Literary S&S on Film

We are awash in fantasy films. Even Sword-and-Sorcery has a sizable number of entries (though generally of rather dubious quality.) Yet few of the S&S entries are adaptations of literary works. Why is that? There is no shortage of quality material to mine. Perhaps the producers determined it was cheaper to create a new property rather than license an existing one, thinking all you need is some muscular actor, a sword, a few scantily clad vixens, a malevolent, moustache twirling villain, some cheap, faux-medieval backdrops, and the script will essentially write itself.

How has that worked for them?

Still, how has the alternative worked? How many adaptations of literary S&S do we have for comparison? Let me see what I can remember.

We have, of course, the obvious example. Conan the Barbarian. As a faithful adaptation it comes up short, but it is nonetheless clearly connected to the source material. Of the sequel, the less said the better. I could almost say the same about the remake. The financing was there, Jason Mamoa was inspired casting; he could provide both the mirth and the melancholy, and physically he was a reasonable choice. It’s a pity that for the size of the budget, the producers couldn’t afford a script worth a damn. A wasted opportunity to reinvigorate the franchise.

I’ve stated before that I consider Sword and Planet close enough kin to S&S to qualify. So I can count John Carter. The story deviates from the first Barsoom novel, but it adheres to the source material more faithfully than did the Schwarzenegger vehicle. The film was a box-office disappointment, but I wasn’t disappointed. I enjoyed the flick.

If we’re counting Sword and Planet then I suppose I have to mention the Gor movies. Not even Jack Palance could save these turkeys. I’m afraid I couldn’t sit through either. So I can’t speak as to how faithful they are. In fact, even if I had watched them, I probably couldn’t give an informed opinion. I read two or three of the books in college, but recall very little about them.

I don’t think Sinbad qualifies. The Thousand and One Nights really isn’t S&S, so none of those fun movies get in, nor any of the Ray Harryhausen-powered Greek myth fantasies.

The King Arthur myths are a genre in their own right. Not S&S, so none of those adaptations fit here. LOTR is epic fantasy. The Princess Bride is comic high fantasy.

The Witcher, I think we can give a pass to, as the series was, in a sense, one long film. And the lineage of Geralt of Rivia as an S&S character by way of a certain albino Melnibonéan is, I think, understood.

Am I missing any? Not a great sample size, I suppose. But I think, setting aside the Gor films, we can see a clear superiority to the fare not derived from literary S&S, e.g., The Sword and the Sorceress, Ator, etc. (I wonder if a case could be made for The Warrior and Sorceress. It is yet another version of Dashiel Hammett’s The Glass Key, variously filmed as Yojimbo, A Fistful of Dollars, Last Man Standing, and probably others I can’t recall. So this moderately entertaining David Carradine S&S movie does have a literary antecedent. But since the book in question isn’t S&S, I’d have to rule against it.)

Literary adaptations for the win. Especially John Carter and Conan the Barbarian. The former since it is a relatively faithful take on the original and the latter because it is a damn good film.Why is this on my mind? Well, I’m glad you asked. I’ve had brushes with adaptations of my own work. My short story Trustworthy was adapted as a student film. It was fun to read the script and see the finished product, pondering what was required to move from page to screen. But of more immediate interest is that my new series of novels, Semi-Autos and Sorcery, was picked up by a producer and is being shopped around Hollywood. Now, this sort of thing happens frequently and most often nothing comes of it. I haven’t broken out the abacus to begin counting my chickens. But it is fun to speculate on. If you’ve read any of the books, do you have casting opinions? What about format: films, mini-series, animation? And, if you haven’t read any of the books, why not give them a try?