I stumbled across this Slate article today. It’s a bit old, from 2004, but I think it’s still interesting. In it, Ursula K. Le Guin talks about the Sci-Fi channel’s pathetic (in her view) attempt to adapt her Earthsea novels into a TV miniseries. Le Guin’s main contention is that the Sci-Fi production made too many unnecessary changes to her novels, most egregiously by changing what should have been a cast of racially diverse characters into a cast consisting primary of white characters.
I have neither read any Earthsea books, nor have I watched the miniseries. Le Guin’s article, however, makes it pretty clear that the creators of the Sci-Fi miniseries violated the spirit of her work by whitewashing the “rainbow world” she envisioned. Le Guin’s Earthsea is a world of racial diversity, and this diversity was a deliberate decision made by the author. By whitewashing the characters, Sci-Fi made a big, yet wholly unnecessary change, and therefore damaged the credibility of the adaptation. This same sort of accusation was leveled against M. Night Shyamalan’s Avatar: The Last Airbender a couple of years ago.
If you’ve been following my posts, you know that I am ridiculously excited by HBO’s Game of Thrones. Earlier this week, I suggested that I was going to review the series as a standalone series, and not compare it to the books. But maybe I should? I don’t mean minor and relatively insignificant details like Theon failing to kick the head of the deserter (I have seen a lot of people complaining about this on boards and Twitter, and I have no idea why), or why the Targaryen’s don’t have purple eyes. But maybe I should be looking for bigger, more essential themes from the book, to see if they appear in the series as well, like the longing for an idealized past, or the idea that people who hold inflexible codes of honor are punished by opportunists willing to compromise ideals for their own gain. All the early reviews that I’ve read suggest that while the TV show has made certain changes to the source material in order to fit the unique challenges presented by the medium of TV, it has preserved the core themes of Martin’s work, or at least, not completely violated them in the way that Le Guin suggests SciFi did to Earthsea.
This post has rambled on a bit, and I apologize. Le Guin’s article really made me think about adaptations from other media (books, comics, movies, etc) to television. What are some of the worst TV adaptations that you’ve ever seen? Why, exactly, were they so bad? Did they somehow violate an essential something from the original work?
Let me know in the comments!