The word adaptation has been around for a long time. It originated in the 13th century in Middle French. In a very general sense, the Oxford English Dictionary defines adaptation as “the application of something to a particular end or purpose; the action of applying one thing to another or of bringing two things together so as to effect a change in the nature of the objects.” [1] A few related terms include retelling, variation, alteration, remodeling, and modification. In relation to literature, the OED defines adaptation as “An altered or amended version of a text, musical composition, etc., (now esp.) one adapted for filming, broadcasting, or production on the stage from a novel or similar literary source.”

People have adapted stories for years. Before we had written word, people told oral stories, which were adapted each time they were told. Shakespeare often based his plots on source texts. He would make his point by adapting a well-known story. The changes had meaning and significance. School boys in his time period were taught to rewrite other’s work, but to do it better. Literary adaptations have been around for a long time. As the OED stated, literary sources have been changed for filming, but in terms of young adult literature, sources have been adapted in terms of form (adapted into movies or graphic novels) or in terms of audience (adapted for young adults from a source that was not originally considered YA.)

Another definition from the OED states that an adaptation is “modifying something, esp. something that has been created for a particular purpose, so that it suitable for a new use.” This definition rings true in terms of adaptations in young adult literature. The adaptations in form and audience that are seen adapt works for a new purpose—for young adults.

Adaptation in Audience

Adaptation does not always imply a shift in form, however, but can sometimes indicate a change in audience. Adaptation of audience refers to the reworking of adult material for teenage readers or the alteration of young adult literature for an adult readership. Of course, this type of adaptation reaches across all forms of literature, including novels, graphic novels, movies, and other types of media. Kamilla Elliott refers to adaptation in form (novel to movie, etc.) as a more simple type of “translation”, whereas a switch in audience constitutes a more intensive change. She says, “Translation considers only formal and linguistic conventions, while adaptation considers social, cultural, and moral ones.” [2] Adaptations that seek to captivate a new audience must, by nature, adjust not only to formal conventions but to the larger social, cultural, and moral tendencies of that demographic.

These adaptations distinguish themselves primarily based on the social issues that apply to both adults and teenagers, and the small changes made to the text in order to emphasize these issues. A book or movie that lends itself to an audience adaptation often addresses significant cultural issues that either unite or divide youth from their adult counterparts. Rachel Caroll uses Charles Dickens as an example of an equally appealing author, then goes on to explain why. She says, “Dickens’ cultural significance has made the author attractive in a public service context, a combination of entertainment and educational values…”[3] These overarching, demographically inclusive themes of public services, entertainment, and education make Dickens a popular artist for adaptation, one that attracts both teenagers and adults.

These issue-based audience adaptations usually fall into two categories: those that present original content that unites and interests adults and young adults, and those that present a controversial issue that an adaptation can treat or alter to appeal to either adults or teens. These authors or texts often stretches well between two demographics because the text itself presents concepts in a way that attracts both audiences. One article by Kyle Buchanan explains it this way, “Book series like The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Twilight were simply the most successful at crossing over into an adult readership…” [4] See that article here. That cross-over success draws largely from the appealing themes like forbidden love, oppressive government, the escapism of magic, and other themes. Other adaptations edit content and adapt plot or character to turn those popular issues towards a new adult or teenage audience.

Adaptation Forms

The main two forms which adaptations take and which we will discuss here is the forms of literature adapted into film and graphic novels.

The subject of literature, especially young adult literature, adapted into film is one wrought with controversy. In an article by Harold Foster it says, “Because of the huge market for film, filmmakers look everywhere for ideas, and there is no better source of stories than books. Yet, because of their differences, books and films have always had an uneasy alliance.” [5] One of the first young adult books to be adapted into a successful film was The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. The Outsiders was popular among young people but receives critiques for not being as true to the book as some viewers would hope. Literature which is beloved by those who gain knowledge and valuable emotions from it, often disappoints when adapted into film for many reasons. One is that the actions are portrayed rather than the emotions. However, film adaptations of popular novels continue because of the producers banking on an audience that already exists for their beloved books. One critic wrote, “adaptations of novels, especially those regarded as having literary value, are often held to very high standards.” These adaptations exist in response to some pre-existing text and thus are often judged based on that text rather than its own merits. More currently, film adaptations of young adult novels are somewhat of a trend. Movies such as “The Hunger Games”, “The Fault in Our Stars”, and “Divergent” are all film adaptations that have become huge hits in the box office. Often books with more action-oriented or fast paced plots are best adapted for the screen and have the best response because the actions in the book are easily replicated in the film.

There is a growing trend of adapting literature, especially classic literature, into graphic novels geared towards adolescents. As read in “New Books from Old: Turning Classics into Comics” by Ada Price, many say graphic novels are created in order to slip some literature in as a gateway to the real books.[6]Graphic novel adaptations started arriving first in 1941, although most would say it came forth 20 years too early. It was difficult getting these adaptations into regular book stores and separate from generic comics. In the following years, the most popular classic graphic novel adaptations were of Shakespeare’s plays. However, it is generally agreed that more contemporary adaptations circulate better. Price says, “Nancy Drew or Maximum ride adaptations circulate faster than versions of Dickens or Shakespeare. There has been a lot of success with graphic novel adaptations amongst teachers who work with reluctant readers, special education kids, and ESL students”. This shows the effectiveness of graphic adaptations in multiple settings. One critic, LeBien said, “The Graphic novel doesn’t cannibalize sales of the original, they reenergize the originals. The new book has to stand alone and succeed on its own merits, but comic editions of classics are arrows pointing back to the source”.

Sources Used

  1. Jump up “Adaptation, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2014. Web. 17 February 2015.
  2. Jump up Elliott, Kamilla. “Rethinking Formal-Cultural And Textual-Contextual Divides In Adaptation Studies.” Literature Film Quarterly 42.4 (2014): 576-593. International Bibliography of Theatre & Dance with Full Text. Web. 26 Mar. 2015.
  3. Jump up Carroll, Rachel, ed. Adaptation in Contemporary Culture: Textual Infidelities. London, GBR: Continuum International Publishing, 2009. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 26 March 2015.
  4. Jump up “Why Have So Many Recent YA Adaptations Flopped at the Box Office?” Vulture. n.p., 22 Nov. 2013. Web. 26 Mar. 2015.
  5. Jump up Foster, Harold M. “FILM and the Young Adult Novel.” The ALAN Review 21.3 (1994): n. pag. Web.
  6. Jump up Price, Ada. “New Books From Old: Turning Classics Into Comics.” Publishers Weekly 256.51 (2009): 27-29. Academic Search Premier. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.