Jack Ryan may not have the brand recognition of James Bond, but he has still managed to top both the box office and bestseller lists for well over three decades. The fictional CIA analyst certainly has his fans, who may well be wondering which book Amazon's Jack Ryan is based on. Author Tom Clancy published 14 chart-topping thrillers starring the heroic intelligence officer, starting with 1984's The Hunt For Red October — and several more have been published by various authors in the four years since Clancy's death in 2013, one as recently as June of this year, with another on the way in November. So which one are creators Carlton Cuse (Lost) and Graham Roland (Fringe) using as the basis for their Amazon series?
The vague, non-descriptive name doesn't give much in the way of hints about the inspiration or the nature of the show, other than the fact that, yes, it will indeed feature Jack Ryan in his television debut. It's easy to see the logic in this unimaginative title, though; if Cuse and Roland are adapting one of Clancy's novels, not using its title allows them to plumb more of the source material in future seasons without confusing fans. Think of it as the Jack Ryan Cinematic Universe™.
Four of Clancy's 14 Jack Ryan novels have already been adapted to the big screen, starring three different men as the character: Alec Baldwin in The Hunt For Red October (1990), Harrison Ford in Patriot Games (1992) and Clear And Present Danger (1994), and Ben Affleck in The Sum Of All Fears (2002). But that still leaves 10 sources of untapped Ryan stories to explore.
Which one will it be? The Cardinal Of The Kremlin, the earliest Jack Ryan book that has yet to be adapted? Debt Of Honor, in which Ryan suddenly becomes President after a devastating terrorist attack? Command Authority, the last entry in the Ryan series that Clancy published before his passing? The truth may disappoint some of the more diehard Jack Ryan. The answer is: none of them.
In fact, Amazon's Jack Ryan is an entirely original work that only borrows the idea of the history teacher-turned-CIA analyst whose suddenly thrust into field work, and none of the actual potboiler plots that Clancy was famous for. This version of Jack Ryan exists entirely out of continuity with any previous existing versions — on film or on the page — and depicts him earlier in his career than Clancy ever explored, Roland revealed to Entertainment Weekly in a July interview. So this Jack Ryan is a reboot, a prequel, and fan-fiction all in one.
Why did Cuse and Roland choose not to adapt one of Clancy's well-known works? Actually, that was their original plan. "We tried to adapt Clear And Present Danger," Roland told EW. "About a month into it, we realized the reason the Clancy books worked so well was because they were relevant for the time that they were written. So we had to take the spirit of what he did and create our own original story."
This actually isn't the first time an original story has been told using Clancy's iconic character. Although four of Clancy's novels have been adapted to the big screen, there have actually been five Jack Ryan movies — including the most recent, 2014's Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit starring Chris Pine and directed by Kenneth Branagh. Once again, relevance was key to the decision to craft an original story, with Branagh telling Today he wanted the film to be "timely," basing the plot on post-9/11 paranoia and brewing tensions with Russia. (If he only knew four years ago how bad it would get…)
The idea of thrusting the character of Jack Ryan into a brand new adventure may not be a new one, but it still might give Clancy fans pause — especially when there are so many of the author's stories left untouched. But while Season 1 will be forging its own path, perhaps there will be room to incorporate some of Clancy's plots further down the line, as Ryan becomes a more seasoned agent.