asserting an argument about each primary text: Andersen’s The Little Mermaid book, Disney’s The Little Mermaid film, and Miyazaki’s Ponyo film. CLAIM about what each text means (also called an ARGUMENT or a THESIS), and provide nuanced close-readings of specific examples from each text to support your claims. bring in one of the ideas from (Hutcheon’s “Beginning to Theorize Adaptation”) and explain how that principle or concept applies to an analysis of the primary texts.
All three versions of The Little Mermaid feature young girls choosing to leave their families and risk their lives to win the love of boys they barely know. Compare/contrast the way that Andersen’s text, Disney’s film (dir. Clements & Musker), and Miyazaki’s film treat the motif of the girl making great sacrifices for a boy—especially considering the extremely different outcomes in the three versions. What does each text suggest is true about how and for whom young girls should perform their sexual and/or romantic societal roles? Do the texts have similar or different messages about (hetero)-sexuality and/or women’s sexual identities? How do the differences in these three versions create different messages about how young girls should behave and perform their sexual identities?
Many audiences helped me hone the arguments here by their care r u 1 attention, reading suggestions, and astute criticisms . My gratitude therefore to various groups at the University of Toronto, Wilfrid Lau ricr University, McGill University, York University, the University of Toulouse, the University of Ghent, the University of Syracuse, Pomona College, Stanford University, the University of Virginia, the Johns Hopkins Philo logical Society, St. Mary's University, Canadian Opera Company's Opera Exchange, the Canadian Association of Compara tive Literature, the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association, and the Modernist Studies Association.
Some of the early attempts t6 think through the ideas in this book were published as: "From Page to Stage to Screen: The Age of Adap tation," 1he University Proftssor Lecture Series, ed. Michael Goldberg (Toronto: Faculty of Arts and Science, 2003), 37-54; "Why Adapt?" Postscript 23.3 (summer 2004): 5-18 (special issue on adaptation); "On the Art of Adaptation," Daedalus (spring 2004): 108-11.
For the second edition, two alterations in these original Acknow ledgements should be "acknowledged" in turn. The first is to underline my gratitude to Siobhan O'Flynn, mentioned only in passing in the first paragraph, for she now has a much larger role in this book, as the author of its new Epilogue-for the writing of which she has my gratitude and admiration, as well as deep respect. The second is a sad der change, for 2011 marked the death of my brother, Gary Bortolotti, whom I thank first here. Between the publication of the two editio ns, however, we also had the pleasure of working together on a collab orative paper "On the Orig in of Adaptations : Rethinking Fidelity Discourse and 'Success'-Biologically," New Literary History 38 2007): 443-58 . It is to his memory that I dedicate this revised edition .
B EGINNING TO THEORIZE ADAPTATION:
W hat? W ho? W hy? H ow? W here? W hen?
[C]inema is still playing second fiddle to literature .
– Rabindranath Tagore (1929)
Writing a screenplay based on a great novel [George Eliot's Daniel Deronda] is foremost a labor of simplification. I don't mean only the plot, although particularly in the case of a Victorian novel teeming with secondary characters and subplots, severe pruning is required, but also the intellectual content. A film has to convey its message by images and relatively few words; it has little tolerance for complexity or irony or tergiversations. I found the work exceed ingly difficult, beyond anything I had anticipated . And, I should add, depressing: I care about words more than images, and yet I was
A THEORY OF ADAPTATION
con ' lantly sacrificing words and their connotations. You might tell me that through images film conveys a vast amount of information that words can only attempt to approximate, and you would be right, but approximation is precious in itself, because it bears the author's stamp. All in all, it seemed to me that my screenplay was worth much less than the book, and that the same would be true of the film.
