The Harry Potter movies are clearly intended for people who have been reading the books but unlike situations where a single movie is made from a single book, these movies were released prior to the completion of the book series. This means that most readers were aware of the movie interpretation of events as they continued with the series.

Given the success of the Harry Potter books and movie series, this multimedia model of of storytelling is likely to become more common.

How does this multimedia exposure to a story affect the relationship between the reader and the story in ways that differ from past models where the reader experienced the book and movie separately?

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    An interesting related question would be how do the movie interpretations of the earlier books in a yet-to-be-completed series affect the author's conception of the characters and the development of the plot. Has an author ever changed the plot of a later book after the movie version of an earlier book was released? Does the success (or failure) of the movie have any effect on the author's further development of the plot? An example (not exact) would be Tolkien's reworking of the meeting between Bilbo and Gollum for The Hobbit's 2d edition once he started work on LoTR.
    – tolkienfan
    Commented Oct 5, 2011 at 3:53
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    On a side note, I rather liked this tweet: twitter.com/#!/Champs_ElyZay/status/5649637964775424
    – sbi
    Commented Oct 5, 2011 at 7:38
  • @tolkienfan I agree. I thought of adding that aspect to the question but I figured it was a better question for Writers SE. But yeah, I can't imagine that the actual personalities of the actors in the HP movies didn't affect Rowling's writing of the characters in the later books. I mean she must have been picturing Daniel Radcliffe when she was writing Harry.
    – DQdlM
    Commented Oct 5, 2011 at 11:22
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    @tolkienfan: I seem to remember hearing that Rowling gave all sorts of advice in the early movies about things that had to be one way but not any other, because of later plot events which she knew, but wouldn't reveal. I'm hazy on this, though.
    – sbi
    Commented Oct 5, 2011 at 13:11

1 Answer 1


For starters, it might help to think about some of the differences that we experience when viewing a single movie made from a single book:

  • Appearance/attractiveness of characters. Especially for those characters to whom we're attracted, the change of blond hair to brown, or dark skin to light can be jarring. This is always going to happen because film creators are limited by the set of actors who actually exist, whereas of course characters in books are not limited at all. (Eg. Brad Pitt plays the attractive guy, regardless of whether he matches the character's description.)
  • Ethnicity of characters. In Western literature, non-white characters are going to be made "ethnically explicit" much more often than white characters. Seeing a character whose race is different than expected on screen might entirely shift the ways in which readers identify with that character. (Is Harry Potter ever explicitly identified as white in the book?)
  • Tone of characters or settings. Perhaps you imagined a particular setting as a very dark place, while it's filmed very brightly. Or maybe you see the evil character as darkly serious but the film portrays her as careless and apathetic.
  • Emphasizing of different portions of the story. Did anyone else miss Tom Bombadil?

The general effect is one of discordance. What we expect is slanted, mutated or sometimes flat-out untrue.

When we're talking about movies and books being intermingled in the way Harry Potter has, we get two competing effects:

  • the discordance of bouncing between multiple interpretations, and
  • a synergizing of the content such that the books will provide subtext for unseen portions of the movies, while the movies will gradually shape how we interpret the books.

The quality of the adaptation determines the extent to which we move from the former to the latter over time. If they complement one another, then alternating between book and movie can be an enriching experience. If the films are of bad quality or offend your interpretation, obviously the experience will be less pleasant.

The films overshadowing the books can be another problem, depending on your point of view. This can result in some practical concerns, like:

  • They provide a sort of objective interpretation. When friends quote the characters, for instance, they'll likely quote the film version simply because everyone will recognize the reading - even if the line is exactly the same in the book.
  • Some readers may ignore remaining books entirely, knowing that the movies will be easier to consume and not too far off.
  • The story may not be "done" until the last film, which puts the books in an oddly secondary position in spite of being source material.

Note that similar phenomena can happen outside the book/film context. The toys released in advance of each new Star Wars movie rather ruined some of the fun, for instance.

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    I didn't really miss Tom Bombadil that much. What I did really miss and wish Peter Jackson would have included was the Scouring of the Shire.
    – tolkienfan
    Commented Oct 5, 2011 at 3:55
  • @tolkienfan Same here. They kill Saruman from the Orthanc in the Extended Edition. Commented Oct 16, 2011 at 7:18
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    At the end of Michael Crichton's novel "Jurassic Park", Dr. Ian Malcolm dies. In the movie, Dr. Malcolm, played by Jeff Goldblum, does NOT die. Crichton then apparently decided that his sequel, "The Lost World", should work as a sequel to both the book and the movie. He explained Dr. Malcolm's survival as "It turned out he was just MOSTLY dead", in a blatant rip-off of "The Princess Bride." Commented Apr 25, 2013 at 16:48

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