No English novelist is more well-known than Dickens, and Great Expectations is one of, if not the, best of his works. In it we follow the fortunes of Pip who is granted a sizeable annual sum from a mysterious benefactor, and thus changes himself from a blacksmith’s apprentice into a gentleman.
His privileged status leads him to become snobbish and, although he never completely loses his decency, he remains a convincing illustration of the dangers which prosperity bears to one’s nature. Like Dickens’ other novels, this one is vastly peopled and the characters are among his most memorable: none more so than Miss Havisham, who has been in the same state since what should have been her wedding-day, when ‘The day came, but not the bridegroom.’ Still in her wedding dress years afterwards, she and everything around her falls into decay, providing one of the most haunting images in all literature.
Dickens always was the most vivid of storytellers, and Great Expectations is no exception to the rule. As a result no novelist’s work has been filmed as often as Dickens’s, but the adaptations are usually excellent: so should this one be.
‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit’. Starting with this famous opening Tolkien was to take his readers on an adventure that none expected, not least the hobbit in question. Bilbo Baggins was the epitome of the hobbit lifestyle, in that the Bagginses were respected precisely because ‘they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected,’ until the wizard Gandalf knocked on his door.
Soon joined by a company of thirteen dwarves, Bilbo is whisked off on a quest to recover the treasure-hoard of the dwarves from the dragon, Smaug. Exhilarating though the adventure is, it is not the peak of Tolkien’s achievement here. This is our first contact with ‘Middle-Earth’, a world which, to quote Tolkien’s friend C. S. Lewis, ‘seems to have been going on before we stumbled into it.’
The book’s strength lies in the depth of this created world and the awareness that this story is but one of many that could be told of it. If the film can show something of this depth, as the Lord of the Rings films managed, we’re in for a veritable feast.
Many readers have begun Midnight’s Children; almost as many have given up halfway through. It is unsurprising that so many have started it, for the premise is a compelling one. 1,001 children are born in the midnight hour on August 15th, 1947, the first hour of India’s independence. These children are all endowed with magical powers. Our narrator, Saleem Sinai, is able to bring the other ‘midnight children’ together inside his mind, thus enabling them all to communicate with each other.
One expects from this description an extravaganza of stories in the style of the Arabian Nights – note the number of midnight children – but instead the novel is characterised by digressions – any reader picking up the book for its compelling story will quickly find themselves inundated with obscure allusions, narrative deviations, verbal acrobatics and political satire.
Midnight’s Children is consequently sometimes too rich in content for its own good and it is hard to imagine this richness translating well into a film. That said, the screenplay is written by Rushdie himself, and a second (more prepared) attempt at the novel shows him to be a true magician with words. A difficult read, but one which repays the effort it requires.