What Are Adaptations?
I may be cheating slightly by including “adaptations” as a genre. In general, genre refers to stylistic and artistic categories—something that has been adapted could come from any genre background. However, there is an art to taking written works and making them visual. Even adapting visual literature like graphic novels into film or television comes with a gambit of complicating features, and it is for these reasons that I feel the time is right to talk about book-to-movie/TV adaptations.
How many times have you heard someone say something to the effect of “but the book was better?” I’ve even said it, though I find myself less and less likely to blithely assert that the book is better regardless of what the final product looked like. The assertion of value judgments that are so prevalent in our culture has a lot to do with this, I think. Reading is a better hobby than watching, even if the content is the same, apparently. Also, you can include more in literature than you can visually. If a narrator is sharing their innermost thoughts in the text, we can only access those thoughts in a film if they are changed to dialogue or voice-over, and this does not always work in terms of the plot or action. You can lose detail, background, characterization and fan-favorite moments when attempting to streamline a story into a 2-hour visual medium. It’s no wonder many fans fear their favorite books being turned into movies or TV shows. I grew up with a number of fan-favorite series recklessly adapted to the silver screen in a way that nearly physically hurt the fandom (fandom is the fun word used to define an emotional investment in a particular franchise. To be such a big fan of something that there is an entire subculture dedicated to the discussion and additional content creation of the fans). Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan and Eragon by Christopher Paolini had incredibly large and dedicated fan bases at the time of film adaptation, 2010 and 2006, respectively. However, if you ask any fan of either franchise about those films, you will not receive positive responses.
More recently, HBO’s final Game of Thrones season. Now, some of the issues with the televised GoT adaptation began in the early seasons. While season 1 was remarkably true to the tone, feeling and plot of book 1, by seasons 3 and 4, showrunners had begun to pivot the show in a different direction. The book series has long stood unfinished, and at some point, HBO ran out of direct source material. Knowing they would have that problem, their adaptations of earlier seasons begin to move away from the books ahead of time.
Adapting is not simply about taking the exact words on a page and putting them on screen. Capturing the feel of a character, the imagery of a locale and the sounds of an environment can be incredibly difficult. The way one reader envisioned a narration may not be anything remotely similar to the way another person viewed the same words. Instead, adapting a book is about capturing the essence and the feel. What about the book drew readers in, and how can we capitalize on that on-screen? For example, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is often considered one of the greatest book-to-film adaptations of all time, not just of LOTR films. The combination of scenery, casting decisions, musical score and deep commitment to background lore worked together to create films that stand the test of time. Despite cutting entire characters, Tom Bombadil, the Ent Wives, Jackson responded to the bigger picture. His choices of which scenes to cut and which to change, which to keep and which to film exactly, reflected a deep understanding of not just the primary source material but all the background material set in Middle Earth. Cutting scenes and characters must happen. Think about how long it takes to read a novel and then to watch a film. If Fellowship of the Ring is 187,790 words long and the average adult reads at 238 words per minute, that means it takes over 13 hours, on average, to read Fellowship. The film has a run time of 2h and 58min, or 3h and 20min for the extended cut. That means a loss of ten hours of the source material.
I want to take a look at some of the best, worst and forthcoming adaptations, according to my own tastes anyway. The second half of 2022 has some exciting releases slated, what better time than now to see what we may have missed?
Some of my favorites that can be checked out from the library include:
Book Title: The Walt Longmire series by Craig Johnson; Book 1 is The Cold Dish. There are 21 Walk Longmire mysteries as of right now, and the author has said there are only a couple of books left to go.
For Fans of: Mystery with a Western flair; Small town politics; Race relationships between Indigenous communities and Wyoming citizens.
What’s It About?: An aging Sheriff contends with the death of his wife a year ago as he attempts to rebuild his life and career in the small Absaroka County, Wyoming.
Why I Like It: The Longmire series has a seriously dedicated fan base. Even before the show started, fans would celebrate the release of new books in the series. There’s an annual celebration out in Buffalo, Wyoming. But what I love about the show is how well cast the characters are. I’m not usually a mystery reader, but I found Walt so compelling on the page, and Robert Taylor plays the role so perfectly. He’s gruff and quiet, not much of a talker or a sharer, but he is dedicated to his job and to justice. The cast of supporting characters is likewise incredible, including Katee Sackhoff in the role of Vic, Walt’s right-hand Deputy, and Lou Diamond Phillips as Walt’s childhood best friend/now business owner Henry Standing Bear.
Check It Out: The DVDs for all 6 seasons are on the 2nd floor. They also stream on Netflix, which you can access with your library card by checking out a Roku on the 2nd floor.
Book Title: Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
For Fans of: Horror; Police Detective Work; The Silence of the Lambs
What’s It About?: FBI agent Will Graham hunts serial killers with a mix of logic and empathy—he can see, think and feel like his quarry. Teamed up with psychiatrist Dr. Lector to hunt a cannibal, Dr. Lector is playing a dangerous game of his own.
