Above art by Daren Horley.
This Sunday, I'm co-hosting a sold-out event at the Alamo Drafthouse here in Houston called DUNGEONS AND DRAFTHOUSES. We're premiering ZERO CHARISMA for the Houston crowd, but we're also diving into some of cinema's great sword-and-sorcery epics, including the one and only CONAN THE BARBARIAN. Now, I've read a few writers online that seem to be turning their collective noses up to Arnold Schwarzenegger's return to one of his best roles, but I am very excited to have that happen. If they address his age, if they make it as hardcore and as R-rated as the first CONAN, and if they stay true to the spirit of Robert E. Howard, I think it's going to be marvelous.
This last weekend I also went to Space City Con, one of the local comic/movie/gaming conventions. It was a lot bigger than last year's, and I had a terrific time. I especially had fun playing D&D Next, and as my halfling thief risked everything to close an interdimensional portal into a hellish world, i was again reminded how much I adore the genre.
I love fantasy film. It's the pinnacle of all cinema - from the days of Georges Méliès through Victor Fleming's classic WIZARD OF OZ, through the great works of Ray Harryhausen, all the way to Peter Jackson's epic storytelling, fantasy film is the cornerstone of popular entertainment. From great war epics like THE LORD OF THE RINGS to intimate stories like Guillermo del Toro's PAN'S LABYRINTH, the idea of magic being just behind the door, waiting for a brave soul to open it, is to me what my favorite films are all about. And now seems to be the perfect time to really dig in and explore the genre - not simply superhero movies, but all manner of cinematic magic.
Now I'm just as eager to see THE HOBBIT continue, but when it comes to other works of fantasy, we seem to have become lost in the world of Young Adult fiction. Not that there's anything wrong with those books - many of them are terrific stories in their own right. But I grew up on so many great works of fantasy - not just Robert Howard, or Tolkien, but Edgar Rice Burroughs, or Dunsany, or even H. P. Lovecraft's Dream Cycle. Now, I love science fiction, and I'm happy that original science fiction seems to be having a grand time of it in theaters this year. I can't wait to see ELYSIUM, or GRAVITY, or any other of the wonderful movies coming down the pipe. But I want that big fantasy movie to come along and knock us all for a loop.
So I did a little poll on Twitter today and asked people what fantasy series they would like to see adapted into a movie franchise. The responses were varied and spanned across the genre, and many of them were books that I had not read (and now will hunt down at the first opportunity). From many responses, it sounds like I really need to read THE NAME OF THE WIND and THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA. As for myself, well, I'd love to see the following stories get made.
First off, this book is damn near unadaptable. I think IMAJICA is Clive Barker's best novel, a sweeping fantasy that spans worlds and shows its readers just how amazing Barker's mind really is. Some of the fantastic imagery that Barker puts in IMAJICA I can't imagine anyone being able to duplicate with any real success. But it's a truly epic story that begins delicately and then explodes into literally a multiverse of possibilities. It's said Barker came up with the idea of IMAJICA through his dreams, and that he wrote this novel at a very fast pace. It's romantic, beautiful, and has rich characters that are more than simply archetypes. Pie'oh'Pah may be one of the most complicated, sympathetic, and unique characters in fantasy literature, and I'd love to see someone tackle this novel with the budget and the respect that it deserves.
IMAJICA supposes that there are Five Dominions, and that Earth has been separated from the other Dominions for millenia. In the other Dominions, magic holds sway, while on Earth, no magic can exist. It is through the work of Maestro Gentle, a wielder of magic that he tries to Reconcile these worlds, but he is fought every moment by those who wish to see Earth separate and alone - enemies here on Earth and in the other Four Dominions. Throughout IMAJICA is striking imagery that only comes from the mind of Clive Barker - creatures, places, and events that are still stunning to read to this day. Adult readers need only apply - IMAJICA is far to explicit for the younger set. IMAJICA is a world that feels truly dreamed instead of written about.
Guy Gavriel Kay's TIGANA is a one-and-done fantasy epic, which is probably what I like most about it. Kay creates a vivid world of magic and revenge, and full of rich characters and settings. What's wonderful about TIGANA is that even the villain is almost sympathetic, and TIGANA is a story about the ever-hungry nature of vengeance. King Brandin utterly destroys the province of Tigana after the death of his son; he devastates it so completely through magic that even the very name is stricken from the mouths of those who would speak it. The survivors live on, citizens of a land no longer remembered, and while they plot their revenge against King Brandin.
I love how Kay sets up his story - it seems like meticulous worldbuilding, but these characters begin to take on a life of their own. There is political intrigue, magic, and forbidden romance - Dianora, the King's love, secretly is there to assassinate Brandin but finds herself falling in love with him despite her Tigana heritage. There is tragedy in TIGANA, but the end is one of the most satisfying I've read in fantasy literature, and I hope George R. R. Martin's ending to his series comes as close to that kind of catharsis. The final battle is as epic as they come, and would be wonderful to see on the big screen.
THE CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT
Thomas Covenant, at first glance, may be one of the most unlikable characters in fantasy literature. A former writer stricken with leprosy, Covenant rages against his lot in life. When Covenant is knocked unconscious by a police car, he awakens in the Land, and due to his refusal to accept this new reality, calls himself Unbeliever. Covenant learns that he wields great power through his white gold wedding band, but his rage threatens to consume him. Covenant is not an ordinary hero but as the story grows we find ourselves becoming more sympathetic to his plight.
I have not read the Second and Final series of Donaldson's books, but Covenant is such a compelling character that I can't imagine any actor not wanting to play him. On the surface Covenant seems bitter, angry, and lost, but he is also a deep well of nobility - a nobility that is learned as opposed to being simply born into. There are some amazingly beautiful moments in THE CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT, and while the series is now in its tenth (and likely final) book, if done right could be a sweeping epic series.
