2023 seems to be the year for book-to-screen adaptations. Thanks to movies and TV shows like Red, White & Royal Blue, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Lessons in Chemistry, Lockwood & Co, and Heartstopper, readers of these books have been able to see the characters and the story come to life on-screen. But as many of us know all too well, there are usually noticeable differences between screen adaptions and the books they’re modeled after.
The most recent book-to-screen adaptation is All The Light We Cannot See, which premiered on Netflix on Nov. 2. Both the book — written by Anthony Doerr — and the series are set during World War II and follow Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a blind French girl who lives with her uncle after Paris is invaded by Nazi Germany, and Werner Pfennig, a German boy who’s gets recruited by Germany to work their radio technology. Starring Aria Mia Loberti, Mark Ruffalo, Hugh Laurie, and Louis Hofmann, All the Light We Cannot See shows how communication connects us all regardless of distance or background. Though the drama series kept many details from the book, there were plenty of changes made to the nearly five hour mini-series. If you’re wondering what changes the All The Light We Cannot See series made to the source material, look no further.
Spoiler warning: Spoilers for All The Light We Cannot See follow.
- The Sea of Flames
The Sea of Flames plays an important role in both the book and the series. It’s a diamond that according to Marie’s father, Daniel, is rumored to grant immortality to its owner but will cause great misfortune to their loved ones. While there is only one Sea of Flames in the mini-series, in the books, there is the real Sea of Flames, as well as three exact copies and Daniel doesn’t know which one he has. Marie also finds the Sea of Flames much sooner in the book whereas in series, she finds it near the end.
- Original Characters
Compared to the novel, there are more characters in the show. These characters include Schmidt, a German soldier that works with Werner at the beginning of the series, Sandrina, one of Werner’s friends, and Captain Mueller, the captain of Werner’s regime. There’s also Jacqueline, Reinhold von Rumpel’s mistress, and Jacqueline, a florist that is apart of the French Resistance. Monsieur Caron replaced the role of Madame Ruelle, the baker who passes secret messages onto Marie and Etienne.
In September 2023, director Shawn Levy told Entertainment Weekly that he “created a few characters, specifically a few German characters, in order to manifest the evil of the Nazi party, the threat of war, and the encroaching threat of Marie being found in her hiding place. So, we created a few new characters and Anthony, the novelist, found it really effective, I’m happy to say.’”
- How Werner first discovers Marie
How Werner first becomes aware of Marie’s existence is different in series compared to the book. In the book, Werner traces the signal of Marie’s great-uncle, Etienne, but chooses not to disclose it to the rest of the Wehremacht squad because he recognized the Professor’s voice.
In the series, a soldier named Schmidt discovered that Werner had been listening to illegal broadcasts. To keep himself and Marie safe, Werner shoots and kills Schmidt. A Nazi named Captain Mueller finds this out and forces Werner to take him to Marie’s location by threatening to kill his sister. To protect Marie, Werner ends up shooting and killing Mueller and Etienne shows up to his house with Marie and kills the remaining Nazi.
- Madame Manec
While Madame Manec and the role she plays are essentially the same in the book, her relation to Etienne is different. In the book, she’s his housekeeper and his maid whereas in the series, she’s his sister.
- Etienne’s fate
Marie’s great uncle, Etienne, plays a much larger role in the miniseries than he does in the book. In the book, he’s arrested early on and sent to Fort National on false charges of terrorism, but he’s eventually freed and reunited with Marie.
In the Netflix adaptation, Etienne works with Marie to help with the French resistance. He ends up dying after the building he, the French Resistance, and Werner are in gets bombed by U.S forces. In his last moments, he tells Werner to look out for Marie.
- Reinhold von Rumpel’s death
While Sergeant Major Reinhold von Rumpel dies in both versions of All the Light We Cannot See, how he dies in the book vs the series is different. In the book, he fights against and is killed by Werner.
In the show, von Rumpel fights both Marie and Werner and dies when Marie shoots him with a gun she got from Etienne.
- Aftermath of THE Battle of Saint-Malo and the epilogue
When it comes to one of the biggest changes from the source material to the miniseries, it would be what happens after the Battle of Saint-Malo, as well as both Marie and Werner’s futures. In the book, Werner and Marie immediately flee Saint-Malo and go to a gated grotto that’s flooded with seawater that Marie returns the Sea of Flames to and leaves the key of the grotto to Werner. Werner is eventually captured and sent to a U.S. prisoner-of-war camp where he becomes gravely ill. He later dies when he accidentally steps on a German landmine.
Thirty years later, in the epilogue of the book, Werner’s colleague, Frank Volkheimer, finds his sister, Jutta, and gives her Werner’s possessions, including the model house that held the Sea of Flames, but not before mentioning that Werner may have been in love with a girl that lived in France. Jutta then goes to France with her son, Max, to find the model house and meet Marie. Marie is now working as a marine biologist at the Museum of Natural History, where her father once worked. She opens the model to find the key to the grotto. The story eventually ends in 2014 with an 86-year-old Marie walking with her grandson through the streets of Paris.
The ending in the series is much more hopeful and romantic than the book. After von Rumpel dies, Marie takes Werner up to where Etienne would do his broadcasts from. Werner takes the opportunity to do a broadcast of his own to send a message out to Jutta. He tells her that he’s ok and that he’s in the Professor’s chair with the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen. Marie and Werner then share a slow-dance and they kiss. Marie tells him that he must surrender or they’ll kill him but as long as he listens to her broadcasts, they’ll find each other again.
Shawn Levy, told Entertainment Weekly that he made such drastic changes from the book because “though it is far from a happy ending, I wanted to end with a promise of hope, and there were some bleak, deeply upsetting scenes in the late book that we didn’t include in the show.”
If you’re expecting a faithful adaptation of All the Light We Cannot See, you might be surprised by some of the significant changes that Levy made from the source material. Regardless of whether you’re a fan of the novel or just book-to-screen adaptions, All the Light We Cannot See is worth checking out and will have you on the edge of your seat.