the queen's gambit novel by walter tevis

“The Queen’s Gambit” – A Novel to Television

I broke one of the cardinal rules with The Queen’s Gambit–I watched the Netflix adaptation before reading the book. To be fair, I hadn’t even known it was a book first. It’s not a novel that would not have been on my radar when it was first published (1983). It isn’t one I’ve heard talked about much since. But I started reading the source material just days after watching the seven-hour TV series, and I read it pretty slowly, on purpose. I just wanted to stay in Beth Harmon’s world longer.

The novel is psychologically complex and surprisingly warm. Over the course of a decade, Beth Harmon goes from learning the basic game from the orphanage’s janitor to facing down the world champion at the Moscow Invitational tournament. Along the way, she makes some of the men she meets as competitors her strongest champions. And they’re always men – it’s the 1960s, and as she rises through the ranks of elite chess players, Beth is almost always the only woman in the room.

Book to Movie: Compare and Contrast

Books tend to be better than films at letting you into a character’s head, and that’s especially true here. Tevis seems more comfortable conveying what’s in Beth’s mind than in her heart, And yet, the story resonates emotionally and engages on that level too.

On the other hand, film does some things better than books. The adaptation of The Queen’s Gambit is largely faithful to the novel, but it does enhance it in places:

  • I know next to nothing about chess. The written descriptions of Beth’s matches engaged me despite that, but the dramatizations in the TV series were riveting.
  • Perhaps because the novel is relatively short and the language of film is different – a picture stands in for a lot of words – there’s some expansion to fill seven hours of television. For the most part, I think The Queen’s Gambit benefits from that, particularly in how it explores Beth’s relationships.
  • As Beth becomes an increasingly accomplished chess competitor, the clothes keep getting better. It’s not just an engaging story – the production design and costumes make this a great story to watch.

I’m glad that television led me to this book. And I’m glad this book came to television and brought Beth Harmon’s story to millions.

“The Queen’s Gambit” – A Novel to TelevisionThe Queen's Gambit (Television Tie-In)
Written by Walter Tevis
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on December 15, 2020
ISBN: 9780593314654
Genres: Fiction
Format: ebook
Pages: 256
Source: purchased

Engaging and fast-paced, this gripping coming-of-age novel of chess, feminism, and addiction speeds to a conclusion as elegant and satisfying as a mate in four. Now an acclaimed Netflix series.
Eight-year-old orphan Beth Harmon is quiet, sullen, and by all appearances unremarkable. That is, until she plays her first game of chess. Her senses grow sharper, her thinking clearer, and for the first time in her life she feels herself fully in control. By the age of sixteen, she's competing for the U.S. Open championship. But as Beth hones her skills on the professional circuit, the stakes get higher, her isolation grows more frightening, and the thought of escape becomes all the more tempting.

(via Google Books)

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,308 other subscribers

The Year That Wasn’t: 5 Random Things

The Year That Wasn’t: 5 Random Things

Time was weird and often meaningless in the Year of Our Coronavirus, 2020. It felt endlessly stretched, recklessly rushed, and sometimes both at once. So many Big Things happened–pandemic, politics, protests–that the news never let up. At the same time, daily life was so consumed with risk-management strategies–six feet apart, wear a mask, #stayhome–that it all became a blur. Crawling toward the finish line of 2020, a few random observations come into focus… The last […]

…and start all over again

…and start all over again

Let’s start all over again by continuing my recap of 2019. My #OneWord for 2019 was “regroup,” and for reasons discussed in my previous post, I can’t say I did. All things considered, maybe I should just recycle “regroup” for 2020. There were some bright spots and distractions from the assorted dramas of last year. Here’s a recap of 2019 highlights to start 2020 here on the blog. Movies The ones that stuck with me […]

TV (THE BOOK) — The Audiobook

TV (THE BOOK) — The Audiobook

TV (The Book) Written by Alan Sepinwall, Matt Zoller Seitz Audiobook read by Alan Sepinwall, Matt Zoller Seitz Published by Grand Central Publishing on September 6th 2016 ISBN: 9781455588206 Genres: Nonfiction, Television, History & Criticism Format: audiobook Pages: 352 Source: purchased Is The Wire better than Breaking Bad? Is Cheers better than Seinfeld? What’s the best high school show ever made? Why did Moonlighting really fall apart? Was the Arrested Development Netflix season brilliant or […]

