It’s a common consensus amongst readers that books are always better than their adaptations. However, there are rare cases where the adaptations have been better than their source material. The primary reason behind the belief that adaptations never hit quite the mark is that they often have to cut out parts of the story to fit the medium of TV or film, which tends to leave hardcore fans disappointed when their favorite part doesn’t make it to the screen. In Netflix’s ‘All the Light We Cannot See,’ the show’s creators had to change several sections of Anthony Doerr’s book for the four-part miniseries. Here are all the major changes that they made to the adaptation. SPOILERS AHEAD
The Hunt for Sea of Flames and Its Ending
One of the most important plot points of ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ is the Sea of Flames. The diamond is said to be cursed, and while, in the show, it still remains important, it’s in the book that we delve into its history in a much more detailed fashion. We discover its origins, particularly the story of how it became cursed. The book talks about the river in which a goddess threw the stone so it could reach the God of Sea, her lover. But the stone is found by a prince in a river, and because he refuses to throw it back in the water, the goddess puts the curse about immortality for the possessor and terrible misfortune for their loved ones.
In the novel, Daniel LeBlanc runs away with the Sea of Flames, and Reinhold von Rumpel tracks him down. In the book, to distract people like von Rumpel, the curator of the museum creates two copies of the diamond and entrusts the copies and the real stone to three people, not revealing who got the real Sea of Flames. Daniel LeBlanc didn’t know whether he had the real thing or a fake and left with the stone to give to someone trusted by the museum. His journey came to a halt when all the transportation out of Paris was blocked, and he had to settle for Saint-Malo, where he traveled on foot with his daughter.
It takes a while for Von Rumpel to track down all three stones. He strikes off the first two from the list, which he knows are copies, confirming that Daniel has the real stone. This leads him to Saint-Malo, where he intends to get his hands on it by hook or by crook. As shown in the TV series, he wants the stone for himself and is ready to kill anyone who stands in his way. In the end, however, he fails, and Marie and Werner get rid of the diamond. They leave it in the grotto, where Marie hopes the seawater will wash away the thing and end the curse forever. She and Werner lock the gate of the grotto, with him keeping the key as well as the model of the house with himself. In the show, the model is destroyed, and Marie throws the diamond into the sea.
Daniel LeBlanc’s Death
In the show, Daniel LeBlanc is revealed to have been killed by Reinhold von Rumpel after an interrogation in which Daniel reveals nothing of the whereabouts of the coveted diamond. Von Rumpel tells his daughter, Marie-Laure LeBlanc, that he shot her father in the head. In the book, things were a bit different. In the show, Daniel leaves Saint-Malo to distract the Nazis from the French Resistance by catching their attention. It is an elaborate plan, but it doesn’t work because Daniel is caught by Von Rumpel.
In the book, Daniel is called back to the museum and is arrested on the way. He was under suspicion for being a spy who sent the American secret messages from Saint-Malo. He is suspected of this because he is noticed by some people in the city counting steps. They think he’s doing it to get an exact location of the place to bomb, while in reality, he is doing it to build a model for Marie, using which she could learn to navigate the place. Unlike in the show, Daniel in the book is sent to a prison camp in Germany, and that’s where he dies at an unknown date and time.
Uncle Etienne Receives a Happier Ending
One of the major changes that the show has made is in the fate of Uncle Etienne. Much like in the book, Etienne in the show is agoraphobic and is scared to leave the house following the trauma he experienced in the First World War. However, the show leaves out the part about his brother Henri and how they ran the radio channel, which people like Marie and Werner listened to. Still, the TV version of Etienne is much braver much earlier. By the time we meet him, he is already using his radio to send coded messages to the Americans. In the book, Etienne doesn’t start doing it until after Madame Manec’s death (who dies of pneumonia instead of a heart attack.)
In the show, Etienne easily falls into his role as a hero as soon as he comes out of his house. He becomes an important part of the Resistance and goes into hiding when the Nazis start looking for him. He keeps an eye on his great-niece, even coming to her rescue when she is almost caught after her radio signal is tracked. In the book, it takes a while for him to let go of his fear, but he still takes the risk of putting his life on the line to help the resistance. He is arrested on suspicion, leaving Marie alone to handle everything.
Another scene that doesn’t happen in the book but is a major scene in the show is Etienne meeting Werner. They have a heart-to-heart, which ends in a tragedy when a bomb explodes, and Etienne dies, telling Werner to help Marie. This doesn’t happen in the books, as the two characters never cross paths. Instead, Etienne receives a happier ending. He survives his time in prison and is released when the Nazis are defeated. He returns to Saint-Malo and is reunited with Marie.
Werner Pfennig’s Sadder Life and Tragic Ending
Four episodes don’t seem enough when adapting a book with the depth of ‘All the Light We Cannot See.’ This becomes most evident in Werner Pfennig’s storyline, where the show gives us enough to get a sense of who he is but leaves out so much more in the process. We don’t get to meet characters like Frederick and Frank Volkheimer, though, in the bigger scheme of things, one could justify dropping them from the storyline. The show makes up for it by leaning into Werner’s connection to the radio broadcasts and his meeting with Etienne, giving him the opportunity to meet his hero.
In the show, Werner tries to protect Marie but is forced to track her down by her superior. In the book, he does so of his own accord after he realizes that Marie is broadcasting on the same frequency as the Professor. He watches her from afar while she is on her way to get bread. This is how Werner knows where to find her when she later calls out for help while stuck in the house with Von Rumpel.
For the most part of the book, Werner remains stuck in the rubble as he listens to Marie’s broadcasts. Meanwhile, Von Rumpel tracks her down, forcing her to hide in the attic as the Nazi looks for the Sea of Flames. The ordeal takes days, with Marie afraid to leave the attic because Von Rumpel is still there. She eventually calls out for help on the radio. When Werner hears it, he and another man from his unit, who is still alive, decide to find a way out of the rubble. They create an explosion, hoping it will make for an exit, and that’s when Werner’s friend dies, leaving him alone to find Marie.
When Werner arrives at the house, Marie is still hiding, and Von Rumpel is not in such good shape either. Werner kills him and escapes with Marie as the Americans arrive in Saint-Malo. Much like in the show, he surrenders to the American forces, promising to see Marie again. The show leaves the audience at this point, giving them hope about Werner’s future. In the book, Werner falls sick while in prison and, in a state of delirium, walks on a landmine and dies.
He doesn’t get to communicate with his sister, Jutta, but eventually, his belongings find a way to her, which includes the model of Etienne’s house and the key to the grotto where he and Marie disposed of the diamond. Eventually, Jutta comes to Saint-Malo to find out about her brother’s final days and ends up meeting Marie.