As a self-proclaimed “book nerd,” it’s not unusual to see yet another of my favorite young adult (YA) authors announce that there is a movie adaptation in their series’ future. It seems like every phenomenal novel or series I read in middle and high school is being transformed into an average, disappointing live-action film. For myself, this disappointment in adaptations stems back to the failed “Percy Jackson & The Olympians” films, which included both movies ripping apart the original plot and therefore tanking in the box offices. Although some franchises like “Harry Potter,” “The Maze Runner” and “Divergent” were successful, they still neglected some characters and plots original book fans loved. At this point, I’ve started to lose hope in ever seeing movies that are just as good as the original story. But should some books even be turned into movies? How can we preserve the fantastically written stories of our young teen years while still catering to new audiences? Since it’s obvious that movies aren’t making the cut, what if more authors follow the “Game of Thrones” route — a well-produced television show that keeps the audience at the edge of their seats while still respecting the original fans? Overall, television show adaptations may be the best route for books.
There are many reasons television shows are better fit for adaptations than movies. To begin, one thing that makes those YA novels so addicting is the world building. Stories like “The Hunger Games,” “The Mortal Instruments” and “Eragon” rely on descriptive details and long explanations to ensure readers truly understand the world they are entering when they flip through the pages. While “The Hunger Games” movies were able to do this, the other two were considered box office failures. This is because the worlds in which these stories existed were too complex to explain in a five-minute movie introduction. As we saw with “Shadowhunters,” Freeform’s television adaptation of “The Mortal Instruments” series, the characters and plots fit much better on the small screen. Although most book fans didn’t enjoy this attempt, the television show lasted three seasons and still won a good amount of awards. Shows like these are able to break down the chapters of the books, making episodes and seasons that can truly expand on characters. Shows allow script writers to incorporate as many of the author’s original intentions without having to worry about the runtime limits faced by feature films. Another example of this is HBO’s “The Outsider,” an adaptation of a Stephen King novel. This miniseries includes many flashbacks and crucial scenes that would have been cut from a movie adaptation. Even King claims this is one of the greatest adaptations of his work. This is because his characters are explored and their pasts are explained, making the story engrossing and intriguing.
Another reason authors should look more into small-screen adaptations of their stories is the ability to work with actors and writers to further their original vision. With movies, big names and action-packed stories win. As we all know, the moneymakers right now are the Marvel-like blockbusters, and small-time novels aren’t making the top grossing lists. So when producing a film, pleasing fans of the original story isn’t the main goal — making money is. Producers and directors want to cast names people recognize and write stories that will keep people interested for two hours. This approach generally isn’t compatible with book adaptations. An example of this is, once again, the “Percy Jackson & The Olympians” series. When the first two movies were released, author Rick Riordan was less than thrilled. Since he lacked the rights to control casting and writing, his wonderful adventure stories were turned into angsty teen films which lacked the depth and inspiring messages of the books. Not only were the characters aged up immensely, but large chunks of the plot and original myths were changed. While the cast had some popular names and the action scenes were intense, overall the movies were lackluster and forgettable. But recently, Disney gave the go-ahead to produce a series adaptation of the books on its streaming service. This time, Riordan is thankfully being given the reins. With this retelling, the amazing books we read as children will get the on-screen representation they deserve. Other examples of this are Leigh Bardugo’s “Grishaverse” books, which are being transformed into the new Netflix series, “Shadow and Bone.” Her duology, “Six of Crows,” is also being added to this show, as it is written in the same universe. These novels being a personal favorite of mine, I delved deep into learning about their production. Not only is the casting stunning and spot-on, but they were also selected under the watchful eye of the original writer. In other words, I don’t have to be concerned about my favorite characters being changed in a disagreeable way. With television adaptations, the original authors can have complete control.
However, these TV adaptations are far from perfect. “Game of Thrones” fans were outraged when Daenerys was sexually assaulted by Drogo in the HBO show, something that was not originally in the books. As mentioned previously, “The Mortal Instruments” book fans were not pleased with the approach Freeform took with their fantasy universe in the “Shadowhunters” series. This is mostly because the plot was simplified, some characters were never introduced and the ending was changed. While not perfect, these adaptations still had much more to offer than failed movies.
As you can see, turning books into movies is generally a disservice to new and old fans alike. These stories are more fit to be spread out across episodes in a series, where new fans can truly experience the love and attachment that us book fans have for these characters and plots. I mean, who wouldn’t want to binge their favorite book series on Netflix?
Nicolette Cavallaro is a sophomore majoring in integrative neuroscience.