Multiliteracies in ELA Classrooms

Entries Tagged as 'adaptations'

“Descent with Modifications Is Essential”

July 8th, 2013 · 1 Comment

Weblog Post #2: Jacqueline Simpson

What struck me most about this article was the concept that “descent with modifications is essential” (446). I do not believe in discourse fidelity for the sake of fidelity: I think that adaptations will always be viewed as such when the original is known, and it makes far more sense to consider the adapted work as an original creation even if it has borrowed plot, characters, and themes from another source. Absolute fidelity is not possible, and it is not (as far as I can tell) the purpose of an adapted script. As English teachers who turn to adaptations of texts for use in our classrooms, do we really do so merely as a means of bypassing the text, or as scaffolding students towards a reading of the novel by helping them to visualize the language?

We choose these film adaptations precisely for the visualization, for the departures from what is directly given from the text—in short, we are already making the choice to present something to the class that must, by its very nature, be different on several levels from a reading of the text in its purest form. In recognizing that some stories hold universal appeal (as in the numerous examples of Shakespeare adaptations), why would the acknowledged appeal not lend itself to re-imaginings in forms less obvious than near-faithful reproductions? In the case of Shakespeare, for example, all adaptations will by nature be reinventions as the script moves from theatre to film. In the most basic adaptations, the visual language changes from intended stage directions to the language of films, and this goes beyond fidelity to language and plot. In class we have discussed the need for teaching a meta-language for new forms of text/media/forms of literacy. In watching Ernesto’s presentation today, we considered how the language we are already teaching our students—the language associated with writing in its rhetorical and literary forms—is the same language that students can apply to a critical reading of a piece of visual media, as they analyze the language of an image and the strategies that the author has used. The same strategies that we teach for reading and writing are rarely applied to readings of visuals, and we are missing an opportunity to teach this crucial form of literacy when we present films as being secondary to plays or novels, and as imperfect works that will always be deficient for what they lack (rather than appreciated for what they offer). Not only are specific readings of specific texts limiting in this sense, they are also blind to the concept of how a text such as a play is meant to appear and—more importantly, how it can appear.

Baz Luhrmann’s “William Shakespeare’s Romeo+Juliet” is a film that is taught almost as often as it is criticized. I have not met a single English teacher who has used the film as an independently interesting piece of film—it is only in adjunct to the study of the play, and it is inspected for its differences and similarities to a pointless degree. We are not told to teach film, many of us are not comfortable doing it, and it is perhaps due to this that we can have a narrow consideration of the possibilities of film as a valid literary form, worth studying in the English classroom. Like Copolla’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” Luhrmann’s film is deliberately referencing the original and the author of that work while adding in extra-textual details, conjectures, and re-imagined elements. The title suggests fidelity to the original, but it is more of an homage than a direct retelling. In cases of adaptation, the word “inspiration” is too easily misread or ignored.

Bortolotti, G. and Hutcheon, L. (2007). On the Origin of Adaptations: Rethinking Fidelity Discourse and “Success” — Biologically. New Literary History, 38(3), pp. 443-458.

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Successful adaptations in the classroom

July 8th, 2013 · No Comments

What is the measurement of a successful adaptation?

Bortolotti and Hutcheon write that traditionally it has been the similarity or faithfulness of the adaptation to the source material, but that this kind of “reductive judgemental discourse” (444) does not take into account factors that might be more important such as artistic significance or cultural impact. Rather, the persistence of the narrative itself should be considered, along with diversity of media.

What I wondered when I read this article was, how can we measure the success of an adaptation in the classroom? Are there some adaptations that are used more than others, and if so, why?

The article discusses the fact that adaptations can also stand on their own as texts and achieve commercial or artistic success regardless of how closely they follow a source text (or texts). However, in using adaptations in the classroom, one thing a teacher would need to consider is appropriateness.

First, is the adaptation appropriate to the curriculum? A teacher may decide to use an adaptation because it closely follows the text being studied in class. For example, some teachers choose to show more ‘traditional’ films of Shakespeare plays that follow almost word for word the text. They want their students to follow along with the actors and expect that this will lead to a better understanding of the play.

