On adapting works from book-to-screen


Well-Known Member
So in the early part of Session 5.06, Professor Olsen talked about adapting books to screen, discussing the conflict between faithfulness to the material and making a good story, preferring a good story over faithfulness to the text. I guess I have a more cynical outlook, having watched at least a couple book-to-film adaptations that failed at both; to give an example, Rick Riordan wrote a blog post a couple years ago detailing some of his problems with the first Percy Jackson book when it was being adapted from book to film.

I admit to struggling with this, having argued for having the Dagor Aglareb occur after the Ban and championing a plotline about Sauron take a more active role in trying to turn the Edain against the Elves. The reason for the former was that it would feel like the Noldor and the Sindar were willing to put their differences aside for battle, and tied in with the theme of unity. The latter is an extension of Sauron's Catch-and-Release program and partly because I don't like the fact that Sauron doesn't get a lot of street cred in capability; both times he shows up in a fight he is beaten soundly; not very good for a prospective Dark Lord

Whatever changes take place, they have to make sense. I have been thrown for a loop with some questionable changes in films that don't make sense, such as Credence Barebone being a brother of Albus and Abeforth Dumbledore, which wouldn't make sense because Kendra Dumbledore would have been dead before Credence was born and that Albus and Abeforth's father Percival died in Azkaban (he probably wasn't having sex in Azkaban *shudder*).


Staff member
Corey Olsen has discussed his approach to media adaptations of books in the past. While he did touch on this last night, he laid those ideas out more thoroughly in Session 3-16 on March 9, 2018, where he specifically addressed the question of adaptation in the Silm Film Project, and reasons we might deviate from the text of the published Silmarillion. Dave Kale said he was in agreement, and that as far as he was concerned, Corey Olsen was 'preaching to the choir.'

The discussion in question occurs at timestamp 9:42-30:15. The context at that time was decisions surrounding the deaths of Amrod and Amras.


If you are curious which of these reasons is driving the desire to alter the early storylines of the Edain, it is mostly the 2nd one, with a consideration of the time constraints and limitations of the TV episode format in the 3rd one. The goal to make one 'story' of the people of Bëor for this season necessitates treating the House of Bëor as a character, with individuals who play roles, but does not allow room for a bunch of different people to do a bunch of different things, and have them only loosely thematically connected.

In other words, faithfulness to the text is important - this is an adaptation set in Tolkien's world, not an original story based on our own characters or anything like that. But faithfulness to the text is not the most important consideration in creating an adaptation - telling a good story is. Tolkien was a brilliant storyteller, clearly. Most of us are likely not that good. So, sure, not every idea we have that creates a variation on his story is going to be an improvement. But there are some cases when changing all the details still manages to tell the 'same' story relatively well.

There is a film version of the Count of Monte Cristo (from 2002) where just about every detail from the text is altered. It's still the same basic story of love triangle, betrayal, revenge....but in this version, Albert is actually Dantes' child, and few of the *specific* revenges from the novel are incorporated. There is also an anime version of the Count of Monte Cristo (Gankutsu-o) where he is possessed by an evil space alien that feeds off revenge, and there are giant robots. That one is...a little less like the original, but actually keeps many of the details from the text! But both tellings, though radically different from the book in different ways, do manage to convey a storyline focused on the cost of revenge, and tell a story that is very recognizably....the Count of Monte Cristo. Also...both adaptations are good, even though neither adaptation is faithful.

During last night's session, I mentioned an adaptation of The War of the Worlds that was both very faithful and very boring. It is this one: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0425638/
The issue with this 3 hour film is that no one bothered to adapt the story. They just took conversations and events from the book, and put them on screen. The result is a boring mess where minor details don't add up to any sort of actual story. There are technical issues as well, but they started with a lousy adaptation mentality when writing that script.

Philosophies of adaptation vary. Philosophies of storytelling vary. It's not important we all like the same sorts of adaptations. It *is* important we all understand the goals of adaptation underpinning this project.
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I guess I‘m put off by the Professor’s cavalier attitude when it came to changing things like the timeline; I have reservations about compressing the timeline because of Maeglin and his response was “Yeah, we can.” It reminds me a bit too much of how flippant David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were about making changes to the Game of Thrones story that didn’t make sense character-wise (like Arya killing the Night King when they’ve been building to Jon facing the Night King), or Bronn being Master of Coin despite knowing nothing about how finances work when the series started, or Sam going back to the Maesters after denouncing them the previous season for their close-minded practices.

