A few more few more words on adaptations


As I mentioned in my last post, I just had a few more thoughts to add to your discussion of adaptations.  First, on your comments about Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce.  You said “I thought one of the most interesting aspects of the book was the way the psychiatrist who treats Tara takes everything she says and puts it into modern psychological lingo.” I wanted to push this a little further, because the psychiatrist doesn’t just put Tara’s specific statements into psychological lingo, but the entire genre of fairy tales.  There are whole sections that could have come straight out of Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment.  So we have the fascinating situation of a novel in which a real fairy tale is going on (we are positively told to believe that Tara has met fairies and returns to them at the end) at the same time that the author (through the psychiatrist) explicates the meanings and purposes that fairy tales serve the people who tell and hear them.  I wasn’t entirely sure every aspect of this book worked for me, but that piece alone was enough to make it worth reading.

Second, as I was reading your post I was finishing up Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, which is a pretty perfect example of the kind of dialogue adaptation I was talking about.  Miller takes several different sources of myths about Achilles and the Trojan War (including, of course The Iliad) and weaves them together to make one coherent story.  Then she picks up on the (not so subtle) hints about the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles and fills out this relationship to make it the central fulcrum of the plot.  A really tremendous piece of intertextual dialogue–including a nice throwaway line in which Miller has Paris ask Apollo whether the story about Achilles being invulnerable (except in the heel) are true. Apollo says, basically, “no, no – that’s just a myth.”  Good stuff.

And finally, yes, I’ll talk about Shakespeare. As you know, I spent more time with Shakespeare than anything else in my Literature studies, which is why I reference him so often.  But on this subject of adaptations he’s somewhat unavoidable.  On the Trojan War, you have Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, which is an adaptation of Chaucer’s epic poem Troilus and Crisedye, which is an embellishment of several older stories, some of which might go back to the time of Homer.  Then there’s the fact that virtually every play Shakespeare wrote was an adaptation of some sort, including the early History plays, in which entire speeches are lifted word for word from Holinshed’s Chronicles (but neatly cut up into ten syllable lines).  Shakespeare was a master at taking source material (sometimes from several different sources, as Miller did, but not always) and shaping it in new and exciting ways, and (most importantly) recreating the characters and words they speak to make fresh literature filled with new meanings and ideas.  He’s the perfect example of why our current obsession with “originality” is, I think, misguided.

So: just a few last thoughts to get off my chest.  If you feel like letting me know your thoughts on Song of Achilles, I’d be interested.  Otherwise, on with the archaeology!

– Mark



Filed under Books, Teens

2 responses to “A few more few more words on adaptations

  1. Such a loaded line, tossed away at the end of a long post: “He’s the perfect example of why our current obsession with “originality” is, I think, misguided.” There’s a whole conversation to be had in that sentence. Oh wait. You and I have had it.

  2. Mark Flowers

    @Beth – Yes, I thought twice about whether to pursue that further and probably ended up saying too much and too little at the same time. Or maybe it’s just a foreshadowing of a future post . . . no probably not.

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