Dad's rule: You have to read the book before you see the film

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

Look, I'll be honest, living in my house is not for every kid.

My son is, I'm reliability and repeatedly informed, the only teenager in the known universe who doesn't have a smart phone yet (to which my rejoinder is, "you're only 12"), and my daughter has officially declared me her "nemesis" because I am so totally unreasonable about the immutable Books Before Movies rule.

Her belief is that I am trying to make her live like a luddite, or a boomer, just to punish her for the fact that I didn't have the option to watch whatever film I wanted, whenever I wanted, without going to a movie theatre, when I was a child.

My response is that if she wasn't forced to read so many books she wouldn't even know what a nemesis was.

The fact is, of course, that I'm not, in this case, being cruel, I'm just attempting to do the right thing, with a tiny bit of railing against the dying of the light (or the write) at the same time.

As someone who writes for a living it frightens me no end that all the research tells us the modern human being - who now has an average attention span of just eight seconds, a full second less than a goldfish - would rather watch a YouTube video about any given subject than read a story on it.

This is a trend I can only effectively discourage in two people, my own children, but the fact is, there's more to it than that. I honestly believe that the truly great stories, no matter how good the movie adaptations may be, are best absorbed in their original format. 

There is simply something more rich, more intellectually invigorating, and far more valuable for a child's burgeoning imagination, about picturing in your own mind what Hogwarts looks like, or how scary a Dementor would be, as you read JK Rowling's incredible books before you get to see the way Hollywood has magically depicted them.

While I'm delighted that such an excellent filmic version of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe exists, there's not a hope in Hades that my daughter will ever see it until she's pictured the majesty of Aslan in her own mind, preferably with my voice as the soundtrack, if she'll just let me read it to her aloud.


The real dealbreaker in our house, however, has been The Lord of the Rings. This epic tale is of profound importance to me personally, as it represents some of the richest moments I spent, as an only child, completely alone. 

What annoyed my son was that I'd told him the film adaptations were truly brilliant - indeed they're some of my favourite movies - and yet I wouldn't let him watch them until he'd poured the entire thing into his brain via the page. Or thousands of pages, in this case. 

So we made a deal; I would read him the entire thing - aloud - and as we finished each of the three books, he could watch the matching film. Frankly, I thought this was spoiling him, but I can occasionally be weak. 

It took us just almost three years to complete the mission, and as I read him the final page of The Return of the King, he burst, ever so quietly, into tears, not just because the ending is slightly solemn, but because our incredible journey was finally over, and I might never read him a whole book aloud again. If I was less of a stoic and heroic man, I might have wept myself. 

I'm not a complete bastard, of course, and those stories that have been made famous on celluloid and then become books obviously negate the rule. No one wants to spoil Star Wars by reading the book adaptation first, least of all me. And in the case of Awakenings, I'm willing to accept the film version is more digestible than Oliver Sacks' book. 

As for the idea that some movies are actually better than the novels they're based on, I'm yet to find a single one. Although, as my children get older, it will be a tough call to make in just one case. Fight Club, is reading the book first going to spoil the fantastic way the twist is delivered in the film?

I'm open to a public poll on that one.