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Literary Adaptation

An adaptation occurs when a literary work, such as a poem or novel, is made into a new genre, such as a film or musical.

The stories that are adapted are those which have promised to be successful in another genre. Producers and creators choose literary works that will make sense as films, musicals, plays, or some other form. It will, of course, depend on the audience member as to whether or not the adaptation works. There are many different pitfalls that can result in an adaptation failing.

Adaptation pronunciation: uh-dap-shun

Literary Adaptation definition and examples

Definition of Adaptation

An adaptation is the translation of a literary work, like a poem, novel, short story, or play, into another genre, like a musical, film, television series, or a play. Some of the earliest adaptations were based on the stories of the Brothers Grimm, like Cinderella. Other early adaptations include examples of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series, Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

The bulk of literary works that are adapted are made into films. These range in success and viewership, as well as in critical reviews. Some novels make great films, consider the Lord of the Rings novels, while others, like Wuthering Heights, don’t do quite as well when moved into visual form.

Why Are Literary Works Adapted?

The literary works that are adapted are those which already have a following. For example, a book that is featured on the New York Times Bestseller List is going to have more potential as a film than a book that has sold poorly and has bad reviews. The book or story chosen for an adaptation should also appeal to a wide audience. For example, a book that is quite a niche with a small but devoted audience is unlikely to do well as a major motion picture. Or, a book with an incredibly large cast of characters and only serious subject matter might work well as a film but not as a musical. One of the common reasons a book or story is adapted is because the characters in that story are already well-known and part of a franchise.

Some literary works, like the stories of the Brothers Grimm and classic novels like A Christmas Carol, are repetitively adapted. They are so popular that producers and writers know that there is a market for new adaptations regularly.

Examples of Adaptation

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is one of the most popular literary adaptations of all time. The novels were published in 1954 and 1955 and published by Allen & Uwin. However, it took around 50 years for a film adaptation of the books to be created. The film version of The Fellowship of the Ring was released in 2001, followed by The Two Towers in 2002 and The Return of the King in 2003. The three grossed a total of $2.981 billion dollars, more than fulfilling people’s expectations about the potential of the series. The novels have also been adapted for radio, video games, children’s toys, board games, theatre, music, and more.

After their success and the fan response that stretched on for years after, the same studio put into production an adaptation of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, a prequel to The Lord of the Rings. The three movies that were released based on the short novel were not as popular as The Lord of the Rings movies. This is a perfect example of how some literary adaptations are more successful than others. The Hobbit films took the book to a new place, including characters, battles, and characterization that Tolkien didn’t.

Read J.R.R. Tolkien’s poetry.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby is commonly considered to be F. Scott Fitzgerald’s best novel. It was published in 1925 and has been adapted several times. The most successful adaptation was in 2013 by director Baz Luhrmann. It included several well-known actors, contemporary music, and a large budget, allowing the recreation of Gatsby’s wealth and parties. The novel has also been adapted for stage and television. The first film adaptation was in 1926. Another version was released in 1949. Its also taken the form of a television movie, premiering in 1955 on NBC. There have been stage adaptations as well.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, published in 1847, is a well-loved novel that follows the complex relationships between the Earnshaw and Linton families and the influence of Heathcliff. The story is a frame novel, meaning that it’s a story within a story. It also spans a great deal of time, with several main characters losing their lives. This makes it a difficult novel to adapt.

The first adaptation was in 1920, directed by A.V. Bramble. A better-known adoption was in 1939, including Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon. It has also been adapted for CBS and the BBC. There is also a 1992 film including Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche and a 2009 series starring Tom Hardy and Charlotte Riley.

Read Emily Brontë’s poetry.

Why are Literary Adaptations Important?

They are important because they allow a writer’s story to be told in a new way. This means that more people are exposed to the story and can come to appreciate the original. Often, readers find a series of novels or short stories after seeing an adaptation, such as a film, television series, or play. A great example of this is Margaret Atwood The Handmaid’s Tale, which was adapted into a television series in 2016.


What is a literary adaptation?

A literary adaptation is the translation of a literary work from one form to the next. Such as from a book to a film or a short story to a play.

What does adaptation mean?

The word “adaptation” means the process of adapting or translating something from one form to another.

What is literary film adaptation?

It is an adaptation of a book, short story, or other written work into a film.

What makes a good literary adaptation?

Keeping to the heart of the original story, emphasizing the best features of the literary work, and not changing anything fundamental to the original story.

Why are literary adaptations popular?

They are popular when the books and stories they’re based on already have a following. Viewers are connected to the characters prior to seeing the adaptation.

  • Genre: a type of art, literary work, or musical composition that is defined by its content, style, or a specific form to which it conforms.
  • Authorial Intrusion: occurs when the writer breaks the wall of their work and addresses the reader. This can happen in any genre.
  • Canon: a collection of materials that are considered to represent a specific period or genre.
  • Drama: a mode of storytelling that uses dialogue and performance. It’s one of several important literary genres that authors engage with.
  • Historical Fiction: a genre that fictionalizes real places, people, and events.
  • Mythopoeia: a genre of modern literature (and film) that refers to the creation of artificial mythology.
  • Romance: a narrative genre of literature. It can feature elements that include mystery, adventure, bravery, and more.

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