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Teacher's Guide [imagemap with 9 links]

Adapting the Novel

These questions focus on the transition from novel to film. The interviews with the producers and the essay by the screenwriter provide important information for this section. Student may also gain insights into the transformation by visiting Novel to Film, which provides a side-by-side look at a portion of the novel, the film script, and the film scene.

  • What tools do the filmmakers use to make us immediately like or dislike some of the characters who play a role in Thea's life? Consider her sister, her mother, Spanish Johnny, Dr. Archie, Herr Wunsch, Madison Bowers, Ray Kennedy, or others. Choose one of these characters, and read how Cather first introduces them in the novel, then compare and contrast this with the way he or she is introduced in the film. How is a writer's "thumbnail sketch" of a person different from a filmmaker's?

  • The last two sections of the novel ("Dr. Archie's Venture" and "Kronborg") are almost completely left out of the film. Instead, they have been distilled to only three final scenes. Why do you think the filmmakers chose to do this? Cather herself said of the novel later that its "chief fault" was the fact that the end depicted a great deal of success, and "success is never so interesting as struggle." Do you think this influenced the filmmakers? Do you wish the film had shown more of Thea's success? Why or why not?

  • Much of the novel The Song of the Lark describes Thea's internal development. In a film this is difficult to show, yet the filmmaker must still convey the emotional and intellectual growth the character is experiencing. Read the climactic section "The Ancient People" in the novel, then watch the same scene on film. How do the filmmakers dramatize this climax, which in the novel takes place almost entirely inside Thea's mind? (Consider the acting, directing, lighting, angles, dialogue, sound, music, editing, costumes, scenery, makeup, or any other tools filmmakers use.)

  • Cather's novel never depicts a physical love scene between Fred and Thea. Why do you think the filmmakers chose to include one? Read the canyon scene in the novel, and then make a case for whether the film is stronger or weaker for adding these scenes between Thea and Fred.

  • What imagery, motifs, and/or symbols does the film use to enhance its messages about art and the artist? Note especially how the film uses recurrent images, like that of a bird in the sky, to symbolize Thea's dreams and desires. Which of these also appear in the novel?

  • What scenes in the film are most memorable for showing who Thea really is? Choose your top five, then compare and contrast one of them with the way Cather writes the same scene. How faithful is it to the novel? Why do you think the filmmakers chose to adapt it as they did?

  • Compare how Thea is introduced in the first chapter of the novel with how she is introduced in the film. Why do you think the film does not show this scene? What do we learn from it that we don't know in the film? Does the film manage to convey this information in other ways? For a quick look at how the novel and film differ, read the essay "What the Movie Didn't Tell You" by Dan Sanders.

Teacher's Guide:
Teaching The Song of the Lark | Using This Web Site | Willa and the Diva



Essays + Interviews | Novel to Film | A Cather Timeline
Opera in America | Prairie Settlement | Cast + Credits
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