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Brian Wilson

“Poor, poor Sodapop.”

The other night my family was watching the 1983 coming of age film “The Outsiders.” The classic movie was based on the even more classic 1967 novel written by S. E. Hinton when she was still a high school student.

The book has been a standard for middle school English classes for generations and its messages resonate as loudly today as they did when first put to paper more than 50 years ago. While “Greasers” and “Soces” and sneaking into drive-in theaters in the trunk of a car may be a bit dated, the novel’s underlying story about trying to find a place to belong in the world still rings true.

Human beings, by their nature, seek to belong to a group. A common term on college campuses for these found families is to say people found their “tribe.” In the ideal world, these fulfill the same support roles as healthy families do.

“Outsiders” happens to be one of my son’s favorites. Alex gives credit to Medford Area Middle School English teacher Carrie Mullin, who he describes as being “the most awesome teacher ever.”

I remember watching “Outsiders” with my brothers and sisters when it came out on video in the 1980s. Chances are the VHS tape of it is still in some closet somewhere in my mom’s house.

I am pretty sure that my older sister Janet’s long-running fangirl crush on Rob Lowe started with that movie and was solidified with “St. Elmo’s Fire” that came out a few years later. I have to admit it has been some time since I watched the movie and an even longer time since I have picked up the book to re-read.

The comments at the beginning of this column were made by Alex at the point toward the end of the movie where a grief-stricken Dallas (played by a very young Matt Dillion) is killed in an altercation with law enforcement following a rumble.

What Alex picked up on and pedantically pointed out to us while we watched it, was that in the book Sodapop Curtis plays a much larger role in the story and is something of a tragic figure dealing with crushed hopes, shattered dreams and the squandering of talent.

Sodapop is played in the movie by an equally young Rob Lowe. Watching the movie you would think he was just another background character filling out an ensemble cast of rising stars. His role in the story is a point that has tripped up seventh graders reading the book since at least I was in junior high school as they attempted to write their report from just watching the movie rather than actually reading the book.

I sometimes wonder if the cinematic change was done for that reason entirely. It is like how in the film adaptations of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” they eliminated any reference to S.P.E.W. which anyone who read the books knows took up about a third of the excessively long novel.

I imagine a cabal of English teachers meeting once a year in an airy board room overlooking the Hollywood skyline reviewing the scripts of film adaptations of works in the curriculum and debating what changes to make to slip up lazy students. Even if that doesn’t happen in real life, we all know that one English teacher we can picture sitting there making sure middle schoolers don’t just take the easy way out.

I can respect that. When it comes to reading, it is less about the destination and more about the journey and the ideas that you pick up along the way.

Brian Wilson is News Editor at The Star News.