When I was younger, nothing was more offensive to me than the idea of a movie deriving from a video game, or a book deriving from a movie. Adaptations were to flow in only one direction: first the book, then the movie, then the Sunday morning cartoons, then the video game, and then the action figures. From the purity of the written word to the soullessness of fake plastic consumer goods. Any deviation from this seemed utterly profane. But ideally there would be no chain of adaptations, no this-turning-into-that, no franchises. Each piece of media, I believed, should exist as its own stand-alone world. Otherwise, it was somehow spiritually impure and not to be taken seriously as art.
I’ve now done a complete 180 on this perspective. Far from being offended by adaptations and franchises, I’m now enthusiastic about them. I no longer see adaptations and franchises as projects for soulless corporations to increase profits. Rather, adaptations and franchises are inherent aspects of the create process. A great story never begins as a novel — it begins as an idea. That idea can be translated into any number of media types. No story is too dumb for a novel nor too lofty for a t-shirt. Every good story deserves a franchise.
The Heights of Human Imagination
The most influential books are the ones that gave us specific characters or scenarios that are useful to reference in everyday life. The Bible gave us parables about humility. Plato’s dialogues taught us how to seek truth through asking questions. Don Quixote gave us longform satire and a playful idiom about attacking imaginary enemies. Etc. Following these classic examples, the goal of any author — assuming they hope to influence culture — is to give readers something to hang onto and reference long after they’ve finished reading.
The most influential songs — same thing. Influential songs are often called anthems. Bob Dylan had more than his fair share of anthems, which is why he’s considered such an inordinately influential songwriter.
When a piece of media is sufficiently influential, it takes on a life of its own as a living thing out in the wider culture. It’s no longer stuck within the pages of a book or in the lines of a song. It’s free to become anything at any moment, at the whim of…