So I finally finished the book version of “A Watcher In The Woods,” which Disney made into the movie “The Watcher In The Woods” back in 1980 (the book originally published in 1976). As I said before, the same basic premise is in both, that Karen Alywood is missing and it’s up to Jan to find her from the clues left by “The Watcher,” but it’s as if Disney and the book’s author had two completely different versions of the story from there on out. Since I know someone will probably find the old post at some point through Google, I’m listing the major differences here between the two. If you’ve never watched the movie and intend to, this will spoil it all! If you’ve watched the movie and are curious to know how much Disney mucked up, keep reading. Again, this is only a list of the major differences, there are too many to count!
In the movie, Jan, her sister Ellie and parents apparently move from the US to England. Her father is a composer and took a job as a pianist there (or something music related, possibly at a school, I can’t recall). In the book the family moves from Ohio to Massachusetts, the father is an English professor and took a job at a college.
In the movie Mrs. Alywood rents the house to Jan’s family because Jan reminds her of her daughter Karen. She later looks to the words saying to the watcher “They are staying, is that what you wanted.” The watcher rustles the leaves. In the book she sells the house to them because the watcher tells her to by nodding her approval when they arrive. Mrs. Alywood looks to the woods for a sign.
In the movie Mrs. Alywood lives in a small servant’s cottage next to the main house. In the book there is no cottage, after selling the house she moves to a retirement community. However she does so knowing she won’t be staying there, that she would be reunited with Karen soon.
In the movie Ellie hears the watcher speaking to her, goes into trances and writes backwards on windows and mirrors. In the book she hears the watcher but only writes backwards on paper. Her father is the one who sees it and calls it “mirror writing.” The father and mother are much more integral in the book, learning about the watcher and helping Jan solve the mystery and reunite Karen and Mrs. Alywood.
In the movie Jan senses the watches is in the woods and even sees images of Karen in a broken mirror, an old church coffin and in a fun house mirror. In the book Jan does more than sense the watcher, she can feel what the watcher feels, when she’s happy, sad or frustrated. In the book Jan only sees Karen’s image once, in a hole in a large oak tree.
In the movie mirrors and glass crack in the form of triangles to represent the three friends that were with Karen when she disappeared. In the book mirrors crack in Xs. This is not fully explained why, but later it seems it is a countdown of days left to when the portal will open again.
In the movie Karen disappeared some 30 years ago during a special type of solar eclipse. She could be brought back during the next one, which was coming up in a few days. In the book Karen disappeared into a portal opened by aliens on another world who were sending a small child to earth to explore for the day. Karen was accidentally sucked into the portal, which is the hole in the oak tree. To the alien child, fifty earth years are but a day to her, so the portal is set to be open again on the 50th anniversary of Karen’s disappearance, or the next day to the alien watcher.
In the movie Karen’s friends are the ones who opened the portal. Will Keller, Tom Colly and Mary Flemming were inducting Karen into their secret society. They held hands around her to ask if she was worthy. The eclipse happened, lightening struck the church they were in and Karen vanished. They had opened the portal unknowingly and Karen and the watcher switched places. This is fully explained by the watcher at the end, speaking through Ellie. In the book it is explained by the watcher, using the family’s TV set, that her race on another world opened the portal for her to come through. The did so by all linking hands like in the movie. Karen was not supposed to be sucked through. When she was the people were startled, the link was broken and the door shut trapping Karen and the watcher. In the movie Karen was sucked through and trapped when Mary Flemming got scared and broke the circle of hands.
In the movie to bring Karen back, Jan gathers the original friends to hold the ceremony again at the proper time. In the book only Mary Flemming is a character, Will and Tom are nonexistant. Mary is still the mother of Jan’s love interest Mark (Mike in the movie). However she only serves the purpose to tell Jan the story of how Karen disappeared, which she learned from her mother as Mary didn’t even know Karen. In the book there is somewhat of a ceremony held by Jan, Ellie and Mrs. Aylwood at the portal tree, but not at the proper time. When they link hands they can all see (Mrs. Alywoods ability) hear (Ellie’s ability) and feel (Jan’s ability) the watcher. The watcher is a small humanoid child, short blond hair, a pointy chin, upturned nose and wears a long flowing white robe. The watcher explains to them that when the portal opens in a few days, Mrs. Alywood would be able to go in and rejoin with Karen, but she could not apparently return.
The movie ends with Jan and the original friends bringing back Karen. The book does not have such an ending. The book ends with the watcher explaining to them all that in a few days, the portal would open for Mrs. Alywood to go forth and find Karen. Jan explains in a final chapter that in a few days they would have to leave Mrs. Alywood alone at the portal when it was set to open, as if they all stayed and watched they’d all be sucked through with her just as Karen was. Mrs. Alywood would enter never to return, and the watcher would remain on earth for one more day before returning home herself, fifty years to them.