Adapt This: Tamora Pierce's amazing 'Alanna' series

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There’s nothing new under the sun — but somehow, these awesome properties have never been adapted for screens big or small. Psst, Hollywood: Let’s change that.

Once upon a time, the idea of studios making big-budget, mainstream fantasy movies — let alone TV series — seemed as unlikely as actually finding a hidden portal to Narnia.

Thankfully, the smashing success of both the Harry Potter films and the Lord of the Rings series changed all that in the early ’00s. Soon enough, the entertainment landscape was crowded with expensive, magically-laced epics, most of which were based on beloved fantasy book series. And though some (Game of Thrones) have been markedly more successful than others (The Golden Compass; The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising; too many more to list), the trend shows no signs of slowing down. This is especially true on TV, where fantasy has never been hotter; this fall’s schedule includes new series like Sleepy Hollow, Dracula, and Once Upon a Time in Wonderland alongside old favorites like Grimm.

For anyone who grew up devouring books about swords and spells, this looks like an embarrassment of riches. Yet I can’t help thinking that there’s still one resource screenwriters would be crazy to keep untapped: the young adult fantasy novels of Tamora Pierce, specifically her Song of the Lioness series.

For the uninitiated: The Song of the Lioness, first published between 1983 and 1988, tells the tale of Alanna of Trebond, a young noble who yearns to escape a stifling life of curtsies and courtesies. (She’s basically the proto-Arya Stark.) At the age of 11, Alanna switches places with her twin brother — he goes to a convent to learn to be a sorcerer, while she goes to the royal palace to be trained as a knight.

Over the course of the series’ four books, Alanna works toward her goal while overcoming obstacles both fantastic (a power-hungry sorcerer duke) and mundane (her first period). And though there’s certainly magic in this universe, the series is also surprisingly grounded; Alanna’s growing emotional maturity is given as much weight as her developing strength and healing powers. (Yes, our heroine has also been granted the gift of magic.)

Basically, Song of the Lioness has everything a successful fantasy adaptation could want — strong characters, a fully-realized world complete with its own mythology and geography, enough intricate plotting for multiple movies or seasons, awesome battle scenes, truly menacing villains, a decent amount of sex (once Alanna gets older, of course). And though the series was published long before Twilight or The Hunger Games, it even includes a love triangle worthy of today’s YA blockbusters — Alanna is torn between charming George, the capital city’s chief thief, and Jonathan, the kingdom’s self-assured crown prince. (I was always Team George.)

The Alanna books also have a trump card most fantasy properties lack: a strong, multidimensional female lead who’s every bit as complex and compelling as the men surrounding her, perhaps even more so. Even though plenty of women consume fantasy, the genre still tends to be fairly dude-centric. It’d be wonderful to see a big costume epic that centered on a woman for a change — and one who doesn’t happen to be a princess.

Despite all this, Pierce still seems doubtful that her work could ever make it to the big screen.”So far two companies have bought the option… to the Alanna books, but they haven’t taken the next step to making a movie from them,” she writes on her website’s official FAQ. “For one reason or another, they decided it wasn’t profitable to spend more money in developing a movie project.” She doesn’t even mention the possibility of a TV series, which may be a better way to fully follow Alanna’s various adventures.

Here’s the thing, though: Pierce’s answer to this particular question was clearly written years and years ago. “My books operate under a double whammy: they are costume movies set in a historical period (translation: much $$ for costumes, the transportation of cast and crew to a location which looks historical, and the purchase of a license to film there), and they involve a great many special effects (translation: much $$ for computer, marionette, and makeup effects,” she continues. “It may be that the success that’s expected for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and The Lord of the Rings may change studios’ minds about how profitable fantasy can be, but we won’t know that for a while, yet.”

Hey Tamora: Turns out that the answer is “very, very profitable.” Go back to those studios; they’re going to want to snatch these books up before someone else does.

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