The darker side of sweet sixteen
September 16, 2011
By Sarah Millar Toronto Star
It's happened to many of his books before, including the Airborn trilogy, which was optioned by Universal Pictures and Stephen Somers, the man behind The Mummy movies.
"That never got made," the Toronto-based author said pointedly over the phone.
Now it's the author's latest young adult book, This Dark Endeavour: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein, which has been optioned for a film. This time by Summit Entertainment and Karen Rosenfelt: The people who took the Twilight trilogy to the big screen.
So far the film has a director: Matt Reeves, who directed the film Cloverfield (which is one of Oppel calls: "Godzilla done right."), and a screenwriter.
But just because the book has been optioned, has a producer, a director and a screenwriter doesn't mean it's going to get made. Especially in Hollywood. This is something Oppel knows well. Because of this, he's trying to remain realistic, but hopeful about the book coming to a big screen near you.
This Dark Endeavour, which was released last month, tells the story of Victor Frankenstein at the age of 16. It riffs off Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, a book that Oppel has always loved.
After re-reading the classic novel years ago, he began to wonder about Frankenstein's youth. He was intrigued by how Frankenstein described his youth ("No youth could have passed more happier than mine").
"It made me laugh because I thought it was a rather disingenous statement to say that when you're doing things totally unlike what you imagine a happy, carefree youth would do," Oppel said.
He also wondered what could happen to someone in their youth that would turn them into a man who goes around digging up graves and chopping up body parts and sewing them back together.
As a starting point, he decided to tell the story of Frankenstein's hunt for the Elixir of life — something Shelley mentioned in her novel. In This Dark Endeavour, young Victor feels compelled to find the Elixir when his beloved twin brother gets ill and may die. Fearing that conventional medicine cannot save him, Victor turns to black magic.
Oppel admitted that there were challenges in taking a character so well-known and making it his own.
"I was apprehensive, certainly in so much as you feel nervous taking on a literary classic and borrowing from it and reimagining it," he explained.
"So you feel you have to be respectful and try to keep the spirit of the original. And I tried to do that with the language, without alienating my readers. I'd like to think the novel has the same tone, it's the same sort of gothic, operatic, overwrought tone as the original."
Oppel learned that the book had been optioned in January of this year, after he had finished writing it. But, he said, the thought of the book being made into a movie did not influence the writing process.
"Realistically, the chance of any book becoming a film is slim. Even though now more than ever before more young adult books are being turned into movies because it's a very hot market, (doesn't guarantee a film will come)," he said.
Instead, Oppel's looking forward to his next book, a follow up to This Dark Endeavour, called Such Wicked Intent which picks up right where This Dark Endeavour leaves off and will be released in about a year. Oppel is not sure if the series of young Victor Frankenstein will stretch beyond the two books, but said he loves to write characters like Victor Frankenstein.
"It's so much more interesting to take a character that really exhibits every element of human nature than just focus on someone that's calm and heroic and does the right thing 95 per cent of the time. . . in the new book he descends to new levels of obsessiveness, and that to me is the fun part.
"I mean he's Victor Frankenstein, he's not Charlie Brown."