E.T.: The Book of the Green Planet
by William Kotzwinkle
Published by Scribner
269 pages, 2002
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
by William Kotzwinkle
Published by Scribner
265 pages, 2002
E.T. Comes Home
Reviewed by Lincoln Cho
I'm trying to get a handle on the fact that 20 years ago, give or take a month (actually, give), I sat in a darkened theater watching enthralled while history was being made. Within minutes, it seemed, the film about a charming alien stranded on Earth for a short time would inspire commercials, pop songs and colloquialisms. A whole wave of ETisms would be born to celebrate the friendship between E.T. and Elliot, the human boy the extra-terrestrial befriended during his time on Earth.
Unlike the films that had moved us in previous decades, Spielberg's E.T. was born just as videotape was beginning to flex its grip on an enthralled North America. Even if we'd wanted to forget about the alien whose heart lit up -- literally -- when he was emotional, North American children weren't about to let us. The magic of videotape meant that kids could watch it again and again and again and again and again... and again if they chose. And many of them -- millions of them -- did just that.
The furor and affection was enough that, emulating the sprucing up and re-releasing of the Star Wars movies a few years ago, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial has been dusted off, likewise spruced up -- including a couple of never-before-seen sequences and digital enhancement throughout -- and has been re-released in North American theaters just a couple of months shy of its 20th anniversary. (The original E.T. was released June 11, 1982: just in time for kids to demand to be taken to see it during school vacation.)
Along with the waves of toys, lunch boxes and T-shirts that were released along with the movie back in 1982, armloads of books bearing the alien's likeness and telling his tale were, predictably, released as well. Two of these have been re-released along with the movie, with a smile and a wave from the film's producers and distributors: William Kotzwinkle's E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, a novelization of Melissa Mathison's original screenplay, and -- by the same author -- E.T.: The Book of the Green Planet, which picks up where the movie's end credits left off.
Though both books are being marketed as "movie tie-ins" and are not specifically aimed at children, these are happy, kid-safe tales that many of us already know and love. Though the language is sometimes sophisticated, it is never coarse or inappropriate for younger readers.
Author Kotzwinkle is perhaps best known for this alien dynamic duo: both penned in the early 80s, but subsequent publications have been notable -- if devilishly twisted -- as well. His most recent publication is a children's picture book called Walter the Farting Dog, about a cute mutt who, when rescued from the pound, alienates his new family with his extreme flatulence. An earlier novel, The Bear Went Over the Mountain, pokes fun at the publishing industry when a bear claims authorship of a book that becomes a bestseller. Doctor Rat, also not a children's book (or, perhaps, certainly not a children's book) toys with concepts of social and political awareness through the lens of lab rats.
As a move tie-in, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial is less lofty stuff. Based faithfully on Melissa Mathison's screenplay, the book is, quite simply, a novelization of the work that originally appeared on screen. You can say that -- "quite simply" -- but the translation from one medium to another can be a huge undertaking -- especially when done well. It's not simply a matter of re-transcribing or retyping. Kotzwinkle does a good job of taking material that is not his own and giving it the greater life and depth necessary for it to work in book form.
E.T.: The Book of The Green Planet is a slightly different proposition. This was still not completely original material, based as it was on a story by Steven Spielberg. However, since it had never been developed beyond the idea stage, Kotzwinkle had more room to play. In Green Planet, for instance, we get to see E.T.'s home world: Vomestra, "called the Green Planet for its plant life."
ET, it turns out, is a distinguished botanist. Or rather, he was: before his Earth trip. On his return, E.T. finds that he is inexplicably in the doghouse and is sent back to the farm where he grew up before he went away to further his education.
Back on Earth, we see Elliot wending his way uncertainly towards manhood. From 3,000,000 light years away, E.T. sees him, as well. And despairs, because Elliot seems not to have retained the lessons of peace E.T. taught the Earth boy during their brief but altering encounter.
Green Planet begins precisely where the movie -- and Kotzwinkle's earlier book -- left off. E.T. is back in his spaceship and hurtling away from Earth. "But words, and the lyrics to a few rock and rolling songs were all he had."
Curiously, E.T. is much more broken up about leaving Elliot than Elliot proves to be about bidding adieu to E.T. Or perhaps not so curiously: Elliot is embarking on a journey of his own: the one that leads to manhood and includes a new and inexplicable fascination with the opposite sex.
Green Planet was first published in 1985 and, as such, is now something of a period piece. In the mid-80s the video arcade was the hub of youth culture and, at one point in the book, a friend of Elliot's grapples with BASIC, a programming language now so obscure that few even remember what it is. With the re-release of the film, however, a new wave of youngsters are likely to fall into E.T.'s thrall. However, the current junior set won't have to wonder what happened when E.T. finally got home. | March 2002
Lincoln Cho is a freelance writer and contributing editor to Blue Coupe magazine.