The questions I’ve been asking for this season is “Is the change necessary?” And “How should it make sense?” Otherwise you get a film like Eragon where the film has little resemblance to the book it was adapting. It even laid some of the book’s criticisms bare like the entire story seeming like Star Wars with dragons.

On the Fantastic Beasts twist at the end: for me it didn’t make sense to have Credence as Dumbledore’s brother. Grindelwald is possibly lying, but we don’t know that, and the timeline doesn’t add up (see opening post). Unless that’s cleared up the only possibility is that Credence is Ariana’s son, since Albus and Abeforth have no interest in women (Abeforth may even be attracted to goats), and that’s a whole new can of worms...
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There are two film versions of Roald Dahl's children's novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

The first, the Gene Wilder Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971), changes even the title of the original. Also, they change the ending and key point/moral of the story. In the book, Charlie is a good and poor kid who makes good choices throughout, and the other kids are spoiled wealthy brats who do things even when told not to. So, each of the other kids faces a consequence which boots them from the factory tour, leaving only Charlie Bucket at the end to become Willy Wonka's heir. In the 1971 film, Charlie and his grandfather engage in a shenanigan just like all of the others, but theirs has no instantaneous consequence and they are not caught (there is danger from a fan, but no harm done, no oompa-loompa song extolling their wrongs, etc). At the end of the film, Charlie confesses his wrong, and it is his willingness to own up and apologize that results in him being named Willy Wonka's heir. So, the entire point of the story and its climax has been altered, as well as a central component of Charlie's character.

The second is Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005). This story is told with Tim Burton's typical style and approach to whimsy, but it does preserve the character of Charlie from the original novel - he does not disobey or do anything he is told not to do. There are additions - for instance, you learn about Willy Wonka's relationship with his dentist father. The ending is not exactly the same as in the book; Charlie has more choice and agency, and actually confronts Willy Wonka.

As far as 'faithfulness to the text' goes, I think that the 2005 film is the clear winner. The changes made in the 1971 film are the significant type of deviation that changes the original story into something different. If you alter a main character or the climax of the story...you are probably telling a different story, and this one does both. Yes, in the end, only Charlie Bucket is left to become Willy Wonka's heir (in both films), but how they get there is rather different, and that is my point. In a children's book about greed and temptation, there is a rather big difference between resisting temptation or succumbing to it. While I love a good story about repentance and forgiveness...that is not the type of story Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is meant to be. It's a rags-to-riches story where a poor, morally good child has a fantastic opportunity presented to them.

But as far as 'better story' or 'better film' goes....that is another question entirely. You would have to really, really like Tim Burton's style to prefer his version to the Gene Wilder version. Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka seems modeled off of Michael Jackson's strange relationship with childhood. It's not a good look (nor is it meant to be). Granted, Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka is also a bit crazy/demented. So it's not like either character was meant to feel safe - the audience is intended to find their eccentricity at least mildly disturbing.

{See the next post for a comparison of a scene from both films and the novel.}

But...despite it being a well-loved book, faithfulness of adaptation doesn't necessarily make for a well-loved film. The 1971 version, with its world of 'Pure Imagination,' captured a lot of people's hearts. It is well-loved. The 2005 version? Not so much. It is very possible to be faithful in details, but lose some other essential component of the story. In this case, perhaps it is shifting the story away from Charlie's sense of wonder a bit? By focusing more on Willy Wonka's background (his history in India is in the book, but not the bit with his father), the character growth is demonstrated there. The Oompa Loompas are a little less 'fun' and a bit more 'creepy.' Or maybe it's just that the people who liked the 1971 version as a child weren't prepared to revisit the story as adults, and became more critical.

