Do film images on book covers limit our imagination?

It is a truth universally acknowledged by book lovers (with apologies to Jane Austen) that it is always best to read the book before you see the movie.

Which begs the question: does the movie key art on the book cover or seeing the movie first rob our imagination of creating the characters—of seeing them in our own mind’s eye?

I devoured Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and loved it, so I then rushed off to see the movie with Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck, and who doesn’t love Rosamund and Ben? I did the same with Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief.

I’m sure most book lovers will tell you, the book is always better. Maybe for the obvious reason that it captures the full story, not just a two-hour version of the tale or maybe it is because we paint the picture with our imagination, whereas with a film, we see that which lies in the director’s imagination.

I would be surprised to find any person who has read a Stephen King horror book and liked the movie better. Why? Because wasn’t Pennywise in the book IT much scarier in your imagination? I still can’t pass a drain without hearing “we all float down here”. Okay, I agree Pennywise was pretty scary in the movie too. And did you not find your mind’s version of Pet Cemetery more terrifying than the film?

It is impossible to read the Twilight series without picturing Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson in the leading roles of Isabella Swan and Edward Cullen, and Taylor Lautner as Jacob Black.  Of course the opposite applies to the Fifty Shades of Grey series as we all read the book first and now the movie imagery on the cover is picking up the stragglers.

One exception for me was Interview with the Vampire which I discovered as the movie first and then went on to read nearly everything Anne Rice had ever penned. But do you remember Anne Rice’s reaction to the casting of the tall, blonde Vampire Lestat? “I was particularly stunned by the casting of Cruise, who is no more my Vampire Lestat than Edward G. Robinson is Rhett Butler,” she said of dark, short Cruise. But wasn’t Cruise wonderful? Anne agreed and when she saw the finished product, she wrote, “From the moment he appeared, Tom was Lestat for me.”

But this brings me to my point about movie tie-in book covers (you didn’t think I was going to get there, right?) When I read the Vampire series, I read it with Tom Cruise as my Lestat because I had the movie imagery in my head. So it was not the Lestat I created in my imagination, or that Anne created for me with her description of a six foot tall protagonist with blond, curly hair and gray eyes. I am happy to report however, that in my research I couldn’t find a book cover that featured the movie image, so that’s promising. Let me know if you have. So does the movie key art on the book cover or seeing the movie first ruin or affect our reading experience? 

Of course if my books were made into films I would be beyond excited to have the film image on the cover … they might attract more interest that way. But as a reader, I dislike it. I want to create my version of the characters. What do you think?