With more networks and streaming services getting into original programming everyday, the demand for televised content is greater than ever. In Adapt This! we spotlight a piece of previously unadapted material we’d love to see become a TV series and even suggest a potential network and creative team.
The Sword of the Spirits
Source Material: A trilogy of young adult novels written by John Christopher and published between 1970-1972: The Prince in Waiting, Beyond the Burning Lands, and The Sword of the Spirits.
Thumbnail Synopsis: Following an environmental catastrophe, England has reverted to a technology-free medieval realm of city-kingdoms that exist amidst the ruins of the modern world. Within the fortified walls of Winchester, young Luke watches his father ascend to the throne — a career advancement that brings a devastating wave of palace intrigue crashing down on his entire family. Over the course of the next two books, Luke attempts to navigate this tricky, treacherous terrain forging new alliances, dealing with unexpected betrayals, and uncovering fresh secrets about the pre-apocalyptic world.
Why It Would Make Great TV: In what universe does a post-apocalyptic Game of Thrones not sound completely awesome? Written two decades before George R.R. Martin started chronicling the misadventures of Westeros’s competing Houses, the Sword in the Spirits series combines the behind-the-thrones scheming that makes GoT such a blast with the tattered futurism of The Hunger Games. Christopher’s descriptions of empty “high roads” (i.e. “highways”) and crumbled skyscrapers conjure up vivid images of a ruined world that would make for a fascinating setting for an ongoing series. The world-building and plotting throughout the first book also provides a terrific 10-episode blueprint for any adaptation, whether it’s the introduction of the “Seers,” the ruling religious class of this society (who turn out to have more secular origins), or a climactic twist where a key character literally loses their head a la Ned Stark.
Book 2 expands Luke’s world outwards by sending him through “Burning Lands,” a region of England that’s perpetually smoldering thanks to the world-ending ecological disaster. There, he aligns himself with another king and, more importantly, that king’s daughter — a relationship that plays a pivotal role in the final installment, which ventures to some surprisingly dark, tragic places. Like Christopher’s better known book series, the Tripod quartet (previously adapted for British television in the ‘80s, but entirely deserving of a reboot as well), The Sword in the Spirits is centered around an intensely flawed hero, with Luke’s jealousy and insecurity (which he refers to as his “demon”) bringing him strength but also affecting his decision-making in dangerous ways. He’s not quite Joffrey, but he’s also far from the virtuous Ned Stark. In some ways, he’s more of a young Tony Soprano: a too-prideful prince who sows the seeds of his own fall.
Creative Dream Team: One of the many great things about Rian Johnson’s 2012 time travel saga Looper was the way the writer/director devised a future that resembled a version present fallen into disrepair and dilapidation. That’s the kind of dystopia necessary for The Sword in the Spirits — not a bombed-out wasteland, but a ragged, yet recognizable realm. Johnson might also be able to tempt Looper co-star, Bruce Willis (who did some of his finest work in years in that movie), into making the transition back to television for the first time since his Moonlighting days as Luke’s princely father, a juicy role that could revive the actor’s flagging career. As for Luke himself, Johnson regular Joseph Gordon-Levitt, has long since aged out of the “teen prince” bracket, but Kodi Smit-McPhee is a talented rising star who could grow and age with the character in compelling ways.
Ideal Network: Starz scored its first major hit by adapting Diana Gabaldon’s fantasy-laced Outlander book series. The Sword in the Spirits could be their gateway into Game of Thrones territory.
The Sword of the Spirits trilogy is available for purchase on Amazon.