From Page to Screen: Longmire

Overall Thoughts on the Television Show

Longmire is an interesting approach to adapting a book series. Television shows that are based on books abound today, and there is always a lot of debate on how closely they stick to the source material and even whether or not they should.

I don’t necessarily think an adaptation needs to be faithful to its source material if there are valid reasons for making changes (and there often are because telling a story on TV is different from telling a story in a book). But I realize a lot of people do not feel that way, and I would also be lying if I said seemingly pointless changes in adaptations didn’t irritate me.

Last year, I read an article that I found quite thought-provoking. It argued that the best literary adaptations of shows were not straight-up adaptations but rather those that invoked the spirit of the source material while pursuing a different narrative. According to the article, shows that focus on adapting one book per season–like Game of Thrones and Outlander–inevitably set themselves up for difficulty simply because they alienate book fans when they deviate from the plot, but they also alienate show-only fans when they stick too closely to material that does not fit the medium of television or just to weaker parts of the original books.

The article doesn’t address this, but I think one of the problems too is television adaptations usually start off very faithful to the original source in the first season or two to garner support from book fans. It makes sense for producers to do that, but it inevitably, in my opinion, just makes the backlash even worse when they start deviating from the source text in later seasons. Fans by then have become used to a faithful adaptation and begin to get angry when the show’s powers-that-be seem to be destroying the story.

The show Longmire side-steps all of these issues nicely by avoiding being a straight-up adaptation but still carrying over elements from the books.

So, in the first episode of the series, Walt is still a man grieving his wife’s death–in this version, he has only been a widower for a year–and contending with various issues about town. And a dead body is found with ties to problems on the reservation and the murder weapon is still a Sharps rifle, but the names of the characters are different, the details of the case are different, and the culprit is also different.

That’s a bold decision to make in the first episode of a show adapted from a popular book series, but it lets fans know right away that it is not going to be a word-for-word adaptation. Indeed, I can’t really remember any scene that was drawn directly from the book. Nevertheless, it still worked remarkably well as an adaptation of the book, and it also worked really well on its own as an enjoyable hour of television.

Part of that is Robert Taylor makes an excellent Longmire. He’s not as overtly funny as the book character, but he is charismatic and fits the role nicely.

One change I found especially interesting is, in the book, Longmire’s home is a wreck. Like, it should probably be condemned as a health hazard. I am not a domestic paragon of virtue, but even my standards of cleanliness were offended by his home. The Longmire of the show has some clutter issues, but he is much tidier. I noticed a similar change in The Girl on the Train. Are movie/television characters not allowed to be as unsanitary? Are people working on adaptations afraid they would alienate audiences by depicting a nasty house? Do they just not want to spend the time and money on the set to make the house filthy? I don’t know, but I am a fan of the change. I actually started laughing manically when Walt’s show daughter complained to him about the state of his house. Be nice to your old man, Cady! If you saw your book dad’s house, you would run screaming into the hills.

I actually didn’t enjoy the supporting characters in the television show as much as I did in the book. The tensions between them were also amplified quite a bit from the source text, but I am willing to forgive that because the show only has 50 minutes to introduce all these folks and the book had 350 pages to do the same thing. I suspect watching more of the show would help in this regard since the show really has more time to expand on these people than the book does but can only do so in much smaller chunks of time.

The show feels quicker-paced, which is inevitable given that it had to pare away several subplots to fit the story within the amount of time it had. But it also establishes right away that this show is more than just about murders and crime-solving. Like the books, it is going to delve into Walt’s personal life and work life outside of mysteries. (Another reason why I think it made sense to amplify the drama going on around him. Since they have a shorter time frame for telling their story, it would be hard to introduce all of these elements and be subtle about it.)

I actually liked the change in the mystery. Even though I had read the book, I had no idea who the culprit was, and I liked that. By evoking the book but not feeling obligated to present that specific mystery, the show actually manages to keep readers guessing rather than just checking off which scenes made it in to the adaptation and which didn’t. I also thought the ending/resolution for this mystery was a lot less off-the-wall than the original in the book, which I appreciated.

The Verdict

I am going to officially call this a draw. I really enjoyed both the book and the show but for entirely different reasons. I think both benefit from having Walt Longmire as a main character, but I think the book does a better job of fleshing out the supporting cast of characters. However, I think the show does a better job of handling the mystery aspect of the story.

I also just really like that the two series are obviously connected but can be enjoyed separately. If you’re a reader of the mysteries, you are still surprised by the turn they take in the show. If you’re a viewer of the show, you are still surprised by the way cases unfold in the book.

Recommended reading for those who enjoy C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett novels.

Recommended viewing for those who enjoyed Justified.

As always, if you’re interested in either the Longmire books or the show, just check out this link to our online catalog for more information. Craig Johnson is coming back to Carroll County this year.  Catch him on May 21 at this year’s Books in Bloom!

Are you a Longmire fan? How do you feel about adaptations that don’t follow the source material? Will you be going to hear Craig talk at Books in Bloom? Tell us in the comments!


Author: berryvillelibrary

"Our library, our future"

One thought on “From Page to Screen: Longmire”

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