George RR Martin and Neil Gaiman are two authors who specialize in adaptations of their literary works for television. Martin has lived through how his ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ saga has been adapted, which gave rise to the HBO series, ‘Game of Thrones’, and recently, the adaptation of his book, ‘Fire and Blood’ to create the series ‘The House of the Dragon’. On his side, Gaiman has recently participated in the adaptation of his comic series, ‘Sandman’, a project recently released by Netflix, but other of his novels have also been adapted for television such as ‘Good Omens’ or ‘ American Gods’. Recently, both authors held a talk at Symphony Space in New York, and lamented adaptations that are unfaithful to the original material.
This conversation was published by Varietya talk in which the two authors agreed on the degree of fidelity that should be maintained in television adaptations. Martin said that the “obligation to be faithful to the written material” It’s a theme “controversial” in Hollywood. “How faithful do you have to be? Some people don’t feel like they have to be faithful at all. There’s a phrase that goes around: ‘I’m going to make it mine’. I hate that phrase. And I think Neil probably hates it too.” reflected the author of ‘Fire and Blood’. Gaiman said that he did hate such a statement: “I’ve spent 30 years watching people make Sandman their own thing. And some of them hadn’t even read Sandman to do it, they just flipped through some comics or something”Gaiman explained.
Despite the negative criticism leveled by the authors regarding the literary adaptations for television, it seems that both are satisfied with their projects. The author of ‘American Gods’ assured that it was a “pleasure” to be able to make ‘Sandman’ for Netflix, and Martin encouraged the author by shouting to the public: “We want the second season!”
On the other hand, the writer of ‘Game of Thrones’ clarified that there are modifications that are necessary in the adaptations: “There are changes that you have to make, or that they ask you to make, that I think are legitimate. And there are others that are not.”. To exemplify this reflection, the author mentioned the adaptation of Roger Zelazny’s fantasy story, ‘The Last Defender of Camelot’, for an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’, and how budget restrictions forced him to choose between having horses or an elaborate scenario “That, in my opinion, is the kind of thing that you are asked to do in Hollywood and that is legitimate”. In addition, Martin said that CBS forced him to include a “ordinary person” who joins the protagonists in one of the episodes to appeal to a “high concept”and said that this was indeed a change “illegitimate”: “I was new to Hollywood…I didn’t say, ‘You’re screwed, assholes'”he explained.
Impossible in adaptations
Books are ideal for the unfolding of the imagination and the description and daydreaming of the impossible. Cinema is also a perfect medium for fantasy, but it cannot reach the places where literature arrives, since in the seventh art you have to have elements such as the budget, which are decisive for the realization of cinematographic projects. Therefore, not everything that is written in a book can be reflected on the big screen as an adaptation.
To explain this, Martin gave an excellent example, that of the Iron Throne. “Why is the Iron Throne in Game of Thrones not like the one described in the books? Why isn’t it 15 feet tall and made of 10,000 swords? Because the ceiling of our studio was not 15 feet high! We didn’t fit in there, and they weren’t willing to give us St. Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey to shoot our little show,” the author argued with a laugh.