25 Animations of Great Literary Works: From Plato, Dostoevsky & Dickinson, to Kafka, Hemingway & Bradbury

Over the years, we’ve featured a large number of literary works that have been wonderfully re-imagined by animators. Rather than leaving these works buried in the archives, we’re bringing them back and putting them all on display. And what better place to start than with a foundational text — Plato’s Republic. We were tempted to show you a claymation version of the seminal philosophical work (watch here), but we decided to go instead with Orson Welles’ 1973 narration of The Cave Allegory, which features the surreal artistic work of Dick Oden.

Staying with the Greeks for another moment … This one may have Sophocles and Aeschylus spinning in their graves. Or, who knows, perhaps they would have enjoyed this bizarre twist on the Oedipus myth. Running eight minutes, Jason Wishnow’s 2004 film features vegetables in the starring roles.

http://rcm-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/cm?o=1&p=12&l=ur1&category=audible&banner=1KNMQ6Z91A8KDJ552HG2&f=ifr&lc=pf4&linkID=71b928b0f5e8aaaedd1e4fcd5612159c&t=openculture-20&tracking_id=openculture-20One of the first stop-motion films shot with a digital still camera, Oedipus took two years to make with a volunteer staff of 100. The film has since been screened at 70+ film festivals and was eventually acquired by the Sundance Channel. Separate videos show you the behind-the-scenes making of the film, plus the storyboards used during production.

Eight years before Piotr Dumala tackled Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the Russian animator produced a short animated film based on The Diaries of Franz Kafka. Once again, you can see his method, known as “destructive animation,” in action. It’s well worth the 16 minutes. Or you can spend time with this 2007 Japanese animation of Kafka’s cryptic tale of “A Country Doctor.” And if you’re still hankering for animated Kafka, don’t miss The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa (Caroline Leaf’s sand animation from 1977) and also Orson Welles’ narration of the Parable, “Before the Law.” The latter film was made by Alexander Alexeieff and Claire Parker, who using a technique called pinscreen animation, created a longer film adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s story, “The Nose.” You can view it here.

The animated sequence above is from the 1974 film adaptation of Herman Hesse’s 1927 novel SteppenwolfIn this scene, the Harry Haller character played by Max von Sydow reads from the “Tractate on the Steppenwolf.” The visual imagery was created by Czech artist Jaroslav Bradác.

In 1999, Aleksandr Petrov won the Academy Award for Short Film (among other awards) for a film that follows the plot line of Ernest Hemingway’s classic novella,The Old Man and the Sea (1952). As noted here, Petrov’s technique involves painting pastels on glass, and he and his son painted a total of 29,000 images for this work. (For another remarkable display of their talents, also watch his adaptation of Dostoevsky’s “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man”.The Old Man and the Sea is permanently listed in our collection of Oscar Winning Films Available Online and our collection of 1150 Free Movies Online.

Italo Calvino, one of Italy’s finest postwar writers, published Italian Folktales in 1956, a series of 200 fairy tales based sometimes loosely, sometimes more strictly, on stories from a great folk tradition. Upon the collection’s publication, The New York Times named Italian Folktales one of the ten best books of the year. And more than a half century later, the stories continue to delight. Case in point: in 2007, John Turturro, the star of numerous Coen brothers and Spike Lee films, began working on Fiabe italiane, a play adapted from Calvino’s collection of fables. The animated video above features Turturro reading “The False Grandmother,” Calvino’s reworking of Little Red Riding Hood. Kevin Ruelle illustrated the clip, which was produced as part of Flypmedia’s more extensive coverage of Turturro’s adaptation. You can find another animation of a Calvino story (The Distance of the Moon) here.

Emily Dickinson’s poetry is widely celebrated for its beauty and originality. To celebrate her birthday (it just recently passed us by) we bring you this little film of her poem, “I Started Early–Took My Dog,” from the “Poetry Everywhere” series by PBS and the Poetry Foundation. The poem is animated by Maria Vasilkovsky and read by actress Blair Brown.

E.B. White, beloved author of Charlotte’s WebStuart Little, and the classic English writing guide The Elements of Style, died in 1985. Not long before his death, he agreed to narrate an adaptation of “The Family That Dwelt Apart,” a touching story he wrote for The New Yorker. The 1983 film was animated by the Canadian director Yvon Malette, and it received an Oscar nomination.

Shel Silverstein wrote The Giving Tree in 1964, a widely loved children’s book now translated into more than 30 languages. It’s a story about the human condition, about giving and receiving, using and getting used, neediness and greediness, although many finer points of the story are open to interpretation. Today, we’re rewinding the videotape to 1973, when Silverstein’s little book was turned into a 10 minute animated film. Silverstein narrates the story himself and also plays the harmonica.

