Inverting the conventional vector in adaptations (literature to film) restores to life texts that, on occasion or for some audiences, might be dead. Chapter 21 demonstrates the ways zombie apocalypse narratives in different media function as constant adaptations created from a collective hypotext formed by the films in George Romero’s Living Dead hexalogy. To embrace this inversion and the myriad possibilities it unleashes within the set of the existing textual architectures requires the extension and transformation of the very concept of adaptation. This transformation involves both a greater inclusion of non-canonical texts and their various textual architectures and a greater willingness to reorient prevailing analyses of adaptation. It also poses the challenge of developing specific analytical tools to deal with the formal specificities presented by the adaptation of those non-canonical texts.
Kevin M. Flanagan
Even more than novels, movies, or radio broadcasts, videogames provide a logical nexus for adaptation studies because they depend on making older narrative sources more dynamic and interactive. Chapter 25 explores four moments of encounter in videogame adaptation that encourage an active paradigm in adaptation studies: textual analysis that makes texts in one medium playable in another, porting a game to a new console or operating system, linguistic and cultural translation, and modding, or players’ modification of games after they have been manufactured. It argues that videogames adapt, and call upon their producers, players, and modders to become adapters at every stage of their conception, creation, distribution, and reception.
Chapter 30 defines transmedia storytelling as a hybrid of adaptation and transfictionality. Like the former, it involves several media; like the latter, it builds a storyworld through multiple narratives. Two types of transmedia storytelling are distinguished: top-down, the deliberate spreading of narrative content across multiple media; and bottom-up, the use of many media to develop a narrative originally conceived as mono-medial. If transmedia is to be a truly new mode of narration, it should proceed top-down, but actual examples are rare. The essay considers what kinds of phenomena can be regarded as transmedia storytelling; what are the relations between transmedia and interactivity; whether transmedia promote collective world creation; and whether the dispersion of content across multiple media is favorable or detrimental to the two basic elements of narrative: plot and storyworld.
Stijn Joye, Daniël Biltereyst, and Fien Adriaens
Within an emerging tradition of adaptation research that looks beyond fidelity-driven inquiries into exclusively literary adaptations, the case of telenovelas is exemplary for a contemporary media industry that is characterized by a cross-media and cross-border exchange of narratives. Focusing on the recent revival and international success of the telenovela genre and format, Chapter 20 reflects on a series of extra-textual features and contexts that are related to the practice of adapting global telenovela formats into different cultural environments. It approaches telenovelas as localizable yet universally appealing cultural products and narratives that undergo a tailoring process to match local expectations or to conform to local sensibilities and cultural, narrative, and production codes.
Chapter 36 addresses the leading questions that arise from the use of adaptations in the classroom. Why must teachers engage with adaptation? How can adaptation promote the highest aims of English studies? How can it transform the focus of English and the humanities? How can teachers use adaptation theories as the basis for specific pedagogical practices? How can they use adaptation in assessing student learning? Arguing that adaptation reflects what English has always been about, even as it beckons toward a new model of English studies more responsive to a contemporary digital culture that treats texts and their meanings as constantly evolving rather than canonical, the essay urges teachers to help students to develop an active, productive literacy through adaptation.
Eirik Frisvold Hanssen
During the 1910s and early 1920s, some thirty known film adaptations of works by Henrik Ibsen were produced in a number of countries. Chapter 9 examines the four American silent film Ibsen adaptations still known to exist: The Pillars of Society (1911), Peer Gynt (1915), Ghosts (1915), and Pillars of Society (1916). Drawing on extant film material, contemporary film reviews, and trade press articles, it approaches these films, through their various adaptation strategies and their trade press reception, in terms of broader discourses about what is often characterized as the transitional period in US film history, focusing in particular on discussions throughout the 1910s concerning medium specificity and media borders. The essay emphasizes stylistic and narrative strategies in the four films, in particular those connected to space, narrative, and performance, as well as ethical and moral considerations associated with the Ibsen film, including their contemporaneous reception.
Chapter 23 approaches the phenomenon of the comic book movie as a complex and dynamic adaptation process. While superhero movies and other comics-inspired franchises now dominate the global box office, it is rare that they adapt comic books’ formal features in a meaningful way. By foregrounding three comic book movies that have largely been considered failures, the essay discusses innovative ways of adapting comics to film through a media-archaeological approach to the genre. The films Popeye (1980), Dick Tracy (1990), and Hulk (2002) can be read, each in its own way, as provocative “roads not taken” by the Hollywood film industry.
