Are Fiction Podcasts Adapted From Books a Thing We Want?

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Patricia Thang

Senior Contributor

Patricia Thang is an educator located in Los Angeles. Though a native Angeleno through and through, her heart also belongs to Tokyo, where much of her family is from. Besides books, she is an enthusiastic devourer of many things, including podcasts, television, and J-pop. She realizes there’s not enough time in the world to consume all of that content, but she’s trying anyway. Other endeavors to which she has dedicated herself include cuddling her dogs until they’re annoyed and taste-testing every vegan ice cream she can find. Twitter: @aintnopthang

Long story short: I’m a huge fan of fiction podcasts. The podcast medium has been especially great for independent creators to experiment with really unique stories that are rich in diversity and representation of various communities. Certainly, the beauty of audio drama primarily lies in the wealth of original storytelling being done by creators of all stripes, but a recent find got me thinking.

I discovered Silly Old Bear, an audio drama adaptation of the beloved classic Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A Milne. Created by Caroline Mincks, the show brings fresh voices to stories we already know and love. And despite some slight reservations (I just have a strong attachment to the very specific versions of these characters that I grew up with), I found myself utterly enchanted from the very first minute. It had all of the warmth and whimsy of the original while still feeling new and exciting, and I’m looking forward to hearing more episodes as they come. It made me wonder about the possibilities of podcast adaptation of books as a greater phenomenon.

The truth is, this is not a very big phenomenon at all. Especially when it comes to independent creators like the team behind Silly Old Bear, the limits in terms of rights to various works are definitely a barrier and we are instead limited to titles in the public domain. Which Winnie-the-Pooh just entered this year, therefore making this lovely podcast possible.

I have listened to a couple other audio dramas adapted from books, and they do illustrate the wonderful and exciting new possibilities podcasts can open up for various classics of the canon. His Royal Fakin’ Highness by Tandon Productions, for instance, reimagines Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a modern day romcom. It explores what would have happened if Ophelia and Hamlet had conspired together to regain the throne by getting fake engaged after the King’s death. And The Lost City Prince is a musical audio drama with fantastical elements created by Jeff Harlow and Andrew Nowak, based on The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It follows Anthony, a twentysomething stuck in a dead end job selling stars, and Edward, the mysterious stranger who becomes his roommate. Unlike Silly Old Bear, both of these shows twist the original stories in fascinating and inventive ways, breathing new life into them for audiences both familiar with and new to these books.

There are also podcasts adaptations that are produced in a more official capacity by larger production companies, such as Strawberry Spring, an adaptation of Stephen King’s short story by the same name, from the short story collection Night Shift. The production boasts Emmy-winning producers and a well-known cast including such names as Milo Ventimiglia and Garrett Hedlund.

The world of comics isn’t missing out on the podcast action, either. Marvels is a series adapted from the graphic novel (also titled Marvels) by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross about the aftermath of the Fantastic Four’s battle with Galactus, produced in a collaboration between Stitcher and Marvel. Though it is officially backed and has larger production value than smaller projects, what I found charming about this podcast was that the crew behind it consists of a number of long-time independent audio drama creators such as Lauren Shippen (The Bright Sessions) and Paul Bae (The Black Tapes, The Big Loop), and very much holds on to the feel of an independently-created series.

A couple other official productions of Marvel properties are their Wolverine series and Wastelanders series. DC has begun dabbling in the audio drama space as well with not just one, but two official productions based on Batman. Batman: The Audio Adventures is a comedic audio drama produced exclusively for HBO Max and starring Jeffrey Wright as Batman/Bruce Wayne. And Batman Unburied is an upcoming thriller series that will be the first project in a multi-series deal resulting from a partnership between Spotify and WarnerMedia.

So, while the quantity is still quite low for now, there is quite a bit of variation in the world of books adapted into audio dramas. Though there’s certainly nothing wrong with the big, official projects, I do have to say the independent productions are much more my speed and offer more of what I love about fiction podcasts in general. Even if the material they can choose from to adapt is somewhat limited, the leeway for creativity and experimentation is limitless, and gives a chance for so many different voices to be heard through these stories. In the same way I love retellings of classics by diverse authors, I sure do want to hear more audio drama adaptations of classics by diverse podcast creators as well. So let’s start digging through the public domain to find great stories to refresh and reinvent! If you’ve got awesome ideas, you can bet I’ll be first in line to listen!

For recommendations of great original fiction podcasts to listen to, check out some of our other posts!