Unreflected glory: Librarian authors and their mediocre movie adaptations

This post isn’t exactly on topic, but you know how I love a good tangent. 😉

I’ve actually been thinking about librarians who are also authors for a while now, ever since reading Casanova Was a Librarian: A Light-Hearted Look at the Profession and its section on famous librarians (read my review of the book here). And last week, I came across this web site, Librarians Who Are Authors of Children’s Literature (which is no longer online), which involved lots of “I didn’t know that?!” kinds of shout-outs.

And one thing that kept coming to my mind was how few good cinematic adaptations there are of books written by librarian authors. It seems that most of these movie adaptations are mediocre at best. What’s the deal?

Jorge Luis Borges:

Take Jorge Luis Borges. He was a bad-ass librarian, rising to Director of the National Library of Argentina in 1955, but having to resign (twice, in 1946 and in 1973) due to political clashes with Juan Perón. And all the while writing, writing, writing. From his “Poem of the Gifts” [“Poema de los Dones”] comes one of the most beloved library-related quotations:

I have always imagined Paradise as a kind of library.

I first read a few of his short stories in college, and became enraptured with his labyrinthine imagery. So much so that I checked out Death and the Compass, a 1992 film adaptation (see right) of one of his most famous stories. Unfortunately, this movie ranks as one of the WORST movies I have ever seen. Ever. Ever. EVER.

Madeleine L’Engle:

And how about Madeleine L’Engle? She was a longtime librarian and writer-in-residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. Sam and I were lucky enough to meet her while we were in college — and even got her autograph on our well-worn copy of A Wrinkle in Time (see below), the YA classic that won the Newbery Medal in 1963.

Our autographed copy of A Wrinkle In Time
Our autographed copy of A Wrinkle In Time

But the most high-profile adaptation of one of her classic works — of the 3 total (!) listed on IMDb — was the 2003 TV movie of A Wrinkle in Time. There was a movie released this past spring, an adaptation of Camilla Dickinson, but I haven’t read any major reviews of it yet. Here’s hoping it’s good.

Beverly Cleary:

I looooooved Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books while growing up — seriously, I thought I was Ramona! But I didn’t realize she was a librarian until my mom recommended this past year that I read her autobiographies, A Girl from Yamhill and My Own Two Feet (which chronicles her library science education and her experiences as a children’s librarian in Washington state and as an Army librarian during WWII). And I fell in love with her writing all over again.

I vaguely remember a few Mouse and the Motorcycle ABC Weekend Specials back in the late ’80s (IMDb tells me there were 3 total), and there was a Ramona and Beezus movie released in 2010 (see left), starring teen star Selena Gomez as Beezus. The recent film got decent reviews, but from what I understand, it was a pretty vague interpretation — not exactly a classic adaptation of a classic book series. Beverly Cleary deserves better.


I’ve read a lot of Avi books, starting with Something Upstairs: A Tale of Ghosts back in 1988. He’s got some modern YA classics on his shelf, including The Man Who Was Poe, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (Newbery Honor in 1991, see right), Nothing But the Truth (Newbery Honor in 1992), and Crispin: The Cross of Lead (Newbery winner in 2002).

There’s an adaptation of The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle planned for 2014. Reportedly starring Saoirse Ronan as the title character (yay!) and co-starring Pierce Brosnan and Morgan Freeman (double yay!), fingers crossed that it breaks tradition and finally does some justice to a librarian author’s work!


Author: Jennifer

Librarian, blogger, movie lover

8 thoughts on “Unreflected glory: Librarian authors and their mediocre movie adaptations”

  1. I salivate just thinking about Borges! The man was a master. And yeah, that movie was awful — but I wonder if it’s even possible to adapt his work to a visual medium. The closest one could probably get is comics (Neil Gaiman plays with Borgesian themes pretty effectively in some of the Sandman stories, I think), but film? Probably not.

    And I was just thinking about L’Engle this morning, in the context of her comments about the difference between truth and fact — that lecture we attended in college still resonates with me! She was amazing. 🙂

    1. All of these authors are amazing! But I don’t think anything is impossible to translate onto film (thank you, Peter Jackson, for proving that with LOTR!). In the end it’s all art. It just takes a merging of creative minds that will stay true to the SPIRIT of a work and bringing one’s own creativity and outlook to the film medium. When I think of Borges and possible (successful) translation to film, I think of a director like Guillermo del Toro (who directed Pan’s Labyrinth, for one), who could pull it off. My two cents. 🙂

      1. Oh, that’s an EXCELLENT idea! If ever there was a director who could be our filmic Borges, it’s del Toro! I would love to see him do an adaptation of Borges.

        And, now that I’m thinking about it, I wonder what Christopher Nolan would do with, say, “The Garden of Forking Paths.” I suspect it would look a lot like Inception, but with more greenery.

        Okay, I rescind my earlier comment. Now if only we could get these directors to commit to a Borges project! 🙂

  2. There’s also the dreadful “The Devil and Daniel Webster”, based on a play by Archibald MacLeish, modernist poet, three-time Pulitzer Prizewinner, and the ninth Librarian of Congress.

    1. Nice! It’s interesting where research takes us… by looking this up, I found out what a varied history this story has had, including but not limited to: 16th century German Faust tale –> Washington Irving’s 1824 short story “The Devil and Tom Walker” –> Stephen Vincent Benét’s 1937 short story “The Devil and Daniel Webster” –> the 1941 film version of the same name, which apparently got decent reviews –> Archibald MacLeish’s 1971 play “Scratch” –> the 2004 movie adaptation starring Alec Baldwin and Jennifer Love Hewitt (!), aka “Shortcut to Happiness”. I’m guessing the latter is the “dreadful” one you’re referring to! 🙂

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