Cross-cultural adaptations can revitalize their source texts through provocative changes in their setting, genre, casting, or production processes. Chapter 13 examines a series of frankly revisionist adaptations that mount a critique of source texts drawn from other cultures by adapting new perspectives, restoring excised material, or allowing previously silenced voices to speak. The power of such cross-cultural adaptations finds subversive new meanings in their canonical texts by staging conflicts of languages and discourses. Instead of reflecting or refracting the reality beneath their source texts, they emphasize the refractions of those source texts themselves. In translating the discourses of past cultures into those of present, often insurgent cultures, they can give voice to a revealing kind of social unconscious.
Film remakes, sequels, and prequels are often understood as forms of adaptation: that is, modes of cinematic remaking characterized by strategies of repetition, variation, and expansion. This essay seeks to examine the circumstances in which these modes of serialization have been taken up in the first decades of the new millennium. It analyzes the practice, aesthetics, and politics of cinematic remaking to build an inventory of contexts, descriptions, and knowledges that contribute to the cultural and economic currency of serial forms. Specifically, the essay interrogates a new millennial context that has mobilized a set of discourses around intermediality, transnationalism, and a logic of convergence to determine how these factors have been worked in and through the concepts of adaptation and remaking.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, itself adapted from several sources, has triggered a never-ending series of film adaptations, each exploring the meaning of human life through the evolving landscapes of cultural and technological development. Adapted in James Whale’s Frankenstein as a figure of both horror and deep pathos, the monster and his creator have played a pivotal role in the development of the cinema of gothic horror, borrowing along the way from a wide array of genres as different as surrealism, slapstick comedy, and the Western. This basic story of human fears and desires has become the archetype of intertextual adaptation methods, providing a resonant metaphor for even such homely details as the process of film editing.
Radio, older than television but newer than cinema, has had to fight for acknowledgment of its power as an autonomous medium rather than a blind version of these other media. Yet it is in some ways more interesting for adapters than either of them because it encourages audiences to visualize scenes and spectacles that producers do not have to stage visually, empowering audiences to become more active even as it keeps down production costs. From its earliest days, radio depended on adaptations of earlier novels, stories, poems, plays, and movies. This adaptive impulse survives in contemporary podcasts, torrents, and audio streamed online, all of them relying on audiences whose experiences with other media make them co-creators of the experiences radio offers.
Popular song is a genre that is characterized by adaptation and appropriation practices, in much the same way that other creative media and literary and screen genres are. In arguing that the relationship between the economically and socially significant creative song industry and adaptation theory and practice has not been sufficiently recognized hitherto, Chapter 18 introduces a framework for exploring both intramedial and intermedial varieties of adaptation. Taking off from American song composer Ned Rorem’s provocative designation of the song form as “a bastard,” the essay propounds a taxonomy of types and variations, providing and discussing illustrative examples of each.
Chapter 32 deals with the ways the image of Jan Hus (c. 1370–1415), the Czech priest and theorist of ecclesiastical Reformation, changes in new political, social, and cultural contexts. It aims to show how the communist regime appropriated Jan Hus through Otakar Vávra’s eponymous adaptation, filmed in 1953, in which Hus is portrayed as a revolutionary. After introducing Jan Hus in his historical and theological role, it focuses on the different ways he and the Hussite movement were perceived from the eighteenth century onward. A pivotal figure in this process is the writer Alois Jirásek, whose novels and plays sought, in historical traditions, answers to the questions of Czech culture and identity. The communist appropriation of Jirásek’s work, including his drama Jan Hus (1911), claimed that Czech medieval society was headed in the direction of revolution, even if that society had no term for such a thing.
Adaptation scholars frequently gesture toward a vague history of adaptation, pointing out that the repurposing of stories stretches back to the beginnings of storytelling. This essay offers a more specific history, arguing that adaptation rose as a simple abstraction in the late eighteenth century. It identifies George Colman’s Iron Chest, which adapts William Godwin’s Caleb Williams, as the first adaptation, as such. Colman’s play achieves this distinction not through adaptive innovation, but rather through the critical reaction to the play—specifically an essay by John Litchfield that functions as the first piece of fidelity criticism. Thus, the cultural concept of adaptation is a critical construction that rose with the fidelity urge. Unpacking this alternate history of both adaptation and the Romantic period reveals adaptation as a vital cultural reaction that catalyzed and shaped Romanticism’s critical shifting and redefining of notions of originality, which literary scholars subsequently used to marginalize adaptation.