-NovelistJohn North in Louis Begley's novel, Shipwreck (2003)
Familiarity and Contempt
Adaptations are everywhere today: on the television and movie screen, on the musical and dramatic stage, on the Internet, in novels and comic books, in your nearest theme park and video arcade. A certain level of self-consciousness about-and perhaps even acceptance of-their
ubiquity is suggested by the fact that films have been made about the process itself, such as Spike Jonze's Adaptation or Terry Gilliam's Lost
in La Mancha, both in 2002. Television series have also explored the act of adaptation, like the eleven-part BRAVO documentary "Page to Screen." Adaptations are obviously not new to our time, however; Shakespeare transferred his culture's stories from page to stage and made them available to a whole new audience. Aeschylus and Racine and Goethe and da Ponte also retold familiar stories in new forms. Adaptations are so much a part of Western culture that they appear to affirm Walter Benjamin's insight that "storytelling is always the art of repeating stories" (1992: 90). The critical pronouncements ofT.S. Eliot
or Northrop Frye were certainly not needed to convince avid adapters across the centuries of what, for them, has always been a truism: art is derived from other art; stories are born of other stories .
Nevertheless, in both academic criticism and journalistic reviewing, contemporary popular adaptations are most often put down as second ary, derivative, "belated, middlebrow, or culturally inferior" (as noted
by Naremore 20026: 6). This is what Louis Begley's novelist-adapter is expressing in the epigraph; but there are more strong and decidedly moralistic words used to attack film adaptations of literature: "tam pering," "interference," "violation" (listed in McFarlane 1996: 12), "b t l" "d fc . " " · " «· fid 1· " d "d ' e raya , e ormat10n, perversion, m e 1ty, an esecration'
B GINNING TO TH ORIZE ADAPTATION
(l,n 111d by tam 2000: 54). The move from the literary to the filmic 111 tel ·visual has even been called a move to "a willfully inferior form
11l rognition" (Newman 1985: 129). Although adaptation's detractors
11g11c that "all the directorial Scheherazades of the world cannot add
1111 to one Dostoevsky" (Peary and Shatzkin 1977: 2), it does seem to
I II more or less acceptable to adapt Romeo and Juliet into a respected
l11gh art form, like an opera or a ballet, but not to make it into a movie,
1 pccially an updated one like Baz Luhrmann's (1996) William Shake-
1;1,•11re's Romeo+ Juliet. If an adaptation is perceived as "lowering" a story
( 11 rording to some imagined hierarchy of medium or genre), response t likely to be negative. Residual suspicion remains even in the admira
l 11>11 expressed for something like Julie Taymor's Titus (1999), her criti-
1 .i I ly successful film version of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. Even
111 our postmodern age of cultural recycling, something-perhaps the
11111 mercial success of adaptations-would appear to make us uneasy.
As early as 1926, Virginia Woolf, commenting on the fledgling art
, ,I' l i nema, deplored the simplification of the literary work that inevita
l 11 occurred in its transposition to the new visual medium and called lilm a "parasite" and literature its "prey" and "victim" (1926: 309). Yet
l1l' also foresaw that film had the potential to develop its own indepen
d1·nt idiom: "cinema has within its grasp innumerable symbols for emo- 111111s that have so far failed to find expression" in words (309). And so
11 does. In the view of .film semiotician Christian Metz, cinema "tells
11· continuous stories; it 'says' things that could be conveyed also in the
l.1nguage of words; yet it says them differently. There is a reason for
1 lil' possibility as well as for the necessity of adaptations" (1974: 44). I lowever, the same could be said of adaptations in the form of musi-
1 .ds, operas, ballets, or songs. All these adapters relate stories in their
1 I I fferent ways. They use the same tools that storytellers have always 11 ,l·d: they actualize or concretize ideas; they make simplifying selec
t 111ns, but also amplify and extrapolate; they make analogies; they cri-
11que or show their respect, and so on. But the stories they relate are
t .1 ken from elsewhere, not invented anew. Like parodies, adaptations
h,1ve an overt and defining relationship to prior texts, usually reveal-
111gly called "sources." Unlike parodies, however, adaptations usually
11p ·nly announce this relationship. It is the (post-) Romantic valuing
4 A THEORY OF ADAPTATION
of the original creation and of the originating creative genius that is !early one source of the denigration of adapters and adaptations. Yet
thi s negative view is actually a late addition to Western culture's long
and happy history of borrowing and stealing or, more accurately, shar ing stories.
