by Paola Cesarini
"The Protector" differs in important ways from the N. İpek Gökdel's novel on which it is based. Such a radical departure might be due to financial constraints, the perceived need to tailor Karakalem to a global audience, the screenwriter's personal preference, or a combination of all three.
Let us start with the main differences from the original narrative. First, in Karakalem, Yavuz (renamed Hakan in "The Protector") is an intellectually gifted young man attending one of Istanbul's prestigious universities on a merit scholarship. In "The Protector", we learn instead that Hakan's resume' is exceedingly thin and that he relies principally on his street smarts to guide him through life. Why the producers chose to dumb down the series' main character is unknown and constitutes a rather questionable choice.
Second, the book's title Karakalem refers to an omnipresent, ominous and mysterious raven that appears to follow Yavuz everywhere. This pivotal figure inexplicably disappears in the series, depriving us of a central narrative symbol.
Third, in the novel, Yavuz' key ancestor is Dengiz -- i.e. the master weaver of the talisman shirt. The shirt is a secret copy of a magical original that Dengiz made for Sultan Yavuz Selim himself. It is the meeting of the two shirts that gives Yavuz superpowers. “The Protector" drastically simplifies the novel's complex explanation behind the shirt's origins by creating a fictional dynasty of Protector warriors that is completely absent in the novel. Regrettably this deprives viewers of a wider exposure to some fascinating Ottoman mythology.
Fourth, there are no rings or daggers in Karakalem, only a horseshoe amulet broken in several pieces and a mystical ancient book. The novel also fails to mention the Loyals and the Immortals, but includes instead an elixir of immortality, an ark, the anti-Christ, and a secret sect seeking to restore Christian dominance over Istanbul. It would therefore appear that the novel's depiction of the Christianity/Islam struggle over the city was purposefully left out in the series, probably to appeal to the large Western audience of Netflix.
Fifth, in the novel, Faysal is called Korkut. His wife Guneș not only is still alive, but also thoroughly hates him, having always been in love with Ahmet (i.e. Kemal in the series). Asli (i.e. Zeynep in the series) is Ahmet and Guneș' daugther. Here again, "The Protector" sacrifices interesting narrative complexity for the sake of a simpler storyline.
Finally, in Karakalem, the talisman shirt affords Yavuz numerous special powers. With it, he can move through time, project holograms from his past, hear distant sounds, acquire superhuman strength, throw arrows with his hand and fire with his eyes, climb the highest mountains, and breath like a fish underwater. Conversely, in "The Protector" the shirt chiefly appears to make Hakan invulnerable to physical harm. One can only hope the producers have saved the shirt's additional superpowers to create unique and visually stunning scenes in the remaining seasons.
It is worth mentioning that “The Protector” makes at least two interesting additions to the novel. In Karakalem, Yavuz' exclusive lover is Asli, who also happens to be the evil character's (Korkut) motorcycle-riding, historian, adopted daughter. Perhaps to add romantic excitement to the story, "The Protector" introduces instead two different love interests for Hakan (i.e. Leyla and Zeynep). Because in the novel Yavuz falls desperately in love with Asli, one might speculate that Hakan will eventually end up with Zeynep, who bears far more resemblance to Asli than Leyla. The second clever addition is that of Sinan Mimar. By making him loom large in the story, the audience is taught a great deal about Istanbul's amazing architecture, while at the same time showcasing the beauty of Turkey's mesmerizing capital.
Whatever the reasons might be for departing so radically from Karakalem, "The Protector" could benefit from following Gökdel's novel more closely. The TV series misses not only some of the book's narrative complexity, but also quite a few potentially stunning special effects. What is more, the novel contains a treasure trove of fascinating references to Ottoman history and mythology that would not only increase the esoteric character of the series, but also give it a more distinctive Turkish character.
Since its December 2018 release, millions around the world have viewed "The Protector". As a result, Netflix has renewed the series for a third and fourth season, ensuring a steady supply of Mr. Ulusoy to his devoted fans for the near future. Undoubtedly, season two of "The Protector", set for release in April 2019, will offer some version of the epic battle between good and evil included in Karakalem. Beyond that, it is everyone's guess where the series will take us. To date, we only know that N. İpek Gökdel has already penned a sequel to Karakalem scheduled to hit Turkey's bookstores in the summer. This second novel will apparently take Yavuz outside of Istanbul for new exciting adventures around the world. Dedicated Çağatay Ulusoy fans look forward to following Hakan (and Yavuz) on whatever media platform they may appear in the future.
@Copyright by North America TEN and Paola Cesarini
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