What Makes For Good Adaptation?

It’s good to be blogging again after our three week trip to Taiwan. I have several posts in the works about that trip, but today I want to write about a really great article I read today on Lit Hub with the rather long title: “How Should a Literary Adaptation Be? We Asked the Critics for the Answer” by Kristen Evans.

I’ve talked a bunch on this blog about adaptation, but I have stressed in my posts that I don’t like to just spend time talking about what makes an adaptation good or bad, and instead I tend to focus on what is being done differently that I find interesting or notable and what is being done well.

On the whole I’ve stayed away from the question of good or bad because I’ve always felt that people’s opinions were mainly drawn from one issue, which is how faithful an adaptation is to its source material. Some people take this to mean whether you can match a movie to its source character for character and plot point for plot point, and some people take this more loosely. In the words of the critic Matt Zoller Seitz “It’s like, did you get the book, or did you not get the book?” Getting the book meaning do you understand the meaning behind the words, the “point,” the atmosphere, etc.

The article mentions this viewpoint, which is a sound one. But then it goes on to have a very interesting conversation about what visual mediums add (namely world building on a sometimes epic scale a la Game of Thrones) and how they struggle with how to portray interiority.

It also talks about the need to look at a visual medium in context–how it responds/fits into the larger cultural conversation, and the need to look at it according to its own merits (aka how does it function as a show independent of its source material).

I found this conversation around what makes for good criticism and good adaptation to be fascinating. I lean towards looking at adaptations in conversation with themselves and with culture in general, but I also think that a good adaptation should “get” its source material. Meaning that the original author if he or she was to see their work produced should be able to respect the artist’s vision of their story, even though it might be quite far from a work that they would produce themselves.

But now over to you–how do you think a literary adaptation should be judged? What’s your favorite literary adaptation? Let me know in the comments.

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