Warning: Spoilers. If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie and don’t want to know the ending, then do NOT read this entry.
I read Katherine Paterson’s book The Bridge to Terabithia when I was the protagonist’s age, a ten-year old fifthgrader. Checked out of the library of my fourth (and last) elementary school, I read the book in one afternoon. Like Janus Gate, who read the book at the same age as me, I remembered only these things about the book: the footrace, in which Leslie wins; the imperfect family of Jess; the special tree and the magical kingdom that they dreamed up to escape from their imperfect lives at home and at school; and Leslie’s accidental death.
So when I saw the preview trailer for the movie — with all that CGI of Terabithia — I thought, “Oh no, they’ve ruined the book.” But when I started reading the reviews (like in the Bunny’s entry) about the movie — especially from folks who never read the book, who expected a Narnia-type movie and was surprised (some happily, some not) that it was about childhood friendships and grief over the death of a best friend — then I felt relief. And when I finally saw the DVD with the Hubby and Janus Gate yesterday and saw, in the Bonus Features, Katherine Paterson herself, talking about the origins of the story, the adaptation to the movie, and the importance of the book, albeit published in 1977, thirty years later, I realized that I had to get the copy of the book.
For I had forgotten many of the details from the book, and, as in any movie adaptation, I knew that the screenwriter had to leave some things out.
Especially Katherine Paterson’s language:
Jess drew the way some people drank whiskey. The piece would start at the top of his muddled brain and seep down through his tired and tensed-up body. Lord, he loved to draw. Animals, mostly. Not regular animals like Miss Bessie and the chickens, but crazy animals with problems—for some reason he liked to put his beasts into impossible fixes. He would like to show his drawings to his dad, but he didn’t dare. When he was in first grade, he told his father that he wanted to be an artist when he grew up. He’d thought he would be pleased. He wasn’t. “What are they teaching in that damn school?” he had asked. “Bunch of old ladies turning my son into some kind of a—” He had stopped on the word, but Jess had gotten the message. It was one you didn’t forget, even after four years.
He screamed something without words and flung the papers and paints into the dirty brown water. He watched them all disappear. Gradually his breath quieted, and his heart slowed from its wild pace. The ground was still muddy from the rains, but he sat down anyway. There was nowhere to go. Nowhere. Ever again. He put his head down on one knee. “That was a damn fool thing to do.” His father sat down on the dirt beside him. “I don’t care. I don’t care.” He was crying now, crying so hard he could barely breathe. His father pulled Jess over on his lap as if he were Joyce Ann. “There. There,” he said, patting his head. “Shhh. Shhh.”
Now, ain’t that language beautiful or what?