For some, as Robert Stam argues, literature will always have axi omatic superiority over any adaptation of it because of its seniority as
an art form. But this hierarchy also involves what he calls iconophobia (a suspicion of the visual) and logophilia (love of the word as sacred) (2000: 58). Of course, a negative view of adaptation might simply be
the product of thwarted expectations on the part of a fan desiring fidel ity to a beloved adapted text or on the part of someone teaching lit erature and therefore needing proximity to the text and perhaps some entertainment value to do so.
If adaptations are, by this definition, such inferior and secondary creations, why then are they so omnipresent in our culture and, indeed, increasing steadily in numbers? Why, even according to 1992 statistics,
are 85 percent of all Oscar-winning Best Pictures adaptations? Why
do adaptations make up 95 percent of all the miniseries and 70 percent of all the TV movies of the week that win Emmy Awards? Part of the
answer no doubt has to do with the constant appearance of new media and new channels of mass diffusion (Groensteen 19986: 9). These have clearly fueled an enormous demand for all kinds of stories. Nonethe
less, there must be something particularly appealing about adaptations as adaptations.
Part of this pleasure, I want to argue, comes simply from repetition with variation, from the comfort of ritual combined with the piquancy
of surprise. Recognition and remembrance are part of the pleasure (and
risk) of experiencing an adaptation; so too is change. Thematic and narrative persistence combines with material variation (Ropars
Wuilleumier 1998: 131), with the result that adaptations are never
simply reproductions that lose the Benjaminian aura. Rather, they carry that aura with them. But as John Ellis suggests, there is something counterintuitive about this desire for persistence within a
post-Romantic and capitalist world that values novelty primarily: the "process of adaptation should thus be seen as a massive investment
8 GINNING TO THEORIZE ADAPTATION
(l111,111d al and psychic) in the desire to repeat particular acts of 11111-,umption within a form of representation [film, in this case] that
, I 1> 111 11 rages such a repetition " (1982: 4-5).
s l'..llis' commercial rhetoric suggests, there is an obvious finan
' 1 ii ,1ppeal to adaptation as well. It is not just at times of economic , l11w11t urn that adapters turn to safe bets: nineteenth-century Italian
1 , ,111po ers of that notoriously expensive art form, opera, usually chose 1,, ,,dapt reliable-that is, already financially successful-stage plays or 111,Vl'ls in order to avoid financial risks, as well as trouble with the cen-
111 ~ (see Trowell 1992: 1198, 1219). Hollywood films of the classical
I" 1 iod relied on adaptations from popular novels, what Ellis calls the 11111t·d and tested" (1982: 3), while British television has specialized in 11 I., pt i ng the culturally accredited eighteenth- and nineteenth-century 111,wl, or Ellis' "tried and trusted." However, it is not simply a matter
, ,t I isk-avoidance; there is money to be made. A best-selling book may , , ,l l h a million readers; a successful Broadway play will be seen by 1 to
~ 111 i Ilion people; but a movie or television adaptation ~ill find an audi-
1 111 c of many million more (Seger 1992: 5).
' lhe recent phenomenon of films being "musicalized" for the stage is ,,l,viously economically driven . The movies of The Lion King or The Pro
/11,as offer ready-made name recognition for audiences, thereby reliev
', ,~ some of the anxiety for Broadway producers of expensive musicals. I ,d·e sequels and prequels, "director 's cut" DVDs and spin-offs,
i, ll"ogame adaptations based on films are yet another way of taking 11m• "property" in a "franchise" and reusing it in another medium. Not
111 ti y will audiences already familiar with the "franchise" be attracted to 1 lw new "repurposing" (Bolter and Grusin 1999: 45), but new consum l' I will also be created. The multinationals who own film studios today
11fll ' t1 already own the rights to stories in other media, so they can be , , 1 y led for videogames, for example, and then marketed by the televi-
i1111 tations they also own (Thompson 2003: 81-82).