Personally, I was always very angry about the change to the story made in the 1971 version. So I was prepared to like the newer version simply because it was more faithful. But...in the end, my intense dislike for Tim Burton's style left me dissatisfied with this as well. I love the book. I don't particularly care for either film.
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Tunnel of Terror Scene from 1971 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory:

The same scene from 2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:

These two scenes are completely different from one another and have almost nothing in common. Granted, they both show the group on an oompa-loompa powered boat going through a dark tunnel on a chocolate river, arriving at the 'invention room,' as per the source material Both Willy Wonkas are shown to be a bit capricious. There is dialogue about not being able to see where the boat is going. And, bizarrely, both scenes probably warrant a warning for animal cruelty? But...that is the end of the commonality.

Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka is more in control. He has a goal, and he's a bit unhinged, but we trust that he is implementing his plan as intended. Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka is rather timid and easily shut down by the demanding children, though he also clearly has an agenda that he is implementing. The 1971 version has the parents speaking up in an 'I say!' way, where they make demands and Wonka ignores them (which is the part of the scene that comes from the book). The 2005 version limits the parents' dialogue, and invents what they do say, so they seem slightly more believable as characters/people. Naturally, the special effects are more sophisticated in 2005, though the 1971 version uses flashing colored lights to good effect.

But here is the original text, the 18th chapter 'Down the Chocolate River:'

‘Off we go!’ cried Mr Wonka. ‘Hurry up, everybody! Follow me to the next room! And please don’t worry about Augustus Gloop. He’s bound to come out in the wash. They always do. We shall have to make the next part of the journey by boat! Here she comes!


A steamy mist was rising up now from the great warm chocolate river, and out of the mist there appeared suddenly a most fantastic pink boat. It was a large open row boat with a tall front and a tall back (like a Viking boat of old), and it was of such a shining sparkling glistening pink colour that the whole thing looked as though it were made of bright, pink glass. There were many oars on either side of it, and as the boat came closer, the watchers on the riverbank could see that the oars were being pulled by masses of Oompa-Loompas – at least ten of them to each oar.

‘This is my private yacht!’ cried Mr Wonka, beaming with pleasure. ‘I made her by hollowing out an enormous boiled sweet! Isn’t she beautiful! See how she comes cutting through the river!’

The gleaming pink boiled-sweet boat glided up to the riverbank. One hundred Oompa-Loompas rested on their oars and stared up at the visitors. Then suddenly, for some reason best known to themselves, they all burst into shrieks of laughter.

‘What’s so funny?’ asked Violet Beauregarde.

‘Oh, don’t worry about them!’ cried Mr Wonka. ‘They’re always laughing! They think everything’s a colossal joke! Jump into the boat, all of you! Come on! Hurry up!’

As soon as everyone was safely in, the Oompa-Loompas pushed the boat away from the bank and began to row swiftly downriver.

‘Hey, there! Mike Teavee!’ shouted Mr Wonka. ‘Please do not lick the boat with your tongue! It’ll only make it sticky!’

‘Daddy,’ said Veruca Salt, ‘I want a boat like this! I want you to buy me a big pink boiled-sweet boat exactly like Mr Wonka’s! And I want lots of Oompa-Loompas to row me about, and I want a chocolate river and I want … I want …’

‘She wants a good kick in the pants,’ whispered Grandpa Joe to Charlie. The old man was sitting in the back of the boat and little Charlie Bucket was right beside him. Charlie was holding tightly on to his grandfather’s bony old hand. He was in a whirl of excitement. Everything that he had seen so far – the great chocolate river, the waterfall, the huge sucking pipes, the minty sugar meadows, the Oompa-Loompas, the beautiful pink boat, and most of all, Mr Willy Wonka himself – had been so astonishing that he began to wonder whether there could possibly be any more astonishments left. Where were they going now? What were they going to see? And what in the world was going to happen in the next room?

‘Isn’t it marvellous?’ said Grandpa Joe, grinning at Charlie. Charlie nodded and smiled up at the old man.

Suddenly, Mr Wonka, who was sitting on Charlie’s other side, reached down into the bottom of the boat, picked up a large mug, dipped it into the river, filled it with chocolate, and handed it to Charlie. ‘Drink this,’ he said. ‘It’ll do you good! You look starved to death!’

Then Mr Wonka filled a second mug and gave it to Grandpa Joe. ‘You, too,’ he said. ‘You look like a skeleton! What’s the matter? Hasn’t there been anything to eat in your house lately?’

‘Not much,’ said Grandpa Joe.

