“Some day we will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”
– C.S. Lewis
Why do it
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably asking a simple “Why?” Why am I, after all of that exposition and analysis, now bringing the idea of adaptation studies into the classroom? Why am I arguing for its inclusion in class curriculums? Why is it so important to learn about this “bastard” field in order to utilize it and teach students using it?
The simple answer is why not?
Why shouldn’t we learn new things in order to better help our students or our future students? Why shouldn’t we look beyond our books of classic literature, our collections of Shakespeare, and our anthologies of the “canon” poets we’ve been told repeatedly that they’re great? Why shouldn’t we break away from “tradition,” from the “norm” in order to teach students using the types of resource that they’re invested in?
All of that metaphysical questioning aside, there are a lot of reasons for why we should teach adaptation studies. For starters, adaptations force people to interact with the source differently. You wouldn’t engage with a movie adaptation the same way you would a novel because they’re two distinct mediums with their own system of rules and constraints. It makes people have to stop and look at the material with new eyes, forcing them to think more critically than they might otherwise do, which then prevents them from simply reiterating ideas and thoughts that they think professors and teachers want to hear (Stalling 11).
Another reason why we should be teaching adaptations is because it keeps us as teachers and professors from falling back into a routine of using the same texts over and over again. We have to be able to critically engage with new texts and sources that we aren’t going to be as familiar with as, say, a Shakespeare play or a poem by Keats or Dickenson. If we break ourselves out of our own familiarities and comfort levels, we reduce the risk of becoming lazy and repeating the same lesson plans over and over again until the students are just as disinterested in the material as we are (Stalling 11). Because let’s face it, the truth of the matter is that we’ve all had that one teacher who, without fail, will teach the same exact lesson plan time and time again, never altering it or changing direction, and those classes aren’t fun for anyone regardless of whether or not the readings seem to be interesting.
But above all, the most important reason for teaching this field is that it allows students the opportunity to engage with and ask questions of a source that they might not have the chance to do when reading the original source. You get to have them challenge the sources, not just accept them at face value as is easy to do with the canon texts in English. It gives them the freedom to explore an adaptation in a way that you might never have thought to engage with it, and it never hurts to spark that sort of creativity and those critical analyses in a student.
Examples of How
Along with everything else that I’ve now written about for why we should and how we can teach adaptation studies to students, I’ve also come up with a few theoretical assignments that can be used to create an entire course that’s structured around fairy tales and adaptations. These assignments are admittedly very rough ideas on how to scaffold students’ learning and experiences with both fields of studies, and they can (and should) be adjusted to suit your own needs as well as your students’ levels of expertise.
(These examples were created with a 300-level English class in mind, so think your incoming English students who are only now starting to explore what this discipline has to offer.)
As I’m hoping it’s now become obvious, the overall goal in mind was scaffolding the assignments in ways that the students could create a foundation of what it means to engage with adaptations and to build off of that foundation until they’re familiar with all aspects of the field and can critically engage in these works from various angles that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to achieve without each element involved. They start with the basics of engaging and working with an adaptation to get a feel for what it’s like to have to use the jargon of the field and what sorts of things scholars look at on a regular basis when it comes to adaptations. Then they engage with adaptations on a more personal level where they’re forced to switch their thinking and have to critically engage in the creative elements to understand why people might make certain decisions when it comes to their adaptations. And finally, they combine both the analytical elements and the creative elements that they’ve developed to look at a specific work not only more in-depth than before but also from different angles.
Again, let me stress that this is only one of the possible ways that a class like this can be structured and taught. It was created with my experiences as a student within the English discipline as well as a lot of research, theory, and pedagogy in mind, and teaching is not a one-size fits all experience. I would seriously urge you to learn as much about your students as possible when it comes to coming up with assignments and ways to teach a course like this—if it’s possible, of course—so that you can tailor the teaching experience in such a way that all parties involved can be invested in the work.