18 July 2014

Review: A Theory of Adaptation by Linda Hutcheon

Hardcover, 232 pages
Published 2006
Borrowed from the library
Read June 2014
A Theory of Adaptation
by Linda Hutcheon

This is a book I've used a lot, but never actually read: I've cited bits of Hutcheon's work in papers I've written, and I've taught chapter 2, "What? (Forms)," multiple times. But I'd never actually read it as a book, and I finally gave that a shot this summer. It's as strong an accomplishment as a whole as I'd imagined from the parts-- Hutcheon covers a wide range of adaptations. When teaching the book, it frustrated my students (and me) that she often used esoteric adaptations, like the opera of Billy Budd. But in reading the whole book, this eclecticism is clearly part of her project: she wants to understand that human drive to adapt in all of its manifestations, and adaptations run a lot further than books-to-film.

Hutcheon's book has become definitive, and justly so. She fills in how media transmute, debunking a number of clichés we're still mumbling eight years later. She talks about the why and the how and the when/where, and she accesses a wide range of sources: not just the texts themselves, but the words and ideas of the adapters, and reviews of the adaptations. And it's even a quick and directed read!

If I have any complaint, it's that she gives short shrift to comics/graphic novels, lumping them in with "telling" media when I don't think that's really accurate. But that might say more about my personal interests than her book's problems.

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