Prosper’s Demon Would Make a Vivid, Hard-Hitting Film Adaptation

We’ve come a long way since I started my “Please Adapt” column! In previous installments, I’ve covered epic fantasy series, indie hits, and novel additions to beloved canon.

Today, I turn to a small book with a big wallop: K.J. Parker’s Prosper’s Demon. The book clocks in at just over 100 pages, but don’t let its length fool you: Prosper’s Demon packs a lot of story into its compact form, and contains plenty of big ideas. And that’s why it’s a great fit for adaptation: Prosper’s Demon would make an excellent movie. One and done, please, none of this “limited series” mumbo jumbo I’ve been asking for in previous columns. Let’s keep this one simple.


The Story So Far

Frankly, there’s not much to report in terms of news. Prosper’s Demon earned plenty of praise in review circles, including from my pal at The Quill To Live. The novella’s Goodreads score averages 3.73. But these measures can be far from the full story when analyzing a book’s potential for adaptation.

K.J. Parker is a pen name for British author Tom Holt, and the man is hard to find. I couldn’t drum up any evidence of a Twitter account or website in my research for this piece. Everything mentioning the guy is a review of one of his books or a third-party website managed by others. A rudimentary search for announcements or even rumors of a Prosper’s Demon adaptations yields nothing of merit. It looks like we’re high and dry on this one, folks—at least for the moment.

You know full well that isn’t gonna stop me, though! Here’s what makes Prosper’s Demon a perfect fit for adaptation.


Compact, With Impact

Note: This section contains plot spoilers for Prosper’s Demon.

Prosper’s Demon heaps a lot of narrative into its pages. Parker does an excellent job of keeping the story on the rails, focusing intently on one particular arc and a small crew of characters.

Chief among the cast is the nameless exorcist, who serves as the story’s “protagonist” with the biggest possible air quotes imaginable. The exorcist opens the novella by openly admitting the reader probably won’t like him. He hurts people. He does it to help them, of course. But he’s a lesser evil in a world of greater evils. To remove a demon from someone’s psyche, he has to inflict great pain on the demon (they’re immortal, so they can’t be killed and only respond to pain). Meanwhile, he risks gravely injuring or outright killing the possessed during the process. He comes in, does his job, and skips town, usually hated by the people he serves.

Then, the exorcist meets Prosper of Schanz, a cultural magnate, artist, scientist, and medieval influencer. Prosper is responsible for various improvements to society, and is comparable to, say, Leonardo Da Vinci. You might see where this is going: Prosper is possessed, and the demon inhabiting his psyche is responsible for most of Prosper’s cultural contributions. The demon plans to raise and tutor the newborn prince on his road to becoming king.

The exorcist must decide what to do. Exorcise Prosper and risk losing the considerable benefits he brings to the fictional land of the story (which is similar to Renaissance Italy)? Or let the demon do its work and hope the contributions it makes via Prosper balance out on the side of the greater good?

This dilemma sits at the heart of Prosper’s Demon. The book juggles good and evil with reckless abandon, and Parker explores these themes alarmingly well in such a brief page count. It’s a prime candidate for adaptation because it accomplishes so much with such efficient, tightly plotted brevity. Too often, movies leave crucial details on the cutting room floor. Shortcuts make for disappointing story choices. Considering a typical feature-length screenplay is 90-120 pages, a movie could capture all the wonders of Prosper’s Demon without sacrificing the elements that makes the original so compelling.


Despicable People & Acts Abound

The exorcist is not a nice dude. He says it from the get-go. He implies that he hates himself, so your hatred of him won’t perturb him much. He proceeds to do terrible things to demons and the humans they possess. The horror within this novella is visceral and gory in its descriptions of the exorcist’s practices.

He inflicts pain on demons because it’s the only way to get them to do what he wants—namely, to get them out of the human brains they inhabit. The unfortunate side effect—great human suffering—comes with the job, sadly.

I’m not a big horror/thriller guy, but one potential comparison is Netflix’s The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf. A Prosper’s Demon movie could play with the gore in a similar way to that anime. Now that I think of it (we’re processing this live as I write this, folks!), animation could be an ideal outlet for a Prosper’s Demon flick. I wouldn’t be upset with a live-action go at it, but the unique nature of the book’s focal points—the exorcisms and light-fantasy version of Renaissance Italy—lend themselves well to the format.

Pop culture brims with stories about reprehensible people and antiheroes these days. Stories of straight-up good vs. evil are fewer, and we live in the ever-expanding grey area now. People like complicated, multi-faceted characters who have to do shitty things to achieve their goals. Look at House of the Dragon, The Witcher, or The Sandman for some semi-recent examples. The less cut-and-dried a story is, the more it can play with character and themes and escape the trap of “amazing, ineffable good vs. complete and utter evil.” Prosper’s Demon could be the next to capitalize on that trend.


Modern-Day Relevance

Last month I wrote a piece about fantasy mirrors, and it went a little off the rails, descending into ruminations on how magical objects might stand in for social media networks in fantasy. Prosper’s Demon occupies a similar space of unique modern relevance.

It’s easy to read Prosper as a stand-in for influencers. Prosper is able to steer public opinion, shift collective thinking, and guide the masses with a new discovery or work of art. The demon possessing Prosper, in my reading, operates in a similar way to a social media network: a parasite megaphoning Prosper’s ideas into the aether without regard for their long-term effects.

I fully acknowledge that this reading may not jive with everyone’s interpretation of Prosper’s Demon, and that’s obviously okay! My point is that a director and production team could find some truly fascinating thematic fodder and angles to explore in a Prosper’s Demon adaptation, whether that’s a take on influencer commentary or something else entirely.


Current Outlook: Doubtful

Prosper’s Demon is fairly well known in fantasy circles, but it doesn’t have quite the reach, in terms of popular awareness, of its epic or cozy fantasy brethren. Without a built-in mainstream audience, an adaptation is a big stretch. Pair that with the lack of any evidence whatsoever that Prosper’s Demon is currently on Hollywood’s radar, and there’s not much hope on the horizon for an adaptation in the near future.

The good news? The book is phenomenal and perennially recommendable! Many of my non-reader friends have enjoyed it because it’s short, fun, and focused. If you haven’t picked it up yet, consider this your reminder to add it to your TBR list! And if you have read it, let us know what you’d like to see in terms of an adaptation and possible casting…

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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