For that kind of money, I think I could learn to love Tolstoy

[Via Ta-Nehisi Coates] Ray Bradbury is interviewed in this season’s Paris Review (full interview here).

INTERVIEWER: How important is it to you to follow your own instincts?

BRADBURY: Oh, God. It’s everything. I was offered the chance to write War and Peace for the screen a few decades ago. The American version with King Vidor directing. I turned it down. Everyone said, How could you do that? That’s ridiculous, it’s a great book! I said, Well, it isn’t for me. I can’t read it. I can’t get through it, I tried. That doesn’t mean the book’s bad. I just am not prepared for it. It portrays a very special culture. The names throw me. My wife loved it. She read it once every three years for twenty years. They offered the usual amount for a screenplay like that, a hundred thousand dollars, but you cannot do things for money in this world. I don’t care how much they offer you, and I don’t care how poor you are. There’s only one excuse ever to take money under those circumstances: If someone in your family is horribly ill and the doctor bills are piled up so high that you’re all going to be destroyed. Then I’d say, Go on and take the job. Go do War and Peace and do a lousy job. And be sorry later.

The King Vidor War & Peace came out in 1956. Using the Consumer Price Index, $100,000 then is the equivalent of almost $800,000 now. There are jobs I’d refuse — or ought to refuse* — even for that kind of money, but in a case like this, I think I’d take the gig and then hire my wife to act as Tolstoy’s cheerleader. Your mileage may vary, obviously.

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*After Robert Harris wrote this shameful op-ed piece for the New York Times, Lisa and I had a conversation about what I would do if Roman Polanski offered me serious money to adapt Bad Monkeys for him. The easy answer: say no, and then maybe write a novel about someone who says yes to such a proposal, and comes to grief because of it.