Thirty-nine years. That’s the amount of time that Hollywood icon Steven Spielberg has been working on producing an adaptation of Stephen King and Peter Straub’s 1984 novel The Talisman. The filmmaker recognized the incredible potential for the book two full years before it was published – which was when he bought the screen rights – but he has spent the decades since then trying to figure out how to make it into a movie. Multiple directors have come and gone, such as Josh Boone in 2017 and Mike Barker in 2019, but the project has never managed to keep its gears turning long enough to get into production.
Now, however, things are totally different – and the principal reason is that the concept of how to properly adapt The Talisman has evolved. While Steven Spielberg and fellow filmmakers have struggled for years figuring out how to squeeze the epic novel into a two hour feature, recent developments have seen that idea abandoned in favor of a better one: rather than becoming a big blockbuster, the book is instead now being turned into a Netflix series, with Stranger Things creators Matt and Ross Duffer attached as executive producers, and Stranger Things writer/producer Curtis Gwinn on-board as showrunner.
It’s a significant shake-up after nearly four decades, but also a genuinely perfect one. When you factor in elements including the scope and structure of the story, and how Netflix typically operates when it comes to original programming, this is a match made in fiction heaven, and should result in the best possible adaptation of an incredible book. While it ultimately proved too challenging to make The Talisman as a feature, it’s a novel that’s perfectly suited to become a streaming service series, and fans should only be rejoicing in the wake of the news.
The Scope Of The Talisman Is Far Too Big For A Movie
They say that one should never judge a book by its cover, but it doesn’t actually take more than a glance at Stephen King and Peter Straub’s tome to understand the issues that arose trying to adapt it as a film. At nearly 650 pages in its original printed form, it’s one of the longer stories in King’s legacy of works, and he’s an author who isn’t exactly famed for his brevity. Simply put, The Talisman is an epic that was never going to properly fit into a standard blockbuster model.
The novel tells the story of young Jack Sawyer, a 12-year-old boy we meet as his life is crumbling. His father and uncle having recently died, he has moved with his former-actress mother, Lily, from Los Angeles to a coastal town in New Hampshire – but finds that things are continually going from bad to worse, as he suspects that Lily is dying from cancer, and his dad’s old business partner, Morgan Sloat, seems to be in aggressive pursuit of them. He is desperate and lost, but then finds everything changes when he meets Speedy Parker.
It’s from this strange old man that Jack learns about The Territories: a fantastical alternate universe that exists parallel to his own reality. The mystical world is populated by what are called Twinners – Territories versions of people on Earth – and while Jack himself doesn’t have one (his died at a young age), he finds himself with a remarkable responsibility because his mother’s Twinner is the beloved Queen Laura DeLoessian, who is also dying. The protagonist is told that the only way to save Lily/Queen Laura is to traverse the continent and acquire a magical Talisman, though whether he is traveling through the United States or the supernatural new realm he is constantly beset by new threats and dangers.
Properly getting across that much exposition and giving introductions to the mechanics of both worlds in The Talisman would alone likely take at least 30 minutes to explain cinematically, and that’s a hell of a lot of real estate when you’re talking about a feature film that is meant to also showcase a pair of cross-country journeys. It creates a natural pacing nightmare that could only be solved through either massive cuts in the story (which nobody would want), or the making of an adaptation with a more expansive runtime. The project could have tried to go the route of Andy Muschietti’s IT – which is to say split the source material in half and hope that the first movie would be popular enough to allow the second to get the green light – but making it as a Netflix show makes a great deal more sense.
The Talisman Already Has An Episodic-Like Quality In Its Structure
Made as a series, an hour-long pilot for The Talisman could alone get across all of the information necessary for any audience member to get appropriately acclimated to the story and settings – and the benefit that follows from there is the fact that Stephen King and Peter Straub’s book has a kind of episodic structure that would perfectly allow a clean adaptation. This isn’t to say that some changes won’t be required, but while reading the book one can get the sense of how the stops along Jack’s path could be simply translated into the new medium.
From Jack being kept as a slave at the hellish bar The Oatly Tap, to journeys with an odd werewolf named Wolf, to the big escape from the Thayer School, there is a very clear structure available in The Talisman that any filmmaker could use as a roadmap toward developing a series. While a movie would have to either streamline these parts of the story as individual sequences, a Netflix show will instead actually have the chance to actually expand them and (provided there is a proper budget) make them shine as diverse adventures that add different textures to the larger narrative.
While a film version of The Talisman would have forced what’s in the book to become something different, the series route will provide the opportunity for the story to remain what it is, and potentially only get bigger and better.
The Talisman Doesn’t Need An Endless Number Of Seasons To Tell Its Story
Being turned into a series instead of a movie is clearly the best choice for The Talisman, but what must also be considered as a big bonus here is that it is being made specifically as a Netflix series. For starters, the fact that there won’t be any restrictions on content is a great thing (the book goes to some exceedingly dark places, and it really shouldn’t be censored), but far more important in this case is the streaming service’s history when it comes to season sizes and the typical lengths of their original shows.
While The Talisman may be an expansive, epic story, one also can’t ignore that it is a story that features a ticking clock – namely that Jack needs to retrieve the titular crystal before his mother and Queen Laura die. As such, it’s not exactly an adventure that would function well as an open-ended network series a la Under The Dome (a.k.a. the last time that Steven Spielberg produced a Stephen King book). Netflix, on the other hand, is an ideal home.
The streaming service has developed a reputation for developing shows that rarely last more than three seasons, and while that fact has broken the hearts of many of the service's millions of subscribers, that’s actually perfect for The Talisman. It won’t suffer the limitations of squeezing everything into a miniseries (an issue that wound up seriously hampering CBS All Access/Paramount+’s The Stand), and it won’t have to wheel spin/inflate itself to fill an overly-large episode order (like the aforementioned Under The Dome). If the Stephen King/Peter Straub novel gets turned into two seasons of 10 hour-long episodes, the possibility for everyone – including filmmakers and fans – to walk away happy seems very real.
And then there are the options for the future. If The Talisman becomes a runaway hit for Netflix, the answer for providing audiences with more from the world wouldn’t require overstretching the material. Not only did Stephen King and Peter Straub publish a sequel 17 years after the original – 2001’s Black House (which reconnects audiences with an adult Jack Sawyer) – but the story also taps into the much larger world of King’s Dark Tower series, and it could (finally) be an exciting gateway into that multiverse after the unsuccessful movie and the cancelled plans at Amazon.
As The Talisman series at Netflix was only announced a few days ago, it’s possible that we are still years away from actually getting to watch the thing, but to say that this news is exciting is an understatement. It’s taken an extremely long time to come together, but it looks like patience will pay off, as the potential that exists here seems limitless. Fans should now be waiting with baited breath for its arrival, and in the meantime we can just be thankful that there are so many other Stephen King adaptations currently in the works.