Are Wild Adaptations of Your Work a Sign You’ve “Made It” As an Author?

I meant to write this post back in Summer 2022, when Netflix was teasing their adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion to very mixed results. People felt the dialogue was too modern, too far away from Austen’s vision. The whole thing must be a travesty. I haven’t watched the movie even though it’s been out a while (I don’t subscribe to Netflix), so I have no idea if it’s terrible or not. But the ordeal got me thinking. Wild and far-fetched adaptations of many books and plays exist, and while the adaptations themselves may or may not be good, the fact that creators feel free to deviate strongly from the source text is often a good sign that shows the text is popular and entrenched in public consciousness.

The most obvious example of this is Shakespeare. His more popular plays, like Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, The Tempest, etc. have been adapted numerous times, and it seems no change is off-limits. Adaptations can change the setting, the time period, the characters’ genders, even the end of the story. No one would be surprised to see their local theater put on an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet that takes place on Mars and features all the characters as aliens. And while some people might be annoyed by this interpretation, a lot of other people would be excited to go see it!

These wild changes are possible because Shakespeare is well-known and well-loved, and a number of interpretations of his work already exist. In an ideal world, when creators make changes to Shakespeare (or any other text they are adapting), they are making those changes thoughtfully and trying to send a message about something on comment on a theme present in the original text. However, there are so many versions of Shakespeare’s plays that it wouldn’t be unimaginable that sometimes ~interesting~ adaptations are made simply because the adapters are trying to think of what they can do differently to make people show up. When people have seen 10 versions of Romeo and Juliet, and probably have a favorite, how can you make them watch yours?

The freedom to change things about a source text does not exist for most authors who are not as established as Shakespeare and Austen. Books can be incredibly popular and well-known even by people who haven’t read them (Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, for example), but fans still expect any film adaptations to be faithful to the book. The adaptation will be judged as successful or not, by many people, based primarily on how closely it mirrors the book. And this makes a lot of sense when there is only one adaptation. Creators can make changes, but audiences are likely to hate them (think the Ella Enchanted movie.)

So whether Netflix’s Persuasion is good or bad, it’s still a compliment to Austen that creators feel free to play with her characters and her texts. If I were an author, I admit I would probably be annoyed if people made wild changes to my work, but in the end, I’d have to see it for what it was: a sign that I was hugely successful.

What do you think?


6 thoughts on “Are Wild Adaptations of Your Work a Sign You’ve “Made It” As an Author?

  1. reader@work says:

    It’s a complicated discussion, but one can always argue that authorial intent only goes so far in determining how something is received or interpreted, and the more we have wild adaptations of something, the more readers/audience a book has touched. If that’s the only factor that determines if a book has made it, then yes!


  2. Lisa @ Bookshelf Fantasies says:

    Some really good points! I do think that the more successful “wild” adaptations are the ones that go in really unusual directions (such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!!). It’s a tribute to the source material that something can be completely inventive yet also stick to the well known plot beats and be instantly familiar. I think part of the problem with the Netflix version of Persuasion is that it doesn’t reinvent the story in some new and creative way, but instead acts as though it’s a faithful telling of the story — but then drastically changes the characters themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. kenabaker says:

    It’s an interesting topic much unlike what you and Krysta normally write about. I for one am not an author or a blogger. Rather I am a data scientist. But I love reading both the articles you write and the ones that Krysta writes because I am a big fan of fantasy and science fiction. While you may write on YA novels, I don’t really believe those are only for YA! At 67 I have come to enjoy those just as much as I do re-reading the Lord of the Rings or Narnia, or one of my favorites the Deed of Paksenarrion. I personally think sometimes wild adaptations are because the author is not creative enough to create their own item, but rather adapts something to make their own. I see this a lot in movies that are made these days. They don’t create something new, but rather take something and adapt it. A good example is the Star Trek movies. The adaptations that have Chris Pine as Captain Kirk are radically different than the ones William Shatner portrayed.
    Keep on writing as I enjoy seeing these every day!


  4. abookowlscorner says:

    I partially agree! However, I feel like wild adaptations are not necessarily just a sign that your book has made it, but rather that it’s become really ESTABLISHED. Like, at least in my experience, it tends to be older books who get the crazy adaptations, and usually only after several more faithful adaptations have already been produced. Obviously, series like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games have made it, too, but they’re newer and there hasn’t been as much time to create crazy retellings as there has been for classics… So maybe the wild adaptations are sign that your work has remained popular long after your death, and that people are continuing to want to see it from different angles? 🤔


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