Does It Matter If An Author Disapproves Of Their Works' Adaptation?

Harry Potter, Lord Of The Rings, Jurassic Park, How To Train Your Dragon, Hunger Games, The Princess Bride…all successful movies based on successful books. It’s pretty common for people to compare and contrast the movie with its source material, especially when big changes are made. But it’s always inevitable that the original book’s author will have their own opinion on the movie(s) adapted from their works.

Sometimes an author will approve of the movie based on their book, but this is not always the case. One of the most infamous examples of this is Rick Riordan. He has been very vocal about his disapproval of the movies based off of his Percy Jackson novels, and it seems like everyone else agrees with him. I’m sure other examples could also be cited.

But what really has me stroking my chin is authors who disapprove of adapted movies that still turn out good. Like, Disney’s 1964 Mary Poppins is one of Disney’s most iconic properties, but the source material’s author, P. L. Travers, hated it. Stephen King’s hatred of 1980’s The Shining was made into a plot point in Ready Player One (the movie, at least). E. B. White disliked the animated movie of Charlotte’s Web. Although, is that one considered a “classic?” Depends on who you ask.

I guess what I’m getting at is: how much does it really mean if the author of the original book dislikes their movie adaptation? In all of the examples I mentioned in the last paragraph, the authors’ negative opinions were drowned out by the majority. And here’s the thing: the authors were the ones who created their stories and characters in the first place. It’s their creations, it’s their pride and joy. It’s natural for them to get defensive about it. And in many cases, movies change things from the books to make the stories play out better on the big screen. Sure, some of those changes end up hurting the movie, but not all of them. And if the movie still turns out good, and people like it, and it’s an overall success, then…well, clearly the author’s negative opinion hasn’t done much of anything in the long run.

So should we really be listening when an author derides an adaptation of their own works?

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I think it depends on the intention of the one making the adaptation. Shining is to this day a praised movie. It took the motives of the book and took them into a new direction, though Steven King was not happy with the results.
The real issue is I think when a movie relies on a famous author to makes money, while streamlining the story for a broader audience or missing the point of the story entirely. You could say that was the case in Shining, because the central character was altered, but still it recognizes the initial intention of the book to some degree.
It is a case to case thing really. If the author is not satisfied with the result they can advertise his work nonetheless, maybe they are even earning money from the movie, unless it tries to build a continuity with the material it is adapting from, then no, don’t do it. As long as you can from a somewhat unbiased point say that it is a good movie with good cinematography and a good script I personally think it’s okay. Though I never made an experience that would be comparable to someone taking your work and making something unexpected out of it.

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Completely and utterly, I think it matters. As much as “death of the author” likes to be thrown around, I find myself more interested in the intent of the author rather than my own intent. And so when that intent is taken away by a majority who doesn’t even have a message to tell, why even tell the story? Hence I have never been a fan of the idea of “Death of the Author.”

Even if the author is a scumbag, I don’t think that makes it wrong to read what they want to say through a work. Ultimately judge what they say, and that reflects the author as a person as well. But to strip the words from the author that they wrote denies them of personhood, which makes it wrong to me. So yes, I think an author disapproving of an adaption matters, especially if it strips away the words they intended to say.

That is my two cents.

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Ready Player One shot multiple authors in the head.

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Probably because there are often contracts signed in situations like this-contracts that allow studios to do what you are suggesting here.

Interestingly enough, there are cases where an author does get involved in the making of their adaptations-J. K. Rowling, for instance. She went over the scripts for the Harry Potter movies and made sure none of the adaptational changes conflicted with her plans for future books, which was a big help. But of course, she did do the screenwriting for the Fantastic Beasts movies, and those don’t seem to be turning out so well…

Nonetheless, I do find myself agreeing with what you’re saying here. Art is often a medium that artists use to express their thoughts. Painters can paint pictures to capture the beauty of our Earth, or to create a visual metaphor about life. By telling a story, you can get a powerful message about life across, or tell a religious parable, or satire some of the more negative aspects of society. If an adaptation misses some of that original vision, then it has obviously done something wrong.

