Six Impossible Things

A Blog About Fiction and Reading

The Children of Men

ChildrenThe Children of Men by P.D. James


My wife and I saw Children of Men in January, and were stunned at how good a movie it was.  We went, not really knowing much about it at all, and the story, along with the artwork and direction, shocked us with its gritty, surreal atmosphere.  It wasn’t much of a jump for us to decide to read the book, too.

Unfortunately, reading a book before seeing a movie or seeing a movie before reading a book can alter your perception of how good or bad the second piece is.  It’s impossible to completely forget the former when you’re trying to enjoy the latter, and how much you liked the first is always going to affect how you think about the second.

I was surprised at how different the book and the movie are from one another.  The main character, Theo, remains, as does the basic premise of the story (children stopped being born on Earth about 20 years ago), but those are the only two similarities.  Instead of being in a drudging job, Theo is a history professor, teaching adults in a childless world.  He has an ex-wife, too, but she isn’t involved in a counter-revolution, and the political theme of the movie is absent from the book (though there is a political angle in the story).

P.D. James is an excellent writer with a strong attention to detail, and a firm understanding of human nature.  I understand she’s more known for her mysteries and police procedural novels, and I can see how she can be so skilled at those genres from this book.  If she plots as well as she writes her narrative, then her popularity is deserved.

Ultimately, I think I prefer the movie over the book.  The movie is timely in its political overtones, and the dismal, gritty look of a near future of desolation is the perfect atmosphere for that sort of story.  James’ version of the story, though the original, lacks some of the punch of the latter version, by being a gentler sort of story with some of the same elements.  It’s still a good book, and one that I would recommend, but comparing the two is an interesting exercise.

I wish there were a way I could read the book without any knowledge of the movie, but I can’t.  I’d love to hear from people who discovered these two stories in the reverse order, and how they feel about the two versions.


March 8, 2007 - Posted by | Adult Fiction, Reviews

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