‘Willow’ by Wayland Drew

By oldenglishrose - Last updated: Friday, February 4, 2011 - Save & Share - 2 Comments

Do you enjoy watching film adaptations of books you’ve read, or do you regard them with some suspicion and decide that you’d rather not, thank you very much?  Every time a book that I enjoy is turned into a film, I have to debate with myself whether I want to go to see it or not.  In some cases, such as any and all Jane Austen adaptations, I’m more than happy to watch each new version, secure in the knowledge that it probably won’t be true to the book but that I’ll enjoy it nonetheless.  In others, such as the recent film of The Timetraveller’s Wife, I reach the conclusion that no film could possibly do the book justice and so going to see it will probably just make me angry (I still haven’t seen this film and have no desire too, much as I like Rachel McAdam).  However, until today I had never read a book where this order of book and film was reversed: a book which is a novelisation of a film.  And, if this one was anything to go by, it’s abundantly clear why not.

Willow tells the story of a Nelwyn, a halfling race similar to hobbits from what I can gather, who finds a baby washed up from the river bordering his lands.  It turns out that this baby is the Elora Danan, the child foretold in prophecy whose birth would bring about the downfall of the evil sorceress Bavmorda who rules over the lands.  Pursued by the Death Dogs and Bavmorda’s minions, Willow must find the good sorceress Fin Raziel and, together with swordsman Madmartigan and some dubious brownies, journey to the castle of Tir Asleen to save the child and defeat Bavmorda.

I feel I should start out by saying that I’ve never seen the film Willow on which this book is based.  Doubtless it is very entertaining in the same amusing, 80′s fantasy way that Labyrinth and Legend are.  The plot is riddled with cliches, but it trundles along at a fair old pace and probably makes quite good cinema (albeit with special effects that are no doubt incredibly dated).  The book, however, is genuinely dreadful.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and this book is definitely a case in point.  When adapting a film that is (according to Amazon) approximately two hours in length into a book, that book can either try to capture and convey properly everything that takes place in the film and thus be quite lengthy, or it can be quite short and skim along the top of the action and appear shallow.  Sadly, Drew appears to have gone for the latter, depthless option (although how much choice he had in the matter I don’t know; he may have been making the best of a bad lot).  The writing continually states the obvious and is entirely without subtlety: no character has a thought which they don’t vocalise, an emotion which doesn’t show in their face or contemplates an action without immediately following through.  There is no sense that any of the people Drew writes about have inner lives or even minds.  Because of this, their actions often seem arbitrary, perfunctory and unreasonable.  A character will suddenly decide they are in love or that al their actions up until now have been evil and they must change to fight for good, then act on these thoughts without further ado.  It might work in a film, but in a book it comes across as utterly ridiculous. 

The dialogue is wooden at the best of times and laughable at the worst.  At one point, one character refers to another as a ‘jackass’, which is incredibly inappropriate vocabulary choice for a fantasy with vaguely faux-medieval overtones, as this one attempts to be (most of the time).  These may be faithfully reproduced lines from the film, I don’t know, but whatever the reason for them they don’t make for good reading.

I started this book because I needed something to read in the bath that I wouldn’t mind too much if I accidentally dropped it in the water.  Sadly I think it might have been better for all concerned had I done so.

Willow by Wayland Drew.  Published by Sphere, 1988, pp. 276.  First published in 1988.

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2 Responses to “‘Willow’ by Wayland Drew”

Comment from Annie
Time February 4, 2011 at 5:53 pm

I gave up on the film halfway through, so it’s unlikely that I’m going to get any further with the book. Going back a century or so the same thing happened with ‘Peter Pan’. After the success of the stage play, Barrie turned it into the novel ‘Peter and Wendy’ which is very dark and nowhere near as good as the play.

Comment from oldenglishrose
Time February 11, 2011 at 11:37 am

Glad to see I haven’t missed anything much. That book is going to be looking for a new home soon I think.

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