Guest Post by Katherine Buzan
After the release of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones in 2013, I felt slightly worried when I saw they decided to produce another adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s book series, The Mortal Instruments. When I saw the trailer for The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones I was a little skeptical, but I was excited to give it the benefit of the doubt and see it. This movie stuck to the plot fairly well, but I finished the movie disappointed. I wanted more — it was not what I expected from a portrayal of the world of Shadowhunters. I can’t put my finger quite on what I had a problem with, other than to say that it was not at all what I pictured as I read the books. I apparently was not the only one to find it lacking because the movie failed to make a profit, and the studio, Constantin Films, decided to not make another film about the book series. With this disappointment in mind, I did not know what to expect when I realized the same studio that produced the movie was producing the TV show. Again, I decided to give an adaptation a chance.
As most readers know, what we read on the page often does not translate to the screen. We expect the directors to make changes, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it. For book readers, it is more a matter of what changes we can deal with before we are ready to ignore the existence of an adaptation of our favorite books. These reasons and many more had me a bit wary as I began to watch Shadowhunters. While some of my concerns have been abated after watching the first three episodes of this show on Freeform (for those of you who don’t know, Freeform is the new name of ABC Family), I still have a few questions about the direction this TV series will follow.
Unlike The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, which is based on only the first book of the series of the same name, Shadowhunters appears to be based off the series as a whole. Shadowhunters follows sixteen-year-old Clary Fray (Katherine McNamara) as she discovers that she is not quite who she thought she was. Clary discovers that she has been hidden from the truth her whole life — she is a Shadowhunter. Shadowhunters are individuals who are part angel. Their job is to protect unsuspecting humans from things, like demons, “that go bump in the night.” She realizes her life is about to change when she meets Shadowhunter Jace Wayland (Dominic Sherwood). He introduces her to the world of Shadowhunters and helps her save her mother from Valentine, a Shadowhunter with some questionable plans. Clary quickly learns more about herself and the world her mother left behind as she struggles to find the mythical Mortal Cup, an object that everyone seems to be willing to do anything to get their hands on.
Sometimes the biggest issue readers will have when their favorite series is made into a film or series is changes to the plot, but I have learned that this is not always true. The biggest liberty Constantin Films took was to mess with the timeline of the plot. They kept the important encounters and events from the book, but it’s almost like they took the plot and tossed it in the blender and determined the order from that. The story ends up being cohesive and it works in their timeline, but something in me whines about it not being correct. Most people who saw the series would realize that Clary didn’t find out that her mom was hiding something from her until after she had been kidnapped. They also wouldn’t know that Clary’s friend Simon was supposed to have been kidnapped at a party thrown by Magnus Bane. They wouldn’t know this because Clary and the other Shadowhunters have yet to meet Magnus in person rather than through flashbacks and portions of memories long forgotten. In addition to switching things around, the producers added details and scenes. They changed family friend and former Shadowhunter Luke Garroway’s occupation from shop owner to police officer. This change seems to make little sense other than to put Luke more in the middle of the action. Another difference is the addition of a scene in which Jocelyn (Clary’s mother) begins to tell Clary the truth before Clary runs off for the night. This is a new fabrication on the part of the producers. The book’s Jocelyn, more or less, kept putting off telling Clary, to the point that the choice was taken from her. In both the book and the TV series, it is Jace that figures out who and what Clary is. But Clary’s mother, Jocelyn, is the first one to hint at that part of Clary’s life. Jace is the one that is her first introduction to that world.
Despite my issues with the changes, I find myself still enjoying the series so far. Shadowhunters seems to be on the path to do what the movie couldn’t, to tell a story that sticks, at least, to the essence of the original story, if not to the letter. It seems as though my negative gut reaction to the movie has allowed me to forgive transgressions that otherwise might have bothered me as a fan of the book series.
Cassandra Clare, the author of the books, has made it very clear she has nothing to do with this TV series. On her website she says, “I have nothing to do with the decision to make a television show instead of more movies. I have nothing to do with any casting or recasting decisions. I have less control over this than I have over the orbit of Jupiter.” I wonder how she feels about the twisting of her plot, and how she might have done things differently. She says, at least, that she likes the cast, but I wonder. I also wonder if Shadowhunters will stay true to her vision of this world, even though it has mixed around events.
I am curious to see how the story will enfold. Will they mix the rest of the books in? When will Clary confront the man she now knows is her father? I have so many questions. Despite knowing the basic plot from reading the books, I feel slightly lost and confused. The only thing to do now is watch and see.
You can catch up on previous episodes on Freeform’s website. New Shadowhunters episodes air Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. on Freeform.