Adapting to Adaptation

The only thing a fangirl loves more than a pretty boy is mauling him. Because mauling is love, at least in the Horten vocabulary.

Unfortunately, pretty boys are scarce in reality. Nobody dare try to tell me otherwise, unless you can provide names and locations to back up such claims. Or at least photos. Pretty, pretty photos.

Ahem. Because of this scarcity, the Horten turns to fiction. Fiction is the realm of possibilities. I provide the presence of fictional crushes as an example, but, really, fiction appeals to a diverse range of people for a diverse range of reasons. Speculative fiction, especially, is the land where anything goes—where the implausible is made plausible, at least for a little while.

This is not, of course, the only reason speculative fiction evokes such strong responses in its readers and viewers. I do assert, however, that it’s an important one. Because obsession is very often the pining for something desired but unattainable. In this case, something acquired through unreality, through vicarious exploration of (ideally) limitless worlds.

And thus, I use the Horten penchant for pretty boys as a case study for why adaptation is such a dangerous game: when fans latch onto a piece of fiction (not always because of starry-eyed love for certain characters—that’s just one example), they really latch. The dedication that makes them such loyal fans to the original is the dedication that makes them such brutal critics of anything attempting to use or build on that original.

Adaptation, you say? What adaptation? Tsk, dear readers! Did you think I was rambling about mauling simply for the fun of it? On the contrary: I have a point. To prove it, I will now subtly segue from pretty boys into Nightrunner. Anybody familiar with the series should understand how well these two things connect. Ahem.

Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner series began publication in 1996. Although not bestsellers (cue my disillusionment), the books have earned a dedicated following in their fourteen years of print. Last year, an adaptation of the first three novels was announced, the first set for release in 2011. And thus, last year, my head exploded.

Personally, I’m not averse to adaptations—when they’re done well. There’s something inordinately thrilling about viewing a world and characters into which you’ve invested so much imaginative time and effort, as you pictured them but even better—clear-cut and there, rather than vaguely defined shapes lurking in the mental basement.

As a general rule, however, I’m wary of adaptations. Many excellent texts have been massacred when converted to screen—massacred in the eyes of those who loved the originals, at least. A fan’s response to an adaptation depends largely on their interpretation of the original; watching somebody else interpret a beloved story in a way that clashes with your own can be jarring.

The fan who knows whole sections of a text by heart will die a little inside whenever a scene is cut or added. The fan who constructs vivid mental images of characters will cringe when they are cast “wrong, all wrong!”. The fan who can recite pages of conversation on cue will weep (or maybe just yell at the screen) whenever a piece of dialogue is changed.

Yes, fans are melodramatic. But melodrama is love, at least in the Horten vocabulary.

All that said, I’m thrilled by the news of this adaptation. For one thing, I’m delighted that Lynn Flewelling’s work has garnered such attention. For another, this film (more likely mini-series, but I believe that’s still unconfirmed) shows promising signs of doing the books justice. The author’s involved in the scriptwriting, and the production company asserted from the beginning that it aims to stay true to the books and include as much of the world as possible.

The production company is small and appears to be low-budget, but this doesn’t concern me much. Although decent effects and stunning settings are always preferable in fantasy films, Nightrunner is a character-driven series and the most important thing, in my mind, is casting the characters well. As long as good actors are chosen—not simply ones who look like the characters, but ones who can be those characters—I believe this has the potential to be a great adaptation.

An adaptation rarely lives up to fans’ expectations, because fans are exceedingly picky creatures with a lot of love to give—to originals. The best adaptations, I’ve found, are the ones that don’t try to replicate the books, but work well as films in themselves, while staying true to the spirits of their originals. The first time I watch Luck in the Shadows on screen, I’ll probably cringe at every alteration and deviation. But—assuming it’s good as a film—I’ll watch it again, once I’ve consoled myself to the fact it’s a different entity from the books and should be viewed as such. And, with that in mind, I think I’ll come to enjoy it more every time I watch it, appreciating it for its own value.

But it would still be nice if Alec and Seregil’s actors are pretty. Ahem.

What do you think of the upcoming Nightrunner productions, as well as adaptation more generally? Do you think the prospects are good, or do you remain pessimistic? Do you think my obvious obsession with pretty boys overrides my ability to argue persuasively? Comment away!

…Unless you want to tell me that my obsession with pretty boys overrides my ability to argue. Then you can go comment on someone else’s post. 😉

If you’re interested in the adaptation, you can follow its progress on this Facebook page.

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