Movie buzz for “12 Years a Slave”? We had it first!

Have you heard all the buzz about the new movie called “12 Years a Slave”, based on the autobiography of Solomon Northrup? Would you like to read the original book?  Well, we at Local History digitized our 1853 version Twelve Years a Slave as part of our Many Roads to Freedom pathfinder several years ago.  You can read the gripping real-life drama for yourself, as well as the slave narratives of our local figures Frederick Douglass, Austin Steward and Thomas James. Visit our Many Roads to Freedom Slave Narratives and Biographies page to access  these as well as the biographies of former slaves Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth.

Once you see the movie, let us know how you think the book and movie compare!

Solomon_Northup_Twelve_Years_a_Slave 7Solomon in his plantation suit

Elizabeth Spring

Digital Collections Librarian


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  1. I am incredulous that I am the first person to comment on this posting. Either your distribution list is remarkably small or extraordinarily reticent. I just spent an entire upstate South Carolina snowstorm (yes, that’s correct) reading the digital version of Twelve Years a Slave. I have seen the movie which is remarkably disturbing, but an excellent work of acting, editing, and historical set design. As is said so many times, “the book is better than the movie.”

    Number one, Rochester is mentioned in the book (p. 278)! When Platt finally has an opportunity to speak in confidence with Bass, he tells him that he has been to Canada and Buffalo and Rochester and places on the Erie Canal. In the movie script, Buffalo, Rochester and the Erie Canal are dropped, and he only says he has been to Canada. Number two, the true story of Platt’s capture is that he was somehow poisoned by his captors. In the movie, they show Platt getting drunk and carried up to his hotel room. Number three, when Platt finally reached his family in New York state, in the movie they stand there in their house like statues. It’s an unnatural reaction to someone who hasn’t seen her/his loved one in twelve years. In the book, Northrup wrote about their true reactions, and the illustrator included that climax as one of his book’s engravings.

    There are other discrepencies between the film and the book. The book reads so smoothly; one doesn’t have to worry that it’s riddled with 19th century parlance. It is an exciting and easy read. How delighted I am that it was digitized.

    One question. It looked like the library marked that the book was obtained in the 1940s. Does the Library maintain any provenance? It would be great to know who donated it.

    I truly hope that “12 Years a Slave” receives some Oscars next month. More people will then see it and, perhaps, seek out a digital version of this magnificent story.

    Thank you, Elizabeth. You brought some Spring into my Winter.

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