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I think it depends on the reasoning for the changes in the adaptation.

A book will never translate perfectly into a movie, or any other medium. Changes will always have to be made, whether it’s to clarify depictions of locations or characters, streamline the story for general audiences, change plotlines for time or consistency, and finding ways to show the same story beats without having access to a character’s inner thoughts.

If these are made with the intention of making the adaptation a better version of the story for the medium it’s in, then I don’t think it matters if the author disapproves of certain things. If they’re done just for the sake of change, however, that’s when you start straying from source material in bad ways.


An interesting side point about the book-to-movie adaptation is the “this character doesn’t look like how I imagined them” debacle.

Which is interesting because sometimes you get instances like Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf where now everyone universally agrees that’s how Gandalf looks and sounds.

But then you have times where people hate actor choices and claim that it forever ruins their image of the characters. For some reason I specifically remember this being a huge thing people talked about with Peta in the Hunger Games movies.

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Oh man, I was SO flabbergasted when I heard they cast Emma Thompson as Miss Trunchbull in the film adaptation of Matilda: The Musical. Like, why? Why did they choose Emma Thompson, of all people, for that role? She just doesn’t fit at all!

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It’s worth pointing out that most authors who are alive to criticize the adaptations of their work also voluntarily sold the rights to the adaptors in the first place, even if they feel like they were shorted with the final product. (Mad props to, say, Bill Watterson for sticking to his guns on the matter.) Generally, I have more sympathy for the ones who would turn in their graves seeing what was done with their legacy after their children sold the rights.

Personally, I don’t really believe anyone can “own” a story. I acknowledge the institution of intellectual property, but mostly as a necessary evil to allow writers and other creators to profit off their own work (as you might guess, I’m extremely critical of the likes of Disney hoarding IPs and mutilating the public domain, but I won’t get started on that rant). As far as I’m concerned, a story is bigger than the one who created it. If I respect an author, then I’ll certainly be interested to hear their take on the meaning of their work and their opinion on its adaptation, but I don’t think they have final say. That is, I believe an adaptation certainly can be better than the original, and if it is, I won’t feel sorry for preferring it.

However, I do think it is unfortunate when the original work is overshadowed by an inferior adaptation. The Percy Jackson series, for instance, got off pretty easy - the books remain popular, and almost everyone would like to forget the movies even existed. Much worse is when a good book gets a bad movie adaptation, and no one even remembers the book exists. That’s unfair, and in a perfect world, those authors deserve an opportunity to make their voice heard.

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You gotta wonder, though. What if an author writes a will saying they don’t want anyone to make a movie based off their work? Would some movie studio try to find a legal workaround?

I actually heard that Mickey Mouse and Winnie The Pooh will enter the public domain in 2024. But I wouldn’t put it past Disney to somehow extend their copyright even further beyond that.

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Winnie the Pooh already did. The first A.A. Milne book entered the public domain this year. The second one (which introduced Tigger) will enter the public domain in '24, along with the Steamboat Willie incarnation of Mickey. Disney lobbied extensively in 1998 to push that back, but there doesn’t seem to be a large-scale campaign going on right now to do it again.

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For the most part, yes. An author has all authority over their creation. Now, legally speaking most of them sign away the rights for the movie, but it is up to the author to decide if the movie is still canon to the original work.

There is a difference between what is legal and what, for lack of a better term, matters. Take for example the art gallery “insult to injury.” The art was all the original pieces, which were bought by some people. The people then painted over everything to have a clown face on. Is what they did legal, yes. Was it stepping over a line? I think so. It can be the same with authors and their work’s adaptations.

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Well at least we don’t have to worry about a Ready player 2 movie having the same problem; I can’t be any worse then the book version.
Honestly for me the most most fictional part of the story was that sword art online genuinely survives long enough to become a classic in that future; just completely killed the realism.

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That is the lowest of bars.

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