Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

This entry is primarily about movie novelizations: works of fiction based on screenplays or scenarios for cinematic feature movies or movie serials, and published in book form. There are other types of novelization, inspired by songs, stage plays, radio or tv scripts, Comics, Games and so on; movie novelizations, as defined above, are therefore just one major subtype of a general phenomenon.

Movie novelizations were preceded by stage novelizations, examples of which may be found from early in the 19th century; those with fantasy themes range from the anonymous The Bride of the Isles: A Tale Founded on the Popular Legend of the Vampire by Lord Byron * (1820 chap), taken from James Robinson Planché's loose dramatization of John Polidori's The Vampyre: A Tale (1819 chap), to Peter and Wendy (1911) by J M Barrie, based on his own highly successful play.

The first movie novelizations arose partly as a result of US newspaper and magazine circulation wars, and they arrived in tandem with a new type of movie – the serial. The earliest US serial was the Edison company's What Happened to Mary (1912), an episodic melodrama which also ran in prose form in the Ladies' World magazine; the book version was by Robert Carlton Brown: What Happened to Mary * (1913). In 1913 popular writer Harold MacGrath was involved in the creation of a scenario for The Adventures of Kathlyn, the first serial to be produced by the Chicago-based Selig company. This was conceived in collaboration with the editor of the Chicago Tribune newspaper, the idea being that a version of the story would run in the paper simultaneously with the fortnightly release of episodes of the cinema serial. Like the earlier Edison project, it was a success, the paper's circulation was boosted, and MacGrath's novelization was subsequently published in book form: The Adventures of Kathlyn * (1914).

Within a decade, novelizations of more prestigious, big-budget feature movies were appearing. One of the first of fantasy note was The Thief of Bagdad * (1924), taken from The Thief of Bagdad (1924). There was no novel or magazine story entitled "The Thief of Bagdad" for the publishers to put on the market, so they decided to commission one. They turned to Achmed Abdullah, known for his "eastern exoticism", and asked him to write a full-length narrative based on the movie's script.

Others from the 1920s which may be classed as fantasy include: The Ten Commandments * (1924) by Henry MacMahon, from Cecil B de Mille's movie; Faust * (?1927) by Hayter Preston and Henry Savage, from F W Murnau's Faust: Eine Deutsche Volkssage (1926); and Noah's Ark * (1928) by Arline de Haas, a Biblical fantasy from the movie dir Michael Curtiz. Such books were common by the mid-1920s, and it is interesting to note that the earliest novelizers were writers of some repute: MacGrath (as above), Arthur B Reeve (1880-1936), E Phillips Oppenheim (1866-1946), Louis Joseph Vance (1879-1933), Albert Payson Terhune (1872-1942), William Le Queux (1864-1927), Elinor Glyn (1864-1943) and Abdullah were all successful authors of their time – they had "name value". This situation changed by the later 1920s, as novelizations appeared in ever greater numbers from cheap hardcover publishers like Grosset & Dunlap in the USA and the Readers' Library in the UK. Professional novelizers arrived, low-profile hacks who had honed their skills in the movie fanzines. Among these writers were some who later did gain fame for work other than novelizations – for example Val Lewton (1904-1951), who was to become a notable "creative producer" of horror/fantasy movies in the Hollywood of the 1940s.

Fantasy novelizations of the 1930s and 1940s included King Kong * (1932) by Delos W Lovelace (1894-1967) (> King Kong Movies), The Bride of Frankenstein * (1936) by Michael Egremont (Michael Harrison) (> Frankenstein Movies), the quasi-novelization Man who Could Work Miracles * (1936) by H G Wells, based on his own short story (> The Man Who Could Work Miracles [1936]), Dr Cyclops * (1940) by Will Garth (believed to be Alexander Samalman; > SFE), A Guy Named Joe * (1946) by James Cairns (> Always [1989]), A Matter of Life and Death * (1946) by Eric Warman (1904-1992) (> A Matter of Life and Death [1946]), The Chips Are Down * (1947; trans 1951) by Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) – an interesting Afterlife fantasy based on his own script for Les jeux sont faits (1947) dir Jean Delannoy – Miracle on 34th Street * (1947) by Valentine Davies (> Miracle on 34Th Street [1947]), Miranda * (1947) by Warwick Mannon (> Splash! [1984]), Vice Versa * (1947) by Warwick Mannon (> Vice Versa [1947]) – an example of a "re-novelization", being taken from the script of a movie based on F Anstey's original novel – and It Happens Every Spring * (1949) by Valentine Davies (1905-1961), based on his own script for It Happens Every Spring (1949) dir Lloyd Bacon.

