Will The Sparrow ever be adapted for film or television?
As of February, 2015, The Sparrow remains unfilmed, despite 20 years of effort by people passionate about getting an adaptation produced.
Since 1996, when The Sparrow was published, there have been three screen adaptations of the novel. Two of them were commissioned by major studios for huge stars: Universal Pictures (Antonio Banderas) and Warner Brothers (Brad Pitt). My friend Karen Hall and I wrote a third screenplay, on spec. Our version was a close adaptation of the novel. There has been no interest in producing it. More recently, The Sparrow and its sequel Children of God were optioned for a television series. That seemed like a better bet. TV is currently in a golden age and a series would provide the expansiveness that the books require, but nothing has come of that option.
I have to admit, I’m sort of relieved that the books remain books.
Every few days, I hear from a new reader who has been profoundly moved by The Sparrow. Often I hear from someone who rereads it yearly. Many people have told me that The Sparrow is their all-time favorite book. No one is more surprised than I, but no amount of self-deprecating humor can change the fact that readers around the world have an intimate and important connection to a novel I wrote almost a quarter century ago. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life apologizing to people who would feel betrayed by a screen adaptation that didn’t face up to the central issues of the story.
I recently read The Sparrow and Children of God. Will there be a third book in the series?
My son nags me all the time about doing a trilogy, but I simply have no interest in going back over ground I covered pretty thoroughly nearly 25 years ago.
What draws me into writing a novel is curiosity: the drive to understand some big chunk of human behavior, to learn new things. I thrive on developing fresh ideas, creating new characters, exploring a new genre and a new style of writing. Going back to Rakhat would remove the fun part of the enterprise for me.
What has the Jesuit response to The Sparrow and Children of God been?
Very gratifying. I am very pleased to say that I have a lot of Jesuit fans, and that the books are read in Jesuit novitiates and on Jesuit campuses. Of course, I only hear from the guys who like the book. There are probably Jesuits who thought it sucked, but couldn’t be bothered to look me up and tell me so.
Have you read James Blish’s A Case of Conscience?
I get this question all the time, because Blish’s 1958 story is about a Spanish Jesuit in space. I was eight years old when that was published, and a long way from reading science fiction. I was still reading horse books like Black Beauty and The Black Stallion!
People have told me that Blish’s protagonist is named Ruiz-Sanchez, so they thought I must have named Emilio Sandoz in homage to Blish. In fact, Emilio got his name from the pharmaceutical manufacturer who made my son’s cold medicine. Danny had a cold in 1992 when I started the book, and I noticed the name Sandoz on the medicine label. I like the sound of it. No symbolism or homage beyond that, I’m afraid!
Where did you get the idea for what happened to Emilio’s hands?
Before becoming a technical writer, I was a clinical anatomist at Case Western Reserve University. One of the ways you test knowledge of anatomy is to imagine dissecting the structures in non-standard planes. I got fascinated by the back of my own hand, and kept picturing planes that would slice between the metacarpals. I have no idea why this stuck in my mind. Ghoulishness, I suppose.
How did you create your alien languages?
I took linguistics as part of my anthropological training, and I’ve also studied a number of foreign languages (in order: Church Latin, Spanish, Russian, French, Croatian, Prayerbook Hebrew, Italian and German, with widely varying degrees of seriousness and competence). I didn’t want either Slavic or Romance influence to creep into the alien languages, so I bought traveler’s phrase books for Nepali, which served as the basis for K’San, and Quechua, which was the basis for Ruanja. I would flip thought the books looking for words that were distinctive visually and aurally, and had a nice sound.