TV adaptations - approach with caution

Sunday, May 18, 2014

While I’m generally very negative about TV or movie adaptations of books I love (and usually with full justification), I’m never sure how I feel about adaptations of books I’ve simply quite enjoyed. I don‘t have the same possessiveness about them, but I do have strong mental impressions and thus certain preconceptions and expectations. It’s not just how characters might physically look on the screen, although that plays a large part of it, but how accurately the flavour, the atmosphere of the novel might be transferred to a visual medium, and how much might be lost in translation.

Apparently there’s a BBC tv adaptation of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell being made that’s due to be aired later this year, which for some reason I only heard about today (I know….). I have no problems with what I’ve seen of the cast list and what I recall of the names on it, but I do worry about how they are going to condense 1024 pages, 185 footnotes and a whole army of major and minor characters into 7 episodes, AND handle the fact that the ending – well, it isn’t an ending really, is it? At least, not for Strange and Norrell.

Although I didn’t love the book overall quite as much as wanted to, I did appreciate the dashing sweep of its scope and prose, the Englishness of its mythology, the erudition it wore quite lightly and its affectionate pastiche of all sorts of genres and styles. For me, the footnotes – stuffed full of minor stories and snippets of imaginary lore and literature – were as intriguing as the main story, maybe more so. None of this is something that will be easily or satisfactorily conveyed in a limited visual medium.

Still, I’m sure I’ll be tuning in to see what remains of the book when it hits the screen. And if I’m feeling generous and not too grumpy I might even try and judge it on its own merits and not pick too many nits.

Oh, and in response to the meme that doesn't seem to exist yet - I'm a Strangeite.

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