Charlie put the mug to his lips, and as the rich warm creamy chocolate ran down his throat into his empty tummy, his whole body from head to toe began to tingle with pleasure, and a feeling of intense happiness spread over him.

‘You like it?’ asked Mr Wonka.

‘Oh, it’s wonderful!’ Charlie said.

‘The creamiest loveliest chocolate I’ve ever tasted!’ said Grandpa Joe, smacking his lips.

‘That’s because it’s been mixed by waterfall,’ Mr Wonka told him.

The boat sped on down the river. The river was getting narrower. There was some kind of a dark tunnel ahead – a great round tunnel that looked like an enormous pipe – and the river was running right into the tunnel. And so was the b oat! ‘Row on!’ shouted Mr Wonka, jumping up and waving his stick in the air. ‘Full speed ahead!’ And with the Oompa-Loompas rowing faster than ever, the boat shot into the pitch-dark tunnel, and all the passengers screamed with excitement.

‘How can they see where they’re going?’ shrieked Violet Beauregarde in the darkness. ‘There’s no knowing where they’re going!’ cried Mr Wonka, hooting with laughter.

‘There’s no earthly way of knowing

Which direction they are going!

There’s no knowing where they’re rowing,

Or which way the river’s flowing!

Not a speck of light is showing,

So the danger must be growing,

For the rowers keep on rowing,

And they’re certainly not showing

Any signs that they are slowing …’

‘He’s gone off his rocker!’ shouted one of the fathers, aghast, and the other parents joined in the chorus of frightened shouting. ‘He’s crazy!’ they shouted.

‘He’s balmy!’ ‘He’s nutty!’ ‘He’s screwy!’ ‘He’s batty!’

‘He’s dippy!’

‘He’s dotty!’

‘He’s daffy!’

‘He’s goofy!’

‘He’s beany!’

‘He’s buggy!’

‘He’s wacky!’

‘He’s loony!’

‘No, he is not!’ said Grandpa Joe.

‘Switch on the lights!’ shouted Mr Wonka. And suddenly, on came the lights and the whole tunnel was brilliantly lit up, and Charlie could see that they were indeed inside a gigantic pipe, and the great upward-curving walls of the pipe were pure white and spotlessly clean. The river of chocolate was flowing very fast inside the pipe, and the Oompa-Loompas were all rowing like mad, and the boat was rocketing along at a furious pace. Mr Wonka was jumping up and down in the back of the boat and calling to the rowers to row faster and faster still. He seemed to love the sensation of whizzing through a white tunnel in a pink boat on a chocolate river, and he clapped his hands and laughed and kept glancing at his passengers to see if they were enjoying it as much as he.

‘Look, Grandpa!’ cried Charlie. ‘There’s a door in the wall!’ It was a green door and it was set into the wall of the tunnel just above the level of the river. As they flashed past it there was just enough time to read the writing on the door: STOREROOM NUMBER 54, it said. ALL THE CREAMS – DAIRY CREAM, WHIPPED CREAM, VIOLET CREAM, COFFEE CREAM, PINEAPPLE CREAM, VANILLA CREAM, AND HAIR CREAM.

‘Hair cream?’ cried Mike Teavee. ‘You don’t use hair cream?’

‘Row on!’ shouted Mr Wonka. ‘There’s no time to answer silly questions!’

They streaked past a black door. STOREROOM NUMBER 71, it said on it. WHIPS – ALL SHAPES AND SIZES.

‘Whips!’ cried Veruca Salt. ‘What on earth do you use whips for?’

‘For whipping cream, of course,’ said Mr Wonka. ‘How can you whip cream without whips? Whipped cream isn’t whipped cream at all unless it’s been whipped with whips. Just as a poached egg isn’t a poached egg unless it’s been stolen from the woods in the dead of night!

Row on, please!’


‘Has beans?’ cried Violet Beauregarde.

