Epic Fantasy Television

Friday, July 29th 2011

In 2001, a movie called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was released in the theaters. Its success kicked off a long trend of Young Adult books being converted to big-budget Hollywood films. Just think of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, The Golden Compass, and dare I mention Twilight?

In 2011, an HBO television series named Game of Thrones was aired to critical acclaim. Its success was due in large part to the fact that it stayed so faithful to its source material. This was possible largely because the 704-page story was stretched over ten hours rather than the two or three hours that would be available for a feature length movie. Even so, projects of this nature have been botched before. The Legend of the Seeker television series based on Terry Goodkind's excellent novel Wizard's First Rule was a horrible mess because the plot of the television show was entirely different from the plot of the book. Likewise, the Dresden Files television series flopped, and I believe it's largely because of its lack of adherence to the books. Jim Butcher's quote follows.

The show is not the books. It is not meant to follow the same story. It is meant as an alternate world, where the overall background and story-world is similar, but not all the same things happen. The show is not attempting to recreate the books on a chapter-by-chapter or even story-by-story basis.

Game of Thrones succeeded because it was based on a well-told and successful story, and it retold that story rather than trying to modify it substantially for television. I can only imagine that this was very hard. But they did it, and they did it well. Other book-to-television producers should take note, and they likely are, which is fantastic. There are a number of other epic fantasy tales that I'd love to see made into television series, but only if they're done well.

The Last of the Renshai was an excellent novel about a warrior race that suffers genocide, and the struggles of the last remaining member of that race. It's got surprises that remind me in some ways of the surprises George R.R. Martin threw into Game of Thrones.

The Shannara series would be another that could translate well to television. There have been about a zillion sequels, so this show wouldn't run out of material any time soon. their only real issue would be that they couldn't keep actors on for more than a few seasons since the books span so many generations.

Altered Carbon was another great book that would fit well with the Game of Thrones adult television thing - that book had a lot of sex and violence, but the far-future setting and the story were so well done.

Lastly, The Wheel of Time is the holy grail and the heir apparent. Other than A Song of Ice and Fire, it's the biggest epic fantasy series out there, at least in my mind. And the only real way to do the series justice would be to handle it in the same way as the Game of Thrones TV series. A movie could never capture a fraction of the story in even a single book - far too much would be lost. You might even need to split the first book into multiple TV seasons, which would be difficult. But if done well, the show could be amazing.

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