Please Adapt: TJ Klune’s The House in the Cerulean Sea

Last month, I launched my “Please Adapt” column with an open plea for the TV- and movie-making powers that be to bring The Lies of Locke Lamora and its wonderful sequels to the screen. This month, I turn the lens to a much less violent and vulgar (but no less interesting) cadre of spunky youth.

TJ Klune’s The House in the Cerulean Sea made an immediate splash in the bookish zeitgeist upon its March 2020 debut. The charming contemporary fantasy crossed genre thresholds to capture the hearts of readers of all stripes, earning a place on the NYT and USA Today bestseller lists.

Based on its popularity alone, it’s easy to assume Hollywood already has its eyes on The House in the Cerulean Sea. Looking beyond the book’s impressive and obvious success, though, we find a radiant cast of characters, living out a heartwarming and compelling story that’s fully deserving of an all-star on-screen adaptation.

 

The Story So Far

The House in the Cerulean Sea is a perennially recommendable tome. I’ve suggested it to many friends of different tastes and backgrounds, and even the staunchest habitual non-readers have been won over by Cerulean Sea’s warm embrace. While speculation and anecdotal evidence may be worth precious little, there’s a large part of me that thinks this book’s reception makes it a shoo-in for adaptation.

Hard evidence for a possible Cerulean Sea adaption is near impossible to come by, which makes sense: the book came out two years ago. The gears of filmmaking turn slowly, and ages come and pass away…

In my search for any smidgen of a hint, I scoured Klune’s Twitter timeline…and by “scoured,” I mean “glanced through briefly.” (Side note: following TJ Klune on social media may be the single greatest thing you can do for yourself today. He’s hilarious and sharp and entertaining.) The biggest tease in the direction of any new Cerulean Sea-related news is a vague promise of “…something.” For my money, a sequel book remains the far likelier possibility, in terms of what Klune is hinting at in the tweet.

However, Klune has tweeted (and subsequently deleted) similar teases in the past, joking about how he’d have to take the tweets down at the behest of others involved. I can’t claim or even speculate whether the mysterious deleted tweets were hinting at an adaption. They’re simply the closest thing to any solid information I could find. There is a “Secret Project 2022” listed on Klune’s website, but it’s almost certainly a book. Take it all with a grain—no, a whole barrel—of salt.

In short, I couldn’t find so much as a speck of a hint that would point to an adaptation of The House in the Cerulean Sea currently in the works. Considering the public’s response to the book, though, I’d bet big money it’ll happen someday, and hopefully sooner than later. Below, I’ll outline precisely why this whimsical novel deserves a chance to shine onscreen.

Spoilers follow for The House in the Cerulean Sea.

 

Subverting The Typical

From the get-go, The House in the Cerulean Sea doesn’t subscribe to any cookie-cutter fantasy tropes. Mid-level bureaucrat Linus Baker upends his life for a month, sent to evaluate an orphanage by the Department In Charge Of Magical Youth; his job is to determine whether the children at the titular house are a danger to themselves or others. The children include a blob of goo named Chauncey, a wyvern named Theodore, a gnome named Talia, and a few others. I’ll discuss the characters a bit more momentarily, but their introduction into the story and the overall premise brings up a key point: The House in the Cerulean Sea isn’t your typical fantasy novel, and that makes it a great candidate for adaptation.

Fantasy stretches imaginative limits. Trying to categorize or pin down such an expansive genre by breaking it into countless arbitrary subgenres proves difficult, and sometimes futile. The House in the Cerulean Sea succeeds first and foremost because it is an exquisite book. I think it also succeeds because it isn’t the fantasy most people expect. Readers of all sorts gravitate toward Klune’s tale because on the surface, it’s more immediately approachable than a sweeping epic fantasy set in a different world. That’s not to say those books aren’t amazing (huge Stormlight fan, here). Instead, I simply want to point out that Cerulean Sea elegantly bridges the gap between our world and the whimsical, imaginative worlds of more out-there fantasy writing in a way that clearly resonates with readers, and it should translate to screens as well.

By grounding Cerulean Sea firmly in a version of our workaday world in the opening chapters, Klune lulls us into a sense of the familiar, even as Linus is bullied by his obnoxious manager, pestered by a nosy neighbor, and stuck in a rather grim routine. Then, mere chapters into the book, he busts the whole world open into a fantastical dreamscape inhabited by magical youngins who embody all the wonderment of childhood alongside their enigmatic and benevolent caretaker, Arthur Parnassus.

What better way to tell such a story than on screens? It would be a marvel to witness Linus’ ho-hum life slowly turned upside down as he learns about the kids, and himself, under Parnassus’ care. Further, it’d be an absolutely joyful experience to watch the children and their magical abilities reshape Linus’ (and by extension, the viewer’s) worldview and assumptions over the course of a season-long arc. A balanced take on our world and the fantasy delights within Parnassus’ orphanage would make for a colorful and vibrant take on Klune’s story. Plus, Cerulean Sea has a delightful gay romantic subplot that sweeps you off your feet in the best possible way, and I’d love to see it portrayed on screen as deftly as Klune wrote it on the page.

