It’s a Book! It’s a Movie! It’s a…Zombie?


Editor’s Note by Elizabeth Langosy

What We Talk About When We Talk About Adaptations


"Altar" @ Camille Martin

As a kid, I saw books and their associated movies as two completely separate things.

I loved J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, and I loved the 1953 Disney film. I read and reread the books in L. Frank Baum’s Oz series, and I watched and rewatched the classic MGM version of The Wizard of Oz.

I never expected the book and movie versions to be the same, even if they shared a name, characters, and a plot.

But something has changed as I’ve grown older. Now I can't help but compare the film to the book and get cranky whenever I find—as I often do—that the adaptation has sucked the soul out of the story. I fret inside and even boil over (annoying my movie-watching companions) when I consider the havoc wreaked on, say, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. I'm sure your thoughts are indignantly flooding with beloved book characters whose depictions on film pulled your heartstrings. And it’s possible my work as a writer and passion for reading have made me view words—and the inner thoughts they can convey—as inviolate, and that I'd enjoy the film versions if only I stopped comparing them to the books.

Or maybe it’s just a matter of semantics. Does it shift the paradigm if a film is called a “retelling?” Am I more comfortable with “influenced by” or “based on?” When does an “adaptation” become a new creative work altogether?

"The Birth of Newton" @ Camille Martin

These are the kinds of questions TW writers ask in the November/December 2012 issue of Talking Writing. With “50 Shades of Adaptation,” we’re not only riffing on another popular (and infamous) book title, we’re also referring to the many forms that adaptations, retellings, and mashups can take.

Adaptation is an intrinsic component of pop and post-2000 media culture, as writers, artists, musicians, and bloggers appropriate the works of earlier authors and recast them in a dazzling array of new forms. In my cranky mode, I don’t think all the new stuff dazzles, but contributors to this issue offer an array of opinions, pro and con.

In “Why Horror Movies Disappoint Readers,” blogger and fiction writer KC Redding-Gonzalez is firmly in my camp, arguing that most horror films don’t hold a candle to the original books. She notes:

Hollywood’s reliance on special effects, lovingly detailed monsters, and predictable plots annoys my Lovecraftian nature. It tortures my gothic roots.

Lorraine Berry takes on film and book depictions of the Mumbai slums in “Why Did a Manipulative Movie Make Me Cry?” In comparing Behind the Beautiful Forevers with Slumdog Millionaire, she’s frustrated that the astounding narrative journalism of Katherine Boo fails to move her to tears, as Danny Boyle’s movie does.

Later in the issue cycle, Andrew Vanden Bossche explains why he loves Batman, a comic book hero who can be—and has been—turned into every variation of noir detective, gun-slinging enforcer, campy billionaire in tights, and protector of America.

"Byzantine Man" @ Camille Martin

In “Emily Dickinson, Zombie,” Martha Nichols details her unexpected love of poet Paul Legault's loopy takeoff on Dickinson’s poems. For example, he "translates" the eight-line poem "A Word dropped careless on a Page" as:

The only thing bad writers are good for is spreading disease.

Musician and songwriter Mali Sastri does her own form of mashup with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. The book helped her break out of a writer's block—and inspired the lyrics for her band's new EP, Private Violence, scheduled for release the day after Mali's essay appears in TW.

Poets and visual artists also mix it up, crossing genres and mediums. David Meischen explores the shifting boundary between prose poetry and flash fiction. Theresa Williams celebrates the influence of haiku on her own writing. Poet Camille Martin describes the commonalities between her verses and the art she creates from collaged words and images. Visual artist Donald Langosy honors the centuries-old emotional connection between painters and poets.

David Biddle’s Talking Indie column debuts in this issue, too. David will issue regular reports from the brave new world of independent publishing, and in “Sorry, Your Buddies Won’t Buy Your Book,” he recounts his own disappointment when his family and friends didn't immediately download his first self-published novel.

Am I convinced that adaptation is the new little black dress, a great fit for all literary occasions? I hear a new version of Rebecca is in the works, courtesy of Dreamworks, and I’m keeping an open mind. But….


Table of Contents for Nov/Dec 2012



Elizabeth Langosy

Elizabeth Langosy is the executive editor of Talking Writing.

She is greatly enjoying the BBC adaptation of Jennifer Worth's memoir Call the Midwife, although she hasn't yet read the book.

“One of the great things about the online world is that you can be a philosopher and a theologian as easily as the next person." — "Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places"




Thanks, Lorraine! Your piece on Behind the Beautiful Forevers vs. Slumdog Millionaire is a great addition to the issue!

There's so much to look forward to this month, Elizabeth! I can't wait to read Richard Zimler's piece about traveling back to Poland; your article on why you hate the movie version of Rebecca, which a student once told me is her favorite book and movie; and what Martha ultimately writes about the Divine Ms. D.
Psyched for a great edition!

I agree, Hadley. Once I read a book, it generally kills the film version for me. And there are many adaptations I loved, like Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, until I read the book and realized that all the nuances that been stripped out of the film. That's why I'm trying to make myself to look at them as unconnected—although I'm not sure I'll ever succeed.

So many bad adaptations, but some, like "The World According to Garp," are better than the original book. My two cents? Certain stories lend themselves to films, and others really work better as novels--especially if the plot turns on the internal lives of characters.

Then, of course, there are film adaptations that expand on and enrich the experience of reading the original book. Peter Jackson's riff on "The Lord of the Rings" is a prime example. This morning, I saw a tweet from Margaret Atwood that said she'd spent all of Nov. 6 reading Tolkien to escape the American election hype. The upshot? "Frodo won!"

The three films in The Lord of the Rings series are among the adaptations I loved, too, Martha. I reread (for the fourth or fifth time) both The Hobbit and the three books in the trilogy before the movie versions came out. The books and the movies were equally great. I'm not sure I'd say they enriched and expanded on the books for me, but I do think Jackson and his crew did a fabulous job. I'm really looking forward to The Hobbit!

If Jennifer Love Hewitt is able to translate the spirit of Austen into her West Virginia version it could be interesting. I think I should offer up my consultation services ... for a reasonable fee, of course.

I just read something horrible...that Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice will get the adaptation treatment! While that's nothing new, this one will take place in modern-day West Virginia.

Since so much of Austen's work focuses on a rigid class structure (and a society in which women are less than liberated), I'm not sure how that will translate to modern-day America. I've seen modern Shakespeare adaptations that worked (once I got beyond the oddity of seeing 20th century characters speaking in 16th century vernacular) but I just don't see this working. I may give it a watch for the "train wreck" factor.

Well, I don't know, Wendy--it could be okay. Lots of viewers like the adaptation of Sherlock Holmes in contemporary London. (I have quibbles, but some of those episodes are fun.) I prefer that kind of adaptation to mashups like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I may like giving Emily Dickinson the zombie mash, just because it's a way of really grappling with the meaning of her poems. But an adaptation of a classic to a contemporary setting can work on its own terms. It's all about the quality of writing, yes?

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