On literary adaptations, bad and good

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I’m taking a slight detour from my usual library-related posts to play the lit-lover card and discuss literary adaptations. There were two on this weekend that I made a point of watching – nay, raced to my sofa and planted myself there – that deserve specific discussion.

Saturday night was Lifetime’s premiere of Flowers in the Attic.  Now, let’s be honest, FitA is not the greatest novel ever written. It’s really not even good. Okay, it’s a piece of crap. But for a lot of women my age and a bit older (30s – 40s), it’s a seminal part of our teenage years. (Along with these, too.) So there was much excitement among other women my age when Lifetime announced their remake, and my Facebook feed came pretty close to blowing up as the airdate approached. That evening so many of us were liveblogging/tweeting/FBing it, and sharing in it together. (I called Sister A about 20 minutes before showtime to make sure she was on her couch and ready. She was about to call me for the same reason.)

But as we all knew it would be, it was crap. But it was great crap. It kept the campiness of the book intact and everyone committed to their parts – Kiernan Shipka was great, and Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn was quite evil (not evil enough), and Heather Graham was predictably terrible – and it was just fun enough to be fulfilling and still terrible and at least marginally enjoyable.

On the other side of the spectrum was Sunday night’s return of Sherlock. This show has been a critical darling – a brainy, updated take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, and the return was anticipated by some seriously hard-core fans, including myself. (It couldn’t be more opposite from FitA in so many ways, including the fact that the general consensus was that Sherlock was a knock out of the park.) Clever, well-written, beautifully acted, and full of surprises, it was just great. My apartment full of friends just squealed and loved it the whole time. 

Mark Gatiss wrote a smart episode that didn’t really answer our questions, but it didn’t matter, because it was just nonstop action awesome cleverness from start to finish. (Does it matter how Sherlock survived?) I’m not going to write any more on it, because the internet only exists so you can go read more on Sherlock.

So, two big adaptations, both anticipated, both not the first of their kind (the FitA one didn’t even touch on incest, and there are too many adaptations of Sherlock Holmes to mention, though my favorite is any with Jeremy Brett).

How did they differ? Why was I desperate to watch both? Why were both so, so, so popular among such disparate groups? Both books are loved for very different reasons and have their own enthusiastic fanbases – my grandfather was a lifelong member of this group – and both recent adaptations have spawned new fans of the original texts. Maybe we just love seeing if the screen can deliver what we’ve pictured in our heads. Can adaptations ever be as good as the books? Can anything top our imaginations? Will Harry and Hermione be just as we thought? Will Smaug be as evil? Will Augustus’ and Hazel’s love affair live up to how we’ve built it up? Maybe that anticipation is part of the fun, too, as is discussing it afterward. It’s all a new dimension.

I don’t think there are a whole lot of people who were equally excited for Flowers in the Attic and Sherlock. I’m just weird enough to span both groups.

And now some links.

From Friend D, the origin of some great insults.

Also from Mental Floss, more librarian tattoos. So fun.

Some of these would be really fabulous.

Interested in more pictures from the set of The Fault in Our Stars? Of course you are.

Yes to all of these.

I’m outgoing, but also an introvert, as I may have mentioned. Sometimes people can’t live up to books.

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