During the Cold War, one American was held in high regard in the Soviet Union, and that was Ray Bradbury. A handful of Soviet animators demonstrated their esteem for the author by adapting his short stories. Vladimir Samsonov directed Bradbury’s Here There Be Tygers, which you can see above. And here you can see another adaptation of “There Will Come Soft Rains.”

The online bookseller Good Books created an animated mash-up of the spirits of Franz Kafka and Hunter S. Thompson. Under a bucket hat, behind aviator sunglasses, and deep into an altered mental state, our narrator feels the sudden, urgent need for a copy of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Unwilling to make the purchase in “the great river of mediocrity,” he instead makes the buy from “a bunch of rose-tinted, willfully delusional Pollyannas giving away all the money they make — every guilt-ridden cent.” The animation, created by a studio called Buck, should easily meet the aesthetic demands of any viewer in their own altered state or looking to get into one.

39 Degrees North, a Beijing motion graphics studio, started developing an unconventional Christmas card several years ago. And once they got going, there was no turning back. Above, we have the end result – an animated version of an uber dark Christmas poem (read text here) written by Neil Gaiman, the bestselling author of sci-fi and fantasy short stories. The poem was published in Gaiman’s collection, Smoke and Mirrors.

This collaboration between filmmaker Spike Jonze and handbag designer Olympia Le-Tan doesn’t bring a particular literary tale to life. Rather this stop motion film uses 3,000 pieces of cut felt to show famous books springing into motion in the iconic Parisian bookstore, Shakespeare and Company. It’s called  Mourir Auprès de Toi.

Other notables include: a two minute take on Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita; a 1977 experimental adaptation of The Rime of the Ancient Marinerwhich marries the classic engravings of Gustave Doré to an Orson Welles narration; and “Beer,” a mind-warping animation of Charles Bukowski’s 1971 poem honoring his favorite drink.

Are there impressive literary animations that didn’t make our list? Please let us know in the comments below. We’d love to know about them.


Canadian professor discovers what could be only footage of Marcel Proust

Black-and-white film shows man who could be French writer at wedding of daughter of one of Proust’s close friends, says Jean-Pierre Sirois-Trahan


A Canadian university professor claims to have found the only existing moving picture of French writer Marcel Proust.

The black-and-white footage of a wedding cortege filmed in 1904 shows a brief glimpse of a man in his 30s with a neat moustache, wearing a bowler hat and pearl-grey formal suit, descending a flight of stairs on his own. Most of the other guests are in couples.

Jean-Pierre Sirois-Trahan, a professor at the Laval University in Quebec, believes the film, which he found in the Centre National du Cinéma in Paris, could contain the only known footage of the author.

Sirois-Trahan says the film is of the marriage of Élaine Greffulhe, daughter of the Countess of Greffulhe, who was one of Proust’s close friends and the principal inspiration for his character Oriane de Guermantes in À La Recherche du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time).

Luc Fraisse, director of the Review of Proustian Studies, has no doubt the film shows Proust.

“Because we know every detail of Proust’s life, we know from several sources that during those years he wore a bowler hat and pearl grey suit… It’s moving to say to ourselves that we are the first to see Proust since his contemporaries… even if it would be better if he was descending the steps a little less quickly! It’ll be fine when we have slowed the film down,” Fraisse told Le Point magazine.

Sorbonne professor Jean-Yves Tadié, another Proust specialist, said he was delighted. “I’ve always thought we’d end up seeing him in a news film. The shape of the face, the approximate way of dressing, all corresponds to him, and the identification seems quite convincing,” Tadié told Le Point.

He added: “I find this discovery very moving, and all the more so because Proust always had an ambiguous relationship with moving images.

“It’s astonishing that nobody has thought to look for Proust in the archives of films of the Greffulhes before… It shows that new discoveries are still possible, even about an author who, it would seem, has already been so minutely studied.”

Proust died in 1922 aged 51. His most famous work, In Search of Lost Time, was published in seven parts between 1913 and 1927.

Sirois-Trahan, however, remains cautious about his find. “Everything leads us to believe this could be Proust,” he said, but added: “There can be no absolute proof that it is indeed Proust. But in any case, it’s a valuable document about the world of In Search of Lost Time.”

Alain de Botton on how romance novels can make us unlucky in love


Alain de Botton, the author of The Course of Love, explores how our attitudes to love are shaped by romantic yet unrealistic novels in this exclusive essay.

We tend not to wonder too much what role made-up stories should have in our lives. Generally we suppose we just read them for entertainment.

Yet that is to be unstrategic about a major cultural resource. A novel is a machine for simulating experience, a ‘life simulator’ and – like its flight equivalent – it allows us safely to experience what it might – in real life – take us years and great danger to go through.

