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The Adaptation Genre: Shadow And Bone

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Coastal Carolina chapter.

I have always been an avid reader that has a difficult relationship with page-to-screen adaptations. I grew up loving the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and remember the visceral upset over the first and second movies. I cannot negate the fact that my love of reading comes from my mom, and so I grew up with Twilight and my mom and I’s love of those books and movies. My personal obsession with books and their adaptations only grew from there. I loved The Maze Runner and those movies but had a more difficult time with Divergent (I mean, they never finished the series) and there are so many more that have either upset or satisfied me through the years. Now, I am having a difficult time, once again, with the Shadow And Bone series on Netflix. 

First, I want to talk about adaptation as a genre in general. Adaptation is a beautiful genre and one that means a lot to me as a reader, but it is in interfering with that sacredness that I find the most turmoil. I recently took a class on the genre where we read and watched Pride & Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Persuasion and discussed what it means to adapt literature into film. Deborah Cartmell, Professor of English and Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor, Research, at De Montfort University, UK, writes about the genre in her essay “100+ Years of Adaptations, or, Adaptation as the Art Form of Democracy”. She goes over the history and potential future of adaptations. She notes that even at the beginning of film history, people were deeply “suspicious of cinema, especially adaptations of literary works.” Cartmell explains that the film scene brings literature to the masses of people but also “brings the masses to literature, diluting, simplifying, and therefore appealing to the many rather than the few.” In essence, by making literature into adaptations for the masses we take something from the elitist quality of that piece of literature. It is no longer for the few that can truly get it; rather, it is for anyone who has access to the film. 

Cartmell brings in advice from Andrew Davies on being a successful adapter that some diehard book lovers (me included) will flinch at. For example, he says that you should “write scenes that aren’t in the book” and “don’t be afraid to change things, especially openings.” Now, as a person that has always loved “truthful” adaptations, tips like these make me uncomfortable. I would argue, though, that these tips are most important for the adaptation genre. If a piece of media is not changed whatsoever when converted from one form to another, is it an adaptation or is it a copy? As much as readers want to see their favorite books turned into movies that bring to life exactly what they read, is that exciting? And is it too limiting for the audience? If an adaptation is not changed to fit more people, then we continue to keep some people out of literature and storytelling. As much as it may hurt to see a change in scene or character portrayal, by adapting media to fit more people than the original audience, we keep the original story alive for posterity. That adaptation is proof that the original source was famous or popular in some way. 

Now, what I want to discuss are my thoughts on the newest season of the Netflix series, Shadow and Bone. This series is based on the trilogy of the same name and the Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo. The main trouble I have with both seasons of this show is the introduction of the Six of Crows storyline into the Shadow and Bone one. The five books comprising the entirety of both series take place in the same geographic area with some overlapping characters, but they are very different in their tones, storylines, and timelines. I think the introduction of our beloved Crows into the story that should be focused on Alina and her journey adds confusion for people who haven’t read both series. There are even major plot spoilers for the Six of Crows duology in this series, so people who are watching, who were maybe waiting to read the duology until that was adapted, are now spoiled, and their experience with both pieces of media is tainted. Instead of opening up the literature for more people, I argue that this adaptation is more limited in its scope. If you don’t know everything that is going on in the background of both storylines, you will get lost and feel left out of most of the plot points. Even I feel left behind when a character arc, relationship, or scene is changed drastically from the source material. You both need to have read the books to understand what is happening but must also put them aside as so much has changed. One of my most beloved slow-burn relationships is dulled down into a quick off-screen sex scene. Characters that had never met or who had no interest in each other are now in a weird love triangle. It is the unnecessary additions and demolition of long arcs that bother me the most in Netflix’s Shadow and Bone

This is where the biggest problem with the series lies as an adaptation. They don’t just add more than what was in the books, they change what already existed which changes characters completely. Adding some scenes or changing dialogue into body language doesn’t bother me as much as adding or deleting scenes that are major to the character’s arc. By changing the character completely, you change something essential about the media as a whole. It is now more of a spin-off than an adaptation because these characters and scenes have become unrecognizable to viewers. 

All this to say that I am displeased with the way that Shadow and Bone had been adapted to Netflix as I know others are as well. However, I am not so much of a skeptic or pessimist as to hate the genre or the platform forever (although Netflix and I need to have some words). I just learned that one of my favorite series Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater is getting a movie adaptation and I am extremely excited. I love seeing more people be exposed to my favorite pieces of media and hearing their thoughts and reactions. It is one of the most wholesome and human things to share our favorite things or the things that make us happy and I think adaptation is an amazing way to do that. Although, this does not mean that I cannot be critical when an adaptation falls too flat or loses everyone (not just consumers of the original media). I believe that it is my duty as a consumer of media to be critical of what I view and how it makes me and others feel. If adaptations are for the masses of people, then making one for a select few is a fault of that adaptation. This is where I believe Shadow and Bone falls short. I will continue to consume all of the media Leigh Bardugo creates for the Grishaverse, but I will also continue to be critical of it and I urge you to do the same. Don’t simply bash an adaptation because the actor has a different hair color than the original character, but recognize changes, consider why they might be different, then make a decision about how you feel about it and go from there. 

Avery Griffin

Coastal Carolina '23

Avery is a senior Marine Science major, with an English minor. She is a queer woman interested in social justice, reading (or increasing her TBR), coffee, tea, and exploring nature and whatever else Myrtle Beach can offer. Her writings mostly consist of book reviews and some culture.