Thursday, 9 June 2011

Genre Novels That Would Make Excellent Television

It has proven an incredible stroke of good fortune for the fantasy genre that some of the most successful recent TV shows have been adaptations of books that might not otherwise reach mainstream attention.  I am thinking specifically of True Blood, inspired by Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire Mysteries, and Game Of Thrones, based on A Song Of Ice And Fire by George R.R. Martin.  It is undoubtedly no coincidence that the success of these two dramas derives from their home at HBO, known for high production values, in-depth storytelling that does not insult the viewer, and huge marketing campaigns which ensure a wide audience.

This got me thinking: there is a wealth of fantasy and horror literature out there to be mined for miniseries success.  Below are a few novels that I think make excellent candidates for adaptation.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Considered by many of Gaiman's fans to be the most ambitious of his novels, American Gods is a modern epic.  There has been talk on and off for years of a film version, but I think the cast of memorable characters and apocalyptic story arc would be better suited to the 12-hour series format of HBO, allowing ample time to explore the bizarre world that ex-con Shadow finds himself becoming a part of.  The great thing about this particular corner of Gaiman's universe is that there is room for expansion: the collection Fragile Things includes a Shadow novella, and the novel Anansi Boys features one of the supporting characters from American Gods, so producers would not run out of source material for a while.

The Book Of Lost Things by John Connolly
Considering the number of fairy tale-inspired pilots that came out this season (Grimm, Once Upon A Time, 17th Precinct), I'm surprised this book hasn't already been adapted.  The story of a teenage boy who accidentally enters a world comprised of myth and legend and is immediately threatened by the sinister Crooked Man, there is enough folkloric whimsy and genuine menace in the source material to make ideal family viewing - imagine the quirky charm of Doctor Who with the combined humour and violence of Buffy.

Nights At The Circus by Angela Carter
While that other infamous circus-centric HBO show Carnivale was an ultimately shortlived lesson in avoiding overly complex mythology, the recent film Water For Elephants has proved that there is still mileage in the backdrop of the travelling fair.  Carter's magical realism would make for some impressive visuals, in particular her winged heroine Sophie.  The novel is separated into sections based on the circus's location (London, Paris etc.), so an episodic format would fit the narrative fairly well.

Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite
A show about vampires in the American South? Yes, it sounds uncomfortably similar to True Blood.  But Brite's edgy, sexy novel was around long before Charlaine Harris dreamed up the by-comparison wholesome Sookie Stackhouse series.  Lost Souls centres on a band fronted by best friends Steve and Ghost, and the vampires who come to town to see them play.  If the bluesy, bloodsucking content is too similar to True Blood, then there are other options from Brite's oeuvre: Drawing Blood, in which a troubled comic book artist returns to a small town where the past is a living thing, or Exquisite Corpse, a twisted saga about two serial killers who fall in love (think Dexter, only ten times darker).

The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice
The hugely popular Interview With The Vampire movie, starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, brought a massive readership to Anne Rice's novels.  The second fim adaptation, The Queen Of The Damned, tried to incorporate too many of the saga's various backstories and ended up being a bit of a mess (although it wasn't without its high points).  Anne Rice has since stated that her style of storytelling might be better suited to television.  A longer, more leisurely format would certainly compliment the lengthy character histories and far-reaching events covered in the novels.  If all ten books were to be adapted, from the now-classic Interview to the more recent and much more convoluted Blood Canticle, not to mention the offshoot "New Vampire" books, there'd be at least a dozen potential seasons of slick, sumptuous television.  Personally, I'd be fascinated to see how showrunners would portray the Egyptian origin story, which the second film completely skipped.

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