A good writer can transport book readers into the world they are describing to us and take us on a journey along with their characters no matter how fantastical or impractical they may be. As long as they can make us believe, then nothing is impossible, even if we are told that we are surrounded by wizards and muggles, dragons and time-travellers, aliens or cyborgs.
For decades, filmmakers have found inspiration from stories found on bookshelves and brought them to life on the screen, big and small. Going back to the biggest seller of all time, the Bible which has been told and re-told from different perspectives, we have all been enthralled by their transformations from page to screen. Author J.K. Rowling has been credited with motivating millions of children (and then their parents) to read through her Harry Potter series and the film adaptations brought great joy and excitement to those young fans who got to see a game of quidditch that previously only existed in their imaginations.
Whenever it is announced that a book I have read or an author I like is being brought to life on screen, I usually greet this news with excitement, but often followed by trepidation – “if they screw this up they will ruin *insert author’s name* for me forever!”. By the same token, if the adaptation is of a book or from an author I had not experienced before, it is also an opportunity for me to broaden my literary horizon and try something new.
My friends know that I hate TV spoilers – there’s a difference between teasing and spoiling: teasing is telling you a character is going to die in a series (although sometimes, that means nothing – take Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead as examples where key characters could die at any time, and often do); spoiling is telling you exactly who is going to die. Granted, both GoT and TWD are adapted from other sources, so anyone who has read those books and graphic novels would already have a fair idea of the storylines and the fates of the characters, but thankfully, the show writers have made enough changes to surprise even the book fans.
Which brings me to the question: are departures from book sources good or bad? I have often found fandoms are split on this subject.On one hand, die-hard book readers form a ready-made audience but they also bring with them certain expectations because through words on a page, they have built up a particular image of the characters and what happens to those characters, and failure to satisfy those expectations could lead to major backlash against the screen counterpart. For example, Robert Langdon was described in The Da Vinci Code as a Harrison Ford/Indiana Jones-lookalike. Tom Hanks, whilst a great actor, is not Harrison Ford or Indiana Jones. Similarly, Jack Reacher, from the series of books by Lee Child, was supposed to be 6’5″ tall, around 250lbs with a 50-inch chest. That is about twice the size of actor Tom Cruise who brought this fictional character to life.
I recently caught up on Outlander, a TV show based on a series of books by American author, Diana Gabaldon which was first published in 1994. By halfway through the first episode, I was hooked. However, I was determined not to spoil myself by reading anything about it until I had finished the first season. As soon as I finished binge-watching it (sixteen episodes in three days – thank you iTunes), I devoured the book and feasted on a couple of podcast series as well. I could not get enough. Whilst the show is quite a faithful adaptation of the book, there were some departures from the source material which I thought had been handled very well. In fact, it was one of those rare occasions where I genuinely loved both the source and the adaptation.
On the other hand, after watching four seasons of The Walking Dead, I decided to try reading the comics (or graphic novels) and developed a strong dislike for the characters in the comics that I had come to love on the TV show. Maybe it is simply because graphic novels don’t provide the same room for character development as “regular” novels or maybe it is some other reason that I cannot quite figure out. Whatever it is, I gave up on those comics but have read and enjoyed the first two of the spin-off “The Governor” series.
Of course, there are many, many more screen adaptations of books which I have loved (To Kill A Mockingbird, Gone Girl, The Fault In Our Stars, BBC’s Sherlock, and who can forget Colin Firth’s version of BBC’s Pride and Prejudice) and those that fell slightly below expectations (The Hunger Games and Divergent series come to mind as recent examples), but listing them all would take time away from me reading more books or watching more of my favourite adaptations.
And on this note, I am going to get back to get my nose back into “Dragonfly in Amber” – Book 2 in the Outlander series before the second season of the show premieres in April. Despite all attempts at resisting knowing what might happen to my favourite Scot and his sassenach, the temptation has proven too much to bear.
Feel free to comment below on what some of your favourite or least favourite book adaptations are, which of your favourite book/s you would like to see come to life, or perhaps why you would prefer to see them left to your imagination.