English literature has proven to be one of the most important of all time. It had its splendor in the middle of the Victorian era during the nineteenth century. But we are still in contact with many of the classics of that golden age thanks to their transformation into new successes in film and television.
In these times of abundant consumption of series and films, giants of the audiovisual industry such as Netflix and Amazon never tire of generating content based on stories taken from this literature. Below I will highlight five essential works from English literature that have been well adapted for the big screen or television.
Our first must-have is Mary Shelley’s unforgettable Frankenstein of 1818. It is a somewhat particular work since although it is framed in the tradition of the gothic novel, it is at the same time the first modern piece of science fiction. By dealing with subjects as important today as morality in science; the power of man to create and destroy life; or the confrontation of modern man with the ancient figure of an all-powerful God; they make this English novel a work that has not lost validity and therefore several adaptations have been made throughout the history of the seventh art.
One of the best and most recent Frankenstein-based productions is Mary Shelley, a 2017 film. In this, we witness the life of the author and her contemporaries in late eighteenth-century London. In this way, we learn about Mary’s love affair with the poet Percy Shelley and the moments that inspired her to write her most famous novel.
Our second must-have is Sherlock Holmes, the unmistakable character created by Scottish writer Arthur Conan Doyle in 1885. It is not a single book since this English detective travels the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century through four novels and five short storybooks.
Together with his friend and assistant, Dr. John Watson, he solves the most curious and intricate detective cases. It is important to note that the person telling these stories is Dr. Watson himself as a first-person narrator. Holmes uses his remarkable use of observation and deductive reasoning as fundamental tools to solve cases of great difficulty.
There are several contemporary films and series that imitate and highlight Holmes’ intelligence. Like the American series Elementary. This changes the era and the original settings and places the characters in modern New York.
Sherlock, an English private detective, and a heroin addict. He settles in the Big Apple to get away from his old life. His father assigns him a therapeutic companion to keep him sober called Joan Watson. She is a retired surgeon with Asian features, who will accompany him in his investigations, becoming his assistant and friend.
Our third must-have is the famous novel by Irish author Bram Stoker published in 1897. Inspired by the author’s conversations with a Hungarian scholar who told him about Vlad Drăculea. It is an interesting and modern work told in an epistolary way. We witness how this vampire intends to emigrate from his ancestral land in Romania to late-nineteenth-century London to expand his domains. But behind this fantasy is much more committed issues such as sexuality, colonialism, and immigration during the Victorian era.
The 1992 film directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, is, in my opinion, the best version and the one that adheres the most to the author’s text. Although I think the romance between Dracula (Gary Oldman) and Mina Murray (Winona Ryder) is somewhat exaggerated in relation to the book, it is a very effective narrative resource for the feature film.
The Secret Garden
Our fourth must-have isn’t so well known to the general public but it is a great book of English literature. Written by Frances Hodgson Burnett in 1910 has been adapted to film in 1993.
The book and the film, of the same name, share that kind of special climate that only great works have the ability to transmit, either from the printed word or from the screen. It is the story of little Mary, who is orphaned and sent to live, from her residence in India, to an English mansion where her widowed uncle, Archibald Craven and Colin, her disabled cousin, live.
Both in the pages of the book and in the shots of the film we can feel the unbreathable and cloistered atmosphere generated by Mary’s life together with her uncle and cousin in that mansion. It is by escaping from this place of confinement that Mary will find refuge as she discovers Mr. Craven’s secret garden, along with Colin and his friend Dickon.
The Lord of the Rings
Our fifth and final must-have is undoubtedly my favorite, Lord of the Rings. The will of its author J. R. R. Tolkien was that his novel is published as a single volume. But I cannot see his dream come true in life since the book of more than one thousand two hundred pages was always published in three volumes, from 1955 until the death of its creator in 1973. It was not until 1992 that a single-volume version was published to celebrate the centenary of the birth of the British philologist and writer.
The best-known cinematographic version of this epic fantasy novel is the three-part version made by New Zealand director Peter Jackson and premiered between 2001 and 2003. The difference between film and book is substantial, but this is due to the impossibility of producing one or more films that cover Frodo Bolsón’s long journey, with all the details that appear in the book. Peter Jackson had to resign content for a better narrative unit that could be contained within the three films.
It is the story of Bilbo and his nephew Frodo Bolsón, both hobbits (small creatures looking like children) from the middle earth. It all begins when Bilbo leaves the shire and leaves Frodo a ring as an inheritance, among many other things.
Sometime later Frodo will find out, thanks to the old magician Gandalf, that this is the Unique Ring of Sauron, the dark lord of the middle earth. With the help of Gandalf and his three best friends, Frodo must leave the shire crossing all the middle earth to destroy the unique ring in the burning lava of the mount of destiny, the place where the ring was originally forged by Sauron.
On his way, he will be aided by men and other anthropomorphic races such as elves and dwarfs. But he will also be threatened by orcs, goblins and other malignant creatures allied with the dark lord who will try to remove the ring to give it to his master.
This is how I finish my list of five essential books of English literature, which have withstood the test of time and have become beautiful cinematographic works. See you next time.