“The book was better than the movie” is a common enough statement whenever films are adapted from novels, and the same holds true for the ‘Bag of Bones’ miniseries than ran last week on A&E. Those who didn’t see the show can check out my recaps of Part One and Part Two if they’re interested. You don’t need to in order to read this article, but it might help a little bit in terms of comparisons. I’ll do my best to give you the highlight reel of the differences between the two formats. Believe me, they are legion. Let us know in the comments if you noticed anything else I may have missed. Here are the difference I found:
Difference: How Mike and Johanna bought Sara Laughs/Mike’s connection to TR-90
In the book, Mike and Jo purchase the cabin in Western Maine from Marie Hinnerman in the 1980s. In the miniseries, Mike inherits the cabin from his grandfather Harold.
Verdict: Mike was already related to Harry Auster, one of the men who raped and killed Sara Tidwell in the book. The only reason Harold Noonan was created (Paul was book Mike’s grandfather) is because the scriptwriters had to change the characters when they made Max Devore the central rapist of Sara.
Difference: How Johanna Noonan dies.
In the book, Jo Noonan dies from an undiagnosed brain aneurysm. She’s standing outside a Rite Aid in Derry, Maine, when a construction vehicle crashes into a car driven by two elderly women. Upon witnessing this, and starting toward the accident, Jo collapses when a blood vessel bursts in her brain. By contrast, the miniseries has her dying after she gets struck by a bus in Mike’s presence. This is also done so in the arms of her husband, Mike, when in the book he only identifies her body on a TV screen after the fact.
Verdict: This sensationalizes Jo’s death, which I can understand for dramatic purposes. Having her die from a brain aneurysm isn’t as visually shocking as watching her get hit by a bus.
Difference: The “trunk novel” that Mike publishes and its location
In the miniseries, Mike pulls out a book called The Red-Shirt Man and sends it to his agent for publication. He pulls it out of a cabinet in his office. In the book, The Red-Shirt Man has already been published. It’s a series of four books, stretched out over four years, that Mike sends off to his agent Harold Oblowski for publication. The one that everyone’s talking about up in TR-90 is actually called Helen’s Promise. These books are removed from a safe deposit box at a bank.
Verdict: I don’t really understand this change in the title of the book. The location change I get, because a bank would be another set, but the title change makes no sense.
Difference: When Mike leaves for TR-90
In the book, Mike puts around for four years moving listlessly through his life in Derry. He doesn’t leave for Sara Laughs in TR-90 until the summer of 1998, four years after Jo’s death-by-aneurysm. In the miniseries, however, Mike leaves for TR-90 approximately two weeks after Jo dies.
Verdict: This moves us from the bridging conflict quicker. In the book, it takes about 100 to 150 pages before Mike leaves for TR-90. There’s a lot of internal struggle, but the miniseries can’t do that.
Difference: The dreams
In the book, Mike dreams about Sara Laughs and a monstrous Shape that rushes out of the house at him. His dream about Jo is also different; she’s lying under the bed, grabs a book from him, and lays it over her face. In the miniseries, he dreams of Jo lying stretched out under the bed before she’s dragged away screaming. His dream of Sara Laughs is also different, and involves a telephone ringing from inside a coffin.
Verdict: Another change I don’t get. The dream of Jo in the book was scary as all hell, and I think the dream of the Shape was more terrifying than the phone ringing.
Difference: How and when the spirits communicate
In the miniseries, Jo communicates with Mike almost immediately after her death by having the phone ring once in the house. The “once for yes, twice for no,” statement is made at the Noonan home in Derry, Maine. In the book, the “once for yes, twice for no,” statement isn’t made until Mike steps into a cellar and hears something thudding around beneath him. This is well into the book, incidentally, and is done after the set-up for TR-90.
Verdict: A cellar would’ve meant another set, so I can understand why they cut it. The “once for yes, twice for no,” business being condensed is also understandable due to time constraints.
Difference: The introduction of Sara Laughs
In the book, Mike arrives at the house well after Bill Dean and Brenda Meserve have already had their hand at cleaning it up. We’re treated to narration about the setting of the house and Bunter’s bell itself. Meanwhile in the miniseries, Bill meets Mike at the door of the house and we get informed about what it meant to be “ringing Bunter’s bell.” Brenda also hasn’t shown up yet to clean the house, when in the book it’s been done well before Mike even shows up.
Verdict: Meeting Bill and Brenda the way we do in the miniseries condenses a lot of action. It’s an understandable change, if one I don’t agree with.
Difference: Mike’s deposition
In the book, Mike hires two lawyers — John Storrow and Romeo Bissonette — to help represent both he and Mattie Devore in the custody battle for Kyra. John and Romeo are fairly pivotal side characters given that their influence helps things go Mattie’s way with getting custody of Kyra. Neither of these characters exists in the miniseries though, and Mike is shown to dance around Elmer Durgin by himself. Also: Max Devore and Rogette Whitmore were never at Mike’s deposition in the book.
Verdict: It’s more dramatic to show Mike beating Elmer Durgin alone, I suppose. However Romeo and John were both very well-drawn characters and it seems a shame to let them go.
