§.01 As J. D. Salinger (who wrote in a 1953 letter to aspiring filmmaker Hubert Cornfield, in response to a inquiry about Catcher in the Rye, “I appreciate and respect your ardor, but for the present I see my novel as a novel and only as a novel.”) and Ayn Rand (who refused to allow film adaptions of her works barring those which allowed her total control of the final product), Kaizan Nakazato waxed skeptical about theatrical adaptations of his work.
Such attitudes are rendered immediately sensible when considered in relation to the pervasive view: if a book is popular, it should be adapted to film (it might be incidentally remarked that this view is decidedly one-sided, for there is no equivalent fervor for the reverse, ie. translating films into novels). This is a pernicious view, insofar as artistic integrity is concerned, as more people will invariably see the film then read the book upon which it is based, meaning that if the adaption is a distortion, it will be the distortion—and not the artist’s vision—which receives the lionshare of the attention; for a true artist, this is the worst of all situations, as the more he is known, the more his work is ignored. That this issue is not considered a serious one is indicative of the extent to which artistry is either taken as granted or considered largely unimportant.
§.02 Despite this, Okamoto’s The Sword Of Doom (1965), was, in all major respects, faithful to Nakazato’s serialized novel; however, it is the exception, not the rule, concerning cinematic adaptations of written works. One can (especially if a writer oneself) well understand his trepidation, particularly in the wake of western studio-backed revisionism of well established stories, such as Ian Fleming’s 007 being replaced by a black woman, or Ariel from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid being turned into a black woman by Disney, or John Watson being discarded in favor of ‘Joan Watson’ in CBS’ ostensibly Sherlock Holmes inspired Elementary—all of which make about as much sense as deciding that Black Panther is henceforth to be Japanese, Aladdin an Amerindian, and Wonder Woman a man. Such changes to established characters as described in the examples above, effectuate a like change in their respective stories so as to cause numerous (if not all) fundamental aspects of the original work to evaporate.
For example, when Elementary‘s (ostensible) Sherlock Holmes is transported to contemporary Manhattan, where he lives as a drunkard (Holmes was not a drunk), is difficult to live around (he is described by Watson in A Study In Scarlet, as “not a difficult man to live with”) and a opponent of monarchy (he was a crown loyalist) and also saddled, not with his Boswell, but with Lucy Liu, then one has lost the character of both Watson and Holmes; which means one is no longer dealing with Sir Conan Doyle’s material, but is merely spinning their own strange fan-fiction, attaching his name to it for the purposes of branding (ie. Genevieve Valentine in a article for AV Club wrote, “The more elastic the show treats the canon, the better the results” in other words, the less the show pretends to be what it is not, the more enjoyable it is). Similar problems arise with Steven Moffat’s adaptation of Holmes (though, at least in that series Watson does not take to shapeshifting) and Guy Ritchie’s two (soon to be three) adaptations.
§.03 Christopher Sandford writes in his essay Sherlock Holme’s Politics, “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective has always been a master of disguise; now, without an identity of his own, he becomes whatever his interpreters wish him to be. Could Holmes himself solve the mystery of just who he’s meant to be?” Though the last bit is a joke, there is an answer, which is: Sherlock Holmes was meant to be (and is) the character written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; those characters which disregard the fundamental aspects of that character are not that character, but are rather, only pale imitations (often of other imitations), or, as Schopenhauer once put it on a essay on literary derivation, “a plaster cast of a cast.”¹
§.04 If one is desirous of seeing characters in stories which are reflective of that with which one resonantly identifies, and the popular works of their day are found, for whatever reason(s), to be insufficient in this regard, then the question asserts itself: Why not create the desired work(s) oneself instead of attempting to make as many prominent stories conform to some yet-unwritten tale?
Sources — (‘[…]’ indicates that the name of the author was not given)
- […] (2005) Ayn Rand & Film. The Atlas Society.
- Arthur Schopenhauer, Preface by T. Bailey Saunders. (1851) The Art Of Literature: A Series Of Essays. Macmillan & Co. Swan Sonnenschein & Co.
- Brian Doherty. (2011) Atlas Shrugged: The Movie. Reason.
- Christopher Sanderson. (2015) Sherlock Holmes’s Politics. The American Conservative.
- Genevieve Valentine. (2016) Elementary Finally Realizes Sherlock Is A Terrible Neighbor. AV Club.
- Geoffrey O’Brien. (2015) The Sword Of Doom: Calligraphy In Blood. Criterion.
- Jeremy Dick. (2019) James Bond To Be Black & Female As Bond 25 Passes 007 To Lashana Lynch? Movieweb.
- Judy Berman. (2010) Letter: J. D. Salinger Rejects Film Adaptation of ‘Catcher In The Rye.’ Flavorwire.
- Kaizan Nakazato. (1929) Preface to the English edition, Dai-bosatsu Tōge (Book I).
- Madeline Grant. (2019) We Hardcore Bond Fans Crave Seductive Escapism – Not A Morality Tale Of #MeToo & ‘Toxic Masculinity.’ The Telegraph.
¹ From Schopenhauer’s essay On Authorship in The Art Of Literature.