“Look to the books,” the Pagemaster advises Richard Tyler in this classic film.
If you haven’t seen it, let me do a short recap. Richard Tyler (who is almost always referred to in this way, don’t ask me why) is a kid who’s afraid to take risks because of the 3% chance he’ll get hurt. When a bad storm strands him at a library, he meets the Pagemaster and is forced to prove himself in a series of tests across classic literature.
At first glance, the Pagemaster may seem like a similar character to the Narrator, what with their affinity for book magic and knowledge of the written word — but don’t be fooled. The Pagemaster and the Narrator operate in completely different ways.
The Pagemaster calls himself “The Keeper of the Books.” It’s never explicitly stated, but the gist seems to be that he’s the guardian of all the books’ characters and their stories. Sort of like a magical librarian. He effectively kidnaps Richard Tyler, drops him in the middle of the library, and tells him to head for the exit.
Thanks, Pagemaster. So helpful.
The Narrator, on the other hand, is closer to an author than a librarian. He tells stories, he doesn’t “keep” them. After he hijacks the novel, he can manipulate the setting and minor characters in an attempt to control the story’s direction. If Richard Tyler was in the Narrator’s book, he’d find a lot more “help” than he’d be comfortable with!
Other major differences between the movie and the novel:
- The Price of Fiction: In both stories, characters remove objects from books. But in The Pagemaster, there’s no cost to the character except whatever dangers are released. Good examples: the Hound of the Baskervilles, and the giant squid from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. In The Narrator, there’s a much higher cost.
- Readers: Richard Tyler isn’t a character, he’s a reader. A respected one, at that, once he proves his identity with his library card. The Narrator has no such character running around.
- Fate vs. Free Will: Richard Tyler’s presence changes the story he’s visiting, but some things are still predestined. For instance, he takes Jim Hawkins’ place in Treasure Island, but Long John Silver still manages to escape in a rowboat.
- Books as Characters: There are three characters in The Pagemaster that are physical books. The Narrator doesn’t have anything like this.
- Traveling Between Books: All of the stories in The Pagemaster exist next to each other in some weird quilt-like universe. Gulliver’s Travels is a hop, skip, and a jump away from Treasure Island. In Narrator, these stories would be self-contained worlds, and you wouldn’t be able to jump directly from one to the other.
Hopefully, this has been a good illustration of differences in book magic and literature-themed stories. I have more examples lined up, so stay tuned!
Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.