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Ahab's Wife: Helena Kriel's Adaptation of the Novel by Sena Jeta Naslund

abstract:Question:  How do you take an acclaimed 700 page novel and adapt it into a 120 page screenplay?


July 14, 2004
Answer: You find a veteran screenwriter with a keen ability to find the correct narrative line, who develops a sensitive relationship with the author, and produces a work which connects her vision with this new medium.  That screenwriter is Helena Kriel.

This interview appears in Publisher's Weekly (April 26, 2004) in an occassional series called Screenings.  Here are excerpts from, "The Art of Adaptation":


"Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeta Naslund was already a bestseller for Morrow/Perennial when Front Street Productions producer Jonas Goodman brought it to Helena Kriel to adapt. Kriel was a veteran of adaptations, having written screenplays based on The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford, Athol Fugard's novel Tsotsi, his play Valley Song and The Kama Sutra, among others."

Kriel read the book four times; the first to establish whether she was a good match for the task, and the rest to digest the immense richness of the book and go about the difficult task of pairing it down in order to form the structure for the screenplay. Her meeting with the author was a success with both women forming a connection and synergy about the project's vision.

"This book had already caught the public's imagination and become a bestseller, so my approach was to examine just what it was communicating. I also wanted to bring my own interests to it, but not to hijack it. I felt the main theme of the book is an exploration of what constitutes home and what constitutes freedom, and how to balance them. Another theme is how people ransom their personal lives in the pursuit of fame and money. The third thread explores the notion of the tyranny of religion versus the freedom of a more mystical approach to life."

"When I started writing, I sat down not only with the weight of the book on me, but also with the awareness that I was venturing into the much-loved territory of Moby Dick and whaling, which is so embedded in the American consciousness. I reread Melville and also did extensive research into the period, such as reading captains' logs and first-hand accounts by wives who went to sea. I was handed the huge literary character of Ahab, but I had freedom in that in Jaslund's novel, he is not yet Melville's character, and I could reinvent him as a young man. As I was researching the story, it struck me how very pertinent it is today in that oil is still a major factor determining our history and our choices. The conquering of the whales also represented a sort of imperialism, as well as a choice that men make of setting money, fame and power over a personal life, all of which is just as relevant today as it was 150 years ago." 

Ahab's Wife [Screenplay] Written By: Helena Kriel
Dan Halsted Production Company: Camelot Pictures

Further Links & Resources:

Ahab's Wife, Sena Jeter Naslund, William Morrow; 1st ed edition (October 6, 1999) From the opening line--"Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last"--you will know that you are in the hands of a masterful storyteller and in the company of a fascinating woman hero. Inspired by a brief passage in Melville's Moby-Dick, where Captain Ahab speaks passionately of his young wife on Nantucket, Una Spenser's moving tale "is very much Naslund's own and can be enjoyed independently of its source." (Newsday)

Sena Jeter Naslund:

Sena Jeter Naslund was born in Birmingham, attended Norwood Elementary School, Phillips High School, and Birmingham-Southern College. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kentucky Arts Council, and the Kentucky Foundation for Women. The author of five books, her short fiction has appeared in The Paris Review, The Georgia Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, The American Voice, and many other journals. (The Author)

BookPage: Review of the novel.

Take a refresher on Herman Melville's classic and read the biography on the author.

And of course let's not forget the original source.

Moby Dick Herman Mellville, Nathaniel Philbrick,Penguin Books; 150th Annv edition (September 4, 2001)



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