Amanda Bartlett, widowed Countess of Kingston, is a woman beyond reproach. Married at nineteen, she dutifully provided the Earl with an heir and a spare before his death three years ago. Since then, Amanda has lived a simple, quiet life. A life that, if she were honest, has become more than a trifle dull. So when an adventure literally drops into her lap, in the shape of a mysterious book, she intends to make the most of it—especially if it brings her closer to a charismatic stranger. . . .
Major Langley Stanhope, an intelligence officer and master mimic known as the Magpie, needs to retrieve the code book that has fallen into Amanda’s hands. The mistaken delivery has put them both in grave danger and in a desperate race to unearth a traitor. It’s also stirred an intense, reckless attraction. Langley believes the life he leads is not suitable for a delicate widow, but it seems he may have underestimated the lady’s daring . . . and the depths of their mutual desire. . . .
I spend a lot of time thinking about why and how we tell certain stories over and over again. I’m in the middle of writing a series of historical romances that take their inspiration from television shows from the 1980s: Magnum P.I., Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Remington Steele. I also teach a course called “Jane Austen on Film” and another called “Retellings” that covers everything from fairy tales to Sherlock Holmes. So today, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts about adaptations.
Clearly, we can’t get enough of some storylines or characters. Take Pride and Prejudice, for example, which has been adapted in almost every form imaginable. We’re obviously drawn to handsome, brooding, wealthy Mr. Darcy. We enjoy watching him be humbled by love; the pampered son of an aristocrat has to work to gain Elizabeth Bennet’s affection without any guarantee of success. In order to keep enjoying the experience of Austen’s story—itself perhaps inspired by elements of Beauty and the Beast or Cinderella—we tell variations of it in adaptations that range from board books to graphic novels to musicals. We imagine how the story would look if set in another place or time. We seek out its echoes in Regency romances. And because creators keep bringing it to us in new forms, we can return to a beloved favorite with fresh eyes.
Some people think of adaptations and retellings as the products of laziness. After all, using old texts as the basis for new media means we don’t have to come up with original ideas or worry about copyright. But I usually prefer to think of them as homages to the stories and characters that have inspired us. There’s a challenge in creating new work from old worlds: Am I making something fresh and interesting? Does my story still capture that “something special” in the original that has spoken to readers over time?
Often our debates about adaptations are focused on the degree of their faithfulness to the original. A popular meme depicts an iceberg, with the fraction visible above the water labeled “the movie” and what’s still submerged labeled “the book.” The implication, obviously, is that the book is deeper, more complex—and therefore better. But that’s not really fair to either medium. What no movie can capture is your interpretation of a book (unless you’re the one making the movie, and even then, unless you’re writing, directing, acting, filming, and editing, other peoples’ ideas are bound to sneak in).
When we watch a film adaptation or engage with any other form of retelling, we’re getting a glimpse at someone else’s vision of the story, and I find that fascinating. I like to see how others imagine the characters or setting I think I know well. That’s why I try to stay out of those heated debates between fans of the 1995 TV miniseries of Pride and Prejudice and fans of the 2005 movie. I avoid choosing between Colin Firth or Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy. I like them both, but neither of them perfectly matches the character I have in my mind. For one thing, according to a very authoritative Buzzfeed quiz, my husband is actually Mr. Darcy! And my Mr. Darcy isn’t exactly like the one that Jane Austen imagined when she wrote the novel. But every time I encounter someone else’s version of her story, my experience is enriched.
How about you? Do you like prequels, sequels and other retellings? Do you have a favorite movie (or other) adaptation of a book? What makes it enjoyable to you? Or are you happiest with the version of the story that plays out in your head when you read?
Two randomly chosen people who post a comment before 11:00 PM, April 6 will each receive an e-book copy of Who's That Earl, the first book in Susanna Craig's Love and Let Spy series. (Click here for PJ's review of Who's That Earl and a Q&A with the author.)
*Must be 18
I like series!ReplyDelete
Me too! Fun to have the continuity!Delete
I love the Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth. Yes, I know, the coming out of the lake scene got my attention. But, I thought that his Mr Darcy really did not understand when he was insulting. I thought he seemed confused and lost. That was endearing to me. Not that I would have liked that treatment. But, for me it made his arriving at the right answer more impressive.ReplyDelete
I like series, and I have Who's that Earl on my Kindle. It is nice to have continuity.
I hope everyone is taking care and staying well.
I talk to my students about that pond scene a lot! It's great for giving us a side of Darcy we might suspect is there but don't otherwise see. Hope you enjoy Who's That Earl!Delete
I enjoy prequels, sequels and retellings. But my favorite thing is to start a new series! I enjoyed the Pride and Prejudice (newer version) with Keira Knightley playing the lead...lots of chemistry between Elizabeth and Darcy. I also enjoyed the recent Austen series Sanditon and am hoping that perhaps they will see fit to continue with a second season.ReplyDelete
Sanditon was so much fun; fingers crossed for season 2!Delete
I am most happiest with the version my head plays as I read a book. I am usually disappointed with movie adaptations of books. Thanks PJ for the review and the chance.ReplyDelete
It's very hard for a movie to compete with the perfect version we imagine!Delete
Thanks for joining us, Susanna! I'm usually disappointed by movie or TV adaptions of books I've loved. I have images in my mind of characters, settings, and scenes that very rarely are matched by the film. One exception is Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October. I loved the book but actually loved the film adaptation more. The casting was exactly as I had imagined the main characters, the acting was spot-on, and the story remained true to the original text. I read the book once. I've watched the movie at least 20 times.ReplyDelete
I will also say that with TV adaptations of favorite book series, I try to set aside book expectations and view the onscreen adaptation with "fresh" eyes rather than making comparisons. I ADORED Bridgerton as it was portrayed on screen because I enjoyed it for what it was rather than what the books were.ReplyDelete
This is what I encourage my students to do--watch it for what it is and what it can show you that you might not otherwise have seen. Film/TV and books are very different media!Delete
I am one of those people who end up being happiest with the book in my head, but there are exceptions. (Don't enter me. I already own the ebook of Who's That Earl)ReplyDelete
Yes, most readers have already made their own "movie" version with the perfect cast, etc.! Hard to compete with that.Delete
I love the 1995 and 2005 adaptations of Pride and Prejudice.ReplyDelete
I do too! Very different, but both lots of fun!Delete
I like adaptations and sequels(that's why I love reading series :D), but at the same time I kind of had enough of P&P adaptations and retellings, it seems it's always chosen for a movie or tv show, I wish they would choose more romance novels :)ReplyDelete
I agree, honestly! So many great stories out there waiting for their first adaptation!Delete
I love retellings, it is fun for me to see the familiar told from a different point of view or with a new spin. My favorite movie retelling is Everafter, I loved seeing Cinderella as a strong and smart woman who can solve problems.ReplyDelete
What a great example!Delete