Title: Turning a work of literature into a movie: some puzzles about adaptation

24 May 2017; 1600-1800

Senate House 246


The adaptation of stories from one medium to another has been almost completely neglected as a philosophical topic. This neglect is surprising for two reasons: first, adaptation is everywhere. Short stores get adapted into plays; plays into movies; movies into operas; songs into poems; and on and on, backwards and forwards. The second reason is that adaptation poses a number of complex and thorny philosophical puzzles (or so I shall argue). In this paper, I focus on one particular kind of adaptation, from the medium of literature to the medium of movies. I discuss three main questions about this phenomenon:
1. What do we mean when we say that a movie is faithful to its source?
2. Is being faithful to its source a merit in a movie adaptation?
3. How do we decide when a movie should be counted as being an adaption of someparticular preexisting work of literature, such as a novel or play?
In this paper, I try to answer (1) and (2), at least tentatively, and to make a few suggestions about how to answer (3). My view is that there are several different senses of faithfulness; and that only some of these senses should count as artistic merits. Further, I try to show that an investigation of adaptation tells us something about the identity conditions for stories.