Monday, 11 August 2008

The Whale Rider - Witi Ihimaera

I read The Whale Rider (1987), by Witi Ihimaera, the other week. Most people would be more familiar with the Whale Rider (2002), for which Keisha Castle-Hughes was nomiated for a best actress Oscar, but the novel is also quite charming.

I was lucky enough to win tickets for a friend and I to see the premier of the Whale Rider movie when it was first released. Witi Ihimaera introduced the story and told us a bit about how he first came to write the novel for his two young daughters, Jessica and Olivia, while they were living in New York in the 1980s and a long way from home. Then, in 2004, friends and I saw the premier of the stage show in Auckland's newly refurbished Civic Theatre.

The differences between the stage show and the movie were immediately obvious, and it's difficult to not make comparisons. In both productions, the lead character of Koro was played by the same actor, Rawiri Paratene. However, the stage show portrayed a more mystical mood and made the whales and ocean an integral part of the story. Upon reading the novel, I see these are the flashbacks to ancient times which characterised novel and forged the links between past and present. Also, the novel was narrated by Uncle Rawiri, but he was a less central character in the movie and stage productions.

Regardless of the interpretation, Whale Rider is a delightful fantasy story and I am glad I finally found a copy of the novel to read. It helped me to fill in the 'gaps' between the three different versions of the tale that I have now experienced.


Kelly said...

I think I am one of the few people in NZ who has not read the book or seen the movie. I don't actually know why that is as I really would love to! Maybe I should make a 101 things list and put that on it!

Karen said...

Hi there, I read your review of Witi Ihimaera’s ‘The Whale Rider’ and wondered whether you might be interested in asking Witi Ihimaera a question about this book? BBC World Book Club on the World Service is interviewing him soon and would love to hear from you. If interested, please email me at as soon as you can with a question about the book (anything - doesn't have to be particularly clever!), along with where you’re from/live. We can either arrange for you to talk to Witi Ihimaera himself, or have our presenter put your question to him for you. Then you will be able hear your question on BBC World Service Radio when it airs.
Best wishes,
BBC World Book Club