The Scarlet Letter: Not Just About the Bath Tub and Embroidery

Recently, I read The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne and was really excited to watch some of its adaptations.  Those of you who’ve been reading my blog for awhile know I’m a huge advocate of watching the movie first!  Normally that is the route I go because when you read the book first, like it, and expect the same great feeling to emerge from watching the film, you are usually let down.  Thus, I see the film first, then read the book – so I can be delighted and surprised by differences in character or plot.

The Scarlet Letter is a classic though.  I already knew the basic plot of the story.  Hester Prynne is convicted of adultery and forced to wear a scarlet ‘A’ on her dress at all times, thereby displaying to the world her sin for the remainder of her days.  After reading the book, I rented the Demi Moore version of the very freely adapted Scarlet Letter.


Um…where did the rest of the book go???  Have any of you seen this movie?!  The only thing in this adaptation that comes from the book is Hester’s affair with Reverend Dimmesdale, their subsequent child, and Hester having to wear the scarlet ‘A’ upon her dress.

The rest of the seedy plot points…

  • Like Hester’s husband returning from war, apparently captured by natives and turned into one of them
  • Leading to Hester’s husband taking on an assumed identity whereby he can terrorize Dimmesdale
  • And ultimately stage Dimmesdale’s murder by “natives” then burn his deerskin clothes
  • Meanwhile Hester barely shows any remorse or internal quarrel with her life actions
  • And her daughter plays no role in the storyline other than a rare scene of a child running through the room
  • Yet the movie watcher must sit through strange symbolic flash scenes of a scarlet colored bird flying into the house as Hester bathes seductively by candlelight
  • And that scarlet letter is small and unobtrusive and looks like she pinned it on, no big deal!

And I repeat:  Where did the book go???

Was the original content not racy enough for the film crew?  I sincerely hope no students are renting this film version thinking they can write a school paper on the story from it.  Yikes!

Nothing of Hester’s virility, her longevity, the creepy undoing of Reverend Dimmesdale through his mind, the increasing accusations and questions from her child as she grows up

So then I tried a modern day version: 

Easy A


You know what, I thought this film was really funny!  Olive is your average High School Invisible Girl, until she agrees to help a guy, who was getting bullied, by convincing the school that they slept together.   You know the saying “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished?”  Well, it spirals for Olive!  Suddenly all the guys who are picked on, considered losers, etc. are asking Olive for help and she is left with the tragic repercussions on her character.

In defiance, Olive marches through the school with a scarlet letter ‘A’ on her new sexy wardrobe, and tries to make the best of things.

With humor like Mean Girls and a storyline like Saved!, this is a film I can handle!  A fabulously modern twist on Hawthorne’s timeless classic.  At least here, you’re rooting for the main character!  And…no freaky imagery scenes!

What do you think?  Ever been really disappointed by a film version of a book you like?  How about really impressed?  Name your best and worst adaptations.  

26 responses

  1. I’m also a proponent of seeing the movie first because there are lots of great books but very few good movies. If I hear a movie based on a book is good, I’d much rather start with the movie.

    1. LOL. Sounds incredibly logical to me. Take Lord of the Rings for example!

  2. As a teacher, I am all about the book. But I understand that some folks prefer seeing the flick first. It’s also funny when someone tries to write a paper on the film. You can imagine, right? 😉

    1. What would they write about? Demi’s perfectly coiled tendrils? Her uncanny charm of being followed around by a rare red bird…? Gary Oldman’s creepy ministry?

      Oh to spy upon the comments you would leave that student!

  3. Easy A was a fun movie–Loved it!

    My biggest disappointment (not as enormous as my daughter’s) was the movie adaptation of Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief. Chris Columbus did such a fabulous job with the first two Harry Potter films that I expected the first Percy Jackson film to be more like the book and less like…it was. It didn’t diminish our love of the books, but it’s one movie that my daughter doesn’t want to own. The characters were too old, Annabeth was ALL wrong (you can’t combine Annabeth and Clarisse–I mean really–and she wasn’t blonde), and there wasn’t a single orange Half-Blood camp t-shirt.

    I’ll stop before I go on a rant. 😀

    1. LOL. Wow, taking it personally are we? I did see that movie and also thought it was very lackluster. But I know my niece loves the books!

      1. I know right! My daughter took it as a personal affront. I heard about it for weeks. She still gets mad every time she sees a movie reference. On a positive note, it was a valuable life lesson that books don’t always get treated the way she expects them to.

