Follow the River

Follow the River

Never go to the movies with someone who read the book first, especially if that someone is a critic. You’ll never be able to fully enjoy the movie. The old movie versus the book argument will never die as along as there are readers and screenwriters. As you know, some movies very closely follow the storyline in the books they were inspired by, such as Gone with the Wind and Alice in Wonderland. I daresay, some movies actually improve a few books’ narration or ending, such as the endings of Elizabeth Gaskill’s North and South or Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo. To add my own opinion of the movie versus the book argument, let us compare Follow the River by James Alexander Thom to it’s subsequent movie of the same title. The movie, Follow the River does not adequately bring the depth and details of Mary Ingles’ trials, decisions, and homeward journey justice, as the book does.


The intensity of the trials for this young pioneer woman are deep, and you need the insight of internal dialogue to understand fully. The story introduces the real life heroine, a young, twenty-three year old Mary Ingles who lived in a peaceful Virginia settlement in 1755. She was pregnant with her third child. When the Shawnee attacked the small settlement, her husband and her brother were away in a distant field. The settlement was unable to protect themselves and the indians massacred almost everyone, including Mary’s mother and her infant niece. They kidnapped the remainder, a handful of people, which included Mary and her two boys and her sister. This was the situation when she was dragged across rugged terrain for hundreds of miles, nine months pregnant and ready to give birth. In the movie, she was uncomfortable during this trial, but the focus was more on her insisting on appearing powerful to keep the Indian leader from killing her. In the book, you get the full depth of her experience. The morning after giving birth, she had to get up on a horse with no protection for her bruised perineum and nothing to soak the remnants of afterbirth cleansing the body does for weeks. She endures silently on the outside for the movie, on the inside, the heart and mind, you know what is taking place when reading the book. In the book, you also receive a deep insight into Mary’s spiritual gift of premonition. She felt strongly from the beginning that this baby wasn’t really to be hers. This helped her to be resigned to finding a wet nurse when her milk dried up soon after she arrived. Again, little insights on these inner experiences in the movie.


Follow the River, in my opinion, contains some of the most heart-wrenching decisions a woman could ever make. The movie does not show the inner workings and the heaviness of these decisions. It appears almost heartless in the movie, and because I watched it before reading the book, I hated Mary Ingles for giving up on her children. Mary loves her husband with all of her heart and misses him intensely. How is he to ever find her? He cannot. In the Shawnee settlement, she is sold as a slave with a couple men hounding her for a sexual relationship. Her sons are adopted by one of the Indian chiefs. Her family is literally torn apart. During those tumultuous times, Mary makes the decision to leave her children; her baby is being cared for by the wet-nurse and her sons are in another tribe. She wants to go home—back to her husband. She can’t think of anything else. The movie shares her scheming with Ghetel, the Dutch woman, but the book goes into great detail on why she chose to escape without them. From the book view, you gain a deeper insight into the reasons for her heart-wrenching decision. And more importantly, in the book, you witness a full day of her screaming, and crying, and agonizing that she left her children. In the movie, she embarks on the journey home with an almost glossed over view of her feelings on this matter.


The homeward journey is one of the most intense I have ever read in my reading life. The book quote, “there are no two souls closer than predator and prey,” themes this journey well. She takes this journey back home, following the river, with the old Dutch woman Ghetel. The movie does demonstrate a few of the hardships of their journey, but the book intensifies the experience. In the book, they found an abandoned settlement, not far from where they escaped, and were able to gather corn and a horse. In the movie, none of that was a part of the journey. The movie dramatizes Ghetel losing her mind and wanting to eat Mary as its main focus. The true journey home, according to the book, includes this experience, but also more. They experienced starvation that lead to pawing the ground for anything and everything edible. This, in turn, often caused poisoning, hallucination, diarrhea, and debilitating fatigue. In the movie, she makes it home, ragged, starving, alone, but faster than the true-to-life book journey. In contrast, the book illustrates, in great detail, the wear and tear on the body and the change of the seasons. She opened her eyes, a few days journey from home, naked, lying in the snow, and hoping to die. The winter had come. Snow blanketed the ground around her. Her hair matched the snowy surroundings. She determined to continue. She was unrecognizable. The movie didn’t even go there.


To ignore these essential details, takes away from the intensity of the experience, the suffering, and the sheer willpower and determination that it took to take such a journey. The movie was good, but the book is excellent. I would rate the movie three stars and the book a solid five stars. This book changed my life and helped me to see that inside every person is an indomitable will to survive and overcome. While the movie was good, it did not adequately bring the depth, the strength, or the insight into Mary Ingle’s journey, like the book. The movie is a like a hilltop, while the movie is like an iceberg under the water’s surface—filled with depth, intensity, and illumination that a movie cannot come close to. Follow the River must be read.

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Married with 11 children, she feels she’s living the fairy tale life in Germany. She is a writer, speaker, trainer, energy therapist, and mentor. Homeschooling, reading books, herbs and essential oils, antiquing and flea markets, and red lipstick are just a few of her passions.

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