V for Vendetta by Alan Moore

Although the graphic novel V for Vendetta has been in the house for, I dunno, years, I hadn’t read it yet because I opened it up and didn’t like the art. I still don’t. There’s not much I do like about it, but it’s interesting.

Why I didn’t like V for Vendetta

  • I thought the literariness was overbearing rather than deep. Evey gets frustrated with V’s roundabout answers that are all in quotations; I did, too.
  • There were way too many rapes and rape threats. There are several powerful women in the story, but it still comes off as male-dominated.
  • I found both the text and the images difficult to decode in places. (Who and what am I seeing, exactly? Is that a U, a W, or an L and an I?)
  • I do not buy the underlying ideology of anarchy-as-voluntary-self-governance. I can see how toppling a dictatorship could be a good thing. What I don’t get is how order is supposed to re-establish itself… I mean, okay, the will of the individual citizens, but… really, how, exactly?

More thoughts on the story below, including SPOILERS.

How the graphic novel is different from the movie

The future world in the graphic novel involves VHS tapes. And, also, a room-sized computer called FATE that has punch cards as input and CRTs as output.

At the end of the movie, the people become V by dressing in capes, hats and masks and by taking to the streets. Near the end of the book, Evey becomes V by dressing up as him, rescuing a guy, and giving a speech. It’s very Dread Pirate Roberts for Evey to become V, but not as dramatic or uplifting as seeing dozens of unarmed citizens fearlessly approaching men with guns because they’ve finally grown spines and decided they have nothing to lose. On the other hand, in the movie, after Evey pulls the lever on the train-bomb as Viking funeral ship, she just watches; there’s nothing more for her to do.

I don’t remember the government branches in the movie being as obviously referred to by body part metaphors (Head, Ear, Eye, Nose, Mouth, Finger).

The “ideas are bulletproof” scene is a lot less dramatic in the book, since it involves one guy with a gun and not several. There are also fewer knives, and no Count of Monte Cristo armor. It’s still pretty bloody, but the government guy who mortally wounds V in the book is Finch, not Creedy. He’s had his own awakening and has joined the good guys, in a way—he went to Larkhill and took LSD and realized that the people, including himself, had acceded to government oppression too easily.

I think the book makes it much clearer why the government is so bad, and therefore does a better job of justifying the one-man coup. The surveillance seemed more widespread and insidious. The corruption and violence were much more obvious. The people in power were more obviously abusive and despicable.

I think the novel also does a better job of showing V as an actor and musician. He sets up a fake Larkhill in addition to a fake prison; there are multiple fake copies of himself, sometimes involving audio tape recordings; the connection between V and the lesbian actress, Valerie, is stronger; there’s a whole song sequence (“Vicious Cabaret”) with V at the piano that describes and predicts the events of the story.

Buildings get blown up in a different order.

  • In the book, V blows up the houses of Parliament first; that’s what Evey sees just after he rescues her, on November 5th (1997).
  • Later, V tells Lady Justice that he’s always loved her but that she’s been cheating on him; then he blows up the Old Bailey.
  • On November 5th (1998), V plays the 1812 overture and blows up Jordan Tower and the old post office tower, disrupting the government spying systems and instigating a period of “do-as-you-please” rioting, looting, and retaliation.
  • Several days later (on November 10th), Evey sends the train to blow up Downing Street.

The movie’s speech full of V words, which I don’t like, is not in the book, but there are a lot of V words in the book as episode titles.

There are a host of other differences: the number and roles of the government characters, for example, and the fact that the train is full of lilies, not roses. Also, the government motto is “Strength through purity; purity through faith” and not “Strength through unity; unity through faith,” though unity appears elsewhere as another theme of the government.

Themes in V for Vendetta

I like the themes of destroying illusions and of taking responsibility for your own actions as an individual and as a citizen.

I am not sure whether, if I were Evey, I would have forgiven V for torturing me, even though the result was new strength. My problem with V as a character is still that he believes the ends justify the means—which is part of the problem he has with the people he’s revolting against, and for that matter the people who did nothing to stop them.

The society chose to do many horrible things in the name of safety and unity; how valid is a critique of that society if it comes from someone equally willing to do many horrible things? Especially if the actual end result is chaos?

One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.

When and Why I Read It

Saw the movie again recently and wanted to compare.

Genre: fiction (graphic novel)
Date started / date finished:  23-Sep-16 to 25-Sep-16
Length: 288 pages
ISBN: 9781401208417 (paperback)
Originally published in: 1982–1989
Amazon link: V for Vendetta

Related Works

My feelings about V for Vendetta are a bit like my feelings for Cloud Atlas; both are dark works adapted by the Wachowskis, and both give me mixed feelings in both book form and movie form.