Any adaptation is only as good as its source material—though good doesn’t exactly cover what we love most about Joe Hill’s NOS4A2. ‘Tremendous’ is the more appropriate word: a behemoth of 700 pages, the novel is an undertaking as imaginative as its characters, a complete reinterpretation of the vampire mythos we know. And, in the end, which is more terrifying? The devil you know—or the devil you don’t?
If Joe Hill were to describe his novel, and the AMC adaptation, he wouldn’t use the word ‘good’ either (and not just because he’s far cleverer than that). In an exclusive interview with Bookstr, he described the show in three words: “suspenseful, heartfelt, feminist.” But on AMC’S BookCon panel, he had far more to say.
Image Via Channel Guide Mag
The panel began with the above image projected onscreen. Wielding his classic wit, Hill remarked, “it’s nice that they thought to put a picture of me in the middle.”
While it’s true that Nos4a2 has been everywhere for the past few weeks (in the news, advertised several stories high among all the Times Square neons), AMC’s involvement is hardly a new development. According to Hill, AMC voiced its interest only a year or two after the book came out in April 2013. If that seems like a long time, know that it’s because the network is especially “methodical” about bringing a story to the screen. “They know the game,” Hill emphasized, “and they know how to do it.”
Fans who tuned in on June 2nd may have noticed some changes (major change: you can SEE Charlie Manx menace you from the comfort, or discomfort, of your darkened room). Most notably, Vic McQueen is a high school student rather than a young child. This choice allowed for an older, more skilled actor to take the role—but it also made room for a storyline with the freedom to incisively analyze gender and class. In the novel, Vic starts off in the wood, staring down the Shorter Way Bridge that will soon become the shape of her mental inscape, a bridge that allows her to travel with the power of her mind. In the show, Vic starts off in a bedroom: light-filled, meticulously tidy, Yale brochures on the duvet. And then comes the plot twist—it isn’t her room at all.
She’s cleaning it.
When he encountered this in the initial script, Hill said, “it showed such a depth with character.” Hill knew then that he wanted to team up with executive producer Jami O’Brien. “The room represents the things [Vic] is never going to have,” he addressed Jami, “[the scene] was one paragraph long, but it showed… this is someone who gets how to draw out a character.”
Image Via AMC
Jami O’Brien went further into her own analysis of Vic’s character and the choice to make Vic an older teenager, focusing on this period of her life rather than those adult years that the novel also covers. “The portion of the book that covers Vic’s youth, I love, because it sets up her family dynamic,” O’Brien raved. “She’s encountering her powers for the first time, and it’s the first time we see the thing that I love most about her: her tremendous courage.”
The bridge, shown above, was another challenge. Given the novel’s creative settings, the AMC team had to get creative with its depiction. “It was hard convincing people of what the bridge looked like. I did think I’d just literally lifted it from the book,” she explained, “but when it comes to a magical bridge encased in static, everyone has a different idea about what that is. I just kept trying to steer everyone… back towards the descriptions there.”
The novel is as rife with complex physical landscapes as it is with challenging psychological terrain. A topographical map of these characters’ heads would certainly be populated with all the monsters & chimeras that demarcate danger and uncertainty. Jami O’Brien was keen to address not only trauma, but also its familial legacy. “Vic has to come to terms with who her parents are,” O’Brien explained, which doesn’t necessarily mean forgiving them. “You can still love somebody and accept somebody and hold them accountable for their actions.”
Hill delved into the myriad reasons why Nos4a2 is really an unpacking of mental health “in the guise of a genre novel:”
The difference between Vic and Charlie is her empathy and capacity to forgive, which makes her more powerful. When Charlie describes what he’s doing, he sounds like he could be considered the hero. There’s almost no mother by his definition that would not be abusive. With his old-fashioned and sexist beliefs… the very act of making a child excludes, in his mind, a woman from being decent.
Image Via Amc
One of the most important things in conveying Manx’s character was nailing the voice. “If you figure out how a character talks,” Hill said, “you can get the rest of who they are.” Given that Manx was born in the 19th century (yes, that is where the whole vampire thing comes into play), his voice reflects not only his age but also his “out-of-date morality, the way he thinks about women and children.” By emphasizing the characters’ distinctive voice, actor Zachary Quinto has
But the panel wasn’t all business—O’Brien and Hill laughed as they delved into some of the series’ Easter eggs, little references to Hill’s father Stephen King’s work. An audience member asked whether or not references to the Pennywise Circus implied a shared universe… to which Hill replied, “‘shared universe’ does sound sexier than ‘joke.'”
But it was a little more than a joke, and Hill enthusiastically told us why:
Why do people love the idea of shared universes so much? Well, we’re all walking around with a shared universe in our head. Spider-Man is jostling around with Harry Potter and Charlie Manx. We like shared universes because that’s how our imagination works. When you’re a kid playing pretend, no one says ‘you can’t be Captain America because I’m Batman, and they don’t exist in the same universe.’
“If there’s something you hate about it,” O’Brien interjected, “you gotta watch anyway so there’s a Season 2 and we can change it!”
Nos4a2 airs Sundays at 10PM on AMC!
Featured Image Via AMC.