By Ruth Cawley

I am a firm believer that books are a better and more fulfilling medium of storytelling when compared with their screen adaptations. However, as I’ve expanded my repertoire of genres and stories, I’m forced to accept that sometimes films have the upper hand. I went back and compiled a list of books whose television or film adaptations had a greater effect on audiences.

The books on this list have been read by yours truly and this is not a blanket criticism on the writing or world-building. I genuinely enjoyed reading each of them. If they weren’t good books to start with, then the adaptations likely would not have been made nor would the books have pre-existing fanbases. On reflection, I simply feel that the books did not match the narrative hype, depth, or development portrayed by their screen counterparts.

The 100 series by Kass Morgan

The 100 is a young adult book series set in a post-apocalyptic world where the surviving members of the human race return to Earth after spending three centuries living in space to ride out thermonuclear radiation. Or rather, only one hundred of the space colonists’ juvenile delinquents are sent to the ground to test if the Earth is habitable for the rest of humanity.

There are a number of prominent differences between the four-part book series by Kass Morgan and the CW show produced by Jason Rothenberg which ran for seven seasons. The series has a chance to explore the development of various intriguing characters in greater depth than the books do, as well as including more engaging story arcs for engaging show-made characters.

For example, Raven Reyes, a prodigy mechanic and certified genius, is heralded as one of the better and most impressive characters in The 100. This character did not exist in the books and was created originally for a short-term arc. However, Raven (portrayed by Lindsey Morgan) received such positive feedback from viewers that she remained part of the main cast for the show’s remaining run. She often became the key to many characters’ survival with her ingenious ideas and mechanical skills. Other fan favourites that were developed for the show were Jasper Jordan and Monty Green which added some brotherly love and fun to an otherwise serious story.

Beyond creating engaging and memorable characters, The 100 show developed intense storylines depicting the harsh realities of leadership and what it takes to survive. From waging war on the treacherous mountain men to negotiating peace with grounder clans to battling a world-dominating AI to save humanity, there is never a dull moment for The 100. Clarke Griffin (portrayed by Eliza Taylor) and Bellamy Blake (Bob Morley) make impossible choices to save their people and bear the dire consequences. While the book series focused on the burgeoning romance between these two protagonists, the show leans in a different direction. In lieu of a romance, a deeper bond is formed between them that cements their roles as leaders of the Skaikru clan and allows them to progress as individuals. The television series focuses more on humanity and how people react in life-or-death scenarios where everything is on the line. What are they willing to do to survive? And does humanity deserve to live based on these actions?

How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell

In case you didn’t know, DreamWorks’ hit movie series How to Train Your Dragon was originally a set of children’s books of the same name, written by British author Cressida Cowell. The first installment was published in 2003 and the twelfth and final book was published in 2015. By this time, over seven million copies were sold worldwide. This was in no small part due to the hit movie adaptation that DreamWorks released in 2010.

While both center around the protagonist Hiccup Haddock of a Viking island called Berk, some vastly different changes were introduced for the film adaptation. The book depicts Vikings as generational dragon trainers who use their strength to intimidate dragons into submission. In contrast, Hiccup lacks the typical Viking-like intimidation factor, but he has the ability to converse with dragons in their native tongue, Dragonese. These elements are noticeably absent from the films. Instead, Berk is regularly raided by dragons and the Vikings are at war with them over food supplies. In his attempts to gain his village’s respect as a dragon killer, Hiccup discovers that dragons can be tamed. He forms a strong friendship with the notorious Night Fury which he affectionately names Toothless. While struggling to hide this secret from his chief and father, Stoick the Vast, Hiccup becomes the first dragon rider, thus overcoming his status as the worst Viking on the island of Berk.

The concept of the Vikings being at war with dragons adds a more tumultuous air to the story. There is an urgency to solve the dragon problem on Berk that does not really exist in the books. Hiccup has more opportunities to display his intelligence and talents as a blacksmith. I found that the film has a more epic feel to it than the books while still retaining the sardonic humour present in Hiccup’s character.

