew goes to receive the boy at the station, he is in for a surprise. A fortunate miscommunication brings Anne to Green Gables, which her extraordinarily imaginative mind transforms into something out of a fairy tale—something she frequently does with places and things. The only thing she can’t seem to improve with imagination is her red hair, which she hates.

Through many adventures and misadventures with her “bosom friend,” Diana Barry, and other assorted characters over the course of four years, Anne becomes irreplaceable in the hearts of her family and friends in Avonlea. Although Anne sounds mature for her age when she speaks, mostly because she uses long words, her naeïvete appears every now and then when she gets into scrapes, or when she tries to deal with the awkwardness of entering adolescence. Reading this book is a luxurious experience, full of eloquent descriptions of the most mundane things transformed into something exotic and beautiful through Anne’s eyes.

Little Women: Book-to-Movie Adaptation

We all have our favorite type of book. Personally,  I am drawn to those that make me feel more like myself after reading them. More often than not, these books are classics, and Little Women is no exception. Due to my fondness of this gorgeous novel, I had very high standards for the recent movie adaption, and am pleased to say that they were exceeded. Before we dive into my thoughts, please keep in mind that this post contains major spoilers for the Little Women novel and film—read on at your own risk!


It’s become common vernacular to call classics “timeless,” but modern adaptations are always a welcome reminder of the enduring themes found in these works. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy were catered to an audience from more than a century ago, yet we can still relate to and feel seen by the sisters’ personalities (Jo, here!). Many of the ideas expressed throughout are still relevant today as we grapple with similar roles and expectations. Try as I might, I don’t think there is room in this post to capture every wonderful thing about this adaptation. Instead, I’d like to focus on three main differences between the book and film.

The first of these changes is Greta Gerwig’s ingenious decision to create a fractured narrative of the original storyline. Instead of beginning on Christmas day with four little girls, we see four grown women already established in the world. If you’ve read the novel before seeing it in theaters, it was a bit jarring to be thrust in nearly three-quarters of the way through, but the purpose soon became apparent during the first flashback to the Gardiner’s party seven years early. This creates an interesting twist on the familiar story by starting with well-established women making their way in the world, and then going back to show their beginnings. It also allowed for some powerful juxtapositions, such as Beth’s heartbreaking death scene. To keep the storyline from getting too muddled along the way, the film follows two timelines: one starting in the winter of 1861, and one starting in the fall of 1868. Both timelines progress forward from their origin point.

The second of these changes involved Laurie’s relationship with Jo and Amy. Personally, I thought Amy and Laurie’s engagement in the novel was quite abrupt, and even went so far as to reread the book upon finishing to see if I had missed clues of their feelings for each other earlier on. By comparison, Amy is seen pining after Laurie throughout the entirety of the film, and even says that she’s loved him her entire life. I found this change refreshing, as it gave the viewer more insight into Amy’s character and better justified her actions.

This change did, however, have an interesting effect on Jo’s character. In keeping with the original story, Laurie proposes to Jo, and is rejected, but she later reflects that she might have been wrong to turn him down and goes on to write him a letter asking to marry him after all. The letter is never delivered, however, as Amy and Laurie return from France engaged, leaving Jo to frantically retrieve and destroy the letter. While this change did give the viewer more insight into Jo’s feelings (an Oscar-worthy speech delivered by Saoirse Ronan on gender roles and loneliness that still has us sobbing), it also painted Jo as being somewhat resentful of Amy’s relationship. 

Perhaps the most noteworthy change Gerwig made to the original storyline is the film’s ending. After Freidrich leaves for California, the family comes together to tell Jo that she loves him and needs to go after him. The scene suddenly cuts to Jo in the publishing house with Mr. Dashwood, with the former explaining that her character doesn’t get married, and the latter insisting that her book won’t sell if it doesn’t end with marriage. Jo reluctantly agrees, and the scene shifts to a (possibly fabricated) past where Jo confesses her love to Friedrich. The ending is open to the viewer’s interpretation: the first is a meta twist where Jo publishes her book, Little Women, and remains happily unmarried, and the other stays true to the novel’s conclusion, with Jo and Friedrich getting married and opening a school together. This dual-ending could reflect Alcott’s own life, or the story she would’ve chosen for Jo if she didn’t have to meet the demands of the time period, but still honors the book’s original ending. More so than this, however, it suggests that it is not the chief end and aim of the story to focus on whether or not Jo marries.

No adaptation is without its cuts, and while I mourn the loss of Jo’s disastrous dinner party and Beth’s kittens, this film did an admirable job of condensing nearly 800 pages into a two hour film while still including the best parts.


If you have already seen the movie and are interested in reading this book yourself, you can buy it from Changing Hand’s website here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Book Review

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Publisher: Chiltern Publishing
Genre: Coming-of-Age Drama
Pages: 288
Format: Hardcover
My Rating: 5/5 stars
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Summary

In Little Women, Louisa May Alcott turns the everyday lives of four girls into an entertaining novel of love, loss, and the exceptional power of family. Based on Alcott’s own upbringing, Little Women is a recollection of her childhood experiences, and life lessons while residing in New England during the Civil War.

The adventures of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March are captivating as they take on the challenges of growing up—exploring the balance between familial duty and freedom  and society’s expectations of women in the 1800’s. During the uncertainty and scarcity of wartime, the March girls brave illness, romance, societal pressures, and unconventional career ambitions under the watchful eye of their mother, Marmee. Each of the March girls comes of age and discovers who they are through their endeavors, courage, and love of family in this classic novel. 

Thoughts

Every once in a while, Hollywood brings an adaptation of Little Women to the silver screen to remind us what a treasure this story is to behold. This December, audiences will be treated to a version that is sure to introduce the novel to a new generation of women and men alike. With a powerhouse cast of Meryl Streep, Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, and Timothee Chalamet, it will no doubt be entertaining.

Audience members and readers will likely identify with one or more of the March family members. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are respectively the traditional elder sister, ferocious feminist, sensitive soul, and spoiled artist, respectively. Yet, they are fully realized characters with desires, flaws, and needs that transcend those labels. As such, the story’s relevancy has not diminished with age, and it underscores many of the challenges that even girls today face. New readers will discover timeless themes of familial duty, independence, courage, and generosity. 

What is most striking about this novel is that Alcott dared to re-imagine what a woman’s future could look like by sharing her own experiences through the character of Jo. While its feminist principles are somewhat dated—as its original publication date is 1868—Jo March remains a timeless role model. She defies convention in favor of following her own path to becoming a writer, despite the obstacle of her gender, undoubtedly helped along with the support of her family, especially Marmee. The adventures of the March family, set against the grim background of war, are both charming and life affirming—making Little Women a truly poignant novel that will remain so for each new generation of readers. 


For those of you who are interested, check out the trailer for the upcoming film below!


Guest blog post courtesy of Sharon Enck.