Grab Your Stele and Sharpen Your Blades, Shadowhunters! The Mortal Instruments Is Coming to TV!

It was recently announced that a TV series based on the popular young adult book series The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare is being developed. For fans of the books, this is very exciting news in and of itself. However, it’s also exciting news in terms of LGBTQ representation on TV! Let me answer your questions.

First of all, full disclosure: I am a big fan of the book series, so I am very excited about this news.

Okay, your first question might be:

Isn’t The Mortal Instruments that movie that bombed at the box office last year?

Yes. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones was the movie based on the first book in the series (of the same name). And yes, it did flop at the box office. It might seem odd that a failed movie adaptation is now getting a TV adaptation, but the book series is very popular. There’s definitely a built in market out there for a TV show. Everyone pretty much agrees that the problems with the movie had nothing to do with the source material.

Well, why did it bomb then?

Several likely reasons:

  1. The final product was kinda not-great. There were a whole host of problems any fan of the books could have predicted. And did. Like: The casting was very hit and miss (some people were perfectly cast, others were baffling choices), the plot was way overstuffed and changes from the book didn’t make sense. There were also plot elements from future books in the movie even though it was supposed to be based solely on the first book. All that contributed to a movie that didn’t make a lot of sense if you were unfamiliar with the source material-not that familiarity would have helped. I saw the movie with a friend, another fan of the book series, and we were both confused. We only sort of knew what was going on because we had read the books. Now, you expect things to be lost from any book adaptation, Harry Potter is a great example of this. Whole plots from the books are missing from each movie. However, Harry Potter was adapted in such a way that the overall plot still makes sense. Even with whole plots missing. Reading the books then becomes an extra rich layer to the story instead of a necessity for understanding what is happening.

  2. The movie also likely bombed due to how it was marketed and negative reviews by critics who knew nothing about the series but came into the theater with pre-conceived notions centered on the fact that the movie was based on a young adult novel that happens to contain vampires and other supernatural elements. When the film came out, I read a LOT of really terrible reviews that made me angry. Angry because the reviewers often decided that the movie was terrible because it was based on a YA novel and readily admitted that they were biased against the the whole genre because of Twilight. Never mind that the only thing the two series have in common is a female teenaged protagonist and vampires who exist in the book’s worlds. Reviewers also compared TMI to The Hunger Games movie series and found TMI to be lacking. The thing is, the two series aren’t comparable. At all. The stories are completely different. It would be like comparing Interstellar and The Imitation Game, for example. A dystopian YA novel/movie set in the future is not the same as an urban fantasy YA novel/movie set in the present. Again, the only thing the two series have in common is fact that they are young adult novels and the protagonists are teenage girls. But those reviews spread like wildfire and for a lot of people justified *their* biases. There was a whole lot of “I knew it would be crap because all these movies are crap!” going around. Without a strong marketing campaign to counter this, the movie #s greatly suffered.

How is a TV series going to fix the problems with the movie adaptation?

One of the main problems with the movie, which fans of the book pointed out from day one, is that there is simply too much plot/story for one film. The Mortal Instruments is a very richly developed world. It’s a great example of world building. The main series is 6 large books (think Harry Potter size) and there is a 3 book prequel series plus two upcoming sequel series. And TWO books of short stories, each about a main character in the main series. That’s SIX book series all set in the same world. It’s a LOT of canon. Basically, this is a series best served by the small screen where whole seasons can be devoted to such a huge world.

Do book adaptations work on TV?

Yes! Some examples are Pretty Little Liars, Game of Thrones, The Vampire Diaries and True Blood! Game of Thrones is the most comparable example here because both GoT and TMI are deeply developed worlds with lots of characters, extensive family histories and relationships between characters that span generations that you absolutely need to pay close attention to.

What IS The Mortal Instruments about?

It’s such an immersive world that I would highly HIGHLY recommend you go browse around the main site. It’s insanely detailed and full of info, so be prepared to fall down the rabbit hole. Seriously, everything you need to get started is right here:

The Amazon/Good Reads description of the first book:

When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder― much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It's hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing―not even a smear of blood―to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary's first meeting with the Shadowhunters [half-human/half-angel], warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It's also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace's world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know... 

