A Walk to Remember: Essay Q&A
1. How does the 2002 movie version compare to the book?
A Walk to Remember was made into a movie in 2002, starring Mandy Moore and Shane West. There were many changes made to the story in the book, which always happens when a book is transformed into a movie. Novel and film are different artistic genres and need to be approached in different ways.
The movie was updated from the 1950s to the late 1990s. The filmmakers wanted to ensure that teenagers would go see the movie, and they decided that if it was set in the 1950s, teens would not be attracted to it. The device in the book whereby the narrator looks back to events that took place forty years ago is therefore scrapped.
Another change is in the character of Hegbert Sullivan. In the film he is still a minister, but he is much younger than the seventy-two-year-old in the book. Hegbert’s backstory is also altered. In the film the play the high school seniors put on is not Hegbert’s Christmas play; it is a drama set in the Prohibition era in the 1920s. There was no room in the movie for a subplot about how Hegbert had a crisis of faith, felt he was a bad father and wrote the autobiographical play A Christmas Angel. That would have been too much to explain during the mere 102 minutes of the movie.
There are many other changes as well, the principle ones being that Landon and his friends get into much more serious mischief than they do in the novel. In the incident with which the movie begins, they play a trick on another young man that results in him sustaining serious injury (although this is not what they intended). Jamie is still a religious young woman who wears an old cardigan and carries a Bible, but she does not wear her hair in a bun and is very pretty from the beginning. She is also a more forceful character than her literary original and can hold her own against the teasing of the others. She is unwilling to tolerate any bad behavior from Landon.
Unlike some authors who dislike how their works are treated in the movies, Nicholas Sparks has gone on record as saying he approves of the film, calling it “wonderful” (see his Website, www.nicholassparks.com).
2. Does Jamie live or die at the end of the novel?
According to Nicholas Sparks on his Website, this is the most frequent question he receives from readers. Some readers appear to have convinced themselves that Jamie lived, and make references to the text to prove their point. Based solely on the text, however, it would seem highly unlikely that Jamie should be regarded as having miraculously recovered from an illness that was judged to be fatal by all medical opinion. The last chapter shows her becoming steadily weaker. Landon has been praying for a miracle but her condition continues to deteriorate. It is true that Landon does not say explicitly that she died, but surely, had she lived, this would have been such a startling conclusion to the story that the narrator could hardly justify leaving it out? Readers who claim that Jamie lived may point to Landon’s last words, in which he says, “I now believe, by the way, that miracles can happen,” the miracle being her survival. But this seems unlikely. The miracle was simply Jamie’s presence in his life and the changes she wrought in him. If Jamie had lived, and was still Landon’s wife forty years later, would Landon really say, “I still love her, you see, and I’ve never removed my ring. In all these years I’ve never felt the desire to do so.” A man does not speak like this about a wife who is still alive. However, on his Website Sparks claims that he was unable to write about Jamie’s death and deliberately left the ending “ambiguous.” He writes, “I wanted readers to finish with the hope that Jamie lived. . . . If you wanted Jamie to live, she lived. If you knew that Jamie would die, she died.”
3. What is the relationship between Landon and Eric? Why are they friends?
Eric and Landon have known each other since kindergarten, and Landon refers to Eric as his best friend. In many ways they make unlikely friends. Eric is a jock; he is a quarterback who is captain of the football team, and he dates a cheerleader. He seems to move through life easily, and has no trouble obtaining alcohol from the local establishments, even though everyone knows he is underage. Landon, in contrast, is something of an underachiever; he doesn’t play football or excel in anything, and he is not a leader. Sometimes, also, Eric does not seem like much of a friend to Landon, endlessly teasing him, sometimes with a cruel edge, about his growing friendship with Jamie. He seems to enjoy making his friend uncomfortable. However, there is a bond between the two boys that they understand very well, even if others might not. Landon, who lacks a father, appears to look up to his more successful friend, whom he describes as the most popular boy in the school: “He was a stud. Even his name sounded cool.” And Eric does repay the affection Landon feels for him. When Landon really needs support, Eric puts his teasing aside and does whatever he can to help. For example, when Landon runs for student body president, Eric gets all the athletes to vote for him; similarly, when Eric discovers that Landon is serious about acting in the play, he gives him his full support. The bond they formed when they were very young children proves to be an enduring one.
4. Might A Walk to Remember be described as a Christian novel?
Sparks notes with some pride on his Website that A Walk to Remember was picked up by the Christian Book Club, Crossings. It is not hard to see why. The novel draws on a classic religious theme; the redemption of an unruly, secular, protagonist who does not know where he is going in life by the example of a strong Christian believer. The novel gradually changes its focus as this redemptive theme gathers force. During the first half of the novel, even though the small town of Beaufort, North Carolina, has eighteen churches, and “our lives centered around the churches” (as Landon puts it), the Reverend Hegbert Sullivan and his pious daughter Jamie are presented through the eyes of the narrator Landon Carter as unattractive, distasteful figures, the objects of ridicule and derision. This changes in the second half of the novel, however. Landon learns to respect Jamie, and then under the pressure of her fatal illness, he starts to read the Bible and develop his own faith. In the end he learns that “if you put your trust in God, you’ll be all right in the end.” This was the faith that Hegbert Sullivan tried every Sunday to instill in his congregation, and at the time Landon was not the slightest bit interested. But through Jamie he learns the truth of that assertion, and in that sense he is redeemed from his former state of ignorance. He also learns from Jamie the Christian value of forgiveness, since she holds no grudges against anyone for having treated her badly.
5. A Walk to Remember is popular, but is it good literature?
Like Sparks’s previous two novels, A Walk to Remember was a best-seller. But a popular book is not necessarily a good book. Reviewers of all Sparks’s novels are aware that he has hit on a winning formula as far as sales are concerned. As the reviewer for Booklist wrote about A Walk to Remember, “this bittersweet tale will enthrall Sparks' numerous fans and should be a big hit during the holiday season.” However, the Publishers Weekly reviewer was distinctly less enthusiastic, finding the book “simple, formulaic, and blatantly melodramatic.” This is the kind of criticism consistently made about Sparks’s novels, even though they adequately fill a segment of the book-buying public that likes to read simple love stories that do not belong in the category of “romance novel.” Specific criticisms that might be leveled at A Walk to Remember from a literary standpoint include the fact that the writing is at an eighth-grade reading level—if that—and is uninspired throughout. Just to give one example, any teacher of creative writing would wince at the vagueness of the following statement by Landon, which is supposed to express the depth of his feelings for Jamie: “I was in love, and the feeling was even more wonderful than I ever imagined it could be.” Also open to criticism are the characters and their relationships: Jamie might be seen as too good to be true, the relationship between Landon and Jamie unconvincing (given their great differences in outlook and temperament); and the dialogue also unconvincing, since teenagers do not in general speak in the manner that these characters do. Finally, the plot might be seen as predictable, with most of the “surprises” being easy to guess in advance.