My wife has issues with reading. She has had issues with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder as long as I’ve known her but for the last fifteen years or so it has ruined her ability to read. This is pretty heartbreaking for someone that was a fervent reader. She will get “stuck” on a sentence or phrase and have to repeat it again and again. There are two ways around this. One, she can read aloud. For example, there’s Patty Duke’s autobiography Call Me Anna which she has been working her way through by sitting down and reading it aloud to me. It’s tedious for me but it works. The second is when she’s reading what is known as fan fiction. She’ll still get stuck but in some cases she gets so far into what she’s reading that the OCD seems to fade. I have issues with fan fiction. Fan fic is what’s written by a fan of, and featuring characters from, a particular TV series, movie, books, etc. I understand the temptation. A world is created either on the page or for the screen and a fan just wants it to go on. Or you see the possibilities that the creator didn’t explore and you want to play with them. Many writers get valuable practice doing this. Or, and we call this “slash fiction”, you are convinced that two characters (usually male) are OMIGOD, TOTALLY DOING IT and you have to write your own take on how tab A fit into slot B.
There’s a lot of fan fiction and slash fiction out there. Like every medium, 90% of it is crap. That percentage may even be higher with fan fic. But it exists and it really doesn’t hurt anyone as long as no one is making money off it. When that happens, lawyers get involved in a hurry. My problem with fan fiction is that deviations from canon, the original work, often bother me. There are a few talented fan fic writers who do indeed get the tone and nuance of the characters and the fictional world right, who tell a compelling tale. But in most respects, it’s not for me. It’s tempting sometimes. Years ago I thought “what would happen if Dudley Dursley had a kid that was accepted to Hogwart’s” and then my mind started racing through possibilities, ending with the genesis of a story where Harry Potter takes Dudley to a pub after the annual dropping off of the kids at Platform 9 ¾ and running into Draco Malfoy. Then my mind said, “oh stop this shit”.
Now when a book gets made into a TV series or a movie, we’re bound to see deviations. You can’t transfer something from one medium to another without throwing out some of the bathwater but you hope to hold onto that baby. I know a few theater freaks that always get their underalls in a knot when a play gets adopted into a movie and my counter is always the same, what works on the page or stage does not always work on either the small or big screen. It is a different art medium and it requires different mechanