Consistent readers of this blog probably know that I read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol every year at Christmas time. I’ve been doing it for more than twenty years. One side effect of this ritual is that I’m always interested in new versions of the story whether they be movies or miniseries or cartoons or whatever. I’d happily watch it as a ballet or an opera if someone would make it. This year, FX and the BBC collaborated on a three hour miniseries/movie. I watched it and it got me thinking about adaptations in general.

I can’t say I really enjoyed this new version, but I can see how someone else might. It was radically different from the book and every other version I’ve ever seen. It was going for dark, creepy, and edgy. All the character names were the same, but the character arcs were different. The plot had a passing familiarity to the book. Scrooge was visited by three spirits, etc., but the beginning and end points were different. As I was watching, I asked myself, “If they’re going to change it this much, why not just write an original story?”

That question led me to start wondering what an adaptation is and what’s its point. An adaptation can’t be the same as the original material, both in form or in point. Otherwise it’s a copy, not an adaptation. It also can’t be too different, both in form and in point. Otherwise it’s an original, not an adaptation. It has to be somewhere in the middle, but I can’t see any clear lines demarcating that area.

Unfortunately that makes adaptations a “know it when you see it” situation. That’s frustrating. I think I’ll go with a fairly liberal view of adaptations. If the person making it thinks it’s an adaptation, it’s an adaptation. So Clueless is an adaptation of Emma. And I guess this new Christmas Carol is an adaptation of the Dickens classic.

That doesn’t really help with the point of adaptations. But I guess each adaptation has it’s own point. It can be as simple as bringing a story to a new audience or as complicated as taking a moral stance against the original. That covers a lot of ground.

So, I guess the FX movie was a successful adaptation, just not one to my tastes. If you’re curious, I have two favorite A Christmas Carol adaptations. One is the version starring Patrick Stewart. The other is the Muppet version. They are both brilliant.

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