There was a lull in the early 1950s, but similar books of the later 1950s and the 1960s included Darby O'Gill and the Little People * (1959) by Lawrence Edward Watkin (> Darby O'Gill and the Little People [1959]), the quasi-novelization Last Year at Marienbad * (1961; trans Richard Howard 1962) by Alain Robbe-Grillet (1922-    ), from his own script for L'année dernière à Marienbad (1961) dir Alain Resnais, The Thief of Baghdad * (1961) by Richard Wormser (1908-1977) (> The Thief of Bagdad), The Last Days of Sodom and Gomorrah * (1962) by Wormser, The Raven * (1963) by Eunice Sudak, based on the Roger Corman movie remotely inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, Goodbye Charlie * (1964) by Marvin H Albert, from George Axelrod's stage play via the movie Goodbye Charlie (1964), and Tarzan and the Valley of Gold * (1966) by Fritz Leiber, the only Tarzan sequel to be sanctioned officially by the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate (>>> Tarzan Movies). Most of these books were paperback originals which came and went with the initial release of the movie in question, rarely achieving reprints.

However, novelizations of hit movies, particularly those based on sf, fantasy and horror screenplays, were to become big business in the decade that followed. According to John Sutherland in Bestsellers: Popular Fiction of the 1970s (1981): "A notable development of the mid-1970s was the emergence from the tie-in business of the 'novelization' as a superselling form of novel in its own right, thus reversing traditional ideas of text originality. For the first time, film spin-offs like The Omen headed American lists." Indeed, David Seltzer's The Omen * (1976), based on his own horror script (> The Omen), has some claim to being, in Sutherland's words, "the bestselling novelization of all time. It had sold getting on for 5m. in the US, around 7m. worldwide by the late 1970s and made the #1 spot in America as a paperback. Since The Omen the previously despised novelization and its hack novelizer have acquired new dignity – at least in the eyes of the moneymen who run the film and publishing industries."

Other fantasy-movie novelizations of the 1970s included Brother John * (1971) by Leo P Kelley (1928-    ), Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger * (1976) by John Ryder Hall (real name William Rotsler; 1926-    ) (> Sinbad Movies), The Slipper and the Rose * (1976) by Bryan Forbes (1926-    ) (> Cinderella [1950]), Jabberwocky * (1977) by Ralph Hoover (> Jabberwocky [1977]), The Last Wave * (1977) by Petru Popescu (?1929-    ), Heaven Can Wait * (1978) by Leonore Fleischer (1932-    ) (> Heaven Can Wait [1978]), Arabian Adventure * (1979) by Keith Miles (1940-    ), and Circle of Iron * (1979) by Robert Weverka (1926-    ). The Sword-and-Sorcery movie fad of the early 1980s led to a glut of novelizations, among them Hawk the Slayer * (1980) by Terry Marcel and Harry Robertson, Clash of the Titans * (1981) by Alan Dean Foster (> Clash of the Titans [1981]), Dragonslayer * (1981) by Wayland Drew (> Dragonslayer [1981]), Time Bandits * (1981) by Charles Alverson (1935-    ) (> Time Bandits [1981]), Conan the Barbarian * (1982) by L Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter (> Conan Movies), The Dark Crystal * (1982) by A C H Smith (1935-    ) (> The Dark Crystal [1982]), The Sword and the Sorcerer * (1982) by Norman Winski (> The Sword and the Sorcerer [1982]), Krull * (1983) by Alan Dean Foster (> Krull [1983]), Conan the Destroyer * (1984) by Robert Jordan (> Conan Movies), Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight * (1984) by Stephen Weeks and Henry Whittington, and Ladyhawke * (1985) by Joan D Vinge (> Ladyhawke [1985]). A rare example of a proper novelization of an Animated Movie – although chapbooks for the very young proliferate – is An American Tail: The Illustrated Story * (1986 chap) by Emily Perl Kingsley (1940-    ) (> An American Tail [1986]).

