George R.R. Martin Criticizes Screenwriters Who Think They Can Improve Classic Books: 'They Make It Worse'

The 'Game of Thrones' creator believes the trend of adapting classic works is producing mediocre results.

George R.R. Martin smiles while wearing a black suit, cap, and glasses at the Atlanta Film Festival
Paras Griffin / Getty Images
George R.R. Martin smiles while wearing a black suit, cap, and glasses at the Atlanta Film Festival

George R.R. Martin isn’t a fan of adaptations—but there are some exceptions.

The Game of Thrones creator, 75, criticized film and TV adaptations of books that diverge significantly from their source material. In a new blog post, Martin reflected on the current trend in Hollywood of adapting classic works by well-known authors and changing them to suit screenwriters’ and producers’ visions, in some cases to the detriment of the original stories.

“If anything, things have gotten worse. Everywhere you look, there are more screenwriters and producers eager to take great stories and ‘make them their own,’” he wrote last Friday, citing authors such as Stan Lee, Charles Dickens, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jane Austen, and others who have had their works remade.

“No matter how major a writer it is, no matter how great the book, there always seems to be someone on hand who thinks he can do better, eager to take the story and ‘improve’ on it. ‘The book is the book, the film is the film,’ they will tell you, as if they were saying something profound. Then they make the story their own,” Martin added. “They never make it better, though. Nine hundred ninety-nine times out of a thousand, they make it worse.”

However, Martin had nothing but praise for FX’s adaptation of James Clavell’s Shōgun.

Initially skeptical, as the director had fond memories of reading the novel in the late 70s and watching the 1980 miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain, Martin found the new version “superb.” 

“The fascinating thing is that while the old and new versions have some significant differences — the subtitles that make the Japanese dialogue intelligible to English speaking viewers being the biggest — they are both faithful to the Clavell novel in their own way,” Martin wrote further into the blog post. “I think the author would have been pleased. Both old and new screenwriters did honor to the source material, and gave us terrific adaptations, resisting the impulse to ‘make it their own.’”

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According to the Hollywood Reporter, FX’s Shōgun was originally meant to be a limited series, but plans to develop two more seasons of the historical drama are underway. 

After wrapping up its first 10-episode season in April, the series reportedly became the network’s most-watched show in the history of the channel based on global hours streamed. 

THR also notes that Shōgun was ranked as FX’s most expensive scripted series produced by the network in its history. 

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