‘You’re one yourself!’ said Mr Wonka. ‘There’s no time for arguing! Press on, press on!’ But five seconds later, when a bright red door came into sight ahead, he suddenly waved his gold-topped cane in the air and shouted, ‘Stop the boat!’
Certainly, you can see why I would label the 2005 version the clear winner when speaking of 'faithful adaptation.' That has made good use of the descriptions from the book, showing what the book says the characters saw, and preserving enough of the dialogue to advance the story in the same ways through this segment. For instance, Charlie is offered a drink from the chocolate river after Augustus Gloop refused to stop drinking it and fell in. There are some excisions - Mike TeaVee does not attempt to lick the boat (and his line of dialogue is given to someone else), there is no aside about poached eggs or has-beans, and most significantly, Willy Wonka's poetry about the rowers not knowing where they are going has been left out. That is practically the only part of this scene that is preserved in the 1971 version (well, also, the boat is pink, and Charlie is excited throughout). They do have Veruca Salt say that she doesn't want a boat like this one after getting off, to show that she was shaken, whereas the text specifically has her asking for a boat at the beginning of the scene.
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I've only really seen the 2005 adaptation, and the only things I really remember from the Gene Wilder version was that Wonka's head kept changing in the tunnel and that Augustus Gloop looked more like he was covered in diluted ketchup instead of chocolate.


Staff member
Yes, the tunnel-scene is a rather memorable part of the 1971 film, which was why I chose that scene for comparison purposes. Clearly, the effects aren't great; it was 1971.

If we're going to limit this conversation to adaptations we're both familiar with, we're probably going to have to stick to Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings. I have not seen either Fantastic Beasts films, and anyway, that is not actually an adaptation - that is original content within an existing world, not based on a novel/story written by JKR, correct? Same with Season 8 of Game of Thrones - it's not an adaptation, because George R.R. Martin hasn't written it yet! That was original content following up on a story begun by George R. R. Martin. I have neither read nor seen the Percy Jackson stories. I did not read Eragon. Nor have I ever heard anyone praise Eragon as a good book or film, so I'm not convinced that there was anything there worth adapting?

The Harry Potter films are an interesting example of adaptation, actually, since the individual films had different directors who made different choices. Clearly, there were different views of 'faithfulness to the text' and 'faithfulness to previous films' and willingness to introduce original content.

The first two films, by Chris Columbus, of course had the disadvantage of focusing on inexperienced young child actors. As time went on, the cast became more experienced and better able to carry a film. So, I don't want to be too harsh on him for having 11 year olds walk up to their mark and deliver their lines. But I will be harsh on the storytelling efforts. These are clearly meant to be films 'for children' - they don't do a great job of seeing a plot through til the end. Seriously, what is the climax of the 1st one? The...house cup? Why on earth....? The third film (2004) by Alfonso Cuarón takes a dramatic leap forward in storytelling, but also a large step away from both the source material and the previous films. Wizards and witches wear robes about 100% of the time in Columbus' films. Hogwarts is a magical place, far removed for the muggle world. Harry, Ron, and Hermione spend a good bit of screentime in the third film in jeans and hoodies. So, even though the large skeleton from the 2nd film is hanging out in the DADA classroom, etc, it doesn't look or feel like a story set in the same world. Am I bitter that they had to get a new actor for Dumbledore? Yes, yes I am (though obviously they had no choice). The change in Dumbledore's character was a choice, though. So, just focusing on the first three films, I would say that hands down the best one as a film is the 3rd one. And it is also (clearly) the least faithful adaptation of the three.

When I consider whether or not an adaptation is any good, I don't worry about whether or not they've ticked off every box from the content of the original (though I do look askance at adaptations that clearly make little effort to tick any boxes at all). What I am looking for is some reassurance that the people producing the movie/TV adaptation get the original story. That they understood the point of it and why it was loved and what people were so enthused by when they first read it. In other words, if I am convinced that the team behind the adaptation understands the story, I am more willing to forgive changes they make, because I can understand how these choices were made in the service of the story. If they get all the details right, but botch the whole point...I'm not likely to forgive them. If they seem to have an 'agenda' to change the story or move away from the spirit of the original...I do not consider that to be a faithful adaptation. Might make a good film, but doesn't tell the story they supposedly set out to tell.

So, for the adaptation of Silm Film, I think it's most important to establish what story we are trying to tell, and then figure out how best to do that. I will raise objections based on continuity errors, but I don't see these as insurmountable obstacles, either. Rather, any changes have consequences down the road, and we do need to make sure we're considering the full implications of alterations we make. So, for the storylines of Men in Season 5 - what we need to do is have Beren, Húrin, and Huor born at the correct place on the timeline. We can...pretty much work around the rest of it.

