Tamora Pierce's Tortall books deserve to be an awesome TV series

Contributed by
Oct 4, 2017

Ever since the final Harry Potter film bowed in theaters in 2012, Hollywood has been looking for a young adult franchise to fill its spot. Actually, they started looking even before it ended for good, trying to turn series like Twilight, The Hunger Games, and Percy Jackson and the Olympians into massive franchises to varying success. Twilight was a pretty massive one, as was The Hunger Games, while the Percy Jackson movies struggled to find an audience. What all of these franchises lacked was the ability to run organically for a decade, not to mention wide appeal across ages and genders. But there's a very simple solution to all of their problems, a ready-made series of popular novels set in an expansive universe with a cast of characters there to satisfy any taste, and it's frankly appalling Hollywood producers haven't figured it out yet: Tamora Pierce's series of books set in the world of Tortall.

Yes, I am aware that the vast majority of you reading this right now have no clue what I'm talking about, but that's part of the beauty. The books, which were largely published between 1983 and 2011, garnered a pretty devoted following among young readers in the 90s/00s, and while their popularity has dwindled in the years since their completion, the series' original fans are a huge part of the media-consuming audience. Plus, with a largely unknown property, Hollywood would likely receive less pushback from fans on any changes they wish to make.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, perhaps you'd like to know a little more about this series and why Hollywood producers would be fools not to adapt them into a TV series. The Tortall books encompass a group of five different series of novels all set in the same fictional land of Tortall and its surrounding countries. They are fantasy/sword and sorcery-based, and each series features a new female protagonist and a slightly different setting and theme. These can be anything from Knights in the King's Court to the mystical magics of the forest to spycraft and adventure. The expansive universe set up throughout the various series offer nearly endless opportunities for further exploration, but it's those first few adventures that really get the ball rolling.

A hero for every personality

Part of the beauty of these books is that each series resets and refreshes the story, taking you along on the adventures of a different young heroine each time. The very first series, The Song of the Lioness, follows a young girl named Alanna as she breaks a series of laws in the kingdom in her efforts to realize her dreams to become a knight. When they are 11, Alanna and her brother decide to swap places. He goes on to study magic while she takes his spot as a Page in the court. The first book sees the potential knight dealing with bullies, facing down challenges, and realizing that it's a lot harder to pretend to be a boy when you aren't dealing with slowly growing into a young woman. Subsequent series introduce us to Daine, a young woman just discovering her abilities with magic, or Kel, the very first girl to openly train for knighthood. Where Alanna offers audiences a defiant young woman staring down the face of a system that fights to keep her from what she wants, Daine is a much quieter hero, feeling her way through her abilities more organically. And where Daine slowly realizes her full potential, Kel immediately leaps to action, earning herself a reputation as Protector of the Small.

Each of these heroes offers audiences a different kind of story and a look at a different way to accomplish goals, realize dreams, and find your place in the world - all while playing a part towards protecting people and making a difference. With such a variety of heroes existing across the timeline of the show, it's a great way to bring a fresh tone and a new perspective to the show every couple of years.

A constantly changing story

One of the biggest trends in modern television is the idea of this new kind of anthology series like American Horror Story, where the cast stays the same but the entire premise of the show changes from year to year. The Tortall series offers nothing so dramatic - each character would require at least two seasons to tell their complete story - but it does offer a universe in which the story naturally changes every few years. More than that, where shows like AHS completely reset to zero every time a new season begins, these stories are already connected within the world of Tortall. Characters from Alanna's adventures appear in Daine's. Alanna's legacy sets the stage for Kel's own training. Further adventures connect these stories even more intricately. But while characters and settings appear across the stories, they still take place in their own little pockets of the universe. Everything is connected, but a viewer can still jump in at the start of Daine's adventure without needing to know what happened in Alanna's.

In fact, many readers came to the series in that exact way, picking up the first book of whichever series struck their fancy the most and only later discovering that they were part of a larger world.

A massive universe, without all the bloat

Think of a series like Game of Thrones. Part of the struggle with adapting that series is the fact that it is based on a number of dense, gigantic novels that nearly crack a thousand pages each time. When you only have a 10-episode season to convey all of that information with all of those characters, things can get bloated very quickly. Characters have to be combined and condensed, plot points glossed over or omitted entirely, and writers and producers are so rarely offered a chance to put their own mark on the story.

Meanwhile, while Tamora Pierce's books have a pretty wide appeal, they were intended to be read by children around the age of 11 or 12. They may introduce an expansive world (these are the kind of books that include maps so you can follow along), but each one comes in at only about 300 pages each. If you follow the pattern of a single book per season, the length offers writers and producers an opportunity to expand on the story they're adapting, rather than making massive cuts or logical leaps in order to move things along. Same size od sandbox, but with fewer toys left behind by the kids who came before you.

A series for young girls

Let's face it, most of the television people are talking about was not made with a younger audience in mind. Prestige television tends to show up on premium cable channels like Starz and HBO and as a result, takes full advantage of those networks' non-existent restrictions on content. While a show like Game of Thrones might have characters girls could look up to, they are generally surrounded by blood and violence and a whole lot of sex and nudity - all of which is there to keep an audience of adults interested.

But a TV series with all the appeal of something like Game of Thrones (or Lord of the Rings, for that matter) specifically aimed at young girls could accomplish something nothing on TV right now can claim. It could become appointment television for the whole family and something parents want their young children to engage with every week. The stories of Alanna and Daine and Kel (and later Aly and Becca) offer young girls a variety of heroic women to model themselves after. And with so many choices, it tells them (and perhaps the young boys watching as well) that their heroes can take many forms.