Second, is the adaptation appropriate to the school setting? Of course, it needs to be mentioned that there are perhaps some adaptations that, no matter their fidelity or their appeal, might not be suitable in a classroom setting. I would think that teachers generally try not to be censors, but they do need to make the decisions about what films (or other texts) they present to their students.


Another factor that teachers will consider when choosing an adaptation is the overall appeal to their students. If there are several adaptations of a text available a teacher may worry less about fidelity and focus instead on how old the adaptation is (also dependent on the age of the students), whether or not it uses interesting settings or video conventions, or even how funny it might be. For many teachers, the reason to use a film adaptation in the first place may be to generate interest in the text. If the adaptation they choose does not engage the students, why use a film at all?


I think this leads to other questions for English classrooms, such as studying films as texts of their own and whether or not teachers should show whole movies or just clips when utilising adaptations.

Work Cited

Bortolotti, G. and Hutcheon, L. (2007). On the Origin of Adaptations: Rethinking Fidelity Discourse and “Success” — Biologically. New Literary History, 38(3), pp. 443-458.

-Cristina Relkov

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On the Origins of Adaptation: Rethinking Fidelity Discourse and “Success”—Biologically

July 8th, 2013 · 4 Comments

Seminar Prompt

Andrew Knorr, Stephanie Moreno, Jacqueline Simpson, Christina Relkov

Bortolotti, G. and Hutcheon, L. (2007). On the Origin of Adaptations: Rethinking Fidelity Discourse and “Success” — Biologically. New Literary History, 38(3), pp. 443-458.

 In this discussion, we will summarize and discuss the argument put forth by Bortolli and Hutcheon, considering how this theory relates to our practice as English teachers. We will lead the class through an activity using Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt” as a means of diagnosing our own theories of adaptation, namely how and in what ways we feel adaptations should or should not be faithful to the original.

To begin, consider this list of “The 15 Most Successful Book to Movie Adaptations”:


The Argument: The success of an adaptation should not be defined by how faithful it is to the original

The article we will be presenting on, by Bortolotti and Hutcheon, discusses the idea of similarities between biological adaptation and cultural (or narrative) adaptation. The authors present a homology – that both biological adaptation and cultural adaptation are processes of replication that evolve with changing environments and should not necessarily be judged by their faithfulness to their source. They argue that this perspective can lead to new questions and answers about narrative adaptation theory – including the cultural equivalent of the most basic question asked in biology, why does life exist in so many forms?…Why do the same stories exist in such a startling array of forms?


 Discussion Questions:

  1.  Overall, in the English classroom, when we choose what to show in classrooms, are we looking merely for whatever video is closest to the original text?
  2. What is the argument to for using whole movies vs. just clips of movies?
  3. Should English teachers take on the role of teaching film studies (on their own or in conjunction with texts)?

Next, Consider:

  1. As adaptations descend from their original in varying degrees, are cries against reinterpretation a reflection of personal aesthetic tastes, or can we view the response as politicized? Are adaptations necessarily anti-canonical, or do they reinforce the canon by achieving relevance for a new audience? And are those who stand in opposition to these reinterpretations too heavily invested in a supposed integrity of the canon?
  2. As teachers of literature, are we doing the original works a disservice by allowing the deviated forms to be presented as equal to them?
  3. Do adaptations need to be authorized in order to be valid?



Using the synopsis of Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt” (and any knowledge of it that you may already have) – in your groups discuss how you would adapt this story to video form. Create a working storyboard, outlining how your adaptation would look, sound, and any other ideas that you think would be crucial to your adaptation. You will be pitching your film/television/webisode adaptation to the rest of the class, so be clear in describing how your adaptation will look.

Following the activity, and after having watched an adaptation of the story as a music video, consider the following points:

  1. What do you think of the adaptation we just watched?
  2. What would you have done differently in your own adaptation?
  3. Are there any other adaptations of this short story out there?
  4. In adapting the story to new media, are crucial elements lost? What can be gained from this sort of adaptation?
  5. Would you use something like this in your own classroom?
  6. What do you think Bortolotti and Hutcheon would have said about this adaptation?