Other subgenres of movie fantasy proved successful in novelized form, particularly the adventure-fantasies of Stephen SpielbergRaiders of the Lost Ark * (1981) by Campbell Black (1944-    ), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom * (1984) by James Kahn (1947-    ) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade * (1989) by Rob MacGregor (> Indiana Jones) – and a cycle of horror-comedies represented by such titles as Ghostbusters * (1984) by Larry Milne and Ghostbusters II * (1989) by Ed Naha (1950-    ) (> Ghostbusters) and Gremlins * (1984) by George Gipe (1933-1986) and Gremlins 2: The New Batch * (1990) by David F Bischoff (1951-    ) (> Gremlins [1984]). Gentler or more juvenile-oriented fantasy comedies also reached novelized form: Splash! * (1984) by Ian Don (> Splash! [1984]), The Goonies * (1985) by James Kahn (> The Goonies [1985]), One Magic Christmas * (1985) by Martin Noble (1947-    ), Return to Oz * (1985) by Joan D Vinge (> The Wizard of Oz), Santa Claus: The Movie * (1985) by Vinge (> Santa Claus), Young Sherlock Holmes * (1985) by Alan Arnold (> Sherlock Holmes), Labyrinth * (1986) by A C H Smith (> Labyrinth [1986]), Harry and the Hendersons * (1987; vt Bigfoot and the Hendersons 1987 UK) by Joyce Thompson (1948-    ), Big! * (1988) by B B and Neil W Hiller (> Big [1988]), Biggles: The Movie * (1986) by Larry Milne (> Biggles [1986]) and Willow * (1988) by Wayland Drew (> Willow [1988]), etc.

Since the late 1980s, fantasy-movie novelizations have been as numerous as ever, notable examples including The Adventures of Baron Munchausen * (1989) by Charles McKeown and Terry Gilliam (> The Adventures of Baron Munchausen [1989]), Batman * (1989) by Craig Shaw Gardner (> Batman Movies), Dick Tracy * (1990) by Max Allan Collins (1948-    ) (> Dick Tracy [1990]), Flatliners * (1990) by Leonore Fleischer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles * (1990) by Dave Morris (> Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), The Addams Family * (1991) by Elizabeth Faucher (> Addams Family Movies), Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey * (1991) by Robert Tine (> Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey [1991]), The Fisher King * (1991) by Leonore Fleischer (> The Fisher King [1991]), Hook * (1991) by Terry Brooks (> Hook [1991]), Buffy the Vampire Slayer * (1992) by Richie Tankersley Cusick (1952-    ) (> Buffy the Vampire Slayer [1992]), Last Action Hero * (1993) by Robert Tine (> Last Action Hero [1993]), The Mask * (1994) by Steve Perry (1947-    ) (> The Mask [1994]), The Pagemaster * (1994) by Todd Strasser (1950-    ) (> The Pagemaster [1994]) and The Shadow * (1994) by James Luceno. At the same time, tv novelizations and spinoffs have proliferated, taking their cues from such series as Beauty and the Beast (1987-1990), Quantum Leap (1989-1994), Twin Peaks (1989-1991), The Adventures of Batman and Robin (1992-1994), The X-Files (1993-current) and The Highlander (1992-current), among many others. Clearly, fantasy and horror novelizations are here to stay; even if despised by critics, the novelization is a form which cannot be ignored. [DP]


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.