Sunday, 10 January 2021

Interpretations and adaptations

We’ve been binge watching The Magicians over the weekend with my husband. I’d like to say I’m late to the party, but the truth is, I never intended to watch it. That’s because I found the book by Lev Grossman the series is based on frustrating and irritating. Imagine my surprise, then, that I kind of like the show. Not enough to give it my full attention—I’m writing this blog post while it runs on the background—but enough to keep watching.

One of the reasons I disliked the book The Magicians was because I didn’t like any of the characters. I found them selfish and annoying, and I didn’t care if they lived or died. And I couldn’t understand Quentin’s obsession with Fillory, the magical land he’s read about in a book. The story was oddly paced, with utterly unnecessary sections that took forever, and jumps in time and to secondary characters that didn’t make any sense. By the time the characters reached Fillory, I stopped reading.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The TV series is different. Much more time is given to secondary characters, with proper storylines of their own. Different aspects of magic and interpretations of the world are given equal time. The characters all seem better fleshed out. Unnecessary sections—like the characters spending months as geese—are skipped. Don’t get me wrong; I still find the characters selfish and annoying most of the time. But the way they are portrayed by the actors makes them easier to stomach. Quentin is less annoying when he is just one character among many.

Scriptwriters of TV series have the benefit of several books to draw from when they adapt it. They already know what plotlines are important and what aren’t and they can choose accordingly what to show. They don’t have to wait for a character’s storyline to unfold; they can start introducing it from the start. They can pace the story better to keep the viewers’ interest. And they can make their own interpretations. The Magicians definitely benefits from that.

The Duke and I by Julia Quinn

We watched The Bridgertons over the holidays like the rest of the world. It’s another great adaptation of a long series that is very different from the original. Romantic fiction tends to follow a formula where only one couple is in focus in one book. Secondary characters are introduced, but they aren’t fleshed out until in their own books. Again, the scriptwriters had the advantage of knowing all the characters’ stories already, and could make use of them from the start. The result is much more layered and nuanced than in the books. I’ve read most of them, and while I liked them, I liked the TV series more.

The adage is that a book is always better than its adaptation. But not all books have enough substance to be adapted into hours of entertainment. More is needed. Occasionally the adapters make their own additions that aren’t necessarily accepted by the fans—The Hobbit movies come to mind—but with Bridgertons, for example, there hasn’t been a similar backlash. All the elements and their interpretations are there in the books. They’re just being introduced in a different pace. The adaptation is something new, and sometimes even better.

How about you? Is the original always better than the adaptation or is there room for interpretations?


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