Unaided, we are puny in our powers of empathy and comprehension, isolated from the inner lives of others, limited in our experiences, short of time, and able to encounter only a tiny portion of the world first hand. Fiction extends our range – it takes us inside the intimate consciousness of strangers, it lets us sit in on experiences that would be terrifying or reckless in reality; it lends us more lives than we have been given.


There are three ways in particular in which novels deliver their assistance:

As cautionary tales:

They give us early warnings. They alert us to dangers that we’re not adept at recognising: where envy might lead us, what indifference can do to a relationship, where lust can drive us… They trace the links between apparently minor errors of personality and the monumental catastrophes they can unleash, in the hope that by showing us the pitfalls, our own tendencies to disaster and folly may be curbed.

As maps of progress:

Fiction provides models of development, demonstrations of triumph over difficulties, case studies in maturation and the acquisition of wisdom. We are carefully taken through ways in which certain people have learned, perhaps over many years and with much pain, how to cope with problems which are, in some ways, also our own.

As exhortations:

There are many good things which we may have not known close-up but which we would benefit from experiencing – and which fiction can create for us. It can show us a couple who have understood how to resolve their difficulties with grace and humour, a father who can be at once authoritative and kind; a politician who has overcome vanity and tribal interests. It’s not simply that we need to know there are such people at large. It’s that by spending time in their company, the more admirable sides of human nature have an opportunity to rub off on us a little.

Unfortunately, there are too many bad novels out there – by which one means, novels that do not give us a correct map of love, that leave us unprepared to deal adequately with the difficulties of being in a couple. In moments of acute distress in relationships, our grief is too often complicated by a sense that things have become, for us alone, unusually and perversely difficult. Not only are we suffering, but it seems that our suffering has no equivalent in the lives of other more or less sane people.

Our attitudes to our own love lives are in large part formed by the tradition of the Romantic novel (which nowadays is advanced not only in literary fiction but in video, music and advertising). The narrative arts of the Romantic novel have unwittingly constructed a devilish template of expectations of what relationships are supposed to be like – in the light of which our own love lives often look grievously and deeply unsatisfying. We break up or feel ourselves cursed in significant part because we are exposed to the wrong works of literature.


If this ‘wrong’ kind is to be termed Romantic, then the right kind – of which there are so few – might be deemed Classical. Here are some of the differences:


The Plot

Romantic novel: In the archetypal Romantic novel, the drama hinges entirely on how a couple get together: the ‘love story’ is no such thing, it is merely the account of how love begins. All sorts of obstacles are placed in the way of love’s birth, and the interest lies in watching their steady overcoming: there might be misunderstandings, bad luck, prejudice, war, a rival, a fear of intimacy, or – most poignantly – shyness… But in the end, after tribulations, the right people will eventually get into couples. Love begins – and the story must end.

Classical novel: This wiser, less immediately seductive genre knows that the real problem isn’t finding a partner, it is tolerating them, and being tolerated, over time. It knows that the start of relationships is not the high point that Romantic culture assumes; it is merely the first step of a far longer, more ambivalent and yet quietly far more heroic journey – on which it directs its intelligence and scrutiny.



Romantic novel: The characters may have jobs but on the whole they have little impact on their psyches. Work goes on somewhere else. What one does for a living is not thought relevant to an understanding of love.

Classical novel: But here we see that work is in fact a huge part of life, with an overwhelming role in shaping our relationships. Whatever our emotional dispositions, it is the stress of work that ends up generating a sizeable share of the trouble lovers will have with each other.


[In classical novels], there are opportunities for genuine heroism. Especially around laundry.


Romantic novel: Children are incidental, sweet symbols of mutual love, or naughty in an endearing way. They rarely cry, take up little time and are generally wise, exhibiting a native, unschooled intelligence.

Classical novel: We see that relationships are fundamentally oriented towards the having and raising of children – and at the same time, that children place the couple under unbearable strains. They kill the passion that made them possible. Life moves from the sublime to the quotidian. There are toys in the living room, pieces of chicken under the table, and no time to talk. Everyone is always tired. This too is love.



Romantic novel: In this genre, we have only a hazy idea of who does the housework. It is not seen as relevant to a relationship. Domesticity is a corrupting force and people who care a lot about it are likely to be unhappy in their relationships. We are unlikely to learn a great deal concerning a couple’s thinking on homework or television for the under fours.

Classical novel: Here relationships are understood to be institutions, not just emotions. Part of their rationale is to enable two people to function as a joint economic unit for the education of the next generation. This is in no way banal. There are opportunities for genuine heroism. Especially around laundry.



Romantic novel: Sex and love are shown to belong together. The high point of love is intercourse. Adultery, in the romantic view, is therefore fatal: if you were with the right person you could never be unfaithful.

