Language has something that eludes even visuals – the capacity to stimulate the imagination and an innate charm that appeals to what Vygotsky calls the ‘language acquisition device’. Here is a list of books that are impossible to adapt into movies or TV series, either because their use of language is such, or because it is impossible to create visuals for them.

The Waves by Virginia Woolf

Books That Are Impossible to Adapt Into Movies or TV Series - The Waves by Virginia Woolf
Books That Are Impossible to Adapt Into Movies or TV Series – The Waves by Virginia Woolf

Woolf is known for her stream of consciousness narrative, which is an unfiltered and raw note-making of mental activity. This book, which traces the lives of six friends, largely takes place in the mental space of the characters. Even though it is distinct sea imagery, much of the action is within and not without, creating a difficulty in adaptation.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

The Awakening by Kate Chopin
The Awakening by Kate Chopin

This book about female infidelity also functions largely through stream of consciousness, a characteristic of Chopin’s works. The book tackles important themes, but with such subtlety and without pomp that it eludes dialoging entirely. This book cannot have adaptations, simply because of its emphasis on the internal rather than the external.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Books That Are Impossible to Adapt Into Movies or TV Series - The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Books That Are Impossible to Adapt Into Movies or TV Series – The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

This story of the spiritual journey of a shepherd is practically impossible to adapt because of how philosophical it is. The thing about philosophy is that it cannot be visualized, it can only be understood. Thus, all of Coelho’s books, even though they have a distinct story and plot, are difficult to adapt. Because their true beauty lies in the essence of the philosophy.

Lanny by Max Porter

Lanny by Max Porter
Lanny by Max Porter

This magical story takes us through the life of a small town boy, Lanny and his adventures with Papa Toothworth. The distinct earthy aesthetic of the book is really difficult to recreate, only because it’s so specific. In addition, the magical atmosphere of the story, the sketches are difficult to adapt. But most of all, it is Porter’s absolutely lyrical and poetic language that forms a barrier to adaptation.

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

Books That Are Impossible to Adapt Into Movies or TV Series - Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
Books That Are Impossible to Adapt Into Movies or TV Series – Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

Narrated by an unreliable narrator, a large part of this book is a poem. Our narrator is a self-proclaimed editor of a poet who passes away. This editor takes upon himself the task of creating a commentary for the same, leading to the realization that he is slightly crazy and obsessive. This book, due to the unsaid mechanism in which the story reveals itself, is unadaptable.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Spanning over seven generations of the Buendia family, this book is impossible to adapt not just because of the complexity of characters, but also because of the style. The scenes melt into each other, and the dialogue in the book barely exceeds five lines. The story is propelled through description and narration instead of dialogue, which cannot be done in a movie.

After Dark by Haruki Murakami

Books That Are Impossible to Adapt Into Movies or TV Series - After Dark by Haruki Murakami
Books That Are Impossible to Adapt Into Movies or TV Series – After Dark by Haruki Murakami

Murakami’s books are always very ethereal and dreamlike in their atmosphere. This one, about a host of characters in nighttime in Tokyo, has some really wacky elements like a woman entering another dimension. These are events easy to imagine, but very difficult to put into concrete visuals, because of their reliance on mental activity.

Ulysses by James Joyce

Ulysses by James Joyce
Ulysses by James Joyce

In the vein of Chopin and Woolf, Joyce’s loose adaptation of the Odyssey is really difficult to translate on screen due to its stream of consciousness. This is basically a record of disconnected, messy thoughts as they occur, which makes it difficult to tie them together in a narrative. Additionally, it’s really hard to represent the mental activity without any dialogue, which creates a further obstacle in adaptation.

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