When I told my coworker that I wanted to write a post about book adaptations, she mentioned that she doesn’t tend to like them if they’ve changed anything from the source material. It feels like my duty as a reader to agree, but I can’t say that I care very
much. This is partially because I have a very bad memory (I’m not likely to notice changes at all unless they’re particularly egregious), but that’s not the only reason. As a bookseller, it’s comforting to me that there are differences between storytelling mediums. A movie can be very, very good without replacing the book it was based on, because they tell stories in different ways. It’s like enjoying a song and its cover.
At the risk of belaboring the metaphor, music seems more comfortable than literature with this kind of experimentation. Artists cover and remix and rerelease each other’s songs all of the time, and no one is expected to come down as for or against the concept itself. I’ve started to think of literary adaptations as remixes instead: they’re a new artist’s take on a story they were inspired by, not just a way of matching images to words.
In light of that, I didn’t actually write a list of adaptations that I want to see — I wrote a list of the ways I would like to reinterpret my favorite stories, given infinite talent and time.
Dragonriders of Pern
This pioneering science fiction series is pretty much exactly what the title promises: there is a planet called Pern, and the humans on it ride telepathic dragons to protect it from an alien life-form that rains down from the sky. The world building is incredible! And then there's everything else, which has aged very badly. The sex in Anne McCaffrey’s books — and there is more of it than you might expect from a fantasy series that many people were introduced to in middle school — is nearly always assault. The romantic relationships are fraught with gender essentialism and unexamined abuse. Throughout the series, there isn’t any nuance to indicate that McCaffrey’s readers are supposed to think of this as anything but desirable.
But I still love these books. I read most of them before I’d developed the ability to think critically about the media I consumed, and despite what I know now, I can’t shake the nostalgia that I still have for Pern. I want someone to reimagine this as a prestige drama; I want it to be directed by a woman who will course correct for all of the problematic relationships and then leave everything else exactly the same
. She is going to have to find a way to make the telepathy less cheesy on screen, and, whoever she is, I have absolute faith in her.
I’ve started to think of literary adaptations as remixes instead: they’re a new artist’s take on a story they were inspired by, not just a way of matching images to words.
Look: Animorphs was already adapted as a television series in the late ’90s, but it wasn’t very good and I’m not the only one
clamoring for a do-over. The series is perfect elementary school wish fulfillment: its main characters meet a dying alien who gives them the ability to turn into any animal they touch. Having become the titular Animorphs, they have to fight a race of alien slugs that are already taking over Earth! The yeerks burrow into innocent people’s brains and then take control of their bodies. The human inside is aware of everything that is happening to him, but he is no longer in control of his body or the horrible things the yeerk is making it do. It’s a heavy concept for a kid’s book, and now that I’m older I can’t help but think of the yeerks as a metaphor for propaganda. As silly as it is (and despite everything I’ve just said, the Animorphs is incredibly silly) it has managed to stay relevant throughout the years.
I would love to see this adapted as a comic series. The serial format would match the pacing of the books, which are short and numerous, and a comic layout could capture the endless body horror of morphing without requiring an insurmountable CGI budget. Plus, I know a girl who could probably find the time to write it. (Call me!)
These books are basically someone’s D&D campaign writ long and I don’t care at all, I will defend them with my dying breath. If the Animorphs was surprisingly nuanced for its concept and target audience, Dragonlance is obtusely, and perhaps intentionally, lacking in subtlety. The primary conflict of these books is always that the dark god Takhisis and her minions want to destroy the world, and the good guys have to stop them. If a typical D&D character’s alignment acts as a very general guide to determine how he might act, Dragonlance characters practically have their alignments tattooed across their foreheads. I used to get into vehement arguments about why this wasn’t true; now that I am older and wiser, I am happy to admit that these books are shallow and ridiculous and I love them anyhow. I don’t always want political intrigue and thinly veiled metaphors in my fantasy; sometimes I want really clear-cut morals so that more page time can be devoted to a guy having feelings about how his own immortality affects his love life. Make this one a soap opera with period costumes and occasional dragons and I will never turn it off.
I’ve read fewer books from Brian Jacques's Redwall series than any other on this list, which I assume can only be because my elementary school library didn’t carry them. This is a sprawling series about anthropomorphized animals who live in Redwall Abbey and eat a lot of delicious feasts. There are other things that happen — battles and dramas and typical fantasy stuff — but someone else can tell you about that. I am primarily interested in the food of Redwall, which is described often and lovingly. The series has already spawned its own cookbook, but what I really want is for someone to buy a nice place in the countryside and open Redwall Abbey as a bed and breakfast. Maybe it can even double as a wildlife rehabilitation center, for ultimate accuracy.
And then... I honestly think that I could go on forever, and it feels somehow incomplete to leave this post without mentioning The Sandman
or Tamora Pierce’s Tortall series
, but I’ll have to come back to those another time. What series do you most want to see adapted? Do you prefer your books to stay firmly on the page? (In which case, I am very sorry for having made you read this. Please forget everything I’ve just said. Books are sacred.) Let me know in the comments!
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is a bookseller at Powell's. The Gold Room is her favorite and she has too many opinions about the Animorphs.