Analyzing storytelling means asking questions, primarily, “Why would they do that?”

Let me tell you, when writing about film adaptations of books, that same question can become different questions depending on which word you emphasize. Most choices that induce this question involve cutting a beloved event or character, leaving audience members feeling as if they lost a part of themselves, not simply some text on a page.

Still, several adaptations of books have added characters to their stories that have actually improved the audience experience. The best of these usually involve tweaking the audience’s perspective and perceptions, allowing for a new examination of character, or solidifying a suggested dimension to a story. Here are a few of my favorites, in no particular order.

Mrs. Pevensie (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe)

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One of the more compelling elements to the 2005 film adaptation of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe was the increased context to the Pevensies’ trip through the Wardrobe. Their mother serves as a reminder of the war zone the Pevensie siblings just escaped, and of their broken family relationship, two themes that provided more emotional weight to the children’s journey. They have a reason to go home now.

Dr. Craven (The Secret Garden Musical)

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Robert Westenberg and Mandy Patinkin as Dr. Craven and Archibald Craven in the original 1991 Broadway production

Critics seem to have passed over this hidden Broadway gem. Although it doesn’t boast a show-stopping chorus tune, the show gracefully adapts the source material to focus more on adult themes of loss, the past, and human interaction. Haunting melodies with insightful lyrics examine the ghosts of Misselthwaite Manor and its current inhabitants.

I’m not biased. We performed it at my high school and I’ve got a t-shirt, but I’m not biased.

In Frances Hodgson Burnett’s book, a Dr. Craven is mentioned by Colin as next-in-line to the estate, but does not make an appearance and is not Colin’s primary physician. In the show he acts as counterpoint to Archibald Craven, Mary Lennox’s uncle and guardian after her parents die in a cholera epidemic. Dr. Craven indirectly informs the audience what happened in young Archibald Craven’s life to make him act in the reclusive and sometimes abrasive manner her does now. The story needs a character like this, as Mary is too young to fully understand her guardian (and therefore help the audience understand). Dr. Craven also helps add a bit more tension and urgency to the story, as his misguided attempts to help his brother and nephew could cause preventable and permanent damage. He also gets the best songs. Seriously, none of the show’s weaker points (which don’t exist, because I’m not biased) take place when Dr. Craven is onstage.

Molly Hooper (Sherlock)

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Molly Hooper of St. Bart’s Hospital gives us something a Victorian Holmes whodunnit didn’t need but an Information Age Sherlock character piece would: someone who has a crush on Sherlock. Molly is essential to understanding how Sherlock interacts with people outside Baker Street and how his character evolves throughout four seasons.

BONUS! Jacqueline (A Series of Unfortunate Events)

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I’m convinced Jacqueline will, in fact, turn out to be someone from the books, but for now she’s involved in four stories in which she was formerly absent. And she works. The show clearly intends to thread the series’ greater mystery into earlier installments, so although we lose the sense of despair and isolation that marked the first four books, we also might actually understand what the heck is going on in the last quarter of the series. Or maybe that’s too much to hope for, given some of Snicket’s favorite themes. Still, we can’t wait to see where the series takes this.


Media: BBC, Netflix, Playbill, Walden Media