See, here’s the thing: writers will, by and large, tell you they write for themselves, they write because they have to --- really, a lot of variations on Isaac Asimov, one of science fiction’s towering giants (with, perhaps a towering ego to match; I read most of his autobiography --- two massive and rather self-indulgent volumes, if you please), who once said, “I write for the same reason I breathe --- because if I didn’t, I would die.” Which, I think, is all well and good, and even stripped of the hyperbole, largely true for most of us, including me. I write because I need to, have to. Particularly once I’ve started writing a story… it’s got to come out --- and in a timely manner, working on it diligently, not ignoring it --- because if I don’t, as Salman Rushdie has said, the story sulks.
But --- and here’s the first qualifier --- we don’t write only for ourselves: we want to share our work with others. We want fame and fortune. We want validation. Most of us want our words spread widely among the Horde of Voracious Readers out there; we want admiration/adulation… and maybe the means to live like J.K. Rowling. (Unless we’re weirdly reclusive hermits, like J.D. Salinger after the publication of Catcher in the Rye. Most writers tend to dream of literary fame… but once he had it, Salinger shunned it, with white-hot intensity.)
But --- and here’s the second qualifier, the one brought to mind from Saving Mr. Banks --- writers also don’t want to lose control of their progeny, particularly when adapting the work for either TV or movie theatre. We don’t want a nasty team of crass screenwriters taking our beloved characters and situations and transmuting them into something so foreign, so alien to our original story, that we recoil in horror and run screaming from the room. I rather suspect J.R.R. Tolkien, had he still been alive, would have been utterly horrified by what Peter Jackson did, first with The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy, then with The Hobbit --- perhaps especially with The Hobbit, where Jackson took a 19-chapter, 278-page book (at least in the Unwin edition I’ve had since I was twelve) and bloated it out to three enormous films, complete with all sorts of extraneous material --- and characters! --- not present in the original work. Again, I often pointed out to my students it was vital to keep in mind that Tolkien’s Middle Earth and Jackson’s Middle Earth are two very, very different places; and in many important regards, Tolkien’s tale, and Jackson’s tale, are quite, quite different stories. Saving Mr. Banks may not be totally accurate in its depiction of P.L. Travers’ reluctant horror about Disney taking her magical nanny and not merely giving her a spoonful of sugar, but stuffing her full of it, but I think it marvellously encapsulates the dilemma many writers have when confronted with such a scenario. (Kind of like Shylock crying out, “O my ducats! O my daughter!” What’s a hapless writer to do, for crying out loud?)
Not having had to face this conundrum (at least, not yet, anyway), I can only speculate on the answer, but I think it’s this: faced with the idea of greater recognition for the work versus… well, not… most writers will, ultimately, at least partially stifle the second qualifier above to allow the first qualifier to triumph. In other words, most writers will make their peace with certain changes to their literary child in order that it may reach a greater audience. Is this selling out? I don’t really know. Tolkien died long before Jackson’s films came along --- even long before Ralph Bakshi came out with his execrable animated version of LOTR in the late 1970s --- although Tolkien did sell the film rights to LOTR and The Hobbit before he died (for a pittance, apparently, especially given the multi-billion-dollar empire they’ve since spawned, but c’est la vie…).
It doesn’t, I guess, necessarily have to come to this Faustian deal with the devil that Saving Mr. Banks portrays. For example, George R.R. Martin, Diana Gabaldon, and J.K. Rowling have all, to varying degrees, been involved in the transmutation of their printed works to the screen, and one assumes, in the absence of anything contrary, they’re happy with the results --- Martin especially, seeing as how he was one of the creative Grand Poohbahs of the Game of Thrones TV series. Gabaldon is listed as a creative consultant on the Outlander series, which can mean anything from being deeply involved to just paying lip service to the creator’s ideas. Indeed, in rare cases, it can lead --- and here I drop my voice to a furtive whisper --- to better stories. Frank Darabont took the Stephen King novels The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, made them into films, and the films --- it pains me as a writer to have to say this, but I think it’s true --- were actually better than the original King stories.
So… it’s an interesting dilemma/conundrum for a writer.
But… there’s part of me that also thinks it would be a delightful dilemma to have.
In some ways.