These days, it seems like books are constantly making the leap from the page to the screen. With celebrities acquiring books for their production companies (cough, Reese, cough) and many new avenues for both movies and television shows (Hulu, Amazon, Netflix), there is real opportunity to see your favorite book come to life. Some are even coming back to life for a third or fourth time, like Anne of Green Gables. Historically, I’ve been a firm believer that the book is better than the movie/show always. Lately, though, I think there is room for argument here.
One of my most recent discoveries is both the Amazon Prime-produced television show and the novel written by Philip K. Dick in 1962, The Man in the High Castle. I willingly admit I watched seasons one and two of the television first. I was intrigued, so I picked up the book while waiting for season three.
Overall Ratings (scale of 1 to 5 stars):
- Book: 2 stars
- Television Show: 5 stars
- Adaptation: 3 stars
Both the novel and the show share the same basic premise, World War II was won by Germany, Japan and Italy. The United States has fallen to the Axis powers and it has been chopped up into pieces. It is 1962. This setting is home to some of the same characters; Frank Frink, Juliana, Trade Minister Tagomi and Ed McCarthy. The Man in the High Castle is also present and his name is Abendsen. Trade Ministey Tagomi does have an experience with an alternative dimension. That’s it…those are the similarities.
One of the things I love about the television show is the seemingly separate stories that come together and connect the various characters. While they are all determining their place in a world ruled by fear and suspicion, the writers of the television show weave them together. So, one of the biggest differences for me is simply a plot that feels like it’s building toward something. An event or a set of decisions. The book follows a lot of the same people, but their connections are tenuous and each is on their own path, with a couple feeling as if they meander without any true destination.
While both the show and the book feature The Man in the High Castle, the book is about an author who has written a bestselling story challenging the history that the Axis won the war. In the television show, he is a mysterious figure collecting and hoarding reels of film that show an alternative history. One is allowed to live in the neutral zone and is only vaguely on the Nazi hit list. The Man in the show, though, is a hunted man who Hitler despises.
Due to the vast differences between the show and the book, there are many details I could highlight. Character histories. Additional characters. Deeper dives into topics only skimmed in the book. I’ll highlight just a couple.
The book features a pretty in-depth look at the Pacific States ruled by the Japanese and the neutral zone, while the television show depicts these and the Nazi-ruled east coast and Berlin. This leads to a lot more knowledge about the Nazi party and the world they’ve created. The Germans and their leaders play a much bigger role in the television show. And one of my favorite characters, Obergruppenführer John Smith (played by Rufus Sewell), isn’t even in the book!
One of the intriguing parts of both mediums is the political state of the German government, however in the television show, Adolf Hitler plays an important role in driving the plot forward. In the book, he’s already dead. Both deal with the chess game that is gaining power, but the book features less known historical figures from the Nazi regime.
The television show also delves deeper into the idea that there is an alternative dimension where Germany lost and the Allies were the victors. I find this aspect of Trade Minister Tagomi and his story fascinating. I can’t wait to see where season three takes him.
I’m glad I both read and watched The Man in the High Castle, but the storytelling, for me, is more dynamic in the television show. There may be a lot I don’t know about Philip K. Dick and his motivations for writing this novel. I should probably learn more about him, but the show motivated me to read something I’m not sure I would have ever picked up at the library or bookstore. I’m glad I read the book, even if the show is more my cup of tea.
2 thoughts on “Book to Screen: The Man in the High Castle”
Nice review. I’ve only just recently (very recent) even learned of this book/show combination.
I’m intrigued enough now, to perhaps pick up a copy.
It’s certainly an interesting read. I didn’t mention this in the review, but Dick uses interesting sentence structure, especially with those immersed in the Japanese culture. It took some getting used to!