When the votes are counted and the final tallies made, there’s at least one person who has had a definitively, unequivocally good 2016; Lin-Manuel Miranda. In addition to Hamilton’s massive success, there’s the small matter of the album and mixtape both being massive hits, the show’s expansion into other cities, his role in the upcoming Mary Poppins II, and his excellent work on the soundtrack to Moana.
Oh… and now he’s adding The Kingkiller Chronicles to his impressive CV.
News broke last week that Miranda will serve as the creative producer for Lionsgate’s adaptation of Patrick Rothfuss’ novels. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Miranda “will also lead musical development on the project, and is expected to compose and write original songs.” Also tapped for the project is Lindsey Beer, one of the writers working on Transformers: The Last Knight. THR further reports that Lionsgate “has a multipronged plan […] simultaneously developing movies and a premium quality drama series, the latter of which will expand on the world outside of the books.”
Aside from every Hamilton fan on the planet just airpunching like Bender at the end of The Breakfast Club, there’s a lot to unpack in there. Shall we?
First off, the simple fact this is happening is a Good Thing. I know—that might feel weird this year in particular, but no—it’s an actual, honest to deity Good Thing. Rothfuss’ books are crammed full of invention and a massive cast of characters who could almost all sustain a series by themselves. These are immensely complicated, epic scale novels that are entirely character driven and explore a world with multiple time frames and points of view that are all completely viable entry points for an adaptation.
These books really are perfect for adaptation. Better still, they’re being adapted by the team most likely to get them to screen.
Let’s talk about that team for a moment. There’s a decent chance some of the people reading this will be annoyed by the colossal amount of exposure that Hamilton’s received, especially in fandom circles. That’s a legitimate response. But here’s the thing: it really is very good, very clever, and thematically chewy storytelling. There is a LOT to dissect in Hamilton, and Miranda’s ability to subvert and explore the strengths and weaknesses of his subject matter is one of his best qualities as a writer. He does intelligent, accessible work. We need more of that. Plus, given the role music plays in the series, having a Tony-award winning composer on speed dial is a good plan.
Then there’s Lindsey Beer, who you’re probably flinching a bit at given her one credit is Transformers: The Last Knight right now. But again, it’s good news. While Age of Extinction did very well, the general consensus was that it was a catastrophic failure of narrative in almost every conceivable way. Tired of bad reviews, and perhaps wanting to make a movie that was actually, y’know, good, Hasbro did something very smart. They hired writers. Good ones, including Beer. In other words, she’s viewed as a safe pair of hands, is an adaptation specialist, and knows how to tell stories with unusual material.
Then there’s Rothfuss himself. The Kingkiller Chronicle novels are extraordinarily richly drawn and Rothfuss’ turn of phrase and structural approach is amazing. Look at The Slow Regard of Silent Things, which to my mind is the best thing he’s ever written. The ability to collapse the focus of the series down to a single character and explore his larger world through her unique mental framework is an extraordinary achievement.
So, an excellent team of people dedicated to putting a beloved series of books on screen. That’s the good news.
It gets better.
The key element that jumped out at me from the announcement was the mention of a simultaneous TV series. While details are thin, the simple fact that the adaptation is two pronged in this way is really smart. Rothfuss’ books are colossal, and while you can streamline, there’s surprisingly little you can legitimately cut. For what it’s worth, I’m willing to bet the TV show will be Kvothe’s school years. That enables them to get a lot of foundation narrative on screen and also to cast the newcomer the role desperately needs.
It’s also, word is, exactly what The Dark Tower movies are doing. The TV show, which will sit between films, is set to explore Roland’s youth. Idris Elba is even set to appear in the show, providing a framing narrative for it.
So to be clear; a beloved series of books is being adapted for the big and small screen by exactly the right people.
Good news, everyone!
And better still to come!
Back in 2012, when the Avengers assembled for the first time, blockbusters changed. The scale, and the way the film paid off multiple external character arcs while generating its own is fantastic. It’s so good, in fact, that even Marvel have struggled to replicate that for years afterwards with only Civil War approaching similar levels of ambition.
More importantly, the MCU’s success led to a rush of other shared cinematic universes. Some of them have yet to come to fruition and two, Transformers and Universal Monsters, are about to make their debuts. Four years later, people are still trying to work out how to reverse engineer the MCU and, more importantly, how to continue to tell big screen stories in a new way.
This model, the simultaneous movie and television approach, looks like the answer. It gives the material room to breathe, improves the chances of keeping audiences happy, and gives both media formats equal importance to the overall franchise. Possibly the only argument more tedious than superhero fatigue (Any year now! Maybe!) is the “Which is better: TV? Or movie?” one. This way both are equally vital. This way the story is in charge.
So, a fantastic set of books is being adapted by a fantastic team of creators using a bold and innovative new way to tell stories on the big and small screen alike. That’s some of the best cultural news we’ve had all year.
Plus, there’s one more level to this. If, as seems likely, the Dark Tower movies are a success, then look for Kingkiller to be in production sooner rather than later. And once that happens, other series will follow. Jen Williams’ Copper Cat books or Den Patrick’s Erebus Sequence would fit this model perfectly, and they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Or perhaps in this case, the sword.
Alasdair Stuart is a freelancer writer, RPG writer and podcaster. He owns Escape Artists, who publish the short fiction podcasts Escape Pod, Pseudopod, Podcastle, Cast of Wonders, and the magazine Mothership Zeta. He blogs enthusiastically about pop culture, cooking and exercise at Alasdairstuart.com, and tweets @AlasdairStuart.