The Biblio-files: How ‘The School for Good and Evil’ takes us down memory lane

Two characters stand back to back, with a purple castle on the left and a yellow one on the right.
(Ella Lehavi • The Student Life)

Many of us have pieces of our childhood that we cling to because they make us feel safe and warm. Whether it’s a book, a stuffed animal or a visit to the zoo, nostalgia can be a powerful emotion, allowing us an avenue to remember a time when things were perhaps a little easier to deal with.

It is this emotion that we see today’s media industry capitalize on with book-to-movie adaptations and television show revivals. And as more of these projects get announced, it becomes increasingly clear that this is an era that favors nostalgia. One compelling example is the “The School for Good and Evil” series, where author Soman Chainani works to leverage these feelings, both through the original book and the more recent movie adaptation.

“The School for Good and Evil” follows two girls: Sophie — conventionally beautiful and blonde — and her dryer, darker best friend, Agatha. The book picks up on a very intense day when the villagers are preparing for an annual event. Every year, two children, the best and worst in the village, are stolen from their beds in the middle of the night and separated, one into the School for Good and the other into the School for Evil. This is exactly what happens to our two protagonists, but to their chagrin, Sophie finds herself in the School for Evil while a much dismayed Agatha finds herself in the School for Good.

The book and the remaining series follow their adventures, learning to embrace one’s inner nature, while also touching on the importance of friendship alongside other more traditional fairytale elements like romance and magic.

This subversive take on fairy tales is one that Chainani was very intentional about integrating into worldbuilding. “I wanted a magical school that felt like a Madonna concert,” Chainani said in an interview with Netflix. And this is something he achieves by infusing the book with witty banter between characters, many a good and evil makeover and an ending that leaves you reflecting on our interpretation of love stories through the lens of both romantic and platonic relationships.

While this novel might have you laughing most of the way through, it also touches on heavier topics. We read along as Sophie spirals watching her best friend live out her dreams and see Agatha feel like an impostor as she struggles to keep her head above water in the School for Good. Chainani’s ability to encase these emotional moments in an overall fun and whimsical atmosphere is what makes this novel so deeply ingrained in the minds of those who read it.

Speaking of such, it’s important to consider who those were. “The School for Good and Evil” came out in 2013 and was marketed to a younger teenage audience. Many readers were well acquainted with the classic fairy tales and surprised to see them spun with a distinctly 2000s perspective. I remember reading the book at the age of 12, holed up in bed and feeling a degree of kinship with both of the main characters. Their situations were completely unreal and fantastical, but seeing them approach their issues with levity felt like a safe place to explore very real feelings of insecurity and displacement, feelings of which many young teenagers are well acquainted.

Thus it comes as no surprise that a book so in touch with its readers’ feelings would become tenderly engraved in our nostalgic hearts. After almost 10 years, “The School for Good and Evil” movie was released in October 2022, accruing over 78 million hours of watch time, and debuting as the number-one watched film on Netflix for a week after its release.

Such success, while in concert with an established cast, glamorous costume design and aggressive marketing, relied heavily on the readership support for the movie. And readers have been incredibly important in pushing for the support of this movie, many of whom are now in their twenties to thirties and excited to see such an impactful piece of media return to the mainstream conversation. After the last couple of years of worldwide difficulty and hardship, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it makes sense that audiences long to experience media that is familiar and dear to their hearts, heralding a period of book-to-screen adaptations.

“Heartstopper,” a 2016 webcomic that chronicles the love story of two teenage boys, was released earlier in the year as a television series and was widely well-received. Another great example is the popular young adult “Shadow and Bone” book series, which was also turned into a television series that is now preparing for the release of its second season.

While there is a huge emotional attachment to these franchises, these adaptations are also reliable in that they already have built-in audiences that are invested in these productions. Drawing in readers and non-readers alike, the book-to-movie adaptations provide all the emotional and economic benefits of helping its audience enjoy the messaging of beloved media through a new medium through the screen. Of course, there will always be arguments over whether the book is better than the movie, but I think that that isn’t the main focus. Because in the end, we’re breathing new life into a previously aged piece of media, further immortalizing the art that’s brought us joy.

Tomi Oyedeji-Olaniyan CM ’23 is a dual neuroscience and literature major. If you need her, say her name in the mirror three times, and legend says she will appear to give you the perfect book recommendation.

Facebook Comments