Alfred Edward Woodley Mason (1865–1948), though almost forgotten today, was a prolific novelist and playwright, a politician, a soldier, a traveller and a mountaineer. Mason’s literary career started in the theatre but he achieved his biggest success in 1902 with the novel The Four Feathers (which was adapted for the cinema several times). A symbol of cowardice, the white feather represented for the protagonist both a crippling accusation and an occasion to regain the lost honour. At the beginning of WW1, inspired by Mason’s novel, the White Feather Brigade, a para-military group of women, gave white feathers to men not in uniform with the purpose of calling them to their duty . Even though this practice was later harshly criticized, the novel was adapted (for the fourth time) for the cinema just before the outbreak of WW2 and released the day after Britain declared war to Germany, with a new use of the symbolic feather and a strong focus on duty and heroism.
Mason gave new light to the themes of courage and loyalty to the country a few years before the Second World War in the novel Fire Over England (1936) which depicts the adventures of a young Elizabethan secret agent who tries to save his country from the invasion of the Spanish Armada. A eulogy of Francis Drake and of the dedication and resourcefulness of the British people, Fire Over England was immediately adapted for the cinema in 1937. The story, though deeply transformed from the novel, embodied an overt call “for military preparedness” and a “propagandist warning to Hitler to keep ‘Hands Off’ by stressing the failure of a previous invasion attempt” . So effective were some of the scenes that they were re-used in the war-time propaganda film The Lion Has Wings (1941). The essay focuses both on the novels and on the film adaptations highlighting how and why visual elements and themes were preserved or transformed in the passage from one medium to the other.