Difference: The age of Kyra Devore
In the book, Kyra Devore is a precocious 3-year-old that Mike meets while she’s walking the double line in the middle of the road. In the miniseries, she’s a precocious 8 year old that Mike meets in much the same way.
Verdict: I imagine this was done because the production team felt a 3-year-old wouldn’t stay still enough to act. This was a convenience change; nothing more.
Difference: Lance Devore’s death
In the book, Lance Devore dies when he falls off a ladder during a lightning storm. In the miniseries, Mattie kills him because he’s trying to drown Kyra and fulfill Sara’s urges to kill.
Verdict: This is by far one of the silliest changes made to the story. It’s more dramatic, sure, but it completely changes the tone of the story.
Difference: The dream of the fair
In the book, Mike comes upon the Fryeburg Fair at the turn of the 20th Century while Sara and the Red-Tops perform for the locals. When Kyra shows up, they flee Jared Devore and his cronies by going through a Ghost House. In the miniseries, Mike and Kyra hide from Max Devore and company in the upper floor of a barn.
Verdict: I don’t understand the lack of the Ghost House, unless it came down to monetary concerns about how to do it.
Difference: Sara Tidwell’s curse
In the book, Sara’s curse works by killing every child whose name starts with a K or a C, such as Carla Dean, Kerry Auster, and others; it doesn’t matter if they’re a boy or a girl. In the miniseries, Sara’s curse is that the descendants of the men who raped her will murder their daughters.
Verdict: This was another change that didn’t need to be made. Why couldn’t the curse be boys and girls? Why did it have to be only daughters?
Difference: When Sara Tidwell and her child lived and died
In the book, Sara Tidwell and the Red-Tops lived around the turn of the 20th Century in Tidwell’s Meadow near Sara Laughs. Sara’s death happened in 1901, when she was raped by Fred Dean, Jared Devore, Harry Auster, and three other men. The child who’s drowned in the lake is Kito Tidwell, Sara’s son. This happened after the Fryeburg Fair.
In the miniseries, Sara Tidwell sings in 1939 at the Dark Score Fair. The men who rape and kill her are Max Devore, Harold Noonan, and three other men. The child who dies is Keisha Tidwell, which is the only way the makers of the TV series can argue for a curse on killing daughters only.
Verdict: I’m struggling to understand this change. Why move the pivotal event forward in time 38 years? Max Devore was going to be an evil jerk no matter what, so it made no sense to tie him back to Sara Tidwell any other way than through his great-grandfather. The addition of Harold Noonan, Mike’s grandfather, to the mix also didn’t need to happen.
Difference: The location of the plastic owls
In the book, the owls are located under the studio in a little crawlspace. When Mike finds them near the end of the book, he discovers a box of “Jo’s Notions” full of newspaper clippings about Sara and the Red-Tops and what happened in 1901. In the miniseries, the owls are located above the studio among a collection of books about Dark Score Lake history.
Verdict: I fail to see why the location switch of the owls. The discovery of the figures near the end of the story is a highly dramatic moment, and it loses its impact in the miniseries allowing Mike to find them when he does.
Difference: The lye
In the book, Mike purchases a container of lye from a garden store and keeps it in his car. In the miniseries, Mike discovers a bag of lye stored in the ceiling of Jo’s studio with the owls.
Verdict: How Mike got the lye isn’t really important, so I’ve got no problems with this change.
Difference: The death of Bill Dean and Buddy Jellison
In the miniseries, Bill Dean and Buddy Jellison crash into the Warrington’s sign while chasing Kyra and Mike. In the book, neither one of them dies and in fact Bill doesn’t go anywhere near Mike during the climactic final showdown. All Buddy Jellison does is sit in a car so Sara can draw on his psychic energy.
Verdict: Sure, having Bill and Buddy die like this might be more dramatic, but it didn’t really add anything to the story.
Difference: The Final Battle
In the book, Jo physically battles with Sara while Mike digs for the bodies. In the miniseries, Jo simply shouts at Sara and the tree thing stays away.
Verdict: The final battle in the book is way more dramatic than the miniseries. I don’t know why they didn’t script that out, except I suppose it was quicker the miniseries way.
Difference: The Death of Rogette Whitmore
In the book, Rogette Whitmore dies with a wooden splinter jammed up her nose after a fight with Mike on the dock of the Sunset Bar (part of Warrington’s). In the miniseries, Mike stabs her in the neck while in the upstairs bathroom of Sara Laughs.
Verdict: The book scene would’ve been epic to see scripted out. It offers a lot of high drama, especially given the fact Kyra is arguing with Rogette the entire time.
Difference: Rogette as Max’s caretaker
In the miniseries, Rogette is seen as almost romantically involved with Max. The kiss right before she helps him kill himself makes sense in that context. In the book, however, Rogette is actually the twin sister of Max’s child Roger. So yeah … squicktastic huh?
Verdict: I suppose this got changed for the sake of time. I don’t think it was a good change at all though.
That sums up the differences worth mentioning between the miniseries and the book, ‘Bag of Bones’. It should come as no surprise that the book was leagues better than the movie; most likely because we get the internal struggle of Mike Noonan to enjoy. I really feel like ‘Bag of Bones’ would’ve done better as a 13-episode TV series along the lines of ‘Kingdom Hospital’ as opposed to a 4-hour miniseries.