After The Hobbit bounded into cinemas pretty much every classic book in the world has been adapted for the big screen. Some more successfully than others. Some by Brits, some by Americans some by someone else. But almost every book that everyone has read has a silver screen companion.
But there are still the odd gems lurking out there. Novels that have, for whatever reason failed to reach the dizzying popularity of Twilight, Harry Potter or Fifty Shades of Grey, and therefore been overlooked. But nevertheless, novels that could ensnare, enliven and enrapture an audience in film form.
1. I, Lucifer – Glenn Duncan
I, Lucifer can be a hard book to get through. At least it is if you want to understand absolutely every thing that happens. Duncan writes as if he is the love child of Stepehn Fry and a Dictionary, with verbal diarrhoea. There are huge wafts of text I don’t even pretend to comprehend. But then this is probably about right, the Devil probably doesn’t know any other way.
As the name suggests Duncan’s book is an autobiography written by Satan. It retells all the famous parts from the bible from the Serpent’s point of view, throwing in a good dollop of the Antichrist’s views on modern life for good measure.
What a film that would make. It would be a challenge to be sure, so much of the story is a sort of stream of consciousness style inner monologue, but in the right hands you would have the most enthralling film of the decade. And just sit back and think of the special effects…
2. American Gods – Neil Gaiman
A recently released convict takes a road trip with a centuries old Viking god. They traipse together across America in a modern day Odyssey, conning those they meet, solving the mysteries of disappearing children and battling the modern gods of technology who seek to drive those of myth and legend back into the nothingness from which they came.
The story has action, adventure, turmoil, history and enough twists and turns to keep everyone engrossed right to the very end. You can just imagine a distinguished star like Jack Nicholson or Gary Oldman presiding over the movie as the capricious, with Tom Hardy filling Shadow’s boots as the star of the show.
3. The Ascent of Rum Doodle – W.E Bowman
Part farce, stumbling, simple and mad. And part masterpiece, cunning, insightful and cutting. That’s the Ascent of Rum Doodle. With that rare mix where you laugh and think in equal measure, more than a little reminiscent of Catch 22.
Seven Brits, useless and insane in their own special ways, come together to climb the highest mountain in the world. With the assistance of 3,000 native porters.
Perhaps the best way of communicating the attitude of the story is just to tell you the names of the characters. There’s Dr Prone, the chronically ill medic. Jungle, the map reader, who never actually finds the expedition. And the ridiculously naïve leader, Binder.
The Ascent of Rum Doodle has the potential to be a film like Toy Story, or in a similar style to the Simpsons. Beloved because of it’s simplicity, it’s ability to make you chuckle and be understood by everyone on the most basic of levels. And cherished because of it’s complexity, it’s subtleties and the way it shines a light on society, even half a century after it was written.
4. The City and the City – China Mieville
For those who don’t know his work China Mieville describes himself as an writer of “weird fiction.” This is the understatement of the century, like describing JK Rowling as an author of ‘long’ fiction. Or JRR Tolkein as the creator of ‘imaginative’ fiction. Mieville has the sort of mind that merits cutting out his brain and subjecting it to scientific study.
The City and the City revolves around, surprise, surprise, two cities. But the twist is that both metropolises occupy the same space. The citizens of Beszel forced to ignore their counterparts from Ul- Quoma, even when they are walking only metres apart. They share roads, buildings and light but are in separate countries and forbidden from interacting.
So what happens when someone from one city gets murdered by someone for the other? You’ll have to read Mieville’s masterpiece to finds out but rest assured, a film version would have all the action packed, gun totting, testosterone fuelled madness of a Bond or Bourne film, but with a story as clever as a Greek Philosopher. There really would be something for everyone.
5. Anything – Bernard Cornwell
Okay, so Sharpe has a TV series, but it’s astonishing to think that the Grand Master of historical fiction has never seen any of his stories played out whilst munching on popcorn.
Cornwell doesn’t just write Sharpe, his pen has unravelled the mists of Arthurian mythology, brought to life the terror of the Viking invasions and had vagabonds chase down the Holy Grail amongst the chaos of the Hundred Years War.
Any one of these series would have anything you could want in a Hollywood blockbusters, battle scenes, love triangles and characters as fiendish and intriguing as the world’s hardest Sudoku, but my personal choice would be the King Arthur books. With the dark ages recreated more convincingly and accurately than ever before, with a myriad of well known and loved characters and easily the most entertaining version of Merlin you ever will meet, nobody could ask for more. It’s a trilogy too…
It’s not technically a novel so doesn’t make my list, but another tale that would transfix an audience visually as well as verbally is Virgil’s The Aeneid.
The Roman equivalent of the Greek epics The Iliad and the Odyssey, The Aenied follows the survivors of the fall of Troy as the drift across the Mediterranean, laying the way for the founding of the Roman Empire.
With the revival of the sword and sandals epic under Gladiator and the passion for films with ancient bases (300, Alexander, Troy.) and it really is incredible, and a travesty, that the Aeneid has never graced a big screen…