Literature Versus Television: Survival Across Mediums in The 100

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This post contains spoilers.

Within six months of the publication of Kass Morgan’s debut novel The 100, the CW Network announced the making of a television series with the same name, based loosely on the author’s work.

Now a completed trilogy, The 100 chronicles a future in which a human population, known as the Colony, lives in outer space after radiation from a nuclear and biological war has rendered Earth barren and uninhabitable. The space station that the Colony has been residing in for nearly three centuries is failing—oxygen is running out—and so, in order to save humanity, a hundred prisoners are sent down to their ancestors’ home to determine if planet Earth has become habitable once again. Of the 100, there is Clarke Griffin, an ex-medical apprentice arrested for treason; Wells Jaha, the Chancellor’s son, who purposely commits a crime to join Clarke as one of the 100; Bellamy, who sneaks his way into the “dropship” sent to Earth to be with his younger sister, Octavia; and Glass, who escapes from the 100 before the ship is launched to Earth. It is later revealed that not only are the 100 the second group of colonists to land on Earth from space (ten others arrived on Earth a year prior), but also that some humans did not leave Earth when the radiation hit, and have survived. The 100 are entering into someone else’s territory.

The 100 television series, produced by Jason Rothenburg, presents a whole different world for the heroes. Even Kass Morgan acknowledges the differences between her series and its television adaptation. In a Huffington Post article, Morgan observes that “TV and literature are very different mediums, and excel at telling different types of stories.”

The casts of characters vary between the books and the television show. Glass, Luke, Camille, Carter, Graham, and Sasha do not appear in the television series; likewise, Finn, Harper, Miller, Murphy, Jasper, Monty, Raven, Kane, and Lincoln—each with their own back stories and criminal pasts—do not exist in the trilogy. Even the society of humans that have survived the radiation (called the “Earthborns” in the books and the “Grounders” in the television show) differ between the two mediums: the “Earthborns” are tame and docile compared to the savage “Grounders”.

The books and TV series are two different stories, but the “meat” of the story, so-to-speak, is essentially the same. What is this “meat”? Survival—not of the individual, but of humanity.

Morgan’s novels put emphasis on class systems, especially with regards to romance. Glass is from Phoenix, the richest class in the Colony, and falls in love with Luke, a resident from Walden, the poorest class. Although class hierarchy is only hinted at in the television series, societal problems are very much the focal point, as in the novel. The 100 attempts to answer the tough questions of society: How should decisions be made? Who will make the rules? Who will decide the punishments or consequences for those who choose not to follow the rules? Are there any exceptions to these punishments or consequences, and if so, how are the exceptions determined?

By the second novel of Morgan’s trilogy, Day 21, both the 100 and the Colony back in space struggle to form cohesive units. On Earth, Graham and his girlfriend claim possession of weapons and shelter, leaving others in fear of being attacked by their own people. In space, people turn violent in an attempt to hoard as much food as possible. Similarly, in the television series, it is Bellamy and Murphy who order the group and delegate responsibilities—sometimes for the worse.

Maintaining authority is difficult. When one of the 100 commits what the group deems as a crime, they battle on how best to deal with the culprit. Punishments are as extreme as they are back in the spaceship. In the novel, when Octavia steals the medicine box, Graham and his followers wish to execute her as punishment. Similarly, in the television series, when Wells is murdered, his murderer is sentenced to be tortured and killed (in a sequence of kids killing kids reminiscent of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies). Both literature and television successfully demonstrate how human nature is wrought with war, violence, and greed.

The books and show follow the ideology that survival must take priority over personal happiness. Love and romance are often de-emphasized. In the novels, romances are formed, but only by the end of the series, and some relationships are open to interpretation: Glass and Luke are a couple; Clarke and Wells were in a relationship prior to the beginning of the series; a budding romance ignites between Clarke and Bellamy; and Wells starts to fall in love with Sasha, an “Earthborn”. The CW television series follows suit, but with harsher outcomes. Wells is murdered by the third episode of the series, and Finn, Clarke’s lover, is killed off by the middle of the second season, signifying that the focus of The 100—whether in text or on the screen—is not romance, but survival in a world marked by internal and external conflict.

The third season of The 100 premieres in 2016.

-Contributed by Michelle Monteiro


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