Five Novels That May Be Unfilmable–and the Artists We Would Like to See Try

#4 David Elginbrod

Christians like to say they are underserved by Hollywood, and more recent responses have included trying to create a niche industry of films by people of faith exclusively for people of faith. Given that trend–and the fact that one studio executive shared with me last year that “writing” is the area where “Christian” films lag the farthest behind their secular counterparts–it seems inevitable that someone is going to start adapting George MacDonald’s Scottish novels eventually.

Great art requires more than just demanding that the artist have a message compatible with the audience’s worldview. Art makes demands on us, and it thus requires effort. Sadly, viewers aren’t always willing to put forth the effort to truly appreciate that which is good but difficult. Many of George MacDonald’s novels were expurgated in America, often cutting the novels in half to reduce the sermonizing that those of us who love MacDonald find challenging. Much as with Moby-Dick, what is left is a narrative that isn’t all that different from other melodramas (or sea adventures). Some American editions insist on translating the Scottish brogue to Standard American English, which would be a bit like trying to do a film version of Huck Finn where everyone speaks with German accents.

MacDonald’s novels are not part of a class struggle, but its heroes are more often than not the poor. Given the current successes of The Great Gatsby and The Wolf of Wall Street, I think me might prefer films that allow us to tsk the rich more than those that invite us to be humbled by the poor.

Who might I like to see take a crack at it? Andrew Davies has writing credits for several television mini-series based on nineteenth century works, including a beloved iteration of Pride & Prejudice. It’s his work on Bleak House, though, that makes me wonder what he would do with a MacDonald story. I’ve always thought Dickens the closest literary cousin to MacDonald. Given his work on Great Expectations, I wouldn’t mind seeing Mike Newell attached to a MacDonald project either.

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