The Wicker Man (Paperback writer...from hell #3)
Novelizations of films are not books which ordinarily appeal to me—this might well be a failing on my part. Matt and I frequently talk on the podcast about the balance between artistic values and business when it comes to filmmaking and it seems to me that many novelizations of films exist for purely commercial reasons. In the past, novelizations of films existed (in part) to bridge the gap between cinematic and home video release—back in the mists of time when there was often a large space of time between these dates. To bridge the gap and to squeeze more money out of a title.
So why am I looking at a novelization of a film?
I’m glad you asked.
Firstly, I love The Wicker Man.
It's a wonderful and flawed film which has depth, striking moments, fantastic performances, and a lasting power. My first play* at the London Horror Festival was a loving comedy homage to the film (ending with the cast dragging me and the director from the tech box- it's fringe theatre, who else was going to tech it?- and sacrificing one of us).
My love for The Wicker Man notwithstanding, the novelization is an important part of the roundabout story of the film becoming a cult folk-horror classic. The story of The Wicker Man is one that has been told to death. A number of events occurred which resulted in the film being savagely edited (some scenes have never seen the light of day) and released as a B-movie with poor distribution. There were many reasons behind this, one of them being Peter Snell, the studio’s managing director and a big supporter of the film, being replaced by Michael Deeley. Deeley (not the only guilty party by a long way) did not give The Wicker Man the level of support that Peter Snell would have.
In 1977, when a developing distribution venture set about restoring the version of The Wicker Man Robin Hardy had made, the novelization was used to promote the film and the advance helped pay for the legal issues around restoring and re-releasing the film.
As a standalone novel, The Wicker Man is not a genre defining classic—we're not talking about something like The Exorcist or Rosemary's Baby. It does not have the power that the film has—but it is a fascinating insight into how Robin Hardy sees the characters and as a companion piece to the film. Themes and scenes are given more space—we get to spend time in Sergeant Howie’s head and go into detail over the battle between his faith and his desires.
The novel also serves as an opportunity for Robin Hardy to really go into detail over the research undertaken by himself and screenwriter Anthony Shaffer in creating The Wicker Man. They were heavily influenced by James Frazer's The Golden Bough, a study of folklore.
Another reason I wanted to talk about The Wicker Man is that there is a wonderful feel of the 70s to the descriptions—parts of Willow’s anatomy, for example, are said to have “the swollen bloomed look of fresh plums ripe for the nibbling”.
If you’re not already a fan of The Wicker Man, the novel is not going to win you over, but if you’re already a paid up member of the Summerisle appreciation society, then this is a fascinating addition to your bookcase. It will increase your appreciation for the film and its very existence highlights how it would not have been unimaginable for the wonderful film to have been lost completely.
Next up we’ll be turning our attention to Clive Barker…
If you have any suggestions about horror writers or novels we should be looking at, let us know...
*for balance, there were other much less favourable reviews! They're fairly easy to find, if you're interested...