“They changed it so now it’s bad” is something you hear all the time when it comes to book adaptations. But do adaptations really have to be faithful to the book to be deemed good?
I will be the first one to claim that the Harry Potter and Hunger Games franchises didn’t get it right. The Harry Potter movies scrapped a complex stories with meaningful themes down to a few plotlines, denied some characters their personality (oh, Ginny…) and even added useless romantic undertones. Hunger Games straight up went the whitewashing and ableist way as it erased Katniss and Gale’s ethnicities as well as the disabilities born from the arena and war. Those two examples are, for all intents and purposes, bad. And let’s not even talk about Percy Jackson or Eragon, because I might become violent.
But, let’s face it: not all adaptations are bad. And not all changes are for the worst.
I think the example that talks for itself the most is Pride and Prejudice. How many times have you heard that the 1995 BBC version was the best one, because of how faithful to the book it is. But… At the end of the day, Joe Wright’s movie still is my favourite adaptation of the book. Yes, they changed some things. Yes, yes, it’s not exactly like in the book. But to me the 1995 miniseries lacks a life of its own. I didn’t feel any emotional connection to it when I watched it, and it is not the most beautiful piece of cinematography out there. The 2005 movie, in comparison, is beautiful — the scenery, the costumes, the lighting, everything about it is crafted with care and truly gives life to the characters. (And Colin Firth’s wet shirt scene is overrated, there I said it.)
And it’s the same about about every adaptation: if the story still makes sense and doesn’t erase the main themes, why should I want it to be a line-by-line retelling of the book? First of all, it’s impossible since books and movies/shows are two very different mediums of storytelling and don’t follow the same norms. What is possible in a book may be difficult to convey on screen, and vice versa. I am more interested in the onscreen adaptation having a life of its own, having its own identity.
So, yes, I do believe Netflix’s Anne with an E is a good Anne of Green Gables adaptation, even if the show decided to go darker and edgier with the story. But did we really want a show full of Anne telling-not-showing her life to Marilla? And, yes, Shadowhunters is very different from Cassandra Clare’s mess of a book saga. But is it really that terrible to expand on a story, all the while getting rid of its biphobia, useless catfights and adding more diversity in an otherwise terribly white universe?
I know it’s hard to wrap your mind around it when your favourite book is being adapted, because the fear of seeing it ruined runs deep. But change, sometimes, really is for the best. And when it’s done well, I welcome it with open arms.