What makes the adaptation of a book perfect? (And I mean quite literally perfect…) | Teen Ink

What makes the adaptation of a book perfect? (And I mean quite literally perfect…)

February 28, 2019
By Anonymous

Have you ever watched a movie and gone, “Wow. That was a really good movie. Was that based off of a book?” No? Just me? Well, being both an avid and prolific movie watcher and book reader, I’m always wanting to compare and contrast any and all books to their adaptation. But through the years of juxtaposing, I’ve wondered what makes the perfect adaptation? What factors determine how the book will be interpreted to screen? Well, through recent research, I’ve learned what those factors are and how they affect the book to adaptation process. I looked at the top 15 books from The Great American Read list, their Goodreads rating, their types of adaptations, and what awards (major televised award ceremonies) and critical acclaim the adaptation received. However, the definition of a perfect adaptation needs to be understood.

According to Merriam-Webster, perfect is defined as, “satisfying all requirements: accurate”, which is how most bookworms describe their wants when a favorite book is being adapted. Seeing an accurate adaptation with “satisfying requirements”, means more than the adaptation depicting the story exactly as it is in the book, scene for scene and word for word. Oh no, an illustrious and experienced cast, a qualified director, costume design, and countless other aspects that help stories come to life on screen. Alas, this is not always the outcome, since every reader has differing opinions and subjective interpretations of the story and getting all of the “satisfying requirements” to fall into place can be trying. So, not all adaptations are perfect, but what is that’s made by humans? However, when concerning a beloved and treasured story, us die-hard fans don’t merely give into despair, we endure and fight for what is ours. Well, we actually grovel, plead, and pray to the literary gods (How you doin’ Shakespeare?) that a sane and heroic mind will come along and answer our simple prayer, to accurately depict our favorite story. Or at least decently. And luckily, a handful of adaptations are loved to the same extent or more than the book and are considered perfect. Among these perfect (and not-so-perfect) adaptations comes the ones from the top 15 books of The Great American Read, a list hand-selected by Americans from the Pacific to the Atlantic, which I researched to understand what a perfect adaptation looks like. And did these books deliver some intriguing results!

On its website, The Great American Read states these are its top 15 books, respectively, and I added each book’s Goodreads rating and number of ratings next to it. (*Also, some of the books on the list are actually considered as the whole series, but due wanting more accurate results, I just took the first book of each series and compared it to its first adaptation.)

1.      To Kill a Mockingbird: 4.27 (3,839,013)

2.      Outlander (Series)*: 4.22 (692,827)

3.      Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone*: 4.46 (5,776,453)

4.      Pride and Prejudice: 4.25 (2,513,234)

5.      Lord of the Rings*: 4.49 (489,866)

6.      Gone with the Wind: 4.29 (981,740)

7.      Charlotte's Web: 4.16 (1,226,514)

8.      Little Women: 4.05 (1,459,498)

9.      Chronicles of Narina, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe*: 4.21 (1,847,150)

10.  Jane Eyre: 4.11 (1,410,509)

11.  Anne of Green Gables*: 4.24 (611,913)

12.  Grapes of Wrath: 3.95 (634,397)

13.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: 4.25 (339,372)

14.  The Book Thief: 4.37 (1,534,590)

15.  The Great Gatsby: 3.91 (3,218,445)

Of this list of 15 books, 28 movies, 4 TV shows, and 10 miniseries were made, which is a total of a whopping 42 adaptations. The adaptation with the most awards was Gone with the Wind with 8 Oscar Awards, followed by Lord of the Rings (2001) with 4 Oscars, and To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) tied at 3 Oscars. According to the reviews of the books and the critical acclaim received, Harry Potter and Gone with the Wind are by far, the best adaptations. Yet, according to many subjective opinions from fellow bookies, English teachers, and many other reviewers and audience members, some of the most accurate, beloved, and perfect (*wink wink*) are some of the most underrated adaptations, including but not limited to, the Pride and Prejudice (1995) miniseries, the Anne of Green Gables (1985) miniseries, The Great Gatsby (2013) movie, and Outlander, which is a television series. What all of these have in common besides being loved by audiences alike, they have received awards, just not as many as those listed above, which is part of what makes an adaptation perfect.

            Balance, the recipe to perfection, which applies to everything, especially when looking for a perfect adaptation. An adaptation should be appreciated and loved equally to the book, which means equal amounts of critical acclaim and fan love. Looking at the information, I gathered, the most books and their most acclaimed adaptation are equal in length, detail, and popularity, and future adaptations look to these adaptations, especially the one discussed above. Therefore, if the book is loved more than the adaptation or vice versa, the adaptation is not completing its job, interpreting the book as perfectly as possible. Overall, the book and the adaptation should be equally revered by the connoisseurs of both forms of art, and if this is not the case, the adaptation is not truly perfect for telling the book’s story as it should be. Next time you see the adaptation of a book, compare not only your love, but see who else loves it as much as the book.


The author's comments:

Sources Cited:

“Books.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, www.pbs.org/the-great-american-read/books/#/.

“PBS's The Great American Read: List of America's Top 100 Books (100 Books).” Goodreads, Goodreads, www.goodreads.com/list/show/123237.PBS_s_The_Great_American_Read_List_of_America_s_Top_100_Books.

 “Perfect.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/perfect.  

“Movies, TV and Celebrities.” IMDb, IMDb.com, www.imdb.com/.  


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