As David Lynch discovered when he adapted Dune, sometimes a book is too dense and expansive to even attempt adapting into a movie.
For many years, the movie adaptation has been the pinnacle of success for many authors, a milestone that clearly proved a book’s popularity. Becoming a movie allowed an author’s work to reach a vast audience and have the knock-on effect of repopularizing their original work.
But when a book is too dense to comprehensively adapt into a two-hour movie, what do you do? For a while, the answer was: movie series. As we now know, however, movie series can be double-edged swords.
Unless a book (or book series) was an epic fantasy capable of drawing out a story across multiple films, studios weren’t keen to commit such huge budgets without seeing what the first movie could do. And when the first one fails, the planned series gets canned.
These days, there’s another option—one proven successful by pioneers like The Sopranos. Long drawn-out sagas are perfectly suited for TV, and platforms like Netflix and HBO and even Amazon have popularized the book-to-TV adaptation.
Here are some of the best books we think are worth adapting into TV series, thanks to how deep and dense they are.
George Orwell’s 1984 is a towering reminder of the dangers of society and what can come of extreme political actions if those in power have no checks put on them.
The book has already seen a faithful film adaptation with John Hurt playing Winston Smith, the man who tries to fight against Big Brother only to find his efforts futile.
However, due to the dense nature of Orwell’s work, it would be far better suited to a TV series, where each layer of Orwell’s meanings can be peeled back and examined episode by episode.
1984 is a heavy story with few moments of frivolity in it, which may dampen its appeal to some—but for those who love the original book, they would finally be able to see an adaptation of Orwell’s work that comes to the screen fully clothed.
2. Moby Dick
To date, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick has seen many adaptations across various art forms, the most famous of which is the John Huston movie starring Gregory Peck as the crazed Captain Ahab.
However, those who’ve read the book know that it’s far too substantial for a single two-hour movie. Melville’s book is over 600 pages long and encompasses a vast story with multiple characters and threads. That’s precisely why Moby Dick should become a large-scale TV series.
This is a case where the book is far too expansive to be cut down and still be told correctly by any creative team. The 2011 series starring Ethan Hawke had promise but languished due to its two-episode length and compressed three-hour runtime of the series.
A recent BBC series named The North Water was set in a similar time as Moby Dick and the production value looked incredible. Seeing a similar mini-series based on Melville’s book—and telling the whole story of Ahab and Ishmael’s fated voyage—would be a hit for whoever produced it.
When a group of British boys wind up marooned on an island during “the war” (seemingly the Second World War), they’re forced to form a society that keeps with traditional democratic values and British morality.
Of course, little by little, the thin veneer of society erodes and the boys become wild beasts, intent on harming anybody who doesn’t conform to their ways. William Golding’s book Lord of the Flies is one of literature’s great social microcosms.
The book has received multiple adaptations, the best being the 1963 movie. However, the slow descent into tribal mindsets and the darkness of the paranoia that infects the boys’ minds would be ideally suited to at least five episodes of a TV mini-series.
Week by week, the enthralling experience of watching Jack and Ralph lose their minds to hunger and delusions and beast-like natures could become one of modern TV’s best.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is Oscar Wilde’s only novel and a literary masterpiece. It tells the story of Dorian Gray, a beautiful man immortalized in a painting, who wishes that it will age instead of him so that he could be free to pursue a life of pleasure and indulgence.
Selling his soul in exchange for eternal youth, Dorian goes about indulging in a hedonistic lifestyle. All the while, the painting grows old and decrepit due to the nature of his multiple sins.
Various adaptations of Wilde’s book have seen their way to the big screen, but none have captured the public imagination. A TV series produced by the BBC, for example, could be special—and allow more people to become familiar with Oscar Wilde’s singular novel.
C.S. Lewis’ acclaimed story about a secret world hidden in the back of a wardrobe is one of the world’s best-read fantasy works.
The tale focuses on four siblings sent to the English countryside to get away from London during the air raids of the Second World War. Soon, they find a wardrobe and walk through it—only to enter an enchanted land filled with mythical creatures.
The siblings become involved in a war between the White Queen and the great lion Aslan, fighting against the evil queen to end her reign of fear.
The books were adapted into a series of films in 2005, but it lost traction after a few entries. The films didn’t completely fail, but they were met with apathy from the general movie-going public.
A large-scale TV series could be the perfect rebuttal. With a sizable budget, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe could be the beginning of a multiple-season adaptation of the franchise, which would excite fans and bring the Narnia stories back from the brink of passé.