Bookmarks and Big Screens: “Dances with Wolves”

By Ellie Trebilcock

Is the book or the movie better?

It’s the most controversial topic between bookworms and movie-buffs. To resolve the long battle between these two passionate types of media consumers, I will compare and evaluate the quality of the book and movie versions of the story.


Dances with Wolves book

This Month: Dances with Wolves by Michael Blake

A close friend of mine recently suggested I read Dances with Wolves. At first, I was hesitant because the book doesn’t fall within my usual genre. However, I am very glad I decided to give the book a chance.

Dances with Wolves follows John Dunbar, a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, who is sent to an abandoned army post. Living on the frontier, Dunbar encounters a Native American tribe. As he learns more about the tribe’s customs, Dunbar begins to understand and respect the Native American culture.

What really strikes me about this book is the message of cultural appreciation (which is different than cultural appropriation). Dunbar was respectful of the tribe’s culture. He learned the language, listened to the members’ stories, and participated in their customs. In turn, the Native Americans did not get angry when Dunbar did not understand their traditions. By learning about each other, the fear between them melted away. This message of understanding and respect can easily be applied in the present-day.

Dances with Wolves movie


After reading the book, I settled down in a comfy couch to watch the long movie version of Dances with Wolves. Here are some of my thoughts:

  • How was the scenery?

Dances with Wolves is the preeminent South Dakota film. So, I was curious to see how my home state looks on the big screen. The book’s description did not even come close to the movie’s visual of the prairie. The only way to describe the picture is with a big sigh and a “wow.”

  • Use of the Lakota language?

I really appreciate the filmmaker’s attempt to use the Lakota language. I didn’t mind reading subtitles because it made the movie feel more realistic. The use of the Lakota language also demonstrated the difficulty Dunbar and the Sioux members had communicating in the beginning.

  • Exceptionally long movie?

Not counting previews, Dances with Wolves is a 3 hour 56 minute film. If you work hard enough, you probably can read the book faster than the time it takes to watch the movie. Despite its length, I don’t think anything should be cut from the film. Instead, maybe the story could have been split into two movies.

  • Different ending???

For the most part the movie followed the plot of the book pretty closely. The only surprise was how the movie ended. Dunbar makes a different choice in the book than the movie. Hint – this choice can be easily explained by some of the lyrics from a song by The Clash: “Should I stay or should I go now? If I go there will be trouble, and if I stay it will be double.”


Final Rating:

Book – 4 stars

Movie – 5 stars

As much as I liked the book version of Dances with Wolves, I LOVED the movie. The movie combines the positive message cultural appreciation with beautiful cinematography. I could tell the filmmakers didn’t spare any expense in making Dances with Wolves. Now, I completely understand why the film received seven academy awards!

trail of a true human being (1)


Meet the Interns: Ellie Trebilcock

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