Where Did October Go? Updates and Whatnot

Where Did October Go? Updates and Whatnot

Where did October go? Since I didn’t spend much of it around here, I come today to answer that question. I usually post this kind of thing as “Show and Tell Sunday.” The “preparing blog posts on the weekend” thing hasn’t worked out so well recently, though. Welcome to “Show and Tell Thursday”! There were entire weeks where I got up each day, fully intending to go straight into writing on the book, and instead ended […]

A Fan(Girl)’s Notes: FREAKS AND GEEKS and My 5 Favorite Episodes

A Fan(Girl)’s Notes: FREAKS AND GEEKS and My 5 Favorite Episodes

While TV critics hailed Freaks and Geeks when it premiered in 1999, and kept praising it until the bitter end, the show’s ratings started out bad and got worse. Only a very tiny audience actually managed to find it, thanks to a network that jerked it around the schedule, pre-empted it frequently, and cancelled it unceremoniously without even airing all of the episodes. It’s even more apparent in hindsight that NBC didn’t know what it […]

A Fan(girl)’s Notes: FREAKS AND GEEKS and High School on TV

A Fan(girl)’s Notes: FREAKS AND GEEKS and High School on TV

There are a couple of reasons why I never watched Freaks and Geeks during its original, fragmented single TV season. That original fragmentation was one of them, actually—NBC kept moving the show around and pre-empting it, and in those pre-DVR days, it was hard to keep up. (Its cancellation after just 15 episodes aired suggests that not many people did.) The fact that this single TV season aired in 1999-2000, which coincided with one of […]

Four Favorite Podcasts: TV On My (Car) Radio

Four Favorite Podcasts: TV On My (Car) Radio

Images via Pixabay, edited and mixed with Enlight If you haven’t heard me gripe about my daily commute–two hours round-trip on a good day–you’re new around here, and/or you don’t know I live and work in the Greater Los Angeles area. Sad to say, commutes like mine are not uncommon here. My commute is what made me an audiobook reader. But I like breaks between my books (and occasionally, during them), and that’s when I […]

A Fan(girl)’s Notes (part 2 of 2): MAD MEN, A Seven-Part Novel for Television

A Fan(girl)’s Notes (part 2 of 2): MAD MEN, A Seven-Part Novel for Television

(WARNING: The following discusses character and plot points from the seven seasons of Mad Men that may be considered spoilers.) In Part 1: How this show saw the 1960s (posted Tuesday, May 12, 2015) The opening of Mad Men’s fourth season suggested that its central question—and perhaps that of the entire run of the show—was “Who is Don Draper?” Viewers had learned much earlier that “Don Draper” was born Dick Whitman, and had escaped his terrible upbringing by appropriating […]

A Fan(girl’s) Notes (part 1 of 2): MAD MEN, A Seven-Part Novel for Television

A Fan(girl’s) Notes (part 1 of 2): MAD MEN, A Seven-Part Novel for Television

(WARNING: The following discusses character and plot points from the seven seasons of Mad Men that may be considered spoilers.) I have obsessed over very few TV shows the way I have over Mad Men. (And yes, that includes Supernatural, Doctor Who, and various other TV shows popular with the Con-going set.) I came to it a few years late, immersing myself in the first three seasons via DVD and not getting fully current in […]

(E)Book Talk: MARY AND LOU AND RHODA AND TED, by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

(E)Book Talk: MARY AND LOU AND RHODA AND TED, by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And all the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic Jennifer K. Armstrong (Twitter) Simon & Schuster (2013), Hardcover (ISBN 1451659202 / 9781451659207) Nonfiction: popular culture, 336 pages Source: Purchased e-book (iBooks edition) Kids, there was a time when people had to watch television shows at the time the TV stations (of which there were as few as three and as many as eight, […]

#NonfictionNovember: An “Expert” Reader’s Guide (to TV)

#NonfictionNovember: An “Expert” Reader’s Guide (to TV)

Leslie is hosting Week 2 of Nonfiction November at Regular Rumination: Be/Become/Ask the Expert: Share a list of titles that you have read on a particular topic, create a wish list of titles that you’d like to read about a particular topic, or ask your fellow Nonfiction November participants for suggestions on a particular topic. This was a tough one for me. If “expertise” is defined as knowledge about how to do something better, I really […]