This post started as a book review; but it quickly ventures into compare-contrast essay. You’ve been warned…
There’s always an inherent risk in basing a movie on a book. Around 99% of the time, the book is better than the movie. This is typically because the book goes into more detail. Most major motion pictures today generally run from 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours. Some of the outliers go as long as three hours. In order to fit into that timeframe, certain characters, situations or even entire subplots have to be cut from the film version
For people who read a book version of a story, then see the movie later, they’re often disappointed by what they see on screen. As readers, we develop our own vision of the characters, how they speak, and how they act.
Conversely, I had seen Field of Dreams dozens of times before reading Shoeless Joe. Instinctively, I wanted to envision Ray Kinsella as Kevin Costner. As much as I try to un-train my brain otherwise, when I read some of the narrator‘s long, metaphor riddled descriptions, I can hear them being delivered in same nearly-monotone voice that Kevin Costner delivers lines with in the movie.
The gist of Shoeless Joe and Field of Dreams is the same: Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella hears a voice at compels him to build a baseball field in the middle of his Iowa farm. In both stories, he is questioned and ridiculed for this seemingly irrational behavior. Eventually builds a field and it is visited by the ghosts of the 1919 Chicago White Sox and eventually his father.
Shoeless Joe Isn’t built so much the climactic reveal of Ray’s dad as it is on creating a rapturous moment for author JD Salinger. In the movie, Salinger is replaced with fictional author Terrence Mann, memorably portrayed by James Earl Jones. The novel also includes a subplot with Ray’s twin brother. In addition, Ray also brings another guest to his field, Eddie Scissons, the previous owner of Ray’s farm.
The film Field of Dreams is built upon the dynamic of father and son. The reveal of the White Sox catcher as Ray’s father is actually the film’s climax. The big reveal, and the tear-jerking game of catch between Ray and his dad prove to be the reason why Ray was chosen to build this baseball field The novel reverses the order of events with JD Salinger/Terrence Mann’s departure into the cornfield serving as both of the finale and the reason for Ray’s constructing the baseball diamond.
Is Shoeless Joe a better story than a Field of Dreams? I don’t know that it is. Furthermore, I don’t know if I can give an unbiased assessment of the two. I’ve been watching Field of dreams for the last 30 years and I’ve only read the novel once. Personally, I like the movie better. I like the focus on the father-son dynamic, that The novel only touches down upon briefly. I do like Kinsella‘s use of imagery and metaphors that he showers the book with. It has made me curious about reading another one of his books.
I think the fairest assessment I can make would be to say that Field of Dreams and Shoeless Joe are essentially two different stories. While they have the same plot, the subplots, themes and motifs run a bit deeper the novel. That’s not necessarily a good or bad thing, but it is different.