Many authors dream that their books will one day be adapted into movies. Movies can visualize the authors’ imaginings, be lucrative, and bring the book to a bigger audience. Multiple factors must come together to make a literary adaptation work, including directors’ and actors’ availability. Some authors get more creative control over their adaptations than others, depending on the details of their contracts. Changes to the source material are inevitable, but some authors thought the movie adaptations fundamentally ruined or misinterpreted their stories, characters, or themes.
A note on diversity: while researching this article, I noticed most authors on record disliking movie adaptations of their books are white. This makes sense because white authors still get many more opportunities to get their work published and adapted in the first place. As one of my editors, Danika Ellis, pointed out, marginalized authors might also want to avoid gaining reputations as “difficult.” This label could result from racist or sexist stereotypes and prevent them from getting future opportunities. When white authors hated their adaptations, they often expressed their opinions confidently without hurting their careers.
Here are six authors who disliked movie adaptations of their own books, at least at first.
Ursula K. Le Guin hated the Earthsea miniseries on Sci-Fi (since rebranded as SyFy).
After the last episode of the TV miniseries Legend of Earthsea aired in 2004, Ursula K. Le Guin published the editorial A Whitewashed Earthsea: How the Sci-Fi Channel Wrecked My Books. She didn’t mince words: “I don’t know what the film is about. It’s full of scenes from the story, arranged differently, in an entirely different plot, so that they make no sense.” Though it was supposedly based on the first two books of her Earthsea Cycle, A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan, she hardly recognized her own story. In the books, the protagonist, Ged, is a person of color. Le Guin felt betrayed when a white actor was cast in the role, and producers never asked her first.
Alice Walker was initially disappointed with the movie The Color Purple.
Alice Walker was disappointed that Celie and Shug’s relationship, which is central to her novel, wasn’t explored much in the 1985 movie. Eventually, she accepted that the movie was quite different from her book, had acclaimed performances, and many fans loved it. Twenty years later, the Broadway musical of the novel emphasized Celie and Shug’s sapphic relationship much more. It’s one major reason Walker prefers the stage musical to the film overall. The novel The Color Purple won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983, and the musical won a Tony in 2016.
More recently, Walker has repeatedly expressed and supported antisemitic and anti-trans opinions. In The New York Times in 2018, she recommended a book that promotes antisemitic conspiracy theories by David Icke. In a 2023 blog post, Walker defended and agreed with J. K. Rowling’s anti-trans conspiracy theories.
A Wrinkle in Time met Madeleine L’Engle’s expectations — in a bad way.
In 2004, Newsweek asked Madeleine L’Engle whether she’d seen the new TV movie of her classic novel, A Wrinkle in Time. When the interviewer asked whether it met her expectations, she replied, “Oh, yes. I expected it to be bad, and it is.” L’Engle died in 2007, so we can’t guess what she might have thought of the 2018 movie version.
Flannery O’Connor hated the only movie made of her work in her lifetime.
The biography and documentary film Flannery explain that Flannery O’Connor’s work was adapted on film only once while she was still alive. She hated the TV adaptation The Life You Save, based on her short story “The Life You Save May Be Your Own.” O’Connor wrote to a friend that the film missed the point of her story and inserted a happy ending. She used the money to buy a refrigerator on her farm and didn’t allow any more adaptations while she was alive. The 1977 TV movie of her story, “The Displaced Person,” received better reviews.
Lois Duncan was horrified by I Know What You Did Last Summer.
Like Le Guin, Duncan described not recognizing her own characters or story onscreen. Duncan initially thought she’d wandered into the wrong theater. She said in an interview, “That is my book, but who is that man and what is he going to do with that ice hook? Well, I soon found out. He was going to decapitate my characters!” Duncan wrote a YA thriller, not a slasher that sensationalized violence, so she was horrified by the movie. Kaitlyn Arquette, Duncan’s teenage daughter, had been murdered in 1989. The case was still unsolved in 1997 when the movie was released (no suspect came forward until 2021). This trauma made the violent movie particularly difficult for the author to watch.