Classical novel: It knows that long-term love may not set up the best preconditions for sex. The classical attitude sees love and sex as distinct and at times divergent themes in life. And therefore sexual problems do not in themselves indicate that a relationship is, overall, a disaster…



Romantic novel: The Romantic novel cares about the harmony (or lack of it) between the souls of the protagonists. It believes that the fundamental challenge of romantic life is to find someone who completely understands us and with whom there need never be any more secrets. It believes that love is finding your other half, your spiritual twin. Love is not about training or education, it is an instinct, a feeling – and is generally mysterious in its workings.

Classical novel: It accepts that no one ever fully understands anyone else; that there must be secrets, that there will be loneliness, that there must be compromise. It believes that we have to learn how to sustain good relationships, that there are learnable skills, and that love is not just a chance endowment of nature.

The Romantic novel is deeply unhelpful. We have learned to judge ourselves by the hopes and expectations fostered by a misleading medium. By its standards, our own relationships are almost all damaged and unsatisfactory. No wonder separation or divorce so often appear to be inevitable.

They shouldn’t be, we merely need to change our reading matter: to tell ourselves more accurate stories about the progress of relationships, stories that normalise troubles and show us an intelligent, helpful path through them.


Watch the trailer for Alain de Botton’s The Course of Love:

Find out more about the author

Read more at https://www.penguin.co.uk/articles/on-writing/on-writing/2016/feb/alain-de-botton-on-romantic-novels/?utm_source=t.co&utm_medium=referral#r6CWS5VwjCwW6jeA.99


The Periodic Table by Primo Levi

the-periodic-table-by-primo-leviSo, what is this book?

“Some of it is personal memoir, and chapter headings such as Argon, and Iron, seem barely justified by the reflections that follow. Some stories are overtly fiction, which is surely the antithesis of science writing. One or two are attempts to address the process of industrial science from, so to speak, the floor: Sulphur is a compelling account of a wartime factory hand’s hours on the night shift, but what is he making, and why does he need such temperatures, such vacuum readings?

“Some of it is about etymology, about the nature of words and their casual links with the elements around us. And some of it is urgent, cruel, personal history: the story of a young man born into a Jewish family, educated in Fascist Italy, all but destroyed in Auschwitz. The chemistry is important, but often incidental. And finally, it is not Levi’s greatest work. For that, go to If This Is A Man, and The Truce.

“And yet, on the fourth or fifth reading in the 24 years since UK publication, The Periodic Table still seems to me to be the nearest match to the ideal science book. At some point – for me it was page 33 of the original Michael Joseph edition – the reader begins to understand that chemistry is not a “subject”, not an arcane and sometimes bewildering intellectual scaffolding laboriously erected to frame reality: it is reality. Chemistry is what happens when we breathe, when we touch, when we react, and even our behaviour with others is chemistry at some greater level.”

It is a strange mix of stuff, which of itself make this an interesting read. What’s more, what is in here is well written: sparingly narrated, adeptly described and wisely observed. Tim Radford in The Guardian goes on:

“This realisation (once again, for me) came as Levi describes the laboratory preparation of zinc sulphate. He discovers that “the so tender and delicate zinc, so yielding to acid which gulps it down in a single mouthful, behaves, however, in a very different fashion when it is very pure …” The reaction requires impurity, a touch of strangeness, a drop of copper sulphate in the diluted sulphuric acid, or it won’t work. He of course, is a Jew among Mussolini’s Blackshirts, and draws a philosophical lesson: purity protects; but impurities give rise to change, and generate life. “Dissension, diversity, the grain of salt and mustard are needed: Fascism does not want them, forbids them, and that is why you are not a Fascist, it wants everybody to be the same, and you are not.”

“Tropes such as this are a writer’s business, but right through the book, sometimes without comment, Levi offers parallels between the reactions in a test tube and the things that happen in the world at large: there is another beautiful one when he cannot find the sodium necessary to purify and dehumidify the benzene he wants to distil, and so instead uses its twin in the periodic table, potassium, and nearly blows up the laboratory. From it he concludes that one dare not trust the almost-the-same, the practically identical. “The differences can be small, but they lead to radically different consequences, like a railroad’s switchpoints; the chemist’s trade consists in good part in being aware of those differences, knowing them close up, and foreseeing their effects. And not only the chemist’s trade.”

“You cannot, in a book that invokes Auschwitz, fascism and the reconstruction of a devastated continent, disentangle the human drama from the science, but each time I read The Periodic Table I also discover myself marvelling at the excitement locked in obdurate and mundane matter and the chemist’s attempts to transmute it into something new, and fresh, and potent: whoever would have thought that tin could preserve such secrets, that industrial varnish could be so thrilling?”


Levi is one of the great modern writers in Italian for many reasons, not just for his ability to tell what might be the defining story of the twentieth century: that of the holocaust. He is a wise and thoughtful observer of the world and his place in it, and a gifted narrator of our story: he helps us to understand ourselves.

Mr A