There will be people who disagree with me about this, considering the love that many fantasy fans have with this series. I love it too. I first read DRAGONLANCE in high school, a victim of the D&D bug, and I completely fell into the world of Krynn and the characters that lived there. The novels by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis drew me in, and I especially loved the character of Raistlin, one of the great antiheroes of fantasy fiction. But it must be admitted that while the stories and characters are very compelling, the writing just isn't great. Now that I'm older I can appreciate the work Hickman and Weis have done, and they've both gone on to become much better writers since then. It's not the writing that makes the DRAGONLANCE Saga (at least the first six books, anyway) so compelling. It's the characters and the world that Hickman and Weis have created.
No matter. These would make fantastic movies. Yes, there is a pretty lousy animated movie out there, but again, no matter. These books would translate perfectly to screen, and the way the story builds to the epic final battle in DRAGONS OF SUMMER DAWNING, or the last meeting between Caramon and Raistlin in TEST OF THE TWINS, feels very cinematic. The dragons are all well written and would probably be stunning to see on the big screen. Although the novels paint everything with broad strokes, those same strokes would work wonders in the cinema. Plus, whether or not Hollywood knows this, but there's quite a big fanbase for these books. Many fantasy fans came to the genre through the Dragonlance books. Whoever makes these films (if ever) might be pleasantly surprised by it.
THE DRESDEN FILES
Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series could likely make a better television series than a movie franchise, considering how expansive it is, but since the television series that came of it wasn't very good, I could definitely see these books becoming a great continuing movie saga. For one thing, the books read very much like a movie - very fast paced and action-packed, Butcher's books would probably work best on the screen, with decent budgets and good casting. Butcher builds his world through his characters and the various ringers he puts them through, and as the world gets bigger, so does our appreciation for what he's doing. This is the best kind of worldbuilding - it leaves enough space in the reader's mind to want to explore, and yet Butcher never loses focus on his characters.
Harry Dresden is a Wizard who uses his talents to protect the people of Chicago from the many supernatural creepy-crawlies that infest every corner of the city. He's also not above making a buck off his talents, but as Dresden goes deeper into the world just beneath our own, he must constantly face dangers that threaten his friends and family. Dresden suffers great loss but hs remains a kind soul, even when he is tested by all the evil that this world can muster. It's one of those characters that I could see Joseph Gordon-Levitt just crushing, but that's dreamcasting. Jim Butcher reportedly has the rights to his characters back, so all it takes is a phone call, Hollywood.
There's no good reason why Neil Gaiman's seminal work hasn't been adapted successfully to the screen. Okay, there are a lot of bad reasons - while the comics are about as great as they can get, the material may be too dense for Hollywood to understand. I haven't been keeping up with any progress on any Sandman films - and obviously this would have to be a series, if it's to be done right - and I hope they really do happen someday, with Gaiman's involvement. This seems to be just the franchise for Guillermo del Toro to sink his teeth into.
SANDMAN doesn't lend itself to casual summertime moviegoing, though, especially if the filmmakers tell the story right. SANDMAN goes off on tangents that at the time seem like distractions until the bigger picture is revealed. For those willing to stick it out, it's not difficult to follow, but for a crowd used to more explosions and superheroism from a comic book franchise, SANDMAN will do a glorious fly-by right over their heads. Gaiman's epic tale touches on every aspect of imagination, how these shared stories we tell make up so much more than what they appear to be on the surface; that stories run through us like shared DNA, and that we carry them down through the years, not as burdens but treasures. That stories make us intrinsically human. That's not easily translatable to a movie screen; perhaps SANDMAN would be better served as a television series. No matter what happens, I want to see SANDMAN happen, as I imagine many of you do too.
MEMORY SORROW AND THORN
Some of you at this point might be saying, "Huh?" Because Tad Williams' fantasy trilogy might not be as well known to some of you as others. But MEMEORY, SORROW, AND THORN is bar none, my favorite fantasy trilogy next to the mighty Tolkien. That's a bold statement, yes. But I'm prepared to stand by it. There are scenes of such splendor in MEMORY SORROW AND THORN, like a horse battle on top of a frozen lake, or the siege of a small keep by otherworldly spirits. It starts slow, but damn if it doesn't build to some particularly epic cinematic moments. The story of young Simon, thrown into an epic war between two brothers, while a Great Evil stirs and threatens to engulf everything, on the surface reads like most any other fantasy series. But Williams evokes such strong imagery and characters, and I love how he creates the various races and histories, from the elflike, vaguely Japanese Sithi to the Inuit-like Qanuc people.
Much like the world of GAME OF THRONES, Osten Ard is ripped apart when King Prester John dies, leaving the kingdom to his son Elias. It soon becomes apparent that Elias is in the throes of a darker power, and rumors of the return of the Storm King, the dead prince of the lost Sithi race. Simon soon finds himself between King Elias and his brother Josua, who decides to rebel against his brother's tyranny. There are three mystical swords that, if discovered, could turn the tide. Young Simon must learn to embrace his destiny, and choose a path.
MEMORY SORROW AND THORN is but one fantasy series that I would love to see adapted, and there are many more great stories that should be told on the movie screen. And, if not, the books are always there to be read and discovered. With today's technology, our dreams can be made into glorious reality, and I hope Hollywood digs deep within the catalogs to find that next great franchise. What are some of your favorite fantasy works that you'd like to see? Who would you like to see make them? Are there existing properties that you would like Hollywood to revisit, like DRAGONSLAYER or HIGHLANDER? Sound off below!