The sheer grandeur of the worlds found in fantasy stories has always appealed to me. The genre’s scale is a quality few others can match, and there’s something quite charming about holding such lofty ideas within the quiet warmth of a book. Since the immense successes of the Lord of the Rings films and Game of Thrones TV series, the popularity of the genre has grown considerably. More stories than ever are being adapted to film and TV as studios attempt to capture portions of these enormous audiences. To see these tales told anew is undoubtedly exciting. When handled correctly, such fantastical concepts can flourish in the more visual medium. However, as in any translation between languages, there are elements that are unavoidably lost. As a result, a large proportion of fantasy’s contemporary audience is missing out on some of the genre’s most endearing and enjoyable aspects.
The intimate style of storytelling allows for a level of symbiosis with a character’s thoughts and feelings that can be difficult to adapt
A clear difference between the mediums is their length. Even TV shows can’t compete with fantasy’s characteristically large page count. A limited runtime makes it difficult to explore the depths of the author’s ideas and worldbuilding is often sacrificed for the sake of a coherent plot. As a result, certain aspects end up being reduced or cut completely. A perfect example is that of Tom Bombadil, a mysterious and ancient character that aids Frodo on his quest during The Lord of the Rings. A benevolent and potentially all-powerful being, Bombadil is given no explanation, vanishing from the plot as quickly as he appears. His appearance does, however, serve to hint at the depths of Middle Earth unknown to Frodo, and by extension the reader. This endearingly bizarre segue is lost in the mainstream version of the story due to the need for a more cohesive narrative and tone.
A less obvious but equally important difference is the audience’s position within a character’s story. Most modern fantasy novels are told in a ‘point of view’ style in which the reader lives inside a particular character’s mind. This intimate style of storytelling allows for a level of symbiosis with a character’s thoughts and feelings that can be difficult to adapt. This can lead to a disconnect with certain on-screen characters, especially those that don’t openly present their emotions.
With a limited budget or lack of strong direction, fantasy sets can look corny or fake, which destroys the illusion of a world separate to our own
The third important variation is how the audience’s own ideas contribute to the narrative. In many ways, the author of a fantasy novel is aided by the reader’s imagination; loose descriptions engage the reader’s mind and encourage the creation of a world unique to them. These aspects have to be fixed on-screen which reduces the audience’s role in the story and risks alienating portions of it that disagree with the interpretation. In addition, with a limited budget or lack of strong direction, fantasy sets can look corny or fake, which destroys the illusion of a world separate to our own.
Despite these differences, it’s understandable that the majority of mainstream fantasy is adapted from a book or comic series. Given the cost of creating a fantastical world on screen, it’s far lower risk to already have a well-established and connected audience. To write a novel, these risks are significantly lowered. This breadth of potential authors allows for a much larger pool of creativity, and so greater possibility for stories that will be successful in captivating their audience. It’s significantly easier for studios to pull from these established stories than risk building their own from scratch.
Regardless of the larger audiences attracted by high budget films and TV shows, I am in no doubt that they would struggle to successfully support the genre’s stories without novels as their basis. Due to this reliance, as well the unique potential for creativity and depth, it’s safe to say that fantasy’s true home will always be on the bookshelf, not the screen.