The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Books Calling for Adaptation

Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor

Last week, I wrote about the television adaptation of the Outlander book series, and about my concerns that certain elements of the book series might not translate well into television (and inadvertently infuriated a lot of Diana Gabaldon fans when I did).  But I stand by what I said: some books simply don’t translate well to television or movie format (e.g. The Time Traveler’s Wife’s non-linear narrative would have been very hard to pull off on-screen even with the most brilliant writers and directors in Hollywood).  Other books actually translate much, much better than you would expect.  (John Irving’s The Cider House Rules, which worked onscreen namely because Irving, who also wrote the script, was willing to make the necessary changes to the story to ensure it worked—primarily, shortening the time frame so that baby-faced Tobey Maguire didn’t have to age 20 years.)

But some books just beg for an adaptation.  Certain books/series just have that something that you know they will, in capable hands, adapt well for either the big or small screen.  So today, I’m going to talk about a few that I think would.

The Disillusionists Trilogy by Carolyn Crane (Mind Games, Double Cross, Head Rush)

The medium: Television series.

Why this would work: When talks about a Disillusionists television series last year didn’t go anywhere, I was disappointed.  Someone needs to go back and revisit this one!  With True Blood ending next year, there’s going to be an urban fantasy gap on television to fill, and the Disillusionists series is a very original urban fantasy that doesn’t involve vampires, fairies, or werewolves.  It also has something of a comic book/superhero vibe—albeit a superhero story twisted on its head.  With all the superhero movies continuing to dominate our summers, and Agents of Shield now on television, I think the series could be on-trend, but still unique, enough to work.  Hypochondriac Justine teams up with a group of neurotic crime fighters called the Disillusionists, who “zing” their neuroses into unsuspecting evil-doers, mentally breaking them down and forcing them to repent.  The nature of the stories means you could make the series as long or as short as you needed to, but still maintain an overarching arc to hold it together.  And unlike, say, Lost, writers would actually know where the arc is going ahead of time.

Potential pitfalls: Would audiences be able to buy into a hypochondriac superheroine?  (If the lead were male, I’d say no problem.  But we’re so much harder on imperfect female characters.)

Who should write/direct: Joss Whedon will just have to split his time from Agents of Shield.  (It’s about time he redeemed himself from the Smurfette Syndrome-afflicted Avengers, anyway.)

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The medium: Movie, probably released during the ever-popular holiday movie season.

Why this would work: After hearing nothing but praise for this book, I read it about two years ago.  I was not as enamored as everyone else, I’m afraid.  It’s a beautiful book, filled with gorgeous images and compelling ideas, but it falls short in the emotion department.  The story hinges on the romance between Celia and Marco, but I just didn’t feel it.  But this is something a movie could develop, while bringing to life its rich visuals.  If done right, I think this could be one of those rare instances where the movie is better than the book

Potential pitfalls: If writers can’t find the emotional core of the story, the movie will fall flat.

Who should write/direct: Guillermo del Toro proved that he was adept at mixing deep emotion with beautiful visuals in Pan’s Labyrinth.

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

The medium: A movie.

Why this would work: This is a weird book.  I was actually shocked to learn that it was originally published in 1989, as it still feels very fresh and original today.  But at its heart, it’s about family—an incredibly dysfunctional family, but a family nonetheless.  The story is narrated by Olympia Binewski, whose parents used drugs and radioactive substances to alter the DNA of their children and create their own freak show.  This is another movie that could be incredibly visually striking.  The trick of it is to focus enough on the human aspects of the story that the weird and surreal doesn’t overwhelm it.

Potential pitfalls: It may just be too weird for audiences to connect with.

Who should write/direct: David Lynch

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry

The medium: Miniseries on pay cable.

Why this would work: Us Americans love our police procedurals.  There also continues to be, almost 45 years after the murders, a certain mystique and fascination with Charles Manson.  What I found so intriguing about this book is that the suspense here is not in the whodunit, but how—and how Bugliosi and his team were going to prosecute a man who wasn’t physically at either of the murder scenes. There’s also this fascinating element of how Manson managed to lure these young people into his web.

Potential pitfalls: In spite of the fact that Manson’s been in jail for over four decades, he still seems to hold some allure for young, impressionable kids.

Who should write/direct: David Fincher, who did a great job with the similarly themed Zodiac.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

The medium: Movie

Why this would work: During the time I went on my young adult reading kick, very few of the books I read stuck with me long-term.  A lot of them were just so…fluffy.  This one wasn’t.  Seventeen-year-old Mia is involved in a car accident that kills her entire family.  While she’s in a coma, she re-lives the memories of her life before the accident, and puts off the one final decision she has to make: to stay or to go.  I love that this movie is actually grounded in the real world, and that the emotions here are genuine.

Potential pitfalls: It is kind of a downer.

Who should write/direct: Apparently, this one is already in development, with someone named R.J. Cutler slotted to direct.