Does the manifest commercial success of adaptations help us under . t ., n<l why the 2002 film The Royal Tenenbaums (directed by Wes Ander , m with a script by Owen Wilson) opens with a book being checked
,,111 of a library-the book upon which the film implicitly claims to
hr based? Echoing movies like David Lean's Great Expectations (1946),
A TH ORY O ADAPTATION
whilh begins with a shot of the Dickens novel opened to Chapter 1, seen· hanges in Anderson's movie are marked by a shot of the Tenen haums' "book" opened to the next chapter, the first lines of which de cribe what we then see on screen. Because, to my knowledge, this film is not adapted from any literary text, the use of this device is a direct and even parodic recall of its use in earlier films, but with a dif ference: the authority ofliterature as an institution and thus also of the act of adapting it seems to be what is being invoked and emphasized . But why would a film want to be seen as an adaptation? And what do we mean by a work being seen as an adaptation?
Treating Adaptations as Adaptations
To deal with adaptations as adaptations is to think of them as, to use Scottish poet and scholar Michael Alexander's great term (Ermarth 2001: 47), inherently "palimpsestuous" works, haunted at all times by their adapted texts. If we know that prior text, we always feel its presence shadowing the one we are experiencing directly. When we call a work an adaptation, we openly announce its overt relationship to another work or works. It is what Gerard Genette would call a text in the "second degree" (1982: 5), created and then received in relation to a prior text. This is why adaptation studies are so often comparative studies (cf. Cardwell 2002: 9). This is not to say that adaptations are not also autonomous works that can be interpreted and valued as such; as many theorists have insisted, they obviously are (see, for example, Bluestone 1957/1971; Ropars 1970). This is one reason why an adapta tion has its own aura, its own "presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be" (Benjamin 1968: 214). I take such a position as axiomatic, but not as my theoretical focus. To interpret an adaptation as an adaptation is, in a sense, to treat it as what Roland Barthes called, not a "work," but a "text," a plural "stereophony of echoes, citations, references" (1977: 160). Although adaptations are also aesthetic objects in their own right, it is only as inherently double or multilaminated works that they can be theorized as adaptations.
An adaptation's double nature does not mean, however, that proxim ity or fidelity to the adapted text should be the criterion of judgment or the focus of analysis. For a long time, "fidelity criticism," as it came to
B GINNING TO TH ORIZ ADAPTATION 7
he I nown, was the critical orthodoxy in adaptation studies, especially •lu-11 dealing with canonical works such as those of Pushkin or Dante.
I 11d,1y that dominance has been challenged from a variety of perspec- 11TS ( •.g., Mcfarlane 1996: 194; Cardwell 2002: 19) and with a range
111 1l'sults. And, as George Bluestone pointed out early on, when a film I II rnmcs a financial or critical success, the question of its faithfulness
1 given hardly any thought (1957/1971: 114). My decision not to con
,, 11t rate on this particular aspect of the relationship between adapted 11 t and adaptation means that there appears to be little need to engage ,l11l'rtly in the constant debate over degrees of proximity to the "origi-
11.,I" that has generated those many typologies of adaptation processes: I II H rowing versus intersection versus transformation (Andrew 1980: I() 12); analogy versus commentary versus transposition (Wagner
I CJ 75: 222-31); using the source as raw material versus reinterpretation , ,I 1111ly the core narrative structure versus a literal translation (Klein
111d Parker 1981: 10).
Of more interest to me is the fact that the morally loaded discourse
, ,I fidelity is based on the implied assumption that adapters aim simply 1,, 1q1roduce the adapted text (e.g., Orr 1984: 73). Adaptation is repeti-
1 11 >11, but repetition without replication. And there are manifestly many , I tile rent possible intentions behind the act of adaptation: the urge to , 1111sume and erase the memory of the adapted text or to call it into
'l'H'stion is as likely as the desire to pay tribute by copying. Adaptations 111 Ii as film remakes can even be seen as mixed in intent: "contested
l111111age" (Greenberg 1998: 115), Oedipally envious and worshipful at
illt' same time (Horton and McDougal 1998b: 8).
