As part of my MFA program, I’m taking a class on monsters in the horror genre. I read The Wolfman, by Jonathan Maberry, as an assignment for that class. The below blog post may contain spoilers.
As far as I can recall, I’ve never before read a novelization, a book that’s based on a movie. When it comes to movie adaptations of books, I generally believe that it’s a different medium, and therefore changes must be made in adapting the source material. A movie based on a book can be different from its source material and still excellent. Unfortunately, while I’ve seen that happen successfully, in most cases, I find that the movie adaptation isn’t nearly as good as the book. While I didn’t love either the movie or the novelization of The Wolfman, I preferred the source material as usual.
When adapting a book into a movie, I imagine the filmmakers must think about what material can can be cut. In contrast, for a novelization, those involved likely must consider how to add material and how to deepen relationships. While I have great respect for this task and the work that must have gone into it, I think some of the choices simply did not succeed.
In The Wolfman, Lawrence Talbot returns to his family home after his brother Ben dies, apparently killed by some kind of animal—which of course later turns out to be a werewolf.
First, and most significantly, the novelization seems to have inserted long conversations and musings between the action scenes that originally existed in the movie. For me, the result is simply a version of the movie that drags on far too long.
Second, and also significant to me, I’ll talk about the medallion. In the book, the butcher gives Lawrence a medallion that was “among his [brother’s] possessions.” (Maberry, Jonathan. The Wolfman. New York: Tom Doherty Associates. Kindle file.) The medallion bears an image of wolves attacking a monk. The book emphasizes that Lawrence takes interest in the butcher’s wording, meaning the fact that he said “among his possessions” and not “on his person.” While listening to this story (via audiobook), I found it strange that Lawrence insisted on making this distinction. As far as I’m concerned, “among his possessions” can mean “on his person” (i.e., wearing it) or not.
Later in the book it is suggested that the medallion is not simply a depiction of wolves, but is also protection from werewolves. A Gypsy woman says as much when Lawrence shows her the medallion. Also, during the werewolf’s massacre of the Gypsy camp, the beast spares a boy who happened to be wearing the medallion. Thus, Ben would have been protected had he been wearing the medallion.
In contrast, the movie makes no suggestion that the medallion is magic. There are no ramblings in the film about the meaning of “among his possessions” versus “on his person.” The medallion itself is simply a depiction of wolves, and its existence encourages Lawrence to visit the Gypsies. I wish the novelization hadn’t tried to make the medallion more than it was in the movie. Instead of deepening the story, the book’s version of the medallion presented more questions: Where does the medallion’s power come from? And why, if the medallion is so powerful, does it disappear from the book without being taking advantage of?
The medallion could have been a useful weapon against the werewolf. It wouldn’t be the first time some sort of talisman was used as protection against a monster. But in this case, the use of the medallion for that purpose is wasted.
The romance between Lawrence and Gwen. In my opinion, this aspect of the story was handled much better in the movie than in the book. In the book, Lawrence is immediately attracted to Gwen, his late brother’s fiance. The attraction seems to be mutual almost right away. It comes across like love at first sight, and I believe too much emphasis overall is placed on this romantic relationship.
In contrast, the movie allows the relationship to grow organically. Although the two characters appear to love each other after spending time together, and although they kiss once, it doesn’t entirely come across as a romantic love. It feels more like a growing admiration that’s rooted in the loss of a shared loved one. In my opinion, the book turned the romance into something it was not, and did so in a way that was unbelievable and artificial for two people in mourning.
Last but not least, I object to the introduction of “black rain.” In the book, when a werewolf is out and about, black rain sometimes falls from the sky or flows out of dying people. I assume this is meant to be symbolic in some way, or is at least meant to set a dark mood in the monster’s presence. But I expected the black rain to be explained, and it never was. Like the medallion, the black rain seems to have been added to create a deeper story, but instead created only unanswered questions.
I’ll close this blog post on a positive note. While I didn’t love the story, I don’t attribute my issues with it entirely to the author, Jonathan Maberry. I imagine there were many folks with a stake in the movie who were also involved in the novelization. What I do attribute to Maberry are his fantastic action scenes. As I mentioned above, I listened to this book on audio, and I remember on a couple occasions planning to to listen “only until the current action scene ends.” But then the scene would up being an hour long! Maberry’s action sequences are appropriately long, high tension, and exciting, with great visuals.
In the final action sequence, in which the “Wolfman” and the “Werewolf” battle it out, Maberry did a nice job of taking advantage of both werewolf strength and human intelligence. As the so-called Wolfman, Lawrence seemed to remain more in touch with his human side than did his opponent, and the result made for an interesting duel.
I would definitely read another of Maberry’s books.