“Hey, so did you like the movie?”
“It’s okay but the book was better…I mean I just can’t even begin to explain how wrong they got those characters…I just wish they understood the point of the story.”
“…Sorry I asked.”
Okay, listen. I am both of these people. I admit it. Sometimes you just really want to enjoy something with zero context, sometimes you honestly cannot understand how a writer could turn a beautifully complex character into that. It all happens.
So let’s talk about adaptations. I’ve been thinking about them recently. Okay, yes, it’s because of The Witcher. I didn’t have to tell you that but now you know what I do with my life. If you’re not familiar, Netflix released a show based on the series of fantasy novels and short stories by author Andrzej Sapkowski, which also inspired a series of video games. So now everyone’s tossing coins to their Witchers. That’s just what’s happening.
This isn’t going to be about The Witcher, but the thing is I really liked the show…until I started reading the books. Now I have OpinionsTM, but this isn’t the time or place. (I mean…unless you’re interested… No. Focus.)
So the idea of adapting a piece of media to another form is interesting. Tricky, but a certain creative, collaborative magic. We see it everywhere, Game of Thrones, The Harry Potter movies, the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m only naming movies and tv shows, but anything goes. Movies to books. Books to comic books, books to video games, plays to musicals, books to musicals (I’m looking at you Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera). I mean, you can turn a painting into a work of fiction if you write its story.
Of course, there’s a difference between a good peice of media and a good adapation. Failed adaptations are often independently good stories. But, what does make an adaptation work? It’s simple enough to take some source material and build something new around it (she said, knowing that’s not at all simple), but you’re playing in someone else’s world. You start with pre-constructed characters, with set personalities which you now have to understand, learn to write, and incorporate into your version of the world. And, if you are going to change things, which is pretty much inevitable to some degree, you have to figure out how to do it without compromising who the character is. How do you tell your story while adapting someone else’s? Is that even your job?
If you ask me for my favorite adaptation of a work of fiction, it will likely be something based on source material I’m unfamiliar with, for obvious reasons. Let’s use the Marvel Cinematic Universe as an example, because…well…I love it. Because, not to be shockingly controversial or anything, but I don’t have a deep connection to the Marvel comics themselves. I love comics and graphic novels. Reading them, writing them, drawing them. But, I really only fell down that rabbit hole a few years ago. I never grew super attached to the comic book portrayals of the Marvel characters, so I’m not annoyed by the MCU. (Well, I am, but that’s not why.) As opposed to something like The Witcher, which I can’t help but critique because of how dramatically far the characters stray from the source material. And yes, “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher” is by far the catchiest song in the history of time, but the lyrics should be completely different based on….anyway. Moving on. Just my opinions.
Sometimes adaptations are better than the source material, more successful storytelling, or even just more appealing to a modern audience. I couldn’t get through the A Song of Ice and Fire books, though tons of people adore them, but I enjoyed Game of Thrones just like everybody else. A lot of it is just subjective, personal taste. But, seeing fiction adapted into different forms is always an interesting test of storytelling skill. It’s difficult, this translation. Melting down a narrative and crafting it in a new form. I’ve turned fiction into comic book scripts, poetry into plays, and plays into short stories. It’s weird, a storytelling muscle that needs to be trained, but I think it’s a really fun puzzle.
So, what’s your favorite (or, more fun, least favorite) adaptation? Why?