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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, February 29, 2004

Where Would the Movies Be Without Good Books?

Four of the five motion pictures nominated for the 2004 Best Picture Oscar are based on best-selling books, the only exception being "Lost in Translation." In fact, good books provide the framework for most movies.

In honor of tonight's Academy Awards, here's some literary trivia.

Return of the King is based on the third novel in J. R. R. Tolkien's epic trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. The bloody trenches of World War I, where Tolkien lost all but one of his best friends, inspired him to begin writing tales of an alternate world embroiled in a battle between good and evil.

During a long and distinguished career at Oxford, he became close friends with fellow academic C.S. Lewis, who was at least partly responsible for Tolkien's return to Catholicism. The Lord of the Rings, a twelve-year-long effort, was a rather embarrassing work for a scholar, but achieved immediate and widespread popular success.

Mystic River is the brainchild of writer Dennis Lehane. Lehane penned five popular mysteries featuring tough Boston detectives Boston Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro before writing two stand-alone novels. Director/producer Clint Eastwood reportedly resolved while reading Mystic River to bring it to the screen.

Now only thirty-seven years old, Lehane worked as a counselor with mentally handicapped and abused children as well as at a variety of odd jobs before making it as a writer. He lives in Boston, where he's working on his seventh book.

Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand's Depression-era horse story, topped bestseller nonfiction charts for months in 2001 and appeared on dozens of year-end top ten lists. Hillenbrand, an equine expert whose articles about horses and racing have been featured in top periodicals for the past for fifteen years, is a two-time winner of the Eclipse Award, the highest journalistic honor in thoroughbred racing.

Master and Commander is based on the first of twenty Napoleonic era naval adventures penned by English novelist Patrick O'Brian. O'Brian peopled his detailed and historically solid novels with fictional British Navy Captain Jack Aubrey, Surgeon Stephen Maturin, and a ship full of other colorful seafaring characters.
American publisher W. W. Norton & Company has released the entire series in uniform hardback and paperback editions – perfect for collectors.

Cold Mountain, a first novel, won North Carolina author Charles Frazier the 1997 National Book Award. This Civil War saga is loosely based on a family story about a great-great uncle who volunteered to fight for the South, then "walked away" and journeyed home on foot.

Frazier, who has a Ph.D. in English literature, is currently raising horses on a farm near Raleigh and working on a second novel, which will portray the upstairs-downstairs reality of early twentieth-century summer resorts.

House of Sand and Fog author Andre Dubus III drew inspiration from two separate incidents -- a newspaper article about a woman kicked out of her house for failing to pay back taxes, and a college friend's Iranian colonel immigrant father who could only find menial jobs in the U.S. Popularized by its November 2000 selection as an Oprah book, "House" has also received wide critical acclaim.

Whale Rider was originally published in 1987 as a young adult novel. New Zealand author Witi Ihimaera, the first Maori ever to publish a novel, has written a series of works dealing with his heritage. In "Whale Rider" he weaves a 1,000 year old Maori legend into the story of a young Maori heroine attempting to defy centuries of tradition and become a female spiritual leader to her people.

Girl With a Pearl Earring is a testimonial to authors' powers of creativity. The fact that no one really knows the story of the young girl in Vermeer's masterpiece didn't stop author Tracy Chevalier from spinning a rich tale of life in a seventeenth century Dutch household.

The Ohio born and educated Chevalier has lived in England for twenty years. She wrote "Girl" in six months while working full-time, and she finished it two weeks before giving birth to her son.

Pam Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.