It's true you have brought up the connection between Aredhel's timeline and the timeline of the Men. If too much truncation happens, we might be squeezed so that it does not appear that she has enough time to get married, have a baby, and have that baby grow into a moody teen. On the other hand...we're not necessarily locked into her dates, so long as her story is wrapped up pre-Dagor Bragollach. And also, as has been pointed out to you, elves mature not at age 100, but between the ages of 50 and 100. Thus, if we want 'moody teen Maeglin', it's certainly possible for him to be in his 40s, not his 80s. Therefore, while we do need to be mindful of telling that story in parallel with the stories of Men, the alterations proposed thus far are not incompatible with Aredhel's story.

As for your first post, I know you aren't happy about Sauron's street cred. But I must remind you that he is not soundly defeated in Season 3 Episode 12, where he successfully (and personally) takes Maedhros prisoner and kills his entire army with trolls. He is not soundly defeated when he tricks Edhellos in Season 4 Episode 6. Sauron has been doing plenty of winning, and also a good bit of personal intervention. But as for questions of adaptation....we are not told who or what the Amlach-impersonator is. Obviously a servant of Morgoth, but not named or identified. However...this type of story is not unlike the shade of Gorlim's wife, which suggests that it is certainly a possible interpretation of the text to suggest that it was Sauron who either personally impersonated Amlach at the Council, or rather that Sauron orchestrated that by sending the Amlach-impersonator. Of course it could have been some other servant of Morgoth, sent directly by Morgoth. That's not the only interpretation of the text that makes sense. But it would certainly be possible to consider that story an embellishment or 'fleshing out' of the story in the text, rather than a change.
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Staff member
I agree with what MithLuin is saying, at least in spirit (since I haven't taken part of the last session, so I don't know exactly what was said). Looking at the slide here, though, I'd like to throw in a few thoughts.

The first of Corey's Reasons is absolutely fine to me, I have no problem with that whatsoever - unless...well, I'll get back to that.
The second Reason: This is hard to avoid, if not impossible, if we're going to tell a coherent story. One night add that in the case of making an adaptation of the Silmarillion, there is a great risk of running into situations when this kind of change is necessary, since a lot of the story is told with very few details, and has to be embellished, which will sometimes result in details that are in conflict with future events (which is basically what Reason four means). I consider these tow Reasons (2 and 4) the most important ones.
The third Reason: Yes, this has to be done, although, I have to point out that this was done a lot in PJ's adaptation of LOTR. Jackson et al were very good at visualising processes and events that weren't portrayed that way in the book. Sometimes this went wrong IMO. I t also touches on typical PJ mistakes, like how fast people could travel through Middle-earth, Saruman and Gandalf fighting in the tower of Orthanc, orcs bred in cocoons etc.
The fifth Reason: This is very risky. We all love it, and when we've come up with great ideas that will make awesome scenes, we get excited and have a hard time letting go of it. I know nothing of how PJ et al worked on the Two Towers movie (I guess I could watch the film with commentaries) but I think that the Faramir storyline, beginning with him wanting to take the Hobbits to Minas Tirith and ending with the horrible Nazgul scene, are examples go how one could go blind and not see your own mistakes because you're following the MO of making things visual and awesome. Also, you could argue that they pursued a theme that was explored elsewhere in Tolkien's work.

In the end, I think you have to try to think in terms of big or small changes, and whether the effect they have on the story is mostly positive or mostly negative. Most of the time, I think the execs and we here do a good job (especially considering we're not professional writers). I do think that one reason not to change certain things could be just that, that we're not Tolkien. I also think that we should be aware of not thinking too much about how imagined viewers would think. I believe that the best way to tell a story is to tell one you want to tell, not one you think others will tolerate.


