Fourteen years ago in 2005, award-winning author, John Green, published his first novel “Looking For Alaska” (LFA). The story follows Culver Creek Preparatory School students Miles “Pudge” Halter, Chip “The Colonel” Martin, Takumi Hikohito and Alaska Young, being loosely based on Green’s early experiences attending a similar boarding school in Alabama and pulling inspiration from real people and locations from his past, like the smoking hole.
Pudge, the narrator of the book, is depicted as an introverted and curious teenage boy obsessed with people’s last words and attends Culver Creek to “seek a Great Perhaps.” The magic behind Green’s writing is how poetic, yet painfully relatable he depicts his characters. Pudge seems to think in a poetic rhetoric, but reflects the very real narcissism most teenagers possess, often giving him a cloudy and unreliable perception as the narrator.
Alaska Young is every teenage boy’s fantasy; she is mesmerizing, mysterious and a chronic flirt. Green’s characterization of Alaska is in a sense before its time as she doesn’t follow many of the typical female archetypes written in books and movies. She is intimidatingly independent, often reiterates her feminist ideals and openly speaks about her sexuality.
The same year as the book’s conception, the film rights were acquired by Paramount Pictures and in 2006, it went on to win the Michael L. Printz Award from the American Library Association. However, after being shelved indefinitely by Paramount and then picked up and dropped by a few other producers, the project finally was announced to be released as an eight-episode limited series on Hulu, which premiered on Oct. 18.
Charlie Plummer was cast as Pudge, Kristine Froseth as Alaska, Denny Love as the Colonel and Jay Lee as Takumi. This mini-series was probably one of the most anticipated and long-awaited book-to-TV adaptations for the millions of faithful LFA fans. With that, came high expectations for truthful depictions of the characters and the plot. Because of the impact the book left and continues to leave on readers for its honest, heart-wrenching and relatable depictions, the adaptation could not leave much room for failure. This was apparent through Green’s role as Executive Producer for the series.
A major theme covered in both the book and the series is the search for meaning, which is questioned through Alaska’s fascination with “The General in his Labyrinth” and the overarching question of “How will I ever get out of this Labyrinth?” the Labyrinth being the struggle of life. This theme is conveyed extremely well in the series as is obvious through Froseth’s portrayal of Alaska’s chaotic curiosity and lighthearted, yet concerning rhetoric. One of the most well-known lines from Alaska being, “y’all smoke to enjoy it, I smoke to die.”
Froseth’s successful portrayal of the buried sadness in Alaska’s words brings up one of the most accurate pictures the series and the book paints: the complex struggle that is mental health. Both Plummer and Love seamlessly portray their character’s selfish and stubborn reactions to Alaska’s fate. They rack their brains trying to understand their blindness and neglect to Alaska’s struggle. Their questions address one of the main truths Green tells that not everything in life makes sense and one must find solitude in the unknown. The beautiful chaos of Alaska’s nature is one of the most unfortunate facades illustrated in the series. Alaska’s troubling past of self-blame and neglect unravels as the story does, masking it behind her confident and whimsical personality.
The cast proved to be some kind of magic on the silver screen and Green couldn’t help but shed a few tears when he first watched them tell the stories of the fictional characters he had once sewn into the pages of a book, never fathoming they would make their way out and within arm’s reach.
“It’s like a person I imagined is sitting next to me, it’s weird,” Green said while interviewing Froseth for a Youtube video.
Green said in another Youtube video that he wrote LFA because he wanted to “go home.” Each character eludes to different characteristics he saw in himself and believed writing the novel would allow him the freedom to rewrite his own story and fix his mistakes.
Green’s personal realizations are reflected both in the novel and the series. As he grew up, he found himself yearning for the past, believing his imagination could help solve his discontent with his current life. However, he soon realized he couldn’t manipulate his past or heal his wounds, even through his enchantingly realistic writing. Because of this, he allowed each actor to tell their own stories through the characters, while still being truthful to their portrayals in the book. He said that doing this allowed him to let go of the novel which he had been grasping onto for 15 years.
“They’re building home together and I don’t feel envious or possessive, I just feel grateful," Green said. "It’s their story now.”
Perhaps learning to accept the permanence of the past and seek peace in the unknown is the only way we will ever get out of this "Labyrinth" of life. Straight and fast.