New Project: Concepts of Adaptation

Let me guess: you do not remember this from Pride and Prejudice, do you?

One of the most trying aspects of planning this 'New Media' project, was figuring out what kind of adaptation I would create.

You see, as I view things, there is several different kinds of adaptation (there is, in fact, many different philosophies of adaption generally, how something should be treated when given a new context, but for the purposes of this post, I just want to focus on a couple of broader terms). The two which grab my attention is what I call the Superimposed Adaptation and the Translated-adaption.

To me, a superimposed adaptation is when a text is adapted but kept within its frame of reference; what alters here is that so-called liberties are taken with the text, liberties which can be as small as slight alteration of the plot, to as large as the inclusion of new characters or even whole plot lines. So, if you were to adapt a text by, say, Jane Austen, the piece which exemplifies superimposed adaptation to court, would be Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (PPZ).

 What we see in PPZ is the retention of the early nineteenth century setting but with the inclusion of zombies at the core of the narrative; the function of the zombies is to 'add some spice' to an otherwise dry narrative; the zombies are integrated into Austen's universe and phase in and out of the plot, shifting the context and focus of the narrative only slightly.

Other than the inclusion of zombies, however, PPZ remains surprisingly faithful, even to the point of being droll, to the original Austen text. The zombies are blended into the world seamlessly and other than the reanimated dead occasionally popping up, little has been changed from the mother text. Hence, why it displays itself as the perfect example of superimposed adaptation: new literary devices are added yet retains its native garb (its setting, language, cast, and so forth).

This is in sharp contrast what I dub as a translated-adaptation.

Described in its simplest terms, a translated-adaptation is when a text is adapted into a non-literal plot which corresponds to the mother text, one that ultimately reproduces it, but not exactly imagine from the text itself. The temporality and setting are ditched, characters may not exactly mimic their assigned counterparts, and the new locale for the plot may be cast in an entirely alien environment to the original mother text.

To illustrate this, think of the 2010 comedy film Easy A starring Emma Stone. In this film, a teenage girl pretends to perform sex work in exchange for gift cards: what the boys get in return is the ability to say that they had sex with her, even though they, of course, did not. As her lying gets increasingly out of control, however, and she becomes persecuted for her presumed actions, she becomes increasingly hostile to her community and questions herself and her morals.

All though it may not seem like it at first, Easy A is a translated-adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic novel The Scarlet Letter. Both feature a female protagonist wrongly persecuted and each handle the central quandary of the novel in different ways, albeit the film does so in an updated manner which sheds light on how society and morality have changed, thus placing itself into a dialogue with a larger tradition. The film is very self-aware and constantly references the novel, forcing the audience to acknowledge the kinship between the book and film. At first, because the film is not a direct adaptation, but something which is closer to a spiritual adaptation, this is hard to see at first, but once examined closer, has all of the elements of the source-text in its matter, thus pointing us to the fact that it is an adaptation.

Obviously, each adaptation has its strong point and weak. But more to the point, each does a different function: one, superimposed, highlights the original context while providing an opportunity to change some tid-bits; the other, translated, allows for a great deal of freedom in providing a non-linear, non-literal adaptation of a text-- essentially, allows it to breathe and adhere to a new situation.

So when I was ruminating on what sort of adaptation I should use for my project with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, I was a bit unsure of which to go for since each held their own merits. Because I went back and forth with myself so many times, I will not bore you with the particulars, suffice it to say that I decided on a translated-adaptation since my goal was to draw in as much interest as I possibly could, especially among young adults; because fantasy, and especially the pop culture conception of medieval fantasy, has been so predominant among youth already, I felt that it would be either difficult to 'sell' them yet another product set in a time they are likely already familiar, or that it would be too time consuming to figure out a way to 'pull the carpet out from under their feet' and wow them with something that they had no previously seen. So, I settled on a translated-adaptation where I could take the text to new frontiers, places which, as far as I am aware, it was not seen before, and attract a new audience. Hence, the science-fiction setting.

Is it perfect? Hardly, with a sci-fi setting also comes new challenges and I run the risk of alienating potential readers who were invested in the traditional setting. But I feel it is worth exploring if for no other reason than to probe the depths of what hasn't yet been done. I am eager to ply my imagination to the project and see what I can do with these classic and legendary characters.