Where Lorna Doone meets The Godfather, & The War of the Worlds.

Go on, admit it, my title has intrigued you, at least a little, hasn’t it?

No, this isn’t a review of a new ‘mash-up’ novel, though I’d be quite interested to see how ‘girt* Jan Ridd’ and his family would measure up to an alien invasion. I’ve not been impressed by his dealings with the Doone ‘gang’, who have been robbing, raping and pillaging the Exmoor neighbourhood for decades, while everyone shrugs and says, ‘Well, what do you expect? Poor things, loosing that rich estate in Scotland, then being banished by the King, it’s not surprising they’re bitter.’

Several of my reading groups have seen parallels with Francis Ford Coppola’s, The Godfather. Sir Ensor, the patriarch of the Doones, like Vito Corleone, is a traditionalist who demands respect and is supported by a crooked lawyer, in this case, his son, ‘The Councillor’.

The Councillor’s son, Carver, is evil. He’s the distillation of all the bitterness in Sir Ensor and The Councillor. Of course, we only see any of these characters through the eyes of our narrator, John (aka Jan) Ridd, who is competing with Carver for Lorna. Despite John’s repeated assurances about his own honesty, I can’t help feeling that there may be some bias in the story he’s telling.

Carver, as his nickname might suggest, lacks the subtlety or charm of Michael Corleone. What he has in spades, is muscle and ambition, oh, and wives. Yes, your read me right, it turns out that Carver has so far strayed from the path of respectability that when the den of thieves finally is challenged, he is discovered to be keeping ‘ten or a dozen‘ wives – so many in fact, John can’t be exact. As for the children, there’s no attempt to count them!

In suggesting these parallels I’m not claiming that Mario Puzo once read Lorna Doone, though I wish I could have asked him. These are outlaw stories, and it could be argued that both rely on stereotypes. I do, however, wonder if Puzo ever saw one of the film versions. His novel, The Godfather, was published in 1969. Four of the six Lorna Doone films had been made by then, and one of the two series for the BBC.

I’ve seen extracts of all except the 1912 and 1963 versions, which don’t seem to exist any more. The rest seem, to me, to say as much about the decade they have been produced in as they do about the original they draw from. That’s not so surprising. To convey all of the events and nuances of this hefty novel would take more hours than have yet been given to it.

Lorna Doone has also been adapted for stage and radio. As has, HG Wells’ novel, The War of The Worlds.

I’ve been watching the latest screen version of that, on the BBC (it finished last night), for the last three weeks. The selling point, for yet another remake, was the claim that it kept closer to the book than others had.

I’m not so sure that’s true, but I’ve enjoyed it. As I have every other version I’ve watched, despite (or maybe because of) the liberties taken.

Wikipedia lists 10 direct screen adaptations, and 14 for radio (including the famous 1938 Orson Welles version). Add to that the musical interpretations (Jeff Wayne’s was not the only one), plus numerous comic books and sequels, that’s a lot of inspiring.

There was no implied criticism in wondering why the story was getting another incarnation, only curiosity. I was reminded that someone funded the 2000 Lorna Doone film only ten years after the previous version had been made. Even in these fast moving times, that surely counts as being within living memory. So,why?

Well, I have a theory. I think both novels foreground plot rather than character. Maybe those kinds of stories leave more room for the adapter, or even the well-known actors.

* Girt: dialect version of great – meaning ‘large’ or ‘very big’.

20 thoughts on “Where Lorna Doone meets The Godfather, & The War of the Worlds.

      • Oh they are very interesting to read about. There’s a grand bit in one of the documents about how they were had up in court for causing illegal distress to their neighbours. That is the actual wording. As you sort of read it and start wondering..ooh what could this be as in today’s terms? Well, it then goes on to describe how they murdered this neighbour, kidnapped his widow, forced her to marry one of them to get the lands. So this obviously constituted an illegal distress to a neighbour in these days. They then caused further illegal distress by taking out half the posse that was sent to bring them in. These were but two distresses n a catalogue of distresses.

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  1. I’m curious, though I admit Lorna Doone is one i never heard about – if I did, I can’t remember πŸ™‚ but to compare it with Mario Puzzo, tha’ts intriguing. I do own all three godfather books, but i only read halfway through the first. But on another note, I do believe our subconscious do remember things we don’t, so maybe Mario did watch or read Lorna Doone and similarities appeared in his writing.

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    • My theory is un-provable, of course, but I do like tracking down possible literary links. And, I’ve never tried the Godfather books, I’m going purely on a sketchy acquaintance with the films. One of these days perhaps I’ll track them down and have a look for myself, though you don’t fill me with hope…

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  2. Lorna Doone – Meh! War of the Worlds – love it. What an intriguing idea you’ve put forward – LD as a outline prototype for the Godfather. I think you may now have set of a very slow train of thought (it’s cold here at the mo) refelcting on other possible pairings. Don’t do this to me Cath – I’m in full edit mode, brain bursting.
    It does make you wonder though what criteria producers etc use when deciding to do a remake.

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    • Apologies, Sheila, it was one of those eureka moments that is probably completely bonkers, yet it helped me to make sense of a book that I’ve been struggling with. Sorry to have muddied your water, it was a conclusion that helped me to settle mine.
      I hope the editing is going well, such a satisfying occupation.

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  3. Your final thoughts somehow reminded me of Henry James: “β€œWhat is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?” Also, Raymond Chandler: “If your plot is flagging, have a man come in with a gun.

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  4. Oh heavens, just look at Spiderman. Sony will keep rebooting that character’s films no matter how recent the last reincarnation was for the sole sake of holding onto the copyright. Hmmm…could this be the same situation for War of the Worlds and Lorna Doone? Ten years does sound like a sort of contract time….anyhoo, did you dig the latest of War of the Worlds? I’ve always enjoyed that story. πŸ™‚ Hope you had a lovely Christmas, and will have a lovely new year! xxxxxx

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    • Very much enjoyed War of the Worlds, thank you, Jean. Not sure about copyright, my instinct would be to assume that both remained with their authors, and ran out years ago. I’ve had a lovely Christmas, thank you. Happy New Year to you, too. xxxxx

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