From Page To Screen (65) 12 Years A Slave by Solomon Northup

This week on From Page To Screen I'll be tackling this years Best Picture Winner 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup.

First let's discuss the book.
12 Years a Slave is a memoir written by Solomon Northup in 1853. The book was originally published by Derby and Miller and sold 30k copies making it a bestseller for it's day. After being published in several editions in the 19th century, the book fell into obscurity for nearly 100 years. It wasn't until Louisiana Historians Sue Eakin and Joseph Logsdon re-discovered the book that it was brought back from obscurity. Updated and illustrated editions of this work have since been published, including an adaptation for younger readers. The book can be found in both the public domain and through many publishing houses as well. Since re-discovery it has never been out of print.

Let's take a look at some of the characters.

Solomon Northup - Born a free man in Minerva, New York, Solomon helped his father (also Free) with farming chores and as a raftsman until he married Anne Hampton in 1829. During the 1830s, Northup became locally renowned as an excellent fiddle-player and In 1841, two men offered Solomon generous wages to join a traveling musical show. Shortly after Solomon accepted, they drugged him and sold him into slavery. For 12 years his family had no idea what had become of him. It wasn't until Solomon came into contact with an outspoken abolitionist from Canada that wheels were set in motion and he freed from Slavery.

William Ford- Preacher who owned a small plantation on the Red River in Louisiana.  He's described as a good man and kind to his slaves by Solomon.

John Tibaut - Carpenter who purchases Solomon from William Ford. He's described as Cruel and bad tempered by Solomon. Due to his Chattel Mortgage to William Ford he can't kill Solomon so he instead tortures him quite brutally instead.

Edwin Epps - Described as a cruel master, who frequently punished slaves and drove them hard. Epps policy was to whip slaves if they did not meet quota. Solomon wrote that the sounds of whipping were heard every day on Epps' farm from sundown until lights out.

Now let's discuss the movie.
12 Years a Slave is a film directed by Steve McQueen and was released November 8, 2013 by Summit Entertainment. 12 Years a Slave cost $20 million to make and ended up grossing $140 million worldwide. 12 Years a Slave opened to universal acclaim from both critics and audiences alike with many comparing it to other brutally epic films such as Schindler's List and The Passion of the Christ.

Major Differences Between The Book Film

During their transport south Solomon and the other slaves planned to revolt.
During their transport south they all decide to keep quiet and endure the journey set before them.
Tibeat can't kill Solomon because he owes a debt to Ford. After a disagreement Solomon is left hanging by Tibeat with very little slack in the hot midday sun. He's not released until Ford makes it back home.
Mrs. Epps and Solomon form a relationship of sorts. She showing more mercy to him than her husband.The relationship isn't explored. We only see the cruelty bestowed by Master Epps.
Lawyer Henry B. Northup is contacted by Bass to help Solomon be freed.This is omitted.
Solomon is sold to Tibeats by Ford.Ford sells Solomon to Epps to protect him from Tibeats
Patesy is inspired to live with hope that she will one day be free.Patesy wants Solomon to kill her by drowning her in the swamps.
The Slaves worked tirelessly all each and every day except Christmas. Christmas they received the entire day off and were given good food and even instruments to play so they might dance.This was omitted.

I know their are probably more differences but these were the most major ones that I remembered. Which however do I prefer? It's a hard choice but the film is just so incredibly acted and shot that it sort of just wins in every sense of the word at the end. Although you should certainly read the book since it really details those 12 long years he's kept as a slave whereas the movie feels like it takes place over the course of just a year. Plus the book is in public domain so there really is no excuse not to read it. Anyway definitely check out both if you haven't already.

Still not convinced? Check out the trailer below!

Well that about wraps up this weeks From Page To Screen. Have a recommendation for an upcoming From Page To Screen, let me know in the comments below!

Have you read the book or watched the film? 
Which did you like better? Why? 
What is your favorite quote or scene from 12 Years A Slave?

Leave your answers in the comments below, I love to read your responses. Like what you see? Please share!


  1. Oh interesting! You're the only one I know who has read the book, so I had no idea how the book and movie compared until now. I guess I would have to read the book first before making any judgment, but I was also so impressed by the movie that it seems like it would be tough to beat! Thanks for pointing out that the book is in public domain - that hadn't occurred to me!

  2. The book has many details in it that the film sorta condenses down for time such as the abuse Patesy suffers due to Mrs. Epps jealousy. Like is brutal.


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