Tags: adaptations · Presentation · Seminar Prompts

Zombies, Superheros, and Biology??? Oh my!

July 8th, 2013 · No Comments

Hopefully I was not the only one who began to have vivid memories of cramming high school level biology information into my brain before one of my last finals as a grade 12 student when I began reading this article. My skepticism was at an all time high when there was discussion of biology jargon related to literary criticism. However, both Bortolotti and Hutcheon posit a very interesting cross-disciplinary argument for employing biological adaptation ideology when looking at adaptations of literary works. I really like how the concept of the homologue was used. It emphasized that biological literacy would not replace literary dialogue, but rather complement it in the way it functioned. Both authors provide a strong correlation between various biological concepts (e.g. genotype, phenotype, dynamic and conservative selection), with strong examples that provide a solid grounding of the different terms and how they may function across academic boundaries.

I found the most interesting section to be around the idea of success. Bortolotti and Hutcheon suggest that “‘success’…means ‘thriving’” (Bortolotti and Hutcheon 450). The article expresses that thriving can exist in three ways: the number of copies of a narrative, persistence of the narrative, and diversity of the narrative through a multitude of forms (450). I can relate these concepts to many different franchises that even I love to participate in. Star Wars, Star Trek, and The Hunger Games, just name a few. I also have been thinking about how narrative types are beginning to become more persistent in todays popular culture, one strong example being the post-apocalyptic/apocalyptic story plot. One question the article does not seem to explore is why particular narratives tend to do so much better than others. Why is it that there is this sudden surge of interest in zombies and survival narratives? Where does this thirst for stories about destruction and the end of the world as we know manifest from? A similar example presents itself through the resurgence of popular superhero franchises. Why have there been so many new retellings of heroes like Batman, Superman, Spiderman, and even the X-Men? The article provides one answer, discussing “adaptive radiation” (451) where narratives adapt and modify to different environments they attempt to thrive in (452). In this case, perhaps, the new environment is an older audience who is interested in reliving childhood stories, however in a grittier and more adult way. In the case of the apocalyptic narratives, perhaps we are attempting to suppress rage and destructive manner, a way to express our fears of the possibilities of an impending doom…But to be totally honest, they are also just really awesome to watch!


Work Cited

Bortolotti, G. and Hutcheon, L. (2007). On the Origin of Adaptations: Rethinking Fidelity Discourse and “Success” — Biologically. New Literary History, 38(3), pp. 443-458.

Andrew Knorr


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To Be, or Not To Be… Like the Original?

July 8th, 2013 · 1 Comment

I have a confession: I am guilty of  “fidelity discourse” (444). Prior to reading Gary Bortolotti and Linda Hutcheon’s article, I could not have given my crime a name, but now it’s clear.  I have dedicated years to reading novels for personal enjoyment and then waited, in zealous anticipation, for the movies to enter the theaters. Much to my dismay, these cinematic adaptations  have been largely disappointing. The list of problems is extensive (I am terribly picky…): key events are omitted; the film is too short, or too long; the actors/actresses chosen for the roles are all wrong; the feeling of the book hasn’t been properly captured; the soundtrack is peculiar, and onwards, my post-film rambling unfolds. In other words, I am guilty of giving “cultural and aesthetic precedence to the ‘source’ to which the adaptation is then judged either faithful or unfaithful – that is, good or bad (445)”.