Overall, these substantial changes led to a highly enjoyable cinematic experience. The books are more geared towards younger readers and do not seem to take themselves as seriously.

Bridgerton series by Julia Quinn

Netflix popularised the romantic Bridgerton book series by Julia Quinn by gradually adapting the stories to screen. In fact, fans have been eagerly awaiting the third season of the hit show since the writers’ strikes delayed its release in 2023. It is safe to say that Netflix ramped up the marketing and visual effects for the show, making the setting seem more magical and they decked out the characters in period-appropriate costumes with new eye-catching styles. Every day in the leadup to the third season premiere, there are cast interviews, behind-the-scenes exclusives, teaser clips, and more being released and shared extensively online. It creates a huge hype for Bridgerton fans as they await the telling of the romance between Colin Bridgerton and Penelope Featherington.

Compared to the books, there are quite a few narrative differences in the Netflix adaptation that some may say improved the overall Bridgerton story. It is typical of television adaptations to include new characters of their own creation or use side characters to develop new plotlines. Madame Delacroix, the ton’s modiste, becomes instrumental in furthering Penelope’s business as Lady Whistledown. In return, Penelope writes glowing reviews about the modiste and increases her business in the ton. It is a mutually beneficial relationship allowing both women to thrive as businesswomen in a period where women are habitually overlooked and oppressed. Netflix offers different avenues for characters to explore new talents and relationships where the books do not.

Another example is when Theo Sharp was introduced in season two as a potential love interest for Eloise Bridgerton. However, this politically shrewd and dastardly witty young man does not appear to have a book counterpart. The books’ narrative pairs Eloise with Philip Crane who comes from the same social class as the Bridgerton family. In contrast, Theo Sharpe is working class, works as a printer’s assistant and actively participates in advocating for women’s rights and social justice. He is certainly a change from the upper-class suitors that Bridgerton typically features.

Additionally, one of the most intriguing changes in the Netflix version is that Eloise and Penelope’s lifelong friendship has hit a severe rough patch. After discovering Penelope’s secret identity as Lady Whistledown, the illustrious gossip columnist who fascinates and riles up the ton, Eloise feels betrayed and hurt that her friend would hide this from her. Penelope and Eloise fight and seemingly end their friendship over this revelation and lack of resolution at the end of season two. Fans hope this schism will be resolved in the upcoming episodes, although Netflix has been unclear on their future thus far. However, their book counterparts do not have a falling out to this severity.  In fact, Eloise appears largely unaffected when Penelope’s penname is revealed publicly to the ton and even names one of her daughters with Philip Crane after her friend. It certainly opens new avenues of intrigue for Netflix’s adaptation.

The structure of the television adaptation follows the same structure as the books, although in a different order. Each book by Julia Quinn follows a Bridgerton sibling and their individual romantic journey. While Colin and Penelope’s story begins in season three on Netflix, their relationship only begins to take shape in Quinn’s fourth book and at a much later stage in their lives. It appears that Netflix favours a faster pace which is likely due to filming logistics.

Comparing Books to Screen

As an outro to my judgement list, I feel the need to defend myself to an extent. I am a self-proclaimed bibliophile and cinephile, but I would be lying if I said I did not lean more towards books than films. There is something about books that films often lack. You can dig deeper into a protagonist’s thoughts, emotions, and reactions, and fully immerse yourself in an entirely fictional world. In my experience, movies do the same thing, but not to the same extent.

Perhaps it is something to do with the human mind. We use our imaginations and the words written in front of us to build an imaginary world of images in our heads. We can see what the characters look like, how they act, how they speak, where they go. There is no real limit to how far this goes. In the case of motion pictures, we don’t need to use our imagination as much because it is right in front of us. We can take as much time as we like to enjoy books by reading over several hours or days. Films tend to happen in a quicker timeframe.

Considering all these factors, it was surprising to realise how many film adaptations of books are considered more enjoyable by the vast majority of fans. We live in a digital age and books are not nearly as appreciated as they used to be. However, it seems that they remain the root of inspiration for many of the major motion pictures of this century and the last.