 

From Ennui To Bon Vivant

Linus Baker’s story in The House in the Cerulean Sea feels utterly relatable. Long lost amidst the grind of soulless (and sometimes outright harmful) bureaucracy, Linus’ assignment at Parnassus’ home for magical children shows him that there’s so much more to life. Pushing papers and operating by the books can crush the life out of a person, especially when said books are dictated by heartless middle managers with nary an empathetic bone in their bodies.

Over the course of his month-long adventure with Parnassus and the marvelous children in his care, Linus begins to expand his mind and his worldview. He yearns for the open sky and opens himself to a childlike sense of wonder when it comes to seeing the world, a need for connection which had escaped him while he toiled away for years at his desk. Wondering if there’s something more, a grander purpose to life, isn’t a new idea. But Klune makes it so very relatable by planting Linus in a dead-end desk job akin to those I’m sure many of us (myself absolutely included) have worked.

I won’t spoil Linus’ journey on the off chance you haven’t read Cerulean Sea yet, but suffice it to say his outlook changes significantly as he realizes the life he’d built offered him a sense of safety and stability…at the cost of almost everything else he needed or wanted.

We’ve seen plenty of shows and movies about the doldrums of corporate life or the outright evil some capitalistic organizations are capable of. It’s less common to have stories explore the possibility of a happy life free from corporate structure, and how to inspire and facilitate change to unfair or oppressive systems. The House in the Cerulean Sea gives us such a story in book form, and it’d be refreshing to find such a tale faithfully brought to life by a streaming service.

 

The Power Of Childhood

Let’s talk about the kids: a group of fantastic youngsters that manage to impart a number of important lessons throughout The House in the Cerulean Sea. The full roster includes:

  • Lucy, the Antichrist, no big deal
  • Theodore, a wyvern with a treasure hoard (mainly buttons) under the couch
  • Talia, a gnome with plenty of attitude but a kind heart
  • Phee, a forest sprite who can grow plants with her magic
  • Sal, a were-Pomeranian who transforms when scared (and is scared often)
  • Chauncey, a gooey blob who desperately wants to be a bellhop

Gosh, they are wonderful characters. Klune gives each child plenty of page time, highlighting their individual hopes, dreams, quirks, and weaknesses. Innocent and full of potential, these children yearn to find their place in a world that doesn’t accept them. The community near the house collectively fears the kids and what they can do, and mob psychology riles up that fervor to the point of crisis.

Now’s probably a good time to point out that Cerulean Sea is often read as an allegory for the LGBQT+ experience. Klune reinforces that theme throughout, with one passage detailing a group trip into town to highlight the prejudice of the nearby community (and, subsequently, the individual capacity for understanding that comes only from breaking down prejudice).

Whether you approach the book with this reading in mind or not, the story of the children still resounds with valuable lessons. These kids are people. Small, unusual, ever-learning people, but people nonetheless. Linus accepts them for who they are, and they learn to do the same for him. Cerulean Sea isn’t afraid to view children as capable of understanding complex concepts and hard truths or growing in meaningful ways. They aren’t simpletons or reductive stereotypes. They aren’t just there to be part of the adults’ story. They are present in the world, shaping it through their growth and desires because Parnassus gives them the space to be themselves.

When it comes to an adaptation, this may be the toughest part to crack. Finding a cast of young actors able to embody the complexities of Cerulean Sea’s cast could be difficult, but look at Stranger Things or Boy Meets World. Young performers can be powerful, emotive actors, as evidenced by any number of shows and movies from the recent past.

The House in the Cerulean Sea is a prime opportunity for a cast of wonderful children to breathe life into the already-excellent characters from the books. We don’t always get to see kids learning about the world from an adult who cares, especially in a genre rife with orphans cut off from positive parental figures. Klune’s book is a new type of story for the book world, and it could offer the same thing for the world of TV, too. If it isn’t abundantly clear, I’m hoping for a TV adaptation of Klune’s story, if only to give the characters space to breathe. I’ll also take a movie, don’t get me wrong. But TV just feels right.

 

Outlook: Very Optimistic

I think an adaptation of The House in the Cerulean Sea is more a question of “when” than “if.” I’m nearly certain it’ll come to screens eventually, though in what form I’m not sure.

I think it’s would be a strong fit for a mini-series on a streaming service. A savvy content producer might also eye Klune’s Under the Whispering Door for adaptation, recognizing the similar strong grasp of theme and character development. But that’s a whole other discussion, and my hopes for Whispering Door can be shelved for another time. For now, I see The House in the Cerulean Sea as a definite play for our screens in the very near future, and I eagerly await any hint, small or large, that it’s becoming a reality.

Cole Rush writes words. A lot of them. For the most part, you can find those words at The Quill To Live or on Twitter @ColeRush1. He voraciously reads epic fantasy and science-fiction, seeking out stories of gargantuan proportions and devouring them with a bookwormish fervor. His favorite books are: The Divine Cities Series by Robert Jackson Bennett, The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, and The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune.

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