“The red hood was an invention of Charles Perrault, who tidied up the folk tales of France for popular consumption in the eighteenth century. Other changes—such as the happy ending, are later additions. I will tell you an original version.”
– The Sandman #14
As with everything adaptation studies related, the ways in which an original text is transposed into an adaptation is many, so consider this a crash course in the most common form of transposition—taking an original text and adapting it into a new medium or genre. Now, for the sake of simplicity and to make sure that we’re on the same page, assume that any and all transpositions that I’m talking about are literary texts (like novels and plays) to whatever the new medium that’s being covered is. (After all, that’s usually how a good majority of these adaptations occur.) So, for example, with the first section, I’ll be covering literary texts to movies adaptations.
𝔽𝕚𝕝𝕞 & 𝕋𝕖𝕝𝕖𝕧𝕚𝕤𝕚𝕠𝕟
Or, as I’d like to call it, the most obvious and popular form of adaptations. I mean, seriously, think of the ridiculous amounts of Shakespeare adaptations we have just for movies and TV alone. All of the Romeo and Juliet adaptations—and yes, I am including that infamous 1996 version with Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz version, Romeo + Juliet—to the BBC specials “The Hollow Crown” and “The Hollow Crown: War of the Roses,” and every other film or television adaptation you could think of, this is the most prolific medium that adapters tend to choose—and for good reason, too. From the business aspect, movies and t.v. shows have the potential to generate a lot of revenue for those producing them due to the nostalgia factor and the fact that we, as a people, enjoy the familiarity of a well-known story. But it’s always been more than just about the money.
The reason why filmed adaptations is so prolific, besides from the fact that cinema has always been closely connected to literature, is that they offer the most obvious forms of transposition, and they can incorporate all sorts of elements into them that shape our views and understandings of the original sources and the adaptations. The obvious change in text to film aside, these adaptations allow for potentials such as taking a story (or a collection of stories) set in in either a different world or a different time period and setting it in the modern world, exploring how things like technology and politics would be at play in the story. It’s what allows for shows like Once Upon a Time to last so long because the audience gets to watch as these classic fairy tale characters that most have grown up on are confronted with real world issues and dilemmas that we face in everyday life. It allows for people to watch as Captain Hook tries to learn how to adapt to living in a small town where he has to use a cellphone in order to communicate. And that’s only one of the more common transpositions this adaptation makes possible.
Considering I premised this with the idea of literary texts to ____ transpositions, I bet a good portion of people wouldn’t think of novels. Not at first, at least. But once you become aware of it, it probably makes a lot of sense. After all, how many times do you walk down an aisle in a bookstore and see popular books that adapt the “classics”?
Now, I think it’s safe to assume that someone out there is probably wondering why someone would adapt a literary text into a novel when it’s already in the written form. It might seem pretty redundant if you’re not familiar with all the ways something can be adapted or what each new adaptation has to offer, so I’m going to break it down in as short a space as possible
Some of the most common novel adaptations employ certain transpositions that allow for both the writer and the readers to explore a story or world in a new light. One example would be write the story from the perspective of a different character, so think Gregory Maguire’s Wicked series or his Confessions of an Ugly Step-Sister where he retells classic stories like The Wizard of Oz and “Cinderella” from the perspectives of the “villains” of the original story. Seeing a story told from their point of view, learning about them as a person, and seeing what led them to make the choices that they did in the original story allows for a deeper understanding of these different worlds that are being created. (It also let’s people start questioning what they really know about other characters and events of various stories, which is definitely a good thing. Yay, critical thinking and engagement!)
Then there’s the idea of adapting a literary text in a different genre or even a different time. Consider, as a wildly extreme example, the OMG Shakespeare series where the classic plays of Shakespeare (like Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet) are written in text speak for young adults in order to make Shakespeare more entertaining and engaging for a younger audience who might not want to sit down and try to crack the Rosetta Stone of Shakespeare’s language. So instead of reading the entire “To be or not to be” speech, readers are given “2 or 2 “. It’s written in such a manner that it makes Shakespeare more accessible for teens while surprisingly staying pretty accurate to the original source. Plus, they’re really fun to go through and try to decipher, especially if you’re not one to use emojis all the time.
(This particular type of adaptation is also a large reason why I consider certain fanfictions and sequels and prequels to be adaptations, but that’s neither here nor there in the grand scheme of this post.)
Admittedly, graphic novels and graphic novel adaptations are, by far, my favorite form of adaptation. I won’t deny that I grew up in a household where comics were just as popular and as well-loved as the books we had. It’s because of that love that I found myself leaping head first into adaptation studies in the first place because it was the first place where I felt like I could comfortably explore this huge part of my childhood in an academic setting. After all, what’s cooler than being able to nerd out with a good comic and your favorite field of study AND being graded on it?
(Answer: Nothing. Nothing’s cooler. It’s pretty wicked.)
However, no matter how amazing and wonderful I think this particular aspect of adaptations is, it isn’t without its own drawbacks. There is a lot at play when it comes to transposing some literary text into this particular medium because there are a lot of stigmas associated with both adaptations and with comics and graphic novels. I’ve already discussed some of the stigmas associated with adaptation studies, so I’ll spare you the mind numbing effect of having to reread them and will instead jump into the negative stigmas that this genre faces.
One of the biggest stigmas that graphic novels face is the notion of them being “low brow” works, an idea that is especially big within the academic circle. Of course, this stigma isn’t as bad as it was years ago, and more and more people are slowly coming to realize that graphic novels are of value, but there are still a large number of people out there that consider these texts to be “childish” because of its use and reliance of art to tell a story (Hansen 58).
But don’t let all of these negative aspects keep you from exploring the use of graphic novel adaptations because for as many negative thoughts on them, these types of adaptations offer many more positive aspects.
The medium’s greatest aspect (and thus the focus of this section) is the very thing that people often criticize: its use of artwork. See, here’s the thing about graphic novels: the story cannot be told to its fullest potential without the use of both the alphabetical written text AND the art. Just as much as a reader needs the dialogue and inner monologue to understand certain parts of the story, the art is needed to convey a depth and richness that sometimes the words on their own can’t manage and they “often require interpretation and high-level critical thinking, analysis, and evaluation skills” that wouldn’t otherwise be put to use considering analyzing a text and analyzing an image are vastly different skills (59).
Do you need another reason for why graphic novel adaptations are so wonderful? Hansen has you covered by pointing out that “Artists can communicate through their visual presentations of information, allowing the graphic novel to be an excellent vehicle to teach the concepts of symbolism, foreshadowing, metaphor, and many other literary devices” (62)
There are, of course, other mediums that are just as important and have as much to offer people as the three major mediums that’ve received their own sections. However, due to the explorations that’ll occur in later posts, I felt it more fitting to focus a majority of this section on the ones that are looked at within this project. Still, I don’t want to exclude some other mediums that’re available to people that might be useful, so here are how adaptations work in a few other mediums.
↳ Video Games
When someone thinks of adaptations, they probably don’t stop to think about whether or not there are video games that’re adapted from another source. (Though, really, they definitely should considering how many superhero video games are actually adaptations.) Still, it isn’t without its merits. Take the Kingdom Hearts series, for example, where players get to interact with various characters of the Disney franchise and the Final Fantasy franchise, exploring worlds and stories that are familiar enough to evoke nostalgia while engaging and unique enough in its various plots to keep the players coming back for more. Or, if that’s not your cup of tea, the various Sherlock Holmes games like Crime and Punishment for Playstation 4 where the player is actually playing as Sherlock and has to solve various crimes through the clues they find. They’re different ways of engaging with these familiar sources, immersing players in visual, audio, and kinesthetic elements while forcing them to think critically in order to beat the game or solve the mystery the way that Sherlock Holmes or a Disney character or Final Fantasy character might.
Another popular medium for adaptations to occur is music. Here, like with movies, there are limitations on what can be done, so usually you’ll find themes or characters adapted rather than an entire story. There are occasional songs that’ll actually adapt poems, like Loreena McKennit’s “Lady of Shallot,” a music adaptation of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem of the same name, but those sorts of adaptations are rarer to find than most.
One example of how both themes and characters are adapted and transposed into this particular medium is Natalia Kills’ “Wonderland,” a song that openly acknowledges its connection to classic fairy tale through mentions of characters such as Snow White and Red Riding Hood and themes like being lost in the forest or a knight coming in to rescue the damsel. Of course, this completely subverts all these ideas that we’ve come to associate with fairy tales—the female character needing to be saved/rescued, needing true love, and the like—by openly stating that she, the protagonist of this particular story, isn’t any of those characters and doesn’t need to be saved. Because of the constraints of the chosen medium and the difference in goals—wanting to produce a hit song, for instance—all of these little nuances and aspects become a part of the process of adapting an original source into a this medium and allows for an exploration and maybe even a different understanding (as is the case with this song which is much more modern, feminist, and overtly sexual than fairy tales are typically thought of today) and thinking (such as why did the songwriter decide to write this song this way with all of those allusions and references).
The final medium I’ll address is the theater. This could be either “regular” theater where it’s a play or skit without any music, or it could be “musical” theater where the songs tell the story and add to the overall plot just as much as the dialogue and acting bits do (like The Phantom of the Opera does with its “Beauty and the Beast” adaptation). As with film and television adaptations, theater as an adaptation offers a wide variety of transposition options. Between the most obvious transposition in the change in mediums, you also have the potential change in genre & setting (like David Morrisey’s version of Macbeth which is set in a futuristic post-apocalyptic setting) that then challenges and adds new levels of meaning to the story being told. These decisions, these changes all affect the story, and because of that, they allow for new meanings to come forth with critical engagement.
(Admittedly, I’m not as familiar with theater of any kind despite my having been in a theater group when I was younger, hence why this is the shortest of all the sections. I’ll expand this later once I’ve had the chance to learn more.)
*For those of you who are still interested in all the different ways the various mediums have to offer people’s understandings of adaptations and adaptation studies, I do plan on further engaging with this topic at a later date. I just thought it would be best if I didn’t completely overwhelm you lovely readers by posting every little thing all at once in a giant post.