Exotic and gritty, exhilarating and utterly gripping, Cassandra Clare's ferociously entertaining fantasy takes readers on a wild ride that they will never want to end.

I promise you that the books are better than the description. On the surface you have your typical YA trope of Sassy Teen Girl Discovers That She Is Super Special and Nothing Is What She Thought It Was, but the characters are well layered, 3 dimensional and interesting. The world of the Shadowhunters, filled with fairies, witches, warlocks, demons, werewolves and vampires is well constructed and fully realized. This is a series for people who love world building, urban fantasy, multiple plots happening at once, lots of characters whom you are deeply invested in, spider web connections that cross generations, and fast-paced storytelling with really clever writing.

Okay, I’m interested. But you promised queer representation!

I did! There are several canonically queer characters in The Mortal Instruments. Two of them are main characters. One is arguably the most popular character in the series AND he has his own book of short story adventures (he was so popular, the author and her fellow YA author friends, wrote a series of short stories about his adventures around the world-and in various centuries-prior to meeting the other main characters). There are bisexual, gay, and lesbian characters. I believe that there will be a gender non-conforming character in the sequel series to the prequel series (this sentence makes sense if you are a fan). And it’s always worth mentioning that the queer characters DO get to have their own stories and romances. They aren’t just satellites around the main hetero pairing.

Some of the main characters are also people of color, including the popular queer character I was speaking about. Also, one of the main characters in the prequel series, The Infernal Devices, is disabled due to chronic illness.  

Niala, you aren’t telling me something. Isn’t this book based on a Harry Potter fanfic, like how 50 Shades of Grey is based on a Twilight fanfic? And isn’t the author, Cassandra Clare, a former fanfic writer who was involved in some shady fandom stuff back in the day?

Yeah....this is kinda complicated. First of all, Cassandra Clare was a fanfic writer. And not just any fanfic writer. She was, what is called in fandom, a Big Name Fan (BNF). Her fanfic is some of the most known on the internet and is still considered required reading in several fandoms (like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter). I actually used several of her slash fanfics for my college thesis on slash fanfiction in 2005. 

I’ll link to the fanlore page for Cassandra Clare (known as Cassandra or Cassie Claire in fandom) here. I do this because enough people were in the fandom around the time that all the drama was going down (the early to mid-2000s) that Clare’s name is still associated with the whole thing. I personally put off reading the series for the longest time because I didn’t know how I felt about the whole fandom drama surrounding Clare. I know quite a few people who won’t read the series because of feelings about the author.

It’s worth noting that Clare has publicly said that The Mortal Instruments is NOT based on her Harry Potter fic. As someone who has read the series, I happen to believe her. They are very different things. However, even if the series were based on fanfic, that wouldn’t diminish it in my eyes. That would be very hypocritical for someone who reads as much fanfic as I do (and who used to write it) and is interested in it academically. So make your own informed choice.

Hmm. Interesting. Is fandom always filled with wank and drama?

Yes. Always.

Okay, I’m going to avoid that. Just tell me when is this thing happening? What’s it called and who’s at the helm?

Here’s everything we know so far. There’s a title, a showrunner, a production start date, a network and now a director!

 Um. ABC Family? 

Yeah, I know that stuff like The Secret Life of the American Teenager comes to mind when you think of ABC Family, but don't forget ABC Family is also the network home of The Fosters, Huge (was I the only person who watched this awesome show?) and Pretty Little Liars! Shows with a lot of diversity and queer characters. I'm not worried. 

 Final thought/sell?

Browse around the website, read some reviews of the book(s), watch the movie and/or read the first book. See if it's your thing. If not, cool. See you in the next fandom. But if it IS your thing...LET US LOVE THIS THING TOGETHER, MY FRIEND. 





Niala Terrell-Mason's picture
on April 14, 2015

Hey, I'm Niala! I'm black, bisexual, super liberal, a Unitarian Universalist (I'll wait while you Google that), and a long time fangirl. I love fan conventions, Marvel, Star Trek, fan fiction, Tumblr, Harry Potter, most of the shows that Fox cancels and books. I work in a public library and I am a grad student pursuing a masters of divinity in interfaith chaplaincy (aka someone who does religion for a living). I hope you think I'm funny.