Please Adapt: Darcie Little Badger’s Elatsoe

So far in my “Please Adapt” column, I’ve covered a beloved bestseller and a fan-favorite epic fantasy series, both of which are some of SFF’s top contenders for film or TV adaptation. Today, I want to feature a book that might be less familiar to a potential mainstream audience: Darcie Little Badger’s debut novel, Elatsoe.

To call the novel a “lesser-known” book would likely be a misnomer; Elatsoe certainly garnered its fair share of praise. It earned a slot on TIME Magazine’s “100 Best Fantasy Books” list and a spot on Publishers Weekly’s Best of 2020. I hopped aboard the hype train too, giving Elatsoe a 9/10 in my original review.

In spite of this success, Elatsoe is still finding its way into the hands and hearts of many SFF readers, and if you haven’t read it, you should add it to your list! It’s a novel that tells a unique, compelling story brimming with legends and magic—a story that’s ready-made for the onscreen treatment.

 

The Story So Far

Now’s the part where I dive into the speculation surrounding Elatsoe’s potential adaptation into a movie or series. Problem is, there’s precious little to report at the moment. As I mentioned above, Elatsoe earned its place on many a “best of” list, and critics and reviewers enjoyed it (myself included). With regard to Elatsoe branching out into visual media…crickets.

I’m hopeful Darcie Little Badger’s sharp writing and unique voice will continue to captivate audiences and eventually gain enough attention for filmmakers to notice the well of potential here. Little Badger followed Elatsoe with A Snake Falls To Earth at the end of last year. I haven’t read it yet, but it has earned its fair share of critical acclaim and accolades, too.

Little Badger has also written for comics, including Marvel’s Indigenous Voices series and Humanoids’ Strangelands. She’s proven herself to be a prolific creator, and clearly has the chops to work in different mediums.

While there’s no evidence an Elatsoe adaptation is currently on the way, that’s all the more reason to boost the signal: the book deserves an all-star treatment, and there are myriad reasons why.

 

A Magical Reality

Elatsoe takes place in a world similar to our own, but key differences make it unique from our reality. Protagonist Ellie (short for Elatsoe) lives in a world molded by legends and magic. Creatures of myth inhabit the world, many drawn from Ellie’s (and Darcie Little Badger’s) Lipan Apache heritage.

Ellie can summon and communicate with the spirits of dead animals. One such spirit, Kirby, was her formerly-living canine companion. His ghostly form accompanies Ellie throughout the story, the only differences between him and other dogs being that, 1) he’s a ghost, and 2) only Ellie can see or talk to him.

Ellie’s powers establish the basis of the novel’s reality, binding it within a set of intriguing rules. It’s not a hard magic system, per se, but a few guidelines govern the mystical goings-on of Elatsoe. Human ghosts, for example, are incredibly dangerous to interact with, and Ellie is advised not to raise them. Anger drives the spirits of dead humans—raise one, and the corrupted, vengeful ghost will put many in harm’s way. This ends up driving the book’s storyline, and I’ll get to that shortly.

Other creatures appear in Elatsoe, including vampires and shapeshifters. They’re still the stuff of legends, but they exist firmly in the present day, too. Ellie hears tales of her equally magical namesake—her maternal sixth-great-grandmother (or “Six-Great”)—and Six-Great’s interactions with beasts and legends steeped in lore.

All this is to say Elatsoe brims with Lipan Apache lore, bringing a vibrant history into the present day. Ellie and her family don’t fear the legends that walk their earth. Instead, they respect and understand these walking myths, keeping their distance and appreciating their boundaries where necessary.

Elatsoe grounds its reality in the present-day U.S., then steeps the world in indigenous legends and lore. The result achieves an aura of wonder and mystery of a kind I haven’t seen brought to screens in some time. So often, creatures of myth are relegated to the monster role, misunderstood, or revamped from their origins to appear ever grittier and more monstrous. Elatsoe avoids such tropes, instead showcasing a reality in which humans and legendary beings exist in a tenuous harmony held firm by mutual respect. It’s a world that would make for impressive visual effects and storytelling success if brought to TV or film by the right creative minds. We have myriad stories that unravel myths into their most basic, primal forms. Elatsoe could be the perfect outlet for a different type of movie or series, one that brings legends to life in new ways.

 

Genre-Busting Murder Mystery

Elatsoe highlights Ellie’s sixth-great-grandmother in flashback segments, but the present-day story is just as good. It’s a riveting murder mystery blending elements of multiple genres—primarily, fantasy and thriller.

