I have taken a break from focusing on doctoral work to finish a draft of my next book project.  Provisionally called “TheoMedia,” I am exploring the way God himself employs various media forms in the Bible, in search of a theological logic for how we use new media today.

I have found that discussions with my kids can be quite an integral part of the research.  Below is an excerpt from a conversation (argument, actually) I had with my ten-year old daughter comparing movies with books.  Note to the readers: just to be clear, I love watching movies (good movies, that is).  And I let my kids watch (good, mostly) movies quite a bit.  Also, all six of my family members are bibliophiles (book lovers).  The 10-yr old whose counterpoints feature below is racing through the Harry Potter books and has read a handful of the Narnia series this year, plus a handful of others).  But she really loves playing the devil’s (or the daddy’s) advocate….

Movies vs. Books

“You don’t like us watching movies because it will mess up our eyes like yours and we will have to wear glasses.”  She said this as if it were an accusation of sorts.

“That’s not quite right.  And I do like movies.”  Most parental wisdom gets dispensed in rather busied moment, like when driving about between errands or while unloading groceries in the kitchen.  We were weaving our way through the English roadways to get to gymnastics.

“But you don’t like movies.  You want us to read books instead.”

“No, I do like movies.  But yes, I want you to read more books than you watch movies.”


“What I do not like about movies is that they are so distracting.  Two hours—just gone.”  And then it hit me that books can be a distraction, too.  I had never thought of books as a wasted two hours, though.  Reading a book is the way I naturally want to spend any two hours that might come my way.  “Now, reading can take up two hours, also, of course,” I added hastily, lest my youngling interlocutor detect a hole in my logic, “but when you read a book, you get a deeper story.”

“A ‘deeper’ story?  What does that even mean, Dad?”

“Okay, well…” for some reason, I was struggling to know how to defend my position, “you see, both a movie and a book can tell the same story.  But with a book, you get a deeper account.”

“I still don’t know what you mean by a ‘deeper,’ Dad.”

“It means you get more information. You get more of the thoughts of the characters.  You get more details about the setting.”  I was finding my line of argument now, building momentum—”with books you get a richer, deeper sense of all that is going on.  Movies can only tell you so much, but books can offer so much more about the story”—now I was really picking up steam—”because movies have to squish stories to make them fit in the two hours and books allow them to expand in all their potential wonder.”  Now it felt like good preaching.

“But Dad, books can have so much information you can get lost and forget about it all because you can’t read a whole book in two hours.  You have to read it, you know, over days and days and days.  So you forget things.  But with a movie that’s two hours, you don’t have to work on remembering all the confusing stuff that books give you.  And, in a movie, you can actually see the characters and you don’t have to waste all that time trying to imagine them in your head while trying to keep up with all those, those, those ‘details’ in the book!”

My former steam was petering out.  “Okay, but, but… well, a book makes you have to use your imagination more—like coming up with what the characters and setting look like in your head.  In a movie, you are just watching the work of someone else’s imagination.”  Okay, that was well done, I thought.  After all, I am writing a book on the theology of media, kid….

“But Dad, that’s why a movie is so good for a story.  You can let someone else’s imagination work on those ‘details’ so your own imagination can work on getting the story.”

In response to my immediate reply of silence, she added, “Me: One.  You: nil.  Hah.”


So what about you all, dear readers?  Any pros/cons for books vs. movies when it comes to portraying a story?

4 thoughts on ““Story” by way of Movies vs. Books: A Conversation with my Daughter”

  1. wow, she’s your daughter alright! Great debate skills, Brynn…….I’m proud of you!

  2. Thanks for giving me something fun to think about this morning!
    One of the biggest advantages, for me, of books over movies is knowing the “back story”. For instance, while Alan Ripkin gives a brilliant, spot-on performance as Snape in the HP movies, he is not a sympathetic character until the end of the series. However, in the expanded format of the books, foreshadowing and memories of multiple characters clues the reader in that there is more going on there.
    In addition, again because of the film format, action has to be occurring for a majority of the time to keep the viewer’s attention. In books, the reader can truly get inside a character’s head, bringing a greater understanding of & compassion for people who may be very different from ourselves. And don’t we humans always wonder why people do the things we do? Books give us a glimpse into “what they were thinking”, even if it’s a fictional character.

    1. Very nice, Julie! I appreciate those comments, and I think you did a good job pointing out the extra ‘texture’ a book can supply. Comparing books to movies is not quite fair, of course, since they are such distinct art forms. They have to be assessed on their own artistic grounds. But since they are both media conveying story, it is good to talk about how they are different, and how their respective media formats shape/affect the story. Your point about action in film is very insightful. That helps me in recognizing some of the distinctions.

  3. I LOVE this. Also, the whole “action every second” and “only 90 minutes” things really only apply to the studio system (and sometimes not even that). There’s lots of independent stuff that doesn’t fit that mold.

    Sometimes movies improve on books too. I think it doesn’t happen that often, but it does happen. But most of all, you just can’t compare a book and that book’s film. Stuff that works in novel form doesn’t always work in film form, so it’s got to be changed. Not to be less rich or more action packed, but simply because if you put Ulysses on screen you’d want to claw your eyes out.

    And lastly, can you please fire whoever your kids’ godparents are and hire us? Ok thanks.

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