This year marks the 40th anniversary of the best-selling novel The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough that is also the best selling book in Australian history. In 1983, it was adapted into a television miniseries that became very successful in the United States. I remember watching it unofficially for the first time on TV when I was a teenager. It was Bulgarian-dubbed, playing on an unclear picture that was jumping off every few seconds on a black and white screen, and made possible with the help of a handmade antenna.
That was how we were “stealing” TV programs from the Bulgarian television that seemed to be more fortunate at that time with the variety and number of TV shows than the Romanians. We could not understand the language but we were glued to the TV when an episode was playing. It was amazing how fast the news about the movie spread. We loved the it even though we did not understand any of its dialogue. We did not want to miss any of it either. The next day, it was the main topic of discussion. We could only speculate about what may have happened.
When I moved to the U.S., The Thorn Birds was one of the first movies I wanted to re watch. I did it in one shot that took about six hours. Did I mention that I was so in love with this movie that I watched it three times? I have found out about the book later. I normally read the book first and then watch the movie so I won’t influenced my reading experience by different events that may have been added to or removed from the movie. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the movie followed the book closely. There are some unforgettable scenes in the movie. Without spoiling the book or the movie here there are some things that will hopefully pique your interest or curiosity.
The story runs for four generations, from 1951 to 1969, and is centered around Drogheda, a two thousand and fifty-acre Australian sheep station, that was owned by the older sister of Paddy Clearly who was also Meggie’s father. Meggie was only four years old when her family moved there from New Zealand. She was the only daughter of Clearly’s family. While growing up, she became obsessed with the handsome and ambitious Father Ralph de Bricassart that happened to take an interest in her upbringing without being aware of her growing feelings towards him. Later on, they develop a romantic and unconventional relationship that will torment their souls for the rest of their lives. That is when Father Ralph realizes how much his desire for Maggie defines him as a man and contradicts with his ambition to be “a perfect priest”.
“Oh, dear God! I know, I know! I know why I kept her as an idea and a child within me for so long after she had grown beyond both, but why does it have to be learned like this?”
Father Ralph’ s need of finding the truth about himself leads him to see Meggie on Matlock island. According to the film makers, the love scene that takes place on the beach when Father Ralph joins Meggie on the island is considered to be the best love scene in a TV miniseries.
The book and the movie complement each other very well. This is a book that once you start you won’t want to put it down. You will immediately become fond of the characters and their lives that show us how sometimes people conscientiously give in to strong inner desires and are willing to accept the painful consequences of their decisions. Meggie’s and Father Ralph ‘ s love for each other is presented well by the myth of the thorn birds.
“There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its life, more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth. From the moment it leaves the nest it searches for a thorn tree, and does not rest until it has found one. Then, singing among the savage branches, it impales itself upon the longest, sharpest spine. And, dying, it rises above its own agony to out carol the lark and the nightingale. One superlative song, existence the price. But the whole world stills to listen, and God in His heaven smiles. For the best is only bought at the cost of great pain; Driven to the thorn with no knowledge of the dying to come. But when we press the thorn to our breast, we know, we understand…. and still, we do it.”… Or so says the legend.”
To get a better understanding of the implications and insights of the romantic relationship between Father Ralph and Meggie you must do both: read the book and watch the miniseries. You won’t regret it.
Song: Unforgettable by Jamie Sparks
Featured Image: own copy
Left photo: http://www.pixabay.com
Excerpts: book “The Thorn Birds” by Colleen McCullough