When Ellie’s cousin Trevor dies in Willowbee, Texas, it’s initially reported as a car crash. Trevor’s ghost appears in Ellie’s dreams and explains he was murdered. Trevor even knows the culprit’s name. Ellie and her family travel to Willowbee, where she investigates Trevor’s death. Their appearance in the mysterious town sets a series of events in motion, yielding shocking discoveries about the mystical nature of Willowbee and its residents.

Fantasy and paranormal mystery, as genres, are hardly strangers to one another. They cross paths regularly, often creating unique and fascinating stories. I love when two genres meet to produce a story that feels inspired by multiple genres while circumventing established rules and conventions and treading new ground.

Though far from the first book to meld multiple genres, Elatsoe is one of the better attempts I’ve read in recent memory. Darcie Little Badger creates a world that feels real and magical all at once—a chessboard populated by legends made real and humans living out their lives among them. Then she drops a murder mystery onto the playing field, and the pieces shift. All the aspects of the story start to interact in new ways, especially as Ellie uncovers new leads and details about Trevor’s murder. If fantasy is the vehicle we’re riding in, mystery is the engine powering it.

It works well in the book, and it’d work well on screens. Recent hits like Severance or Squid Game move briskly forward as viewers follow the characters through labyrinthine mysteries. There’s never been a better moment for riveting, cliffhanging, just-one-more-episode-style content.

My “this should really be a limited series” suggestions may seem like the default by now, but Elatsoe fits the bill just as well as the other books I’ve coveread in this column. The book is filled with progressively more interesting reveals and mysteries. As one question receives an answer, more pop up, and Ellie pursues the new answers she needs with renewed resolve. I long to see the book’s captivating twists and turns on the small screen, but I’d be happy to take a movie, too!

 

Willowbee Or Not To Be

The fictional town of Willowbee functions as Elatsoe’s primary setting. Early on, it’s clear the town has no patience for prying eyes. Ellie picks up on this immediately, realizing her investigation into Trevor’s death may require careful plotting and stealth.

Little Badger gives Willowbee the feel of a character unto itself in Elatsoe, to the point where the town feels like an unrelenting, ominous presence. Seemingly normal street corners might be populated by suspicious townsfolk staring daggers at Ellie and her companions. Residents meet Ellie’s questions with shifty glances, misdirects, or outright ire.

Willowbee is the ultimate “something feels off” locale. It’s essential wrongness is one of the main reasons Ellie is increasingly convinced that something exceedingly abnormal led to her cousin’s death. The town seems somehow to warp and twist itself in response to her investigation, its denizens conspiring to throw her off the scent. A fish out of water, Ellie faces challenges set forth by the town’s collective consciousness, the sum of multiple parts. She is the outsider interfering with their routine, which she discovers is much more nefarious than anyone will let on.

Darcie Little Badger brings Willowbee to glorious, descriptive life in Elatsoe, a feat which makes me yearn to see this too-good-to-be-true town in all its visual glory. The right director and creative team could build jaw-dropping sets to replicate the feel of a small town harboring a dark secret. Some settings beg to be given the cinematic treatment, and Willowbee is one of them.

 

Outlook: Moderate

Elatsoe deserves every bit of praise it receives. The book features a compelling protagonist, a well-realized world, and a riveting narrative that makes it hard to put down. Its unique approach to fantasy and mystery makes it a shoo-in for an adaptation on a conceptual level, mirroring the edge-of-your-seat thrillers and season-long arcs pervading streaming services nowadays.

I want to be optimistic about an Elatsoe adaptation. I think it’s possible because of the story’s obvious potential, and furthermore because it offers an excellent opportunity to build a show around marginalized and underrepresented communities—both in terms of Indigenous culture and Ellie’s asexuality. Elatsoe is a chance to brings new ideas and new faces to the table, offering a fantasy that embraces fresh voices and story ideas. Darcie Little Badger’s murder mystery would suit either the limited series or movie format well, overflowing as it is with twists and striking reveals.

On the other hand, there’s no buzz or hard evidence pointing to an adaptation…yet. I remain hopeful because Darcie Little Badger’s Elatsoe debut and her unrelated follow-up A Snake Falls To Earth received much critical acclaim. Now, we can only hope Hollywood’s movers and shakers take notice and tap the well of potential these stories represent.

Here’s to hoping Elatsoe makes it to screens sooner rather than later. Until then, I highly recommend picking up the book and relishing Darcie Little Badger’s exquisite tale.

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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