  4. I thought the book “Forrest Gump” was hilarious, and was looking for the movie to be the same sort of laugh riot. Needless to say, it wasn’t, and while the movie was good, I was very disappointed. On the other hand, there have been several movies that have improved on the book: “The Devil Wears Prada”, the Swedish version of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” (as well as the English version), “The Hunger Games”, and the later Harry Potter movies. In all cases, because the script had to be much shorter than the book, it had to be more focused on the main story and less on the side issues. In a couple of cases, minor tweaking made the story better (the Swedish “Girl” and “The Hunger Games”).

    1. Yah, I can see that. But I’m a fan of both The Hunger Games the book and the movie. Thought that was a good adaptation. Focused on key points and symbolism like you said.

  5. Jodi Picoult’s “My Sister’s Keeper.” I loved the book, and it’s a best-seller. So for the film version, they CHANGE THE ENDING?????

    1. Oooh, that made me so mad when that happened on Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons. Urrrg!

      And Snow Flower and the Secret Fan was a HORRIBLE adaptation. They tried to include a modern day story in with the book’s story, and ended up failing at both ends! *shakes head*

  6. I loved “Confederacy of Dunces” but the fact that that still hasn’t been brought to film and their is much discussion as to if it could by done with any validity ring true. I think it would be hellaciously difficult and there is also the problem of dealing with the question, “is what was topical then, still topical now,” and “will people even care?” I for one would love to see a well-crafted honest attempt to give “Confederacy of Dunces” on film, but it would have to be driven by someone who really, really loves and understands the author John Kennedy Toole. much as Tim Burton loved and treated Ed Wood in his fine movie.

    It’s been years since I read Toole’s book. Going back to my friend Google, I see Zach Galafianakis is slated to play Ignatius Reilly and the film is to be directed by James Bobin, director of the Muppets. So, never say never. Definitely see the movie first, it this gets made, Jess, then read the book. The book is awesome. Cool subject.

    Not really what you were expecting; I can’t remember the last time I read a book and saw a movie and was disappointed. Probably “Gone With The Wind.” I get more worked up over historical fiction. “Braveheart” pissed me off. Since I’m a Wallace and I knew the whole freaking story in my mother’s womb, there’s no freaking way William got any where near that French Queen. Also, big surprise here, William died without issue, the Wallace line was carried forward from one of his younger brothers. Boo. Nice post, Jess! Mary

    1. I have read Confederacy of Dunces. Excellent book. I think Zach G. could pull it off.

      Ed Wood is one of Burton’s best!!!

  7. Best screen adaptation from a book: Sense and Sensibility. Book by Jane Austen. Screenplay by Emma Thompson. Awesome!

    Worst screen adaptation: Lord of the Rings. Yes, I know I’ll get booed for saying that. But I gagged at the horrible interpretation of Frodo by Sean Astin. Plus, they threw in action scenes that never occurred in the book and ignored character development. I didn’t even see the next two in the trilogy because I hated the first one so much.

    The second movie you featured here piqued my interest.

    1. Oooh, Sense and Sensibility – great call!

      Ouch – LOTR! Not a winner for you? Correction though – was it Elijah Wood as Frodo or Sean Astin as Sam you didn’t like? Inquiring LOTR geeks want to know.

      1. Elijah Wood. That’s how little it stuck with me. I couldn’t even remember the actor’s name. I know I’m hugely outnumbered on that one. 😉

        1. Of course they’re little, they’re hobbits! LOL

  8. This is why I’m afraid to see The Great Gatsby when it comes out next year, even if it does star Leo DiCaprio. I’ve read the book, and how can you possibly duplicate the magic?

    1. Ooh good call. Don’t blame you. But Leo’s pretty good. He’ll never let go…Mark…he’ll never let go. 😉

  9. I like to read the book first, because my imagination is better than any casting call. I also dream up some amazing wardrobes and interiors. Movies don’t do inner conflicts very well, which is my favorite part of any book.

    1. What have been some of your favorite adaptations then?

      1. It’s an oldie – but I think the original Gone With the Wind was pretty amazing. Vivian Leigh WAS Scarlett and who could do sets better than that!

  10. The Hours. Truth is, I loved the movie–and then I read the book. I also loved the book. But the movie just slayed me with its sadness in a way the book did not. Afterwards, several literary friends disparaged the movie and Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf, but I maintain: wonderful movie. Had I read the book first, what would I have thought?!?!?!? I’ll never know.

    1. Ooh good comment because I LOVE that film as well. Will have to check out the book. I read Mrs. Dalloway after watching the movie.

Tell me a story...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: