Cultures Literature

Lost In Adaptation

As a lover of both books and the screen, the intersection between the two is one of my favourite places to revel in. Watching the books I love come to life on the screen, when done right, can be utterly joyous (looking at you, Shadow and Bone). 

However, early on I learnt the taste of bitter disappointment when Hollywood meddles with things better left on the page. Let me set the scene: 12-year-old me marathon reads The Mortal Instruments (my takeaway from that experience could be an article in itself for all its sins). Being transported not just to New York but to a world of monsters, mayhem and romance led me to a defining moment as a reader: finally understanding the joy of a good, long series and the cementing of my love of fantasy which still rages on in me today (Oxford needs more dragons in its reading lists and that’s not up for debate). 

So, imagine my sheer elation when I realised that The Mortal Instruments would be hitting the big screen that following year? A group of friends and I booked our tickets, ordered our popcorn and settled in to see the magic of the Shadowhunter world come to life. Now, for all its flaws, the film was generally enjoyable and, for me, sits comfortably alongside Twilight in the ranks of ‘Cringe-Hot-Mess Comfort Films I Love to Watch on a Rainy Day’. I *could* talk about that adaptation but that’s not what I’m here for. Oh no. What I’m here to talk about is The Mortal Instruments’ rare second chance. 

Show Biz is brutal and it’s not often that a critical bomb will be given a second chance. But, Netflix swooped in and churned out the unforgivable mess that was Shadowhunters. Full disclosure: I have tried my darnedest to forget this show. But the one thing that is burnt into my retinas is that pilot episode. 

Much like that… ahem… infamous final season of Game of Thrones, I lay blame at the feet of the writers. The characterisation of teenagers was truly stomach churning. With corny handshakes and cliché lines that are painfully inauthentic, the pilot epitomised the problems so many adult writers can run into when writing teenage characters. Teenagers are human and multifaceted, not just caricatures. And the bitter irony is that the majority of the cast are picture perfect for their roles. The fact that this show got three series and ranks higher than the film adaptation (maybe I’m missing something in that final season and a half I forsook) is truly beyond me but, aside from that wondrous Malec episode in the first season that made my heart soar, this was a show I wrote off as another YA adaptation Hollywood had failed to do justice. 

Fast forward a few years and I’m sat writing this now, far more cynical about adaptations than the sweet summer child I was before. As June dwindles on and I look back at half a year of good (and not so good) reads, here’s a rundown of some books I’d love to see make it to Film and TV:

Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. I shouldn’t have liked this book: I don’t like royals, politicians or romcoms but I fell head over heels for president’s son Alex and English Prince charming, Henry. The romance was sweet and fiery and the cast of characters, alongside their humour, would make for gloriously riotous viewing. 

The Push by Ashley Audrain. Reese Witherspoon, this one would be *so* up your street. A nail biting psychological drama that explores the darker side of motherhood, this one would work oh-so-well as, say, a mini-series à la Amazon Prime. 

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta. Written in verse and exploring protagonist Michael’s coming-of-age as a Black, queer teen growing up in England, this joyful novel would work so well on the small screen; just think of all that drag!

Thankfully, the adaptation gods have answered some of my prayers and so, to finish, I leave you, dear reader, with some confirmed and upcoming adaptations of my favourite reads to look out for:

Dune by Frank Herbert (Okay, okay, I haven’t actually read this *yet*. BUT I will. This article will hold me to that. And let’s be frank here; that trailer was phenomenal.)

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. If you love Fleetwood Mac and all things music, may I present to you the story of Daisy Jones and how she and the Six rose to fame and came crashing back down again. Written in interview format years later, this very rock and roll tale, which was set to start filming last March, is now beginning production in September and will be heading to Amazon Prime!

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue. A very slow-burn and strange tale of an English nurse sent to Ireland on an unusual case, this film has been picked up by Netflix and will be starring Florence Pugh. Filming is set to begin in Ireland in August.

Passing by Nella Larsen. One of my favourite books that I studied this year, I was elated to hear this was being made into a movie. With filming complete and a great critical reception at Sundance earlier this year, this one should hopefully be available for Netflix streamers soon!

And, with that, I leave you now to make a start on Dune, as promised. To my fellow bibliophiles and cinephiles, hopefully my selection of adaptations will give you an idea of what to look out for (and what to miss) as we enter the long vac!

Hetta Johnson (she/her) is a contributing writer and Junior Editor for Cultures at The Oxford Blue. She is in her second year reading English Language and Literature at Worcester College and, when not wandering Oxford or with her nose in a book, can be found in the countryside of Northamptonshire.