Book Vs. Movie: Water For Elephants

By Russ Bickerstaff

April 27, 2011

That's a bingo!

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In this corner: the Book. A collection of words that represent ideas when filtered through the lexical systems in a human brain. From clay tablets to bound collections of wood pulp to units of stored data, the book has been around in one format or another for some 3,800 years.

And in this corner: the Movie. A 112-year-old kid born in France to a guy named Lumiere and raised primarily in Hollywood by his uncle Charlie "the Tramp" Chaplin. This young upstart has quickly made a huge impact on society, rapidly becoming the most financially lucrative form of storytelling in the modern world.

Both square off in the ring again as Box Office Prophets presents another round of Book vs. Movie.

Water For Elephants

Canadian-born author Sara Gruen moved to America to get a job doing technical writing. When that fell through, she decided to get into fiction. Unlike so many others, Gruen actually managed a fair amount of nearly immediate success as a fiction author. Her knowledge of the equestrian world helped propel her first two horse-based novels to a publisher and commercial success. Her third novel, evidently, was something she’d kicked out for National Novel Writing Month. It concerned the life of a veterinarian traveling with a circus in the 1930s. Initially rejected by the publisher of her first two novels, a different publisher picked it up and promptly turned it into a New York Times bestseller. Published in 2006, the wheels were set in motion for it to be developed into a film. Five years later, that film is released courtesy of a 20th Century Fox production helmed by music video director Francis Lawrence, starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon. The novel was a commercial success. Will the film match that success?


The Book

The novel may have been initially kicked out in about a month, but Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants bears all the hallmarks of a well-researched work of historical fiction. The plot involves a man named Jacob Jankowski. Jacob is studying to become a veterinarian, but his studies are cut short when his parents pass away, As the family farm is deep in debt at the time of Jacob’s parents’ death, there is no money for him to remain in school. Uncertain of what to do, Jacob runs away, hopping a train bound for Anywhere Else.

The train turns out to belong to belong to a traveling circus run by a man named Uncle Al. With no other options open to him, Jacob begins working menial labor for the circus. Fate quickly finds him working as a doctor with the diverse animals of the circus and casually falling in love with Marlena — the wife of the circus’s animal trainer. The trainer is a kind of a vicious man by he name of August.

The plot progresses as Jacob advances into the upper-class of the circus’s social structure and gradually begins to get closer to Marlena. August is abusive towards her. Jacob heals animals. She naturally gravitates towards Jacob. The circus picks-up an ill-tempered elephant when it is meant to be picking up a noted circus freak from a disintegrating circus operation. The heyday of the circus is coming to a close, though, and it isn’t long before the circus also falls apart beneath Uncle Al, Jacob and Marlena.

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