I f the idea of fidelity should not frame any theorizing of adaptation
'"day, what should? According to its dictionary meaning, "to adapt" is 111 ,1djust, to alter, to make suitable . This can be done in any number of , ,,ys. As the next section will explore in more depth, the phenomenon
, ,I .,daptation can be defined from three distinct but interrelated per-
111• ·tives, for I take it as no accident that we use the same word-adap-
1.111011-to refer to the process and the product.
I o'i rst, seen as a formal entity or product, an adaptation is an announced
111d extensive transposition of a particular work or works. This 1 ' 11 ,1 ns oding" can involve a shift of medium (a poem to a film) or genre
8 A THEORY OF ADAPTATION
(an epic to a novel), or a change of frame and therefore context: telling the same story from a different point of view, for instance, can create a
manifestly different interpretation. Transposition can also mean a shift in ontology from the real to the fictional, from a historical account or biography to a fictionalized narrative or drama. Sister Helen Prejean's 1994 pook, Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Pen
alty in the United States, became first a fictionalized film (directed by
Tim Robbins, 1995) and then, a few years later, an opera (written by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie).
Second, as a process of creation, the act of adaptation always involves both (re-)interpretation and then (re-)creation; this has been called both appropriation and salvaging, depending on your perspective. For every aggressive appropriator outed by a political opponent, there is a patient salvager. Priscilla Galloway, an adapter of mythic and historical narratives for children and young adults, has said that she is motivated by a desire to preserve stories that are worth knowing but will not nec essarily speak to a new audience without creative "reanimation" (2004),
and that is her task. African film adaptations of traditional oral legends are also seen as a way of preserving a rich heritage in an aural and visual mode (Cham 2005: 300).
Third, seen from the perspective of its process of reception, adaptation is a form ofintertextuality: we experience adaptations (as adaptations) as palimpsests through our memory of other works that resonate through repetition with variation. For the right audience, then, the novelization by Yvonne Navarro of a film like Hellboy (2004) may echo not only with Guillermo del Toro's film but also with the Dark Horse Comics series from which the latter was adapted. Paul Anderson's 2002 film Resident Evil will be experienced differently by those who have played the videogame of the same name, from which the movie was adapted, than by those who have not.
In short, adaptation can be described as the following:
• An acknowledged transposition of a recognizable other work or
• A creative and an interpretive act of appropriation/salvaging
• An extended intertextual engagement with the adapted work
1111 , l'f me, an adaptation is a derivation that is not derivative-a work ii, 11 1s s · ond without being secondary. It is its own palimpscstic 1 l1111g.
I l1n · is some apparent validity to the general statement that adapta- 111 ,11 "as a concept can expand or contract. Writ large, adaptation 1111 li11lcs almost any act of alteration performed upon specific cultural ·, 11 I s of the past and dovetails with a general process of cultural re-
1 11 ,11 ,on" (Fischlin and Fortier 2000: 4). But, from a pragmatic point of 11 w, such vast definition would clearly make adaptation rather difficult
1, 1 1 l a·orize. My more restricted double definition of adaptation as pro- 1 , s ,1 nJ product is closer to the common usage of the word and is broad
111111gh to allow me to treat not just films and stage productions, but cl•.11 musical arrangements and song covers, visual art revisitations of 111 im works and comic book versions of history, poems put to music and , , 111,1 kcs of films, and videogames and interactive art. It also permits me 1,, 1 I raw distinctions; for instance, allusions to and brief echoes of other ·111 ks would not qualify as extended engagements, nor do most exam-
1111 s of musical sampling, because they recontextualize only short frag- 1111 11ts of music. Plagiarisms are not acknowledged appropriations, and , '111cls and prequels arc not really adaptations either, nor is fan
111 t u>n. There is a difference between never wanting a story to end-the ,, .,son behind sequels and prequels, according to Marjorie Garber ( '003: 73-74)-and wanting to retell the same story over and over in dilk ·rent ways. With adaptations, we seem to desire the repetition as 1111 It h as the change. Maybe this is why, in the eyes of the law, adapta- 111111 is a "derivative work"-that is, one based on one or more preexist- 111g works, but "recast, transformed" (17 USC §101). That seemingly 1111ple definition, however, is also a theoretical can of worms.
