Drawing by Lael EnsorIt’s summer, and you’re thinking to yourself how you’d really like to catch up on reading some classic works of fiction, but, hey, maybe you’re also thinking how you’d also really like to read something, how shall we say, a little lighter, a little more lounge chair friendly? If this has happened to you, we at the library could certainly suggest any number of graphic novels for your reading pleasure, but you may want to specifically consider the growing field of graphic novel adaptations of literary classics.

What is a graphic novel adaptation? According to the OED, an adaptation can be “an altered or amended version of a text,” or “the action or process of altering, amending, or modifying something, esp. something that has been created for a particular purpose, so that it [is] suitable for a new use.” Then, an adaptation can vary greatly in its relationship to the original text. While it is tempting to think in terms of accuracy or faithfulness, graphic novel adaptations of classic works need not be word for word illustrations. Adaptations might rework, paraphrase, or completely re-imagine the original text.

You may find it difficult to picture classic works in graphic novel form, but according to this article by Armando Celayo and David Shook, this practice has been going on since the 1940’s. Mark Letcher notes in this article that there is a growing market for adaptations from medieval poetry to Shakespeare. In their article, Katherine T. Bucher and M. Lee Manning discuss the benefits of teaching young adult students with graphic novels, including adaptations of authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Marcel Proust, and Franz Kafka.

By performing a Catalyst Article Search, I was able to learn even more about this growing field. For example, not only are classics being adapted, but also contemporary works of fiction such as Stieg Larsson‘s the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Adapted by Denise Mina, this article describes the approach Mina took in adapting the novel.

Feeling ready to dive in? There are lots of books to choose from at MSEL.

  • The Odyssey moves away from the strictly illustrative. Seymour Chwast’s adaptation recreates Homer’s Odyssey by reinventing the story using a conversational tone within a modern frame story.

Drawing by Lael EnsorWith so much variance, you might want to consider taking the originals and the adaptations to your lounge chair (always keeping your library books well away from sand and water!). You may find that that the graphic novels are just as challenging as the original texts!

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