Thoughts On: Book Adaptations

“Thoughts On” is a monthly feature on thewasofshall where I give my (often rambling) thoughts on a topic relevant to reading, literature, or the book business. To see previous (and future) topics, click here. To participate, scroll all the way down.

Done right, book adaptations are one of my favorite things to read. What’s not to love about revisiting favorite characters in a different setting, or with different life experiences, or even just at different ages? Although breathing life into original characters is hard work, tweaking well-loved fictional characters so that the source material’s fandom doesn’t come at you with torches and pitchforks is just as difficult. An author has to expand the established canon without destroying it, upsetting fans, or pushing the story that much outside of what’s expected that it’s no longer really an adaptation. (Hi, Fifty Shades of Grey.) Sherlock is one of my favorite shows and Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice is one of my favorite films – which is why I was actually quite excited about reading both A Study in Charlotte and Eligible.

AStudyInCharlotteUntil I stopped reading Brittany Cavallaro’s YA novel 28% of the way through and reluctantly finished Curtis Sittenfeld’s modern retelling and was like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. For both novels, there were too many annoyances that took me out of the story and straight into some variation of “why????” For instance, in only a couple of chapters of A Study in Charlotte, I already had a list of questions: Why does Jamie Watson suddenly have Hulk level anger fifteen pages into the story? (Because that anger needs to move the plot forward??) Why do Jamie and Charlotte call each other Watson and Sherlock at sixteen years old? (Because we need our main characters to??) Why did Cavallaro set her novel in a boarding school? Why sixteen and not eighteen? Why high school and not college??

EligibleAnd Eligible… #groan. Why did Sittenfeld change Charles to Chip but keep Fitzwilliam? Why does everyone call Bingley Chip but call Darcy Darcy? Why does William Collins still kiss Lizzy and propose marriage even though they’re step-cousins? (It’s still weird, okay, even if they’re technically not related.) Why does Charlotte move to California to live with Collins when they’re practically strangers? (Because Lizzy has to visit someone in order to meet-cute Darcy at Pemberley??) Why is Mrs. Bennet such a homophobic racist and Mr. Bennet such a stick in the mud about single parenthood? Why is Lydia’s marriage such a horrible awful thing???[1]

I don’t consider myself a capital-F fan of Sherlock Holmes, but I am one toward Pride and Prejudice. The push and pull relationship between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy is akin to a sacred text. Get it right (I’m looking at you, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries) and I’m in a fangirl puddle over what’s going to happen and are Lizzy and Darcy going to get together and how is everything going to work out??? But get that dance wrong? Change just enough details in the wrong way? Suddenly it’s an affront to all things good and pure.

I understand that both Sherlock Holmes and Pride and Prejudice are in the public domain and so authors can do with it what they will, but, to me, neither A Study in Charlotte nor Eligible succeeded as a “modern retelling” of nineteenth- and eighteenth-century novels, respectively. In some instances, Cavallaro and Sittenfeld took the overarching themes of Conan Doyle’s and Austen’s novels and reworked them to make sense in the twenty-teens… and then, in other instances, they simply rehashed plot points to fit within the narratives even when they didn’t make sense. (For example, why make Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson direct ancestors of Holmes and Watson? Why not just make these new iterations the only Holmes and Watson? We already know they’re supposed to be facsimiles. Why not have plot points come naturally to the characters instead of forcing the characters to work around pre-determined plot points?)

I gave up on A Study in Charlotte, but I did power through Eligible. With every Pride and Prejudice retelling, a familiar reader will basically know in what situation the Bennet sisters will find themselves by the end of the story. But I was wholly underwhelmed with Sittenfeld’s specifics, and my takeaway was: would I have kept giving her novel unlimited chances to get better if it wasn’t a Pride and Prejudice retelling? The answer, unfortunately, turned out to be no, no I wouldn’t have.

[1] SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER

Sittenfeld turns Wickham into Jasper Wick and makes him a total cad toward Lizzy only. The big blowup that spurs Darcy into white-knighting Lydia’s hush-hush marriage deals with her boyfriend Ham’s transgender status. My annoyance came not with Ham being transgender but with how many times Sittenfeld used the word in the span of two pages. After this “big reveal,” I just wanted the story to move forward. Like, I understand that Ham is trans… but, so what? He loves Lydia and she loves him. They are adults. They can legally get married. Why are you making such a big deal out of this????

Have your own thoughts on book adaptations? Share them! Post them to your blog, link back to this post, and then comment letting me know!

Five Favorite: Quotes

“Five Favorite” is a feature on thewasofshall where I lay out my five favorite “x”. Sometimes they’re relevant to a season or holiday, mostly they’re not. It’s an all-around fun excuse to give my 100% amazingly awesome opinion. To see previous (and future) topics, click here. To participate, scroll all the way down.

Quotes are tricky. What makes a reader dog-ear a page to come back to? Underline a string of words? Write them down? Memorize them? Half of the things I think I want to savor, I end up re-reading and then deciding they aren’t worth the effort it would take to save. But the five below, those are some of my favorite.

