Now a Netflix Original Series, The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis is the story of Beth Harmon, an eight-year-old orphan. While at the Methuen Home for Orphaned Children in Sterling, Kentucky, she learns the game of chess by playing with the janitor, Mr. Shaibel, in the basement. And there’s absolutely no stopping her.
Mr. Tevis would be pleased that Netflix kept the majority of his novel in tact. It’s only natural a television adaptation would change a few things, but those changes didn’t alter the story in any major way. Unfortunately, Tevis wasn’t able to see any of the Netflix magic happen. He passed away from lung cancer in 1984, one year after The Queen’s Gambit was published.
The one thing Tevis achieved that Netflix couldn’t is the exploration of Beth’s thought process during a chess match. Beth isn’t just naturally good at chess. She studies every variation, every combination of moves, trying to find weaknesses that others might not. Tevis devotes paragraph after paragraph to Beth’s major games. If her opponent did this, then she could do that and pull off a win. Or, if her opponent did this, then she’d be stuck looking for a way to get out of it and even the score.
However, in the Netflix adaptation, Anya Taylor-Joy just sits at the chess board and pretends that Beth is thinking about what to do. It’s not her fault in any way; Anya really fleshes out who Beth is as a person when she’s not playing chess. If anything, it’s the fault of television as a medium. It doesn’t have the opportunities to tell a story that writing a novel might provide.
Even though the story is much more accessible to someone familiar with chess, it manages to keep the keep the attention of the average reader with its thrilling twists and turns. Beth starts out as a prodigy, but as the stakes of chess – and life in general – get higher, she struggles to maintain control of her vices. It’s easy to be mad at Beth for having a mid-life crisis when she’s not even in the middle of her life, but Tevis makes sure the reader also cares about her enough to want to see her come out on the other side of said crisis in one piece.
As for how Tevis wrote the novel itself, the sentence structure seemed to be somewhat random. Some of the sentences were short and choppy, while others were long run-ons with lots of commas and conjunctions. He could’ve combined many of the choppier sentences for an easier read, but he chose not to. However, if that’s his writing style, people can criticize it all they want, but it doesn’t change anything. That’s just the way it is.
The Queen’s Gambit will have its audience wanting to learn how to play chess in no time at all.