In my defense however,  when a movie adaptation is first created (or at least, considered the first adaptation of significance for a particular generation, for example Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby), some viewers are largely interested in seeing the transference of novel to film. Bortolotti and Hutcheon reference the Harry Potter movies, in particular the movie for the first book. Viewers flocked to the cinemas in anticipation of seeing a “retelling” of the novel in a new medium (449). Of importance, is the concept that the viewers wanted to see how accurately the film captured the novel. Personally, I was quite impressed by the Harry Potter films, finding them remarkably representative of their novels. (Although, I am apparently not allowed to make this sort of comparison…)

Perhaps I’m missing the point, but I’m not sure why the success of an adaptation can’t be based upon (or shouldn’t be based upon) its relationship with the original text. Isn’t there some merit to having carefully reflected on the story’s origin? What then, is the point of creating an adaptation if the story’s integrity, or at least key ideas, are not upheld? How is it then an adaptation? (Why not identify it as a completely separate story, unrelated to the novel or play?)

While film adaptations will continue to evolve (and they should), I do feel that a film can be adequate in its representation of a text, while still maintaining a contemporary viewpoint. Otherwise, I feel like the point of identifying a film as an adaptation loses its relationship with the source… what kind of adaptation is that? So confusing!


By Ashlee Petrucci (Blog #2)


Works Cited

Bortolotti, G. and Hutcheon, L. (2007). On the Origin of Adaptations: Rethinking Fidelity Discourse and “Success” — Biologically. New Literary History, 38(3), pp. 443-458.



Tags: adaptations · Uncategorized

The science of cultural staying power

July 8th, 2013 · 1 Comment

I read the first paragraph of Borlotti and Hutcheon’s “On the Origin of Adaptations: Rethinking Fidelity Discourse and ‘Success’: Biologically” probably three or four times before I could continue on to read the rest of the paper with confidence. The opening’s reference to a Spike Jonze film along with the use of “biological adaptation” and “metacinematic film” in the same, early sentence, caused me to double (and triple…) check that I was reading it right. But yes, I had correctly understood what they meant: they posit that the process by which certain texts or stories become popular and maintain that popularity is a kind of cultural version of Darwin’s natural selection.

Just like its biological counterpart, “cultural selection…involves differential survival through a process of replicating into future generations” (Borlotti 449). Upon first reading this, I found it intriguing but slightly problematic. In nature, genetic changes take thousands of years. Especially given the flash-in-the-pan internet memes that are afforded momentary superstardom by currently available technology, are we perhaps talking about apples and oranges here? Cultural selection happens at the speed of the fastest internet connections. After thinking about things for a bit longer, I realized that – despite the difference in how long the two processes take – natural selection and cultural selection are, in a way, both about survival.

To further support their position, Borlotti and Hutcheon move on to discuss another biological process: mutation. Here, the similarities between natural and cultural selection are, for me, even more salient. In biology, “mutation is not a negative term”; rather, “it is judged as beneficial, neutral, or deleterious in the context of its environment” (449). Similarly, in pop culture today, mutations are the basis for many fad

To return to memes for a moment: some of the funniest and most popular memes of the past few years have involved riffing on or remixing an original piece. Whether that’s writing a caption for someone else’s image, as in LOLcats or creating an autotuned version of a familiar children’s television show.

These mutated forms of image and video are, in a way, also examples of survival. I wouldn’t be watching this clip of Mr. Rogers if he hadn’t been remixed – I watched his show as a child, but he only appears in my adult life in a remixed capacity. It is only because of mutation, a slight change to the “phenotype” of the show, that he continues to exist in my consciousness.

I find this idea really interesting, and so I’m rambling a bit. I’ll wrap up here. This leaves some of these ideas a bit unfinished, so feel free to tidy things up by adding what you think about what these authors have said.

Borlotti and Hutcheon’s natural selection analogy suggests that the only stories that survive through the years are the ones that can be seen as continuously culturally relevant. As we see with Mr. Rogers, mutation is a way that a story can remain current. The authors also point to transmedia as an indication of a story’s success: “If a narrative is adapted into many different media, we might use this proliferation of forms as a measure of success” (451). I think this popularity test could be expanded to include not just many forms of media, but many locations. If a story is truly “successful,” it may appear in many different cultures across the world. Particularly now, when communities all around the globe are connected online, a story has improved chances of survival if it is not just relevant over time, but is globally relevant right now.

– Shannon Smart (Blog Entry #2)

Tags: adaptations