I•. :tctly What Gets Adapted? How?
Vhat precisely is "recast" and "transformed"? In law, ideas themselves 1 ,111not be copyrighted; only their expression can be defended in court. , nd herein lies the whole problem. As Kamilla Elliott has astutely 11111 ·d, adaptation commits the heresy of showing that form (expression) 1 ,111 be separated from content (ideas)-something both mainstream 1, ~, hctic and semiotic theories have resisted or denied (2003: 133),
10 A THEORY OF ADAPTATION
even as legal theory has embraced it. The form changes with adaptation
(thus evading most legal prosecution); the content persists. But what
exactly constitutes that transferred and transmuted "content"?
Many professional reviewers and audience members alike resort to
the elusive notion of the "spirit" of a work or an artist that has to be cap
tured and conveyed in the adaptation for it to be a success. The "spirit"
of Dickens or Wagner is invoked, often to justify radical changes in the
"letter" or form. Sometimes it is "tone" that is deemed central, though
rarely defined (e.g., Linden 1971: 158, 163); at other times it is "style"
(Seger 1992: 157). But all three are arguably equally subjective and, it
would appear, difficult to discuss, much less theorize.
Most theories of adaptation assume, however, that the story is the
common denominator, the core of what is transposed across differ
ent media and genres, each of which deals with that story in formally
different ways and, I would add, through different modes of engage
ment-narrating, performing, or interacting. In adapting, the story
argument goes, "equivalences" are sought in different sign systems for
the various elements of the story: its themes, events, world, characters,
motivations, points of view, consequences, contexts, symbols, imagery,
and so on. As Millicent Marcus has explained, however, there are two
opposing theoretical schools of thought on this point: either a story
can exist independently of any embodiment in any particular signify
ing system or, on the contrary, it cannot be considered separately from
its material mode of mediation (1993: 14). What the phenomenon
of adaptation suggests, however, is that, although the latter is obvi
ously true for the audience, whose members experience the story in a
particular material form, the various elements of the story can be and
are considered separately by adapters and by theorists, if only because
technical constraints of different media will inevitably highlight differ
ent aspects of that story (Gaudrcault and Marion 1998: 45).
Themes are perhaps the easiest story elements to see as adaptable
across media and even genres or framing contexts. As author Louis
Begley said about the themes of his 1996 novel About Schmidt when
the work was transcribed to the screen by Alexander Payne and Jim
Taylor: "I was able to hear them rather like melodies transposed into
a different key" (2003: 1). Many Romantic ballets were derived from
8 GINNING TO THEORIZE ADAPTATION 11
I I 111 'hri tian Andersen's stories simply, some say, because of their
1, 11l1t1011al and easily accessible themes, such as quests, magical tasks,
11 1111s · and revelation, and innocence versus evil (Mackrell 2004).
,1111poser Alexander Zemlinsky wrote a "symphonic fantasy" adap t ,111111 or Andersen's famous "The Little Mermaid" (1836) called Die
, i1111pfrnu (1905) that includes musical programmatic descriptions of
111 Ii clements as the storm and musical leitmotifs that tell the story and
11 IIH·mcs oflove, pain, and nature, as well as music that evokes emo-
1,, 111 a ml atmosphere befitting the story. A modern manual for adapt-
' , plains, however, that themes are, in fact, of most importance to
''""' Is and plays; in TV and films, themes must always serve the story 11 11,111 and "reinforce or dimensionalize" it, for in these forms, story
I II w t'i supreme-except in European "art" films (Seger 1992: 14).
l ' l1,1racters, too, can obviously be transported from one text to
111111 her, and indeed, as Murray Smith has argued, characters are cru-
1 ii to the rhetorical and aesthetic effects of both narrative and perfor-
111 1111 l' texts because they engage receivers' imaginations through what
I, , dis recognition, alignment, and allegiance (1995: 4-6). The theater
11.I I h · novel are usually considered the forms in which the human
ii 'I' l l is central. Psychological development (and thus receiver em pa
t I 11 ) 1 s part of the narrative and dramatic arc when characters are the
111111· of adaptations. Yet, in pla
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