I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation.  It is too long ago.  I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I watched her for a long time, memorizing her shoulders, her long-legged gait.  This was how girls left.  They packed up their suitcases and walked away in high heels.  They pretended they weren’t crying, that it wasn’t the worst day of their lives.  That they didn’t want their mothers to come running after them, begging their forgiveness, that they wouldn’t have gone down on their knees and thanked God if they could stay.

White Oleander by Janet Fitch

Sara waited a respectful time, knowing there was nothing she could do to ease the woman’s pain. Grief was a place, Sara understood, where a person went alone. It was like a room without doors, and what happened in that room, all the anger and the pain you felt, was meant to stay there, nobody’s business but yours.

The Passage by Justin Cronin

“Tell me, then,” she said, unbuckling her seat belt and putting her arm around his waist. “Tell me now, won’t you ever wonder what it would have been like to be with someone else?”
“It would be less,” he said.
“Less?”
He looked over at her, just for a second, sitting sideways in her bucket seat, and squeezed the steering wheel. “It would have to be. I already love you so much. I already feel like something in my chest is going to pop when I see you. I couldn’t love anyone more than I do you, it would kill me. And I couldn’t love anyone less because it would always feel like less. Even if I loved some other girl, that’s all I would ever think about, the difference between loving her and loving you.”

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

When they turned, Pelletier and Espinoza saw an older woman in a white blouse and black skirt, a woman with a figure like Marlene Dietrich, as Pelletier would say much later, a woman who despite her years was still as strong willed as ever, a woman who didn’t cling to the edge of the abyss but plunged into it with curiosity and elegance.  A woman who plunged into the abyss sitting down.

2666 by Roberto Bolaño

Have your own five favorite quotes? Share them! Post them to your blog, link back to this post, and then comment letting me know!

Five Favorite: Jane Austen Adaptations

“Five Favorite” is a feature on thewasofshall where I lay out my five favorite “x”. Sometimes they’re relevant to a season or holiday, mostly they’re not. It’s an all-around fun excuse to give my 100% amazingly awesome opinion. To see previous (and future) topics, click here. To participate, scroll all the way down.

Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors, not just for the literary foundation she’s laid or the legacy she’s left for female writers, but also for the plethora of films and novels based on her works. In honor of Women’s History Month, here are my five favorite.

Clueless Clueless, based on Emma

EmmaApproved Emma Approved, based on Emma

EpicFailEpic Fail by Claire LeZebnik, based on Pride and Prejudice

LizzieBennetDiariesThe Lizzie Bennet Diaries, based on Pride and Prejudice

Pride&Prejudice Pride & Prejudice

Have your own five favorite Austen adaptations? Share them! Post them to your blog, link back to this post, and then comment letting me know!

Five Favorite: Characters I Want to Do

“Five Favorite” is a feature on thewasofshall where I lay out my five favorite “x”. Sometimes they’re relevant to a season or holiday, mostly they’re not. It’s an all-around fun excuse to give my 100% amazingly awesome opinion. To see previous (and future) topics, click here. To participate, scroll all the way down.

There’s no denying we all have at least one – those multi-faceted, three-dimensional characters that seem to emerge out of a work of literature fully formed (and smokin’ hot). Whether you drool because of their physical characteristics or because the author’s hit your perfect match of love krpytonite, there are just certain fictional characters you want to do. Here are my five favorite.

Darcy_LBDFitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice

attachments

Lincoln O’Neill from Attachments (Adorable gif from The Kari Diaries!)

PatrickBateman_AmericanPsychoPatrick Bateman from American Psycho

Cap_TheFirstAvengerSteve Rogers from anything MCU

and Matthew Clairmont from A Discovery of Witches (Who, sadly, doesn’t have any cute gifs.)

Have your own five favorite characters you want to do? Share them! Post them to your blog, link back to this post, and then comment letting me know!

Five Favorite: Films Better than Their Books

“Five Favorite” is a feature on thewasofshall where I lay out my five favorite “x”. Sometimes they’re relevant to a season or holiday, mostly they’re not. It’s an all-around fun excuse to give my 100% amazingly awesome opinion. To see previous (and future) topics, click here. To participate, scroll all the way down.

More often than not, the book is better than the film that’s adapted from it, due to its ability to offer WAY more room for intricate plots, characterization, and world-building, details that just don’t fit in a format which has time constraints and focuses on visual story-telling. Sometimes, though, a movie does its source material justice, by faithfully adapting the book into a screenplay without losing too much of what makes the book so good.

Then there are the times when a film is actually better than the source from which it came. Here are my five favorite.

Fight Club, based on Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, based on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The Lord of the Rings trilogy, based on The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Moneyball, based on Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis

Pride & Prejudice, based on Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Have your own five favorite adaptations better than their source material? Share them! Post them to your blog, link back to this post, and then comment letting me know!