After months of anticipation, avid sports fans like my three boys celebrated their Super Bowl last week. Like any supportive mom, I participated willingly, even enthusiastically: buying the obligatory snacks, cheering for their select team, feigning shock and outrage at the outcome. Tough break, Seattle—but you have to admit that was an amazing catch.
Now I sincerely love watching my own boys play football. I have three well-used cowbells to prove that. However, it should come as no surprise that football itself does not move me. I am an English teacher, after all. We don’t get an arena in which to see our favorite teams go head to head. However, I will confess to having waking visions of Fahrenheit 451 and Lord of the Flies beating the literary tar out of The Hunger Games.
So imagine my surprise and delight to hear the announcement of an event that will be every English teacher’s Super Bowl, World Cup, and Fourth of July all rolled into one.
On July 14, 2015, Harper Lee will debut her second book, Go Set a Watchman. This will be the sequel to her Pulitzer prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird, first published in 1960.
I gasped. Wait… it gets better.
Twenty years later after living in New York, Scout—now Jean Louise—returns home to Maycomb, Alabama, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement to visit her father Atticus Finch, the retired lawyer made infamous for defending a black man against a white man’s charges in a small Southern town.
I swooned. How many times I had postulated what became of my Atticus in the years after. Now I would definitively know. Oh, but you haven’t heard the very best part yet.
Harper Lee actually wrote the manuscript for Go Set a Watchman first. It was her publisher who thought the audience needed more explanation of the characters’ history in order for the work to make sense. To Kill a Mockingbird became that back-story, leaving Go Set a Watchman forgotten in the midst of the unexpected and unparalleled success of this young, first-time writer.
I felt faint. What could possibly outdo this? Wait for it.
The now 88-year-old author said she is publishing Go Set a Watchman in its original form. She is not going to alter its content in any way.
That’s it. I’m undone. Scrape me off the floor.
Upon telling my husband this news, he replied with his usual careful discernment. This is too convenient, too contrived, he said. A lost manuscript by the original author, rediscovered fifty years later? Sounds too good to be actually true.
Hear me now. I… don’t… care.
I have taught To Kill a Mockingbird for years, even designed a whole month’s worth of curriculum around it. My classes have reveled in the story of how Harper Lee pitched a mound of typewritten pages out of her apartment window, so frustrated with how the story did not seem like it was coming together. I am eternally grateful to the LORD for providing the wise editor who told Lee she better get her galoshes on and pick up every last page. Not to mention for a rare, windless evening in New York City.
So this past Thursday, I announced this monumental event to my English 3 class at the Kyle campus. After I finished, one of my beloved students noted aloud, “Gee, Mrs. Pahlow, it sounded like you just had a fangirl moment.”
Whoa, I thought. He’s right.
For a split second, I was a tad embarrassed by my all-too-apparent show of enthusiasm. In the next second, I was delighted that anyone would refer to me as any kind of “girl,” with my 44th birthday only two weeks away. Then I settled comfortably into the truth: when the right thing happens, you are never too old to be a fangirl.
Like any good fangirl, so I was told, I should now be concerned with how they will convert my soon-to-be beloved book into the inevitable movie. Oh, I shudder to think of it. I might be able to stomach their attempt to cast Go Set a Watchman, providing they choose a venerable actor to play the older Atticus. But Hollywood, if you have any shred of decency or integrity left, please do not embarrass yourself by trying to remake To Kill a Mockingbird. The result will be awful; the reviews, brutal. Just remember what you did to Gatsby, and let it go.
Just in case Hollywood is listening, here is a bit of advice from fellow fangirl Lauren Filippo, one of my English 3 students in Kyle. In response to the assignment to write a true satire, one which would make fun of a situation or behavior but not an individual person, she created this gem:
How NOT to Make a Movie Out of a Book
When producing a movie based on a book, actually reading the book should never be done. Instead, read a summary online. Better yet, ask someone else to give you the thirty-second version. After all, you’re making a movie. You don’t have time to read.
Be sure to adjust the characters to your liking, both in personality and appearance. Main characters should be altered as needed. Naturally, minor characters should be replaced or erased from the story completely. The odds that fans of the book will care or even notice are slim.
Add as much objectionable material to the movie as you can. Push the meaning of PG with as much language, inappropriate content, and gore as possible. By including these elements, you will attract an older crowd. Most fans certainly won’t mind hearing their favorite characters swear every five minutes.
Change the dialogue beyond recognition. You should make the new script as cheesy and cliché as possible. Never should you make a conversation relevant to the original scene or—heaven forbid—actually quote the book.
Without a doubt, your top priority should be to keep the movie short and simple. Cram in as much fighting as possible. Change or even discard entire scenes for the sake of brevity, no matter how important they are to the book’s plotline. If a scene can’t be described in a single sentence, it’s too complicated.
Whenever possible, add romance between characters. Although it may not be in the book, fans will surely appreciate it. Honestly, it’s not like the thousands of fangirls read the book because they actually liked the story.
Never so much as consider ending the movie with a cliffhanger, especially if that’s how the book ends. Doing so would only make more people want to read the book to see what happens. You want to attract attention to your movie, not the book. Let the author do his own advertising.
Always avoid tragedy, unless it’s of your own invention. For example, if a character dies in the book, be sure to keep him alive in the movie, no matter how illogical his survival may seem. However, if you decide a character is no longer essential, discard him despite what may have happened in the book.
While filming and editing the scenes themselves, put more effort into interesting music and dramatic special effects than the dialogue or acting quality. An explosion can easily make up for a poorly communicated plot detail, however vital that detail may be.
Never under any circumstances should you consistently follow the book’s plotline. Twist or even completely rewrite the story to make it more action-packed. While the book might include an interesting plot twist or battle strategy, your movie should be as straightforward and obvious as possible. The audience can then know what the movie is about without having to pay attention.
Remember, your goal is to make the movie the same as the book in title only. Minor details such as storyline are irrelevant.
Lauren would like to know if anyone has Peter Jackson’s email address. She has a few bones to pick.