THE UNADAPTED: The Books of Magic

Posted: May 11, 2019 in The Unadapted
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We’ve all seen this story before, right? A young British kid finds out he’s destined to be a great sorcerer and gets tutored in the magical arts in order for him to reach his potential and navigate the dangerous new world he’s been plunged into. The Harry Potter mega-franchise is the most obvious example of this story but its certainly not the first and far from the best. While Neil Gaiman’s Books of Magic is also by no means the first to tackle this age-old trope, it did come out a few years before The Boy Who Lived set foot in Hogwarts. The jury’s still out on if it’s the best pass at a boy-wizard facing his destiny, but it’s at least in the running.

The story, tried-and-true, follows young Tim Hunter as he is awakened into the world of magic and taught the rules by various magic-users. The initial, four-part miniseries gave way to an ongoing monthly comic and multiple spin-offs that followed Tim Hunter’s development throughout the years. While those continuations were typically great, for adaptation’s sake, the initial miniseries is the most logical spot to draw from.

Tim is walked through the various worlds of magic by four guides. Doctor Occult, Mister E, The Phantom Stranger, and John Constantine. Due to their choice in similar outerwear, Constantine derisively dubs them The Trenchcoat Brigade. Each member takes Hunter through realms that they individually grasp the best and provide guidance on the many wonders and dangers hidden within them. Along the way, they run into plenty of familiar faces and locations from the mystical side of the DC Universe.

specA few years ago I would’ve said that this story should be left well enough alone in expanded media. I think the box office had reached its quota of children-turned-magicians and Marvel had been dominating successful comic adaptations. However, recently DC has carved out a popular niche in television on the CW and their DC Universe streaming app. Both of those have dabbled in lesser-known properties with largely successful results. For that matter, DC’s film slate has really only found success with second-tier and unadapted characters as of late. As such, Books of Magic could probably fit neatly into either.

Personally, I’d love to see it as a miniseries on one of their television homes. If it was a four episode series (each focusing on one aspect of Tim’s journey), it could retain the focus of the initial comic and use a television budget more effectively. The only change I’d suggest making would be to put more emphasis on the Cult of the Cold Flame, an antagonistic organization trying to murder young Tim. Their presence is felt in the story but if they were used to a greater extent then it would give a more visceral and immediate threat for the heroes to face. They could also be used as a means to bypass some of the monologing that works great in the book but would be tough to sell in film and television.

While an adaptation of this story continues to be exceedingly unlikely, there’s probably never been a better time for it. Swamp Thing is set to premiere soon on DCU and Legends of Tomorrow (featuring Matt Ryan as John Constantine) is wrapping up its fourth season. Both shows share elements and characters with Books of Magic and cross-promotional synergy has never been a bad thing (especially in the world of comics). Plus, Ryan has played the role of Constantine in some form since 2014. It would be great to see him grow and expand the role into that of mentor. Again, this seems like a longshot but in today’s comic book media landscape, it could really just be a matter of time.


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