“Don’t Judge a Book by its Movie”: Adaptations


The Magicians has been sitting on my shelf for a long time. I’ve had several people tell me to read it, and since it is often lauded as Harry Potter for grown-ups, I really should have read it before now. But of course, life and a ridiculous penchant for buying too many books, plus an outrageous TBR pile put the project on hold.

But then Syfy (God, I still hate that pretentious respelling. Why can’t we just be good old fashioned Scifi?) decided to do their mini-series and I thought it was about time I give it a try. This is not really a review of the book, but I will say that, only having read the first one, I did enjoy it. The characters are a little hard to like sometimes (Quentin in particular does not change as much as I would have expected), but I thought the magic system was really cool, and I enjoyed the meta Narnia parallels.

Upon finishing the book, I decided to give the mini-series a try. I’d heard good things already, but I am always suspicious about book adaptations. I think all readers are, and for good reason. We have been burned many, many times. Too often our precious stories fall into the hands of people who could care less and what we are left with is a puddle of half-assed cinema that doesn’t even come close to capturing what we felt when reading. They make changes, cut out important things and add in events that never even happened. Characters are miscast. It’s wholesale slaughter. My favorite example of this is the Ella Enchanted movie, which is so removed from the source material that I wonder how they even got away with using the name of the book.

So, I was not entirely surprised when upon watching the first episode, there were deviations from the book. A lot of deviations. But, surprisingly, I liked it. The changes created a story that stood apart from the book, but still retained the spirit of it. It is an homage to The Magicians more than an adaptation and it works. You have the feel of The Magicians, the atmosphere and general architecture. Despite the differences, it is still believable that this is the same story. This is not the first time I have been accepting of changes from book to film. Many people complained when Tom Bombadil was left out of the Lord of the Rings films. It never bothered me. As much as I love Tom, I found Peter Jackson’s explanation of why he wasn’t included in the cast satisfactory. Tom did not contribute directly to the narrative of the ring, which is the main story they were trying to tell in the film. The story still worked without him, despite his awesomeness.

I guess I find myself wondering what makes changes acceptable when it comes to adaptations. Reading is a deeply personal experience, so of course there are going to be people who are dissatisfied no matter what. But there are adaptations that are universally hated while some who had significant changes seem to work.

My personal theory is that as long as the story is generally intact, as long as the characters feel authentic to what the represented in the book, the adaptation will work. Harry Potter worked well, despite changes, because it still felt like Harry’s story. It still represented the world J.K. Rowling created. When adaptations are not authentic to this aspect of the book, they fail. See again, Ella Enchanted. The book deals more with the consequences of not being able to make your own choices. The movie did not really touch on this theme at all, adding song numbers and a weird villain that completely detracted from what was great about the book.

I could be way off base. I’m sure that people can come up with some great examples of adaptations that while essentially true to the book, failed. I would love to see some of these examples so I can further refine this theory. In the meantime, I’m going to finish The Magicians.

Star Wars: A Love Letter

So. This is the first of a series that we are going to have here called Love Letters. Basically, it is our gushing in the direction of things that we love. A lot. Things that have had particular impact on our lives as nerds and in general. Not much more I can say really, just be prepared for a lot of high pitched squeeing. So without further ado:

Star Wars: A Love Letter

Everyone has some idea about Star Wars, whether they like it or not. Even if they have never seen it, the space opera has been so deeply embedded into our cultural psyche it’s impossible to escape. With the release of The Force Awakens, that presence has been stirred up again, and the Star Wars train is at full steam ahead for the foreseeable future. And I plan to ride that train all the way to a pandering blog post. Choo choo!

So Romantic!

My Star Wars story is similar to a lot of other fans’ experiences. I was introduced to the movie by my parents when I was tiny, and it’s one of the earliest movie watching memories I have (along with Beauty and the Beast…I feel like this reveals a lot about my personality). My biggest memory is being scared shitless when Luke comes home to find Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen’s burned bodies (spoiler alert?). But I also remember the sheer enjoyment of the films, as well as the camaraderie I felt with my brother while watching them. We didn’t get along too well back then, but we always seemed able to watch movies together. And Star Wars (and the beloved Ewok movie of course. Ahem.) was a common choice.

On a side note, my Dad recently told me an anecdote about my Grandmother who passed away last year. Apparently she wasn’t that impressed by the movies, but went on and on about how much she loved the opening, how the words scrolling diagonally and disappearing into the distance was the coolest thing ever. I just thought that was sweet, and somehow very her.

I was 12 when The Phantom Menace came out. I preface the next part of this story with that fact because I would like to say that as a 12 year old I might have had questionable tastes. Meaning, I liked the movie when it came out. I saw it several times in the theater, bought a lot of the merchandise, hung posters on my wall. Basically, I was the target audience for that movie. I am not (that) ashamed of liking the first prequel because I think that while there are probably plenty of 12 year olds with great taste, taste is something that can change dramatically as you grow. While The Phantom Menace holds a special place in my heart, I don’t think of it as a movie that I love, and I have the vocabulary to back up why. But we all know why the prequels are weak. Maybe a blog post for another time.

But the real reason I am not ashamed of my Phantom Menace period is because it shaped me as a fan. I began to create art seriously for the first time, from tracing magazine photoshoots featuring Queen Amidala’s fabulous wardrobe, to drawing my own Jedi characters. I began writing and reading fan fiction. While I had been dabbling in writing since about age eight, fan fiction was actually an important step in the process of my original writing. I was engaged creatively in the Star Wars universe, and I grudgingly have to thank George Lucas for that.

Another, probably more important byproduct of this mania (a mania that would re-emerge with subsequent fandoms, but maybe never to the same extent) was that I found my people. Before the movie even came out, I connected with two girls at my school who already loved Star Wars like me. And we were excited. We would talk about the details excessively. We would make up cooperative stories. We would geek out about the expanded universe and about how cool Mara Jade was, and how Luke was so whiny, and oh my gosh they actually get married? (as I have gotten older I have grown to love Luke a lot more than I used to). It was my first experience of how loving something could be so exciting, and how you could share that excitement with other people, and make real friends.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that Star Wars allowed me to be the kind of girl that I think is not encouraged in mainstream society. That is, I could be a girl, but still kick ass. I could like spaceships and lightsaber fights, but still think Ewan McGregor was so dreamy. I could want Princess Leia’s hair, but still think it was so totally awesome how she took charge and just ruled everything. While Star Wars still has some representation problems (something being beautifully addressed in the Force Awakens), I think it’s a good place for girl nerds to start realizing that they can be a girl and a nerd, whatever that means for them.

I realize all of this is very idealistic and maybe ignores some of the major problems with the franchise. I plan on writing some other blog posts about that, but this was really an exercise for me to understand how fandom fits into my life, especially a fandom that has affected so many other people.

So yes. I plan on doing a couple more blog posts on Star Wars, but in the meantime, thus endeth the inaugural love letter.