“Herman Wouk --- is he still alive?”
-- From an email in response to the author’s query about developing a screenplay based on the life of Moses.
At age 97, the renowned and beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning author of THE CAINE MUTINY, MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR, and what many have claimed to be the best World War II novel and television series of the century, THE WINDS OF WAR, pitched the idea to a potential Hollywood producer. No stranger to working with screen and stage adaptations of his bestselling novels, Wouk had been trying to figure out a way to tell the authentic story of Moses, so abysmally treated, in his opinion, by Cecil B. DeMille and various authors over the years.
"You will find yourself smiling on every page as Wouk nimbly presents his journey to the silver screen through the varied voices of the participants to his project. As a life-long fan who has devoured every book this man wrote from my middle-school years to, happily the present, it was a joy to read his words once again."
Wouk felt that no mere novel --- at least one that didn’t run 2,000 pages and cause a hernia to hold --- could accurately portray the story of the man who became the father of western religion. The Koran, the Torah and the Old Testament are all based on what Moses created during his remarkable lifetime, and Wouk finally came to the conclusion that only a Steven Spielberg-type treatment, complete with CGI and high definition, could possibly come close to paying the great prophet proper justice.
THE LAWGIVER comes to life in what can be best described as an epistolary novel by an ancient, self-effacing man pursing a life-long dream. It consists of emails, memos, faxes, phone calls, Skype transmissions, texts and margin notes between himself, multi-billionaire potential investors, a scientist developing a futuristic energy source, lawyers, a young award-winning screenwriter, an unknown Australian actor, and central to it all, his adored wife and agent of over 60 years, Betty Sarah Wouk, to whom he refers as BSW. Her veto power is capable of bringing the entire enterprise to a halt, much to the consternation of the other characters, as the screenplay evolves and the plot thickens.
Central to the story is Margo Solovei, a young avant-garde playwright whose austere upbringing by a Hasidic rabbi father has led her to rebel against the very religion she is asked to turn into a screenplay. She and a former lover, a lawyer to one of the major investors, have their own history to deal with, lending a love angle to the story.
Wouk travels the treacherous path to success of his pet project as only a writer who has encountered the pitfalls that await one with the desire to see his work produced. In Wouk’s case, he would like to see the project come to fruition in his lifetime, which, at his advanced age, may be a formidable goal to achieve, given the history of the term “in development” in Hollywood.
You will find yourself smiling on every page as Wouk nimbly presents his journey to the silver screen through the varied voices of the participants to his project. As a life-long fan who has devoured every book this man wrote from my middle-school years to, happily the present, it was a joy to read his words once again. In one email exchange, Margo effuses about receiving an "A" on her book report for THE CAINE MUTINY as a teenager. Clearly, Margo’s teacher was far more enlightened than my ninth-grade English teacher, who rejected my report on the same book because it contained profane language and sexual innuendo inappropriate for my age. She also rejected CATCHER IN THE RYE and directed me to read and report on BLACK BEAUTY. Ah, the 1950s.
Alas, we probably never will see THE LAWGIVER on the big screen, but its fictional creation should be a blockbuster.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on November 16, 2012