HELP! Should I read or watch, first, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy?

by A Latter-day Bluestocking

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (film)

I have just watched an HBO First Look about the film Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre and am immensely intrigued.  The story seems so fascinating and the acting so superb that not only do I want to see the film but I also want to read the book.  I vaguely remember the television mini-series in 1979 that starred Alec Guinness and an even vaguer memory that perhaps one or both of my parents read the book.  I do remember that at the time I had absolutely no interest in the mini-series or the book.  Spy thrillers are not my favorite genre; they are too modern, too slick for my “stuck in the 19th century” sensibility and besides, Alec Guinness was Obi-Wan Kenobi and my child’s mind despaired of seeing him portray anyone else.

So here’s my dilemma, do I read the book first or see the film while it’s still in theaters?  Normally, I am a stickler for reading the book.  Mostly because the book is always better but also because I do not want to be influenced by another’s vision of the story.  This was not always the case.  As a child, I was mostly introduced to books after watching the film or Masterpiece Theater adaptation.  Films such as The Lord of the Rings (1978), Brideshead Revisited (1981),  A Room With a View (1985), The Razor’s Edge (1984), Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1981), and Out of Africa (1985) were all seen before I read the book and were my introduction to authors I had never heard of.  Looking back,it is apparent that the film adaptations of the late 70s and early 80s shaped my literary interests.  I devoured the books that had been adapted and influenced my interest in other books by the same authors (Maugham, Tolkien, Forster, Dinesen, Lawrence) which further led me to other writers, mostly English.  Masterpiece Theater was literally very English-oriented and my Anglophilia may have developed at this time or been enhanced by it.  I rarely deigned to read American books or contemporary literature and instead dived into the worlds of Dickens, the Brontes, Greene, and Doyle.

As I developed my literary interests I became fastidious about reading the book first.  If I knew a film based on a book (I was interested in) was to be released I would rush to the library to check out the book and race to finish it.  I was always very disappointed in the films.  No screen re-working of a novel can perceive the nuances of the written work.  Although as I have matured I realize that choices are necessary when making a book into a movie and that sometimes a film can be very successful despite not being accurate to the book but capture the mood, atmosphere, or character of the book.  I appreciate this now and enjoy contemplating the screenwriter’s choices.

Cover of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"

Cover of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

But all this does not answer my initial question, should I read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or watch it?  I am leaning towards reading it first, old habits die very hard and I am somewhat inflexible on this.  But I also think that in this instance, it being a genre that I am not overly fond of, that seeing the movie first may pique my interest and enhance my reading experience.  I can’t make up my mind!  So I will ask you, reader, what should I do??  Read or watch??

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