Back to the screen: Amherst authors’ popular ‘Spiderwick Chronicles’ gets a new streaming adaptation

Amherst illustrator and children’s book author Tony DiTerlizzi of Amherst is a co-creator of the original “Spiderwick Chronicles” books.

Amherst illustrator and children’s book author Tony DiTerlizzi of Amherst is a co-creator of the original “Spiderwick Chronicles” books. Photo by Jim Gipe

Amherst fantasy writer Holly Black is a co-creator of the original “Spiderwick Chronicles” books.

Amherst fantasy writer Holly Black is a co-creator of the original “Spiderwick Chronicles” books. Photo by Sharona Jacobs

Lyon Daniels plays Jared Grace, one of the key characters in The Roku Channel’s TV adapation of “The Spiderwick Chronicles.” 

Lyon Daniels plays Jared Grace, one of the key characters in The Roku Channel’s TV adapation of “The Spiderwick Chronicles.”  Image courtesy Rhalee Hughes Perry/Spiderwick Studios

“The Spiderwick Chronicles” was the most-watched program in the history of The Roku Channel during the series’ debut over the weekend of April 19-21.

“The Spiderwick Chronicles” was the most-watched program in the history of The Roku Channel during the series’ debut over the weekend of April 19-21. Image courtesy Rhalee Hughes Perry/Spiderwick Studios

Lyon Daniels, Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi share some laughs at an advance screening party for The Roku Channel’s adaptation of “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” held at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst in mid April.

Lyon Daniels, Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi share some laughs at an advance screening party for The Roku Channel’s adaptation of “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” held at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst in mid April. Photo by Seth Kay Photography

The first book of “The Spiderwick Chronicles” series, published in 2003. The initial five-book series was followed by a number of additional titles.

The first book of “The Spiderwick Chronicles” series, published in 2003. The initial five-book series was followed by a number of additional titles.

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 05-06-2024 5:23 PM

Modified: 05-06-2024 5:31 PM


Call it an encore performance.

“The Spiderwick Chronicles,” the bestselling series of fantasy books by Amherst writers Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, has just been turned into a streaming series on The Roku Channel.

That comes 16 years after a feature film, put together with major names including Nick Nolte, Mary-Louise Parker, Martin Short, Mark Waters and John Sayles, told the story of the Grace family and their encounter with the strange and threatening creatures near the Spiderwick estate, a rundown Victorian home in Maine.

Not a bad run for a story that DiTerlizzi says can trace its beginning to a “field guide” about trolls, dragons and other monsters that he created when he was fantasy-obsessed kid.

“What did 10-year-old Tony create that adult Tony can turn into a new project?” DiTerlizzi said with a laugh during a recent  phone call, as he recalled the origins of the “Spiderwick” story.

Now that the story has made its way to the screen for a second time, DiTerlizzi, the acclaimed illustrator and children’s book author, says he and Black, a longtime friend and fellow noted fantasy writer, are happy “The Spiderwick Chronicles” still has legs, more than 20 years after the first books in the series were published.

“I’m incredibly grateful that another version of the story can be shown to a different audience,” he said of the eight-part Roku production, which debuted April 19. “It’s solid, the acting is really good, and I think it’s especially relevant for teen audiences today.”

The original story was centered on the three Grace children — identical twins Jared and Simon, age 9, and their sister, Mallory, 13 — who with their mother, Helen, leave New York City after their father leaves the marriage. They move into a dilapidated Victorian house in small-town Maine that belongs to a distant family relative.

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Very soon the kids, Jared in particular, discover that any number of strange creatures — faeries, goblins, griffins, dwarfs and elves, and an evil, shape-shifting ogre named Mulgarath — also live in the neighborhood (one is in the house).

They also find a book, written by their great-grandfather, Arthur Spiderwick, about these creatures. And they learn that Mulgarath and the goblins desperately want that book, which threatens the family’s existence.

DiTerlizzi and Black co-wrote the stories, which were presented in five separate, small books, and DiTerlizzi created the extensive Gothic illustrations for the titles.

“It was very much a shared work, a kind of hybrid project that neither of us had ever done,” said DiTerlizzi. “It was a great experience.”

The Roku Channel “Spiderwick” series has made significant changes to the story line. The Grace family, which was white in the books and the 2008 Nickelodeon/Paramount Pictures film, is now Black, and Jared and Simon are 15, not 9. The story is also set in Michigan rather than Maine.

More importantly, teen mental health is now a prominent theme.

In the original story, Jared is often angry for reasons he can’t really articulate, though it may be tied to his father’s disappearance. In the new story, Jared (Lyon Daniels) is struggling with serious mental health and behavioral issues; the Grace family’s move to Michigan is in large part so that he can see a renowned therapist, Dr. Dorian Brauer (Christian Slater).

It doesn’t help Jared’s case that he’s the only one, at least at first, who can see the magical creatures. His brother and sister have grown weary of his behavior, and no one in the new town the family is in, called Henson, believes his tales either — except his great-aunt Lucinda (Charlayne Woodard), who’s spent years in a psychiatric hospital.

Reviews for the Roku series have been mixed so far, with some saying the magical element from the original stories has been diluted, or that the series’ pacing is uneven and sometimes slow.

Others, though, praise the new approach: Collider, an online entertainment publication, calls the series, despite some occasional stumbles, “an excellent example of how to take beloved source material and adapt it for a new generation and demographic.”

Slater has also been singled out by several critics for his performance as a therapist who’s hiding some dark secrets.

According to several news reports, “Spiderwick” had the best first weekend of any on-demand title on The Roku Channel in terms of total hours streamed.

The series’ creator, Aron Eli Coleite, told the New York Times he was especially grateful, because Roku had picked up the series from Disney+, which had originally developed the program but then abruptly canceled it in 2023.

DiTerlizzi notes that Roku’s “Spiderwick” also has a 76% audience approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. “I think that’s what you’re really aiming for,” he said. “Do the people watching it enjoy it?”

He says he can “see the points” some critics have made in reviews of the series. But he also noted that change is inevitable when transferring a book to a movie or TV screen; what’s more important is that the general spirit and sensibility of the story be maintained.

“I think you have to let go of the wheel at some point,” he said. “The books can stand on their own. Nothing will replace them ... At the same time, I think it’s great they’re still inspiring new interpretations.”

He added that he and Black have also had good experiences with the people who put together both screen adaptations of the books, with the directors and other team members seeking their input on the productions. He and Black are listed as executive producers for both the film and the TV show.

And DiTerlizzi has some more irons in the fire: His “Wondla Trilogy,” a series of children’s science fiction/fantasy novels, is being turned into an animated series on Apple TV+ that’s due to air later this year.

“I’m really psyched about this,” he said. “[Apple] has done an amazing job with it.”