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In the end, I think you have to try to think in terms of big or small changes, and whether the effect they have on the story is mostly positive or mostly negative. Most of the time, I think the execs and we here do a good job (especially considering we're not professional writers). I do think that one reason not to change certain things could be just that, that we're not Tolkien. I also think that we should be aware of not thinking too much about how imagined viewers would think. I believe that the best way to tell a story is to tell one you want to tell, not one you think others will tolerate.
Yes. A good adaptation will only be made if those doing the adaptation have the humility to recognize that they are not the original creators, but are 'playing in the sandbox' established by the original creator. We're not professional writers. Well, I'm not published, anyway; (Corey Olsen obviously is). There does need to be genuine respect for the original creator, or else the 'adaptation' will go off in some bizarre direction far removed from the original content. One of the main goals of this adaptation is to create something that is 'true to Tolkien' in the sense that the stories we tell do truly feel like they are set in Middle-earth, and that the characters we present are Tolkien's characters fleshed out and brought to life. It is safe to say that everyone involved in this project genuinely loves Tolkien's work (though of course in different ways).

I think it is important to recognize how ill-suited for adaptation the Silmarillion actually is, though. With most novels, you could read the passage, and envision how that would look with scenery and actors saying dialogue, and see how that will advance your overall story plot as it plays out. It's more a question of which scenes to include, and which scenes to condense/alter. But with the Silmarillion....it's not a novel. Whole chapters lack any dialogue at all. The story jumps back and forth, so that it's not even told chronologically much of the time. There is a scene here or there. There is dialogue. There are memorable iconic moments. But in order to tell this story...we do have to invent a lot. Part of our job in this adaptation is to create characters and plots that tell Tolkien's stories...which in many cases he only hinted at without actually telling himself!

The difference between big and small changes is almost always in the impact. Does this change fundamentally alter a character or event in the story? And if so...what are the future implications? You have to count the cost, and determine whether or not it would be worth it. Tolkien considered altering the story in major ways - round world and sun and moon from the beginning, for instance - and such alterations would obviously have a profound effect on the entire story. We're not doing that, and Tolkien himself decided not to do that, but he did write a few bits incorporating that idea to 'test it out', so to speak. But while we are keeping the flat earth and no sun and moon until the end of Season 3, we are very judicious in how much of that we show...because...there was a reason Tolkien toyed with the idea of changing that. It's difficult to make someone believe your story is true under those circumstances.

And I do agree that we have to believe in the story we are telling, not just as a concession to what we think viewers can tolerate, but because we do think it is the best way to tell the story.


Staff member
I was thinking more about this topic in conjunction with the musical Hamilton. I haven't watched it yet (though I would like to), and have only listened to the soundtrack and seen a few clips. Obviously, the source content for this musical is American history, and more specifically, the biography of Alexander Hamilton written by historian Ron Chernow. So, all of the 'characters' in the musical are real people from history, presented in a very particular way to tell the story of Hamilton. It's a stage musical, or a themed hip-hop album, so the point is to showcase certain character traits over historical accuracy...though historical details are worked in as the framework.

One could just as easily describe this project by asking, "What if Macbeth and Hamlet were in the same play, with a modern setting?" Alexander Hamilton compares himself to Macbeth in the show (in a letter to Angelica), and of course his fatal flaw is certainly his hubris. Aaron Burr's hesitation embodied by 'Wait For It' sounds very much like Hamlet's approach to life. Both of them reverse course by the end and regret it.

Naturally, though, seeing as how it *is* based on history, it's certainly possible to fact check the show. And people have. There are clear alterations, to both characters and to the timeline, that were introduced for specific storytelling purposes.

Some examples:

Alexander Hamilton did not meet Aaron Burr, Marquis de Layfayette, Hercules Mulligan, and John Laurens on the same day in the same tavern. He met them at various times and places (college, in the military during the war, etc), and they certainly would not have all been there in New York at the same time, as depicted. So why do this? Obviously, to introduce characters within a single song, rather than have him meet them all individually at different times. "Aaron Burr, sir" is the 2nd song in the show (leading immediately into the 3rd song "My Shot" and the 4th "The Story of Tonight"), so introducing the supporting cast after being introduced to Alexander Hamilton in the opening number makes sense. (And as far as details go - Alexander Hamilton did get in an argument with someone at Princeton, but he did not "punch the bursar" - that was for the rhyme.)

