CFP – Adapting Children’s and Young Adult Novels into Anglophone Television Series

Call for Papers
International Conference by GUEST Normandie
Adapting Children’s and Young Adult Novels into Anglophone Television Series
Rouen Normandy University, 5-6 September 2019

Following up on its research programme exploring audiovisual serial fiction as narrative, aesthetic and ideological works of art, present on an ever-increasing number of platforms, the research project GUEST Season 2 is organizing on the 5th and 6th of September 2019, in partnership with the research laboratory ÉRIAC (Équipe de Recherche Interdisciplinaire sur les Aires Culturelles), an international conference dedicated to Anglophone television series adapted from children’s and Young Adult novels.

Serialised television adaptations of children’s literature have existed for quite some time, especially in the English-speaking world (The Famous Five, ITV, 1978-9; The Chronicles of Narnia, BBC, 1988-90; The Borrowers, BBC 2, 1992, …), providing a logical continuation to the tradition of episodic fiction by novelists writing for children and young adults. The “principle of the proliferation of narratives moving from one medium to another” is itself a natural extension of the growing trend in the world of youth literature publishing to create “hybridised transmedia products”, such as toy books or CD books and other by-products (Letourneux 2011 : § 5), a practice which contributes to showcasing the existence of the original works.

Such a tradition of novel adaptations for the small screen, which formed a substantial part of BBC programmes for young spectators, in particular up to the 1990s (Messenger Davies 2005: 131), has recently been rekindled by the contemporary craze for TV series of all kinds. The trend for « sériephilie » (Glevarec 2012) may account for the growing tendency to cater for an even wider audience by targetting young adults or mature teenagers, and attracting younger consumers who are more and more seduced by transmediated cultural products — all the more so as these material child[ren] (Buckingham 2011) may be more prone than adult viewers to enjoy repetition and to feel connected to familiar characters and worlds.

Children’s literature itself has been increasingly promoted as a legitimate field of study over the past decades, and the commercial success which crowned the publication of certain huge best-sellers at the turn of the 21st century has definitely integrated children’s literature into the bulk of mass culture production as well as into its subsequent process of commodification (Zipes 1997 and 2001, Taxel 2002). Because of such a massive market expansion, children’s literature has become a privileged source of inspiration for the writing of scripts for the big screen, and today for the small screen too. As Matthieu Letourneux explains, “the majority of films meant for young spectators are based on literary narratives and the copyrights of children literature’s biggest hits are systematically bought by publishers” (2017 : 384) with a view to making the most of the “multi-exploitation” of the fictional story (Ferrier 2009).

The current boom of children’s literature being turned into television series appears to be the continuation of the phenomenon of film adaptations based upon serialised novels, whether we think of fantasy, of “bit lit” (vampire romances) or of dystopian (i.e. counter-utopian) fiction, whose impressive number of pages seem to call out for such innumerable forms of fictional “expansion” (Besson 2015). It would therefore be interesting to study series for young viewers which tend to update either the source text or the very first film or TV adaptations (as was the case with Tyne Tees Television’s new adaptation of the Famous Five by Enid Blyton in 1995-96), to perpetuate the success of a series of novels, or to compete with formerly groundbreaking film adaptations of those very same novels. We might think for example of the 13 books of A Series of Unfortunate Events by American writer Lemony Snicket (1999-2006), who clearly connected his novels with the tradition of the Victorian serial narratives. These novels have been adapted by Netflix and broadcast on its streaming platform since January 2017, after Brad Silberling made a film out of the 23 volumes in 2004. We might also refer to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (1995-2000), whose first book only was adapted for the big screen as The Golden Compass (2007), the US version of the book’s title, but whose first television season will be released by BBC1 in 2019. This follows a radio adaptation as well as a stage adaptation in 2003.

If such questions have already been addressed within the larger context of television programmes and series intended for children and teenagers, our aim with this conference is not so much to ponder on childhood and youth culture in general but to focus rather on the adaptation process at work in the shift from book to small screen.

  • What can we infer from this evolution from children’s classics being almost systematically adapted for the cinema to children’s classics being almost systematically adapted for television?
  • Can we say that these series appropriating children’s literature are a mere expansion of a phenomenon that is already characteristic of adult culture? Or should we say that there exists a specific adaptation process when target spectators are young spectators?
  • Does the change of medium contribute to introducing new material in the source narrative?
  • Can the way young viewers watch these series have an influence on the process of adaptation (depending on whether they watch these programmes alone, with their family or with friends, whether they use their mobiles, their computers or a big home screen, and whether they binge-watch the episodes in one night or in a few days, or watch them at various paces)?
  • Do some series try to target a wider and older audience, playing on the nostalgia of adult spectators and the obsession for youth in contemporary anglophone cultures?
  • Are some genres more frequently adapted than others?
  • Do television series testify to the difference made by Anne Besson concerning literature (2004 and 2009) between strictly repetitive “series” (as with The Famous Five) and “cycles” (as with the Harry Potter cycle) whose narratives are framed by the passing of time and the transformation this entails?
  • Is the current predominance of the « cycle » type a consequence of the recent boom of young adult literature?
  • Can we say that sequences of novels tend to be more frequently adapted to the small screen than stand-alone novels?
  • Can watching a series bring some viewers back to the source novel?
  • How can such a remediation of novels result in the densification and complexification of the original fiction world, leading spectators to reinvest and reappraise this original universe through “drilling” (Mittell 2015)?

All these questions, and others, may be addressed in papers focusing on animated or live-action adaptations of children’s and Young Adult novels into anglophone television series. Television series having given rise to novelisations may also be part of the chosen corpus.

Paper proposals (400 words maximum), in French or in English, including an explicit title and a short bio-bibliographical notice, should be sent before 10 May 2019 both to Florence Cabaret (florence.cabaret@univ-rouen.fr) and to Virginie Douglas (virginie.douglas@wanadoo.fr).

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