‘Time’ Article Says Book Readers Need to Let Go

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Time writer James Poniewozik wrote an article about book adaptations and their translations to the small screen.  The article is well thought out and blunt in terms of what the shows’ producers and writers owe to the original audience, and that is nothing.  The article uses Outlander to bring up the subject of non-readers versus readers in terms of watching a show, but it also uses the examples of Game of Thrones, The Leftovers, and The Walking Dead.  It is inevitable that Outlander will diverge from the books, and we all know that some of us will not be pleased with it and will voice their outrage everywhere.

Thanks to all the fan backlash on that Vanity Fair article on Outlander, the reaction of the fans to that is included as well.

The article also delves into the subject of spoilers.  Does a book that has been out for twenty years still need spoiler warnings when discussing what is happening in the show versus the book?  That is something that is still being pondered by Outlander TV News as the first episode of Outlander hits the web on Saturday.

All in all, it is an article that you need to read in its entirety.  Below are a few quotes from the article.

Speaking as a reader of the books, she’s right–up to a point. If anyone that desperately wants to know what’s coming up in the books, nothing’s stopping them from reading ahead, so I’m not taking a vow of silence. On the other hand, I don’t have to be a jerk about it: in my reviews of GoT–which at this point has started diverging from the books in key ways anyway–I pointedly avoid book spoilage, at least without warning anyone. There are plenty of big forums for book readers to discuss the series with other readers–the AV Club has gone as far as publishing separate “newbies” and “experts” reviews.

People who came to Game of Thrones years after I read the books are not fandom gentrifiers. Our perspectives aren’t inherently better or worse than the other. And the same goes for books vs. their adaptations. As a reader of ASOIAF, HBO owes me preciselynothing–except in the sense that it “owes” me as a subscriber to make any TV series a good TV series. It doesn’t owe me a reproduction of my favorite scenes and storylines. Our default adjective for adaptations is “faithful,” but there’s no breach of faith inherent in changing a story for the screen. There are things I miss in Game of Thrones, but in many ways the streamlining of the vast, digressive story has been an improvement–and in any case, it’s better suited for TV.

I’ve seen six episodes of Outlander, which I’ll review later. I think it has crossover potential, and I didn’t exactly think I needed to turn in my Man Card for watching it. But, to Robinson’s concern, the series itself is a good bit less gauzy than those credits and Bear McCreary theme song suggest.


Source: Time

  • Judith Patton Kaplan

    Speaking strictly about money for a minute, if the fans see on the screen or series an adaptation that is close to what they have imagined you have a hit, with the millions of dollars made on merchandise etc. This leads to more fans in my opinion. examples: Lord of the Rings followed the books pretty closely and its huge. Lets take the opposite – Eragon, the first book in a great series, the movie did not capture any of the essence and the movie didnt do well.
    I understand the point in the article and as an Outlander fan I want to see it capture the book essence.

  • David R

    Ah, the age-old debate! 🙂

    Before the latest version of the film is released, is it REALLY a “spoiler” if I point out that BOTH Romeo AND Juliet die? 😛

    The are SOME things about this article that need to be kept in mind. “Time” is one of the flagships of the American “Progressive” movement – like Labour, here in the UK (NOTE: I am a UKIP supporter) these people routinely instruct people on WHAT they should believe, and what behaviour is acceptable. Therefore w/this author, it is perfectly acceptable to him to tell us to accept what the adapters produce w/out complaint.

    What this leads to is what I perceive as being a flaw in his argument. That is, given that the REASON book adoptions are successful is because instead of just some hack scriptwriter creating a story, you have a successful, published author creating it – when/if you stray from the original story line, the quality of the product USUALLY suffers. “Bones” started out as being loosely based on Kathy Reichs’ Forensic Procedurals/Mysteries, but are now just “Forensic Porn”. “True Blood” is ending now, partly because they had used up the last scrap of plot from Charlaine Harris’ “Southern Vampire” books series, and partly because they had made so many MAJOR changes from the books, that it no longer mattered that the original writer was so talented. The show has gotten weirder and weirder, and is now just used to make political statements (as is “Bones”).

    What (so far) makes “Outlander” so appealing is that the writers are being so careful to stay true to the original. This effectively keeps the very talented Dr. G as a “member” of the writing team. As long as they stay true to the novels, they will get to continue to get this benefit. But the moment they start making so many changes that they have become the authors of a different story, they will no longer have a product produced by a master of the trade (and pretty soon the decreased level of talent will show).

    This is why I believe the author is mistaken.

    • Sann Lucia

      Oh, exactly! Very well said.

      Whenever I find myself feeling particularly hopeful about Outlander the television series, I always remember what was done to the Sookie Stackhouse books, and just cringe. Honestly, it seems very rare for film (either tv or movies) to translate a book or a series of books well, to consistently retain what made the book compelling in the first place.

    • Mary G

      All points well made. I do believe the author was mainly addressing what I have seen (including one on Dr. Gabaldon’s website) that pretty much said that the whole series was awful because Jamie’s hair wasn’t red enough, Claire’s eyes were blue and not “sherry-colored”, Jamie was scrawny and did not tower over everyone … and on and on … and that she and her friends wouldn’t be watching any further because they were just SO disappointed. That is just ignorant!