"One Last Time" deals with George Washington's decision to step down after two terms in office, not running for a third time. In the musical, this is paired with Thomas Jefferson's decision to resign from the cabinet and to run for president in an opposition party. In reality, these two events did not even happen in the same year. But they were thematically linked, so they wound up in the same song, and changing the timeline gave more immediacy to the issue. Similarly, "Farmer Refuted" features a real person, but his arguments were made a few years earlier than they are set in the show. More significantly, Philip's duel in "Blow Us All Away" happens prior to the election of 1800; in real life, it was in 1801.

Angelica Schuyler is...a great character in the show. She's interesting and compelling. She speaks her mind, makes sacrifices, and clearly loves her family. She goes toe-to-toe with some of the other characters to argue with them. It's much easier to like her and take her seriously than her sister Eliza, who doesn't really become a compelling character until "Burn" or even the final number, really ("Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story"). "Satisfied" is certainly a more interesting song than "Helpless." (And "Burn" stands out more because "Congratulations" was cut.) Problem? Almost *none* of the details about Angelica are true to history. Her character is (mostly) a fabrication for the show, to tell an interesting story. She was not a single woman when she met Hamilton; she was already married. Her father did have sons, so the idea that she had no brothers and thus had to 'marry well' was contrived. And while some of her views play well with a modern audience, there's little indication that she held them. She did correspond with Hamilton, of course, but of all the historical figures presented, the most liberties were taken with her. It can be disappointing to learn that, but I don't think that inventing interesting side notes with Angelica makes this a bad adaptation. It does make it a less accurate/faithful adaptation, though.

All of these changes were made for storytelling purposes. Some of them the audience expects. A scene where the main character meets their sidekicks + future nemesis reads as a fictional event. Everyone knows real life is messier, but depicting how they all became friends is an important part of the story, whether you're assembling a crew for your ship, gathering a team of superheros, or simply forming a group of school friends. So, I think that that first liberty is expected in adaptation. So, yeah, Alexander Hamilton meeting Burr, Laurens, Mulligan, and Layfayette 'reads' very similarly to Harry meeting Draco, Ron, and Hermione, or to Simon Tam meeting the crew of Serenity.

The timeline liberties are taken because the timeline is not the most important part of the story. Does it matter what year Alexander Hamilton met his friends, or what year that guy published his political pamphlet? For the purposes of telling the story...no, not really at all. The idea of Jefferson and Washington stepping down together is more thematic than literal. So, telling that story in that way is more just a nuanced version of how to introduce those facts to the audience, without focusing on dates. Now, when you get to the death of Philip, you have a significant event that impacts the story. Alexander Hamilton (in the musical) is portrayed as stepping out of politics not just because of the scandal surrounding the Reynolds Pamphlet, but also to mourn the loss of his son. He and his wife take the time to reconcile and console one another ("It's Quiet Uptown"). He gets back into politics over the election of 1800. So...shifting that duel had a significant impact on the actions of the story and how the audience would view them. Also, even though his duel with Burr did not occur until 1804, it is clear that Hamilton backing Jefferson in the election was at the root of it, so, for storytelling purposes, going straight from the election into the feud into the duel makes sense. Meaning....that the story with Philip had to be told earlier, not during the interlude between the election and the death of Alexander Hamilton. So, that is a story pacing choice - inconvenient of Phillip not to get himself killed at the correct time, but hey, such is life. It's messier than stories.

The alterations of Angelica are less defensible. There was no 'need' to create this love triangle, where she admired Alexander Hamilton's brain, but 'let' him marry her sister instead. Having her as a supporting character to Eliza is fine - but the changes to her character were not "necessary" changes in the way that changing the time of Philip's death was. At the end of the day, this change was an artistic choice to make her character more interesting and 'cooler.' It fit fine because of the affair - but her story could have been handled differently. This was an outright change, introducing original material and altering an existing character's motivations around that. Is that a bad choice? Not...really. Most people like Angelica. But it is definitely one of the less faithful parts of the storytelling, and would fall under invention in a way that the 'tweaks' mentioned above do not.

The musical Hamilton is brilliant in a lot of ways. It's high energy and a compelling way to tell this particular story. Sure, details are tweaked, timelines are altered, and characters do and say things that don't always reflect the historical personage. It's not a history book. It's a story. It's a retelling. And, overall, it's *mostly* a faithful one. More faithful than some other examples of historical dramas that exist, actually.