6 Book Adaptations to TV: The Cool, Mysterious, and Genuinely Horrific

Book adaptations provide challenges for screenwriters. Most will concede that it is really difficult to translate complicated works and series to the big screen. For instance, many fans of Dune aren’t exactly impressed by the chopped-up film version. (Even David Lynch had the pseudonym , Alan Smithee, listed as director for the theatrical cut in protest.) I was not amused by “The Golden Compass,” a poor adaption of the expertly layered and complex worlds created by Philip Pullman. “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” got it mostly right.

Book adaptations to TV are easier to construct. In fact, some have been calling television “the new novel.” However, in television, there is this constant struggle to find a balance between the hardcore viewers that may enjoy a serial nature, and the casual viewers that may just tune-in and don’t want to be confused about what is going on. As such, the trend for using books for inspiration is the liberal use of poetic license. In other words, don’t go in expecting book adaptations to be like a play-by-play script just like the book.

As fans of George R.R. Martin’s series, A Song of Ice and Fire, await the latest addition to the fantasy epic, fans of the HBO series are also chomping at the bit for season four to arrive. Intensely loyal fans of BBCs “Sherlock,” which stars the prolific actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, don’t have it much better as season 3 will not likely premiere until 2014. “True Blood” fans (based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels) await the final episodes of the series. These long hiatuses are definitely no fun (this practice seems to be becoming the norm for most television series) due to seasons that are tightly wrapped to span ten to thirteen episodes, instead of the 20 + that was the norm in American TV for many years. Waiting sucks.

So… here are some shows that are book adaptations to TV that are new, and some old. Give a few a shot, as you never know what may become a new favorite.

Sleepy Hollow

The Pilot episode premiered on September 17, 2013, and the ratings were the highest received for a new FOX drama in eight years. It’s very loosely based on the Washington Irving classic, and offers a different twist to the plot. Tom Mison portrays an Ichabod Crane that has been awakened from the grave in modern day Sleepy Hollow. This was by design, and not accident.  He has a purpose that he discovers, and connections with others. Oh, and their work just might save the world. Much higher stakes than the tale. But they’ll have to keep their heads, first. The Headless Horseman here is no less than a horseman of Biblical proportions.

(It was announced that Fringe’s” John Noble will be joining the show later this season, so hold on to your heads!)


Casting news for John Noble made some fans lose their heads.



The fairy tales that most children are familiar with have been adulterated to be a bit more palatable to modern sensibilities. All of those witches, werewolves, and other fantastical creatures come to life in this era and it’s up to a man descended from a long line of guardian protectors to help hold back the tide. Of course, it’s set up as a police investigation procedural to draw in and keep the masses. But, it’s a fun ride, and mostly kid friendly. Even so, it can become scary, like the source fairy tales were meant to be in most instances.



There have been a slew of twists and takes on the Bram Stoker vampire tale that set the standard for what so many people think of when they think of vampires. (They sure as heck don’t sparkle!) This NBC dramatization is yet another one set in a more modern era, even if it is Victorian. This count seems poised to become quite the boss…


Come on over for dinner!

This ratings-challenged NBC drama simply deserves a bigger audience. It is very true to most elements found in Thomas Harris’ novels, but adds its own believable world-building that draws in the viewer. The first season acts as a prequel of sorts. Producer Bryan Fuller hopes in later seasons to utilize the material from the novels.

The character of Dr. Hannibal Lector is mesmerizing as portrayed by the spellbinding Mads Mikkelson, a man so elegant, so eccentric, and with his own code of morals that just don’t line up with that of society. The dance with Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) is intense at times, and the real beauty is that the audience really doesn’t know who to root for. Rationally, one would say Lector is sick and needs put away, but this series makes one hope that he gets away instead.

 Once Upon a Time in Wonderland


While its parent series, “Once Upon a Time,” is quite Disneyfied, it will be interesting to see how this spin-off series uses the worlds and characters from Lewis Carol’s trippy books. The “LOST” writers were influenced by these works, so their take on going down the rabbit hole could be quite mysteriously and entertaining.

Under the Dome

Simpsons did it.


Stephen King’s influence is felt in almost all aspects of modern genre storytelling. This CBS series is actually a serviceable adaption of the massive book of the same name. It’s a hit, and has been renewed for a second season. It’s definitely worth a look if you enjoy mystery, well-written characters, and an overarching story that needs to be resolved.

On another note: One series I desperately want is a good adaption of King’s The Dark Tower saga. Just not sure if that is possible…


There are many others, of course, both new and old. What is your favorite series based on a book?
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