introducing readers to writers since 1995

December 16, 2004

Unless She's Given the Option Money to Charity,
I've Already Lost Interest

by Ron Hogan

Ursula K. LeGuin hates the Sci Fi Channel for making a miniseries from her Earthsea books that is "full of scenes from the story, arranged differently, in an entirely different plot, so that they make no sense." Yes, it's the familiar lament of the film-optioned author. "My contract gave me the standard status of 'consultant,'" she writes, "which means whatever the producers want it to mean, almost always little or nothing. My agency could not improve this clause." Maybe instead of being mad at the producers for substantially diverging from the story, and the ethnic makeup, of the books, LeGuin should be asking herself why her agents couldn't get her a better deal.

I'm struck by the comparison between her defensive carping and every story I've seen in the past few months about Daniel Handler, including earlier this week. Handler seems to have a much more realistic sense of what he was getting himself into when he signed a film deal, and what he's gotten out of it.


1. Defensive carping? They ran a bait-and-switch on her, then raped her work. How many Hollywood agents have you gotten the better of in your career? People like that eat artists for breakfast, and spit out dry bones.
2. Lemony Snicket and Ursula K. LeGuin are equal in your mind? Wow, you must have really weird tastes.
3. I realize you're just going for cheap laughs, but making fun of someone because she was robbed and beaten by con men shows a lack of empathy.

Posted by: Emphyrio at December 17, 2004 08:16 AM

It is sort of astonishing that anyone (let alone someone as careful and well-informed as UKL) who has been a professional writer for about 50 years would be so naive. When I heard about this, I assumed that the movie rights must have been sold back in the early 70's, when the books were first successful and when most writers were a little more naive. The surprise of finding out that the sale happened "a few years ago," and that her solution to the problem seems to have been basically to decide to trust the filmmakers, is a surprise, although the surprise is lessened a little (but only a little) when you think about how large a role trust plays in a lot of her writing.

Posted by: jonofiddle at December 17, 2004 09:06 AM

Wow. The surprise of the surprise is a surprise. I obviously need a little more coffee. Sorry, folks.

Posted by: jonofiddle at December 17, 2004 09:08 AM

I can understand LeGuin's disappointment over the way her novels were adapted for the small screen, though she seems surprisingly naive for someone who has so much experience negotiating the sale of intellectual property. I guess John le Carré described the author's dilemma best when he said, "Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes."

Posted by: Monketah at December 17, 2004 09:12 AM

To answer emphyrio's points in order;

1) I've gotten the better of the one Hollywood agent I've dealt with, but it wasn't concerning any of my books.

2) I didn't say LeGuin and Snicket were equal, but since you asked, I don't think they are. Lemony Snicket is better.

3) Robbed, beaten, and raped are odd--in fact, thoroughly inappropriate--words to describe getting paid. LeGuin was well compensated for her self-described troubles, was she not? I'm guessing the producers didn't get her film rights "cheap," as you put it. It's convenient and fun to scorn Hollywood producers, but I'd suggest that a rather lower order of life is the author who cries all the way to the bank.

Posted by: editor at December 17, 2004 09:39 AM
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