Renata Kobetts Miller
In the Victorian period, novels were commonly adapted to the stage. Such adaptations have been criticized both in the nineteenth century and in evaluative criticism, subjected to a more general neglect of Victorian drama, and even identified as a cause of the decline of the theater. This essay argues, however, that the devalued, impermanent, and immaterial theatrical performance can have enduring effects. It examines the adaptation histories of two novels at each end of the Victorian period that were famously, persistently, competitively, and controversially adapted to the stage and that continue to live on in film and stage adaptations: Charles Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby (1838–39) and Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1886). These case studies demonstrate that even as theatrical adaptations capitalized on novels, they also gave rise to a cultural afterlife that eclipsed the life of their source texts.
An enduring mode of retelling and interpretation, the genre of rabbinic midrash can be adopted as a model for the study of biblical adaptation as well as adaptation writ large. This approach is source-centered, always emphasizing the relationship of the new text to the original text. At the same time, the midrashic approach allows for a radical reshaping of the materials to fit contemporary concerns. This essay explores several forms of midrashic adaptation of the stories the biblical Moses—exegetical, homiletic, narrative and running commentary, and figurative. In Hebraic tradition, Moses is not merely a character in a story: he is the speaker, writer, and transmitter of the Torah. Adaptations of Moses thus do not merely function as discrete re-enactments or interpretations but also provide commentary on the very idea of biblical adaptability and the unfolding nature of Torah.
Chapter 16 considers the ways in which new intertextual forms engendered by emerging technologies—mashups, remixes, reboots, samplings, remodelings, transformations—further develop the impulse to adapt and appropriate, and the ways in which they challenge the theory and practice of adaptation and appropriation. It argues that broad notions of adaptation in adaptation studies and the emergence of media protocols are useful for the analysis of recombinant appropriations and adaptations/appropriations in general. It explores the political and aesthetic dimensions of participatory mashups and viewer engagements with, and appropriations of, transmedia franchises, taking a variety of Internet memes and the BBC franchise Sherlock as case studies and focusing on the politically, ethically, and aesthetically transgressive potential of recombinant adaptations.
An evolutionary (or “adaptationist”) perspective on adaptation studies offers ways past the “fidelity discourse” that has long vexed adaptation scholars. Biological adaptation forgoes exact fidelity to solve the new problems posed by inevitably changing environments, in a process that is fertile as well as faithful. Artistic adaptation also looks two ways, toward retention or fidelity and toward innovation or fertility. The complex and multiple adaptations and hybridizations of art and nature, of page, stage, screen, and painting in Nabokov’s 1969 novel Ada suggest that the more exactly you know your world, or the world of art, the more you can transform them as you wish. Charlie Kaufman’s 2002 screenplay Adaptation. resembles Ada not only in spotlighting orchids but also in being meta-adaptational, addressing, like Ada, both fidelity within adaptation and the creative fertility to be found in building on prior design but moving beyond fidelity.
This introduction begins by tracing the history of adaptation studies as a series of evolutionary phases defined more by their critique of the previous paradigms of fidelity, medium specificity, and intertextuality than by their uncritical embrace of new paradigms. From its beginnings, adaptation studies has been organized around a series of foundational debates: What is an adaptation? What responsibility do adaptations owe the texts they adapt? What role should evaluation play in adaptation studies? Should the field be driven by close readings or general theories? The present volume, born out of the conviction that adaptation studies has thrived because of its anti-canonical approach to the classics of literature, cinema, and critical theory, attempts to foster these debates and provoke new ones, especially those that have the power to cross disciplinary boundaries, rather than attempting any definitive resolutions.
By observing the authorial intentions on the part of the novelist and the adapted film’s producer, screenwriter, director, and cast, Chapter 11 examines the intratextual process at work in the transformation of Philip Roth’s novella The Dying Animal to the big screen as Elegy. The notion of serial authorship can capture the creative interaction of intentions characteristic of the multi-source nature of film adaptation, whose products serve two texts: the source literary work and the screenplay derived from it. The essay considers the hints of Roth’s personal views and autobiography implied through his narrator, David Kepesh, and this character’s relationships with women, as well as through the implied author’s own position as a writer—a self-conscious status the film does not engage.