I want to assume everyone has seen the 1985 classic, Brewster’s Millions, with Richard Pryor and John Candy. If you haven’t, by all means, do so; it’s a great film. But I have to confess: even though I’ve seen this film numerous times in the last thirty years, I never read the credits, until a month ago, when I discovered the story was based on the 1902 book by George Barr McCutcheon.
As a fan of films adapted from books, I had to look it up. It was late when I saw this, so I reminded myself to look it up the next day when I got up and I went to bed. I promptly forgot and it was another couple of days before I remembered that there was something I wanted to remember. Then it was another couple of days before I remembered what I was trying to remember. I bought the audiobook and listened to it and was pleasantly surprised. For a book that was written over one hundred years ago, it was really entertaining. Obviously the 1985 film was updated to reflect the time in which it was set, but even in the original story, where Monty has to spend only $1,000,000 to inherit $7,000,000, a paltry sum by today’s standards, the challenges were thoughtful and the characters likeable.
The book wasn’t without its issues: it had one instance of the n-word, a reference to black people as ‘darkies’, and the heroine of the story was a little annoying with her ‘weaker sex’ dependence on the hero, but all that is a reflection of the time it was written. Overall, it was a charming and enjoyable book. And I think that’s the part that surprises me most: I love the gothic horror novels of yore (Frankenstein, Dracula, Carmilla, etc.) but I was never a fan of classics as a whole (you know, for my generation, all the old books they made you read in school). There were some authors I enjoyed reading, like Jules Verne, Mark Twain and Edgar Rice Burroughs, but I never really liked others like Laura Ingalls, Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austin or Charlotte Bronte. Seeing this, I’ve come to realize that my tastes weren’t what I thought they were: it’s not the classics I had an aversion to, I just prefer adventure books, stories of epic proportions, with characters and stories that are larger than life.
You’ll notice that my list is decidedly testosterone-heavy, but again, I think that too is a reflection of the times. Maybe women didn’t write adventures, but what they knew: family and love. Or maybe I need to get out more and expand my reading list from the late 1800s to early 1900s to include women writers – suggestions are welcome. Regardless, I’m an avid believer that we can’t write off the old books just because they’re old. Their stories may be dated, but there’s value in them now just as there was back then.