Why I Like It: I will admit this show was very dark and skewed towards horror, which means I could watch 1 episode at a time. I did read the books by Thomas Harris first, so I’d be less scared or shocked, I suppose. The books themselves comprise a 4 book series which includes The Silence of the Lambs, and they do NOT hold up well into the 21st century. They’re very dated, though incredibly clever for mystery novels of the time. The show brings the world and characters into the modern era, with a heavy dose of subliminal queer inclusion that Harris was too heavy-handed to write properly, but Bryan Fuller excels at.
Check It Out: DVDs on the 2nd floor. For once, I don’t recommend the book.
Orange is the New Black
Book Title: Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, A Memoir by Piper Kerman
For Fans of: Memoir; Prison Drama; Female-led Narratives;
What’s It About?: Ostensibly, about Piper’s year in prison. Season 1 begins pretty close to the memoir but begins to expand beyond source material to explore the lives of other women imprisoned with Piper.
Why I Like It: I don’t love the book or the show, but the show has some incredibly profound social moments throughout its run. While I think there are prison dramas I prefer if I’m looking for that kind of thing, OITNB was very popular, and for good reason—the supporting cast is incredible and diverse.
Check It Out: All seven seasons on DVD on the 2nd floor; Physical book copy on the 3rd floor;
I’ve Heard It’s Incredible!
Book Title: Technically based on a screenplay of the same name by Michael Crichton of Jurassic Park fame.
For Fans of: Artificial Intelligence; Questions of Morality and Humanity; Science Fiction; Westerns
What’s It About?: Exploring what it means to be human through the eyes of the lifelike AI “hosts” in the park, the series investigates the boundaries of an exotic world set at the intersection of the near future and the reimagined past.
Why I Like It: I will be completely honest that I did not keep watching the show. I intend to go back because questions like “what is sentience” and “what does it mean to be human” are questions that I love to think about. Those questions are why I love Star Trek. However, Westworld is not the idyllic future of Gene Roddenberry, but the dirty, painful dystopia that fits in better with Waterworld or Mad Max. I was not prepared for a brutal sexual assault scene early in the first episode, which jarred me out of the story enough to quit for a time. With that in mind, approach the show for what it is: an examination of the darker parts of the human consciousness and the struggle for new life to form its own sentience.
Check It Out: DVDs on the 2nd floor.
There are a handful of adaptations coming out the rest of 2022 and into 2023. I can’t possibly mention them all. However, the ones I personally am most excited about are:
Book Summary: Dana, a black woman, finds herself repeatedly transported to the antebellum South, where she must make sure that Rufus, the plantation owner’s son, survives to father Dana’s ancestor.
Coming to the Screen: FX channel is adapting and is likely to premiere in fall 2022 or early 2023. Janicza Bravo is directing, and Mallori Johnson will take the protagonist role of Dana. The book is incredible, moving between the 1970s and the antebellum South because of a small amount of magical realism. Octavia Butler’s work will long outlast any of us, and it’s at least partly due to the artful blending of supernatural and realism that she brought to all her writing.
Read the Book: We have a copy on the 3rd floor. Libby and Hoopla eBooks and Hoopla has an eAudio as well.
Interview with a Vampire
Book Summary: Recounting his first 200 years of life, the vampire Louis shares details of his life with Lestat and the child Claudia, as well as his struggle with his own perceived damnation.
Coming to the Screen: October 2 on AMC, the full trailer was released recently, and I am mesmerized. Adapted once to film in 1994, the source material from Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles series is deep and rich. Interview with the Vampire was the first published in the series and the only novel to focus on Louis instead of his maker Lestat. It’s almost a prequel to the rest of the series, introducing Lestat through the eyes of his progeny and sometimes lover. I have long loved the 1994 version, finding it to be a nearly perfect adaptation. It’s clear from the preview, however, that the show is making some major adjustments. I am looking forward to the changes I can see already; I think shifting the time frame out of the antebellum South and into 1910 New Orleans is genius on more than one level.
Read the Book: Or watch the ’94 film while you wait. The novel can be found on the 3rd floor; eBook and eAudio on Libby; DVD and Blu-ray on the 2nd floor. There are 14 subsequent novels if you enjoy it and an additional six book in the Mayfair Witches series that has significant crossover into the Vampire Chronicles.
Other adaptations releasing this fall include: Where the Crawdads Sing, Salem’s Lot, She Said and A Man Called Otto, among many other titles. Certainly, we’ll have enough to keep ourselves busy as we decide which adaptations work and which don’t. I think Interview with the Vampire will work. I am less hopeful about Salem’s Lot. What about you? I’d love to hear your thoughts about adaptations if you see me at the desk! And, as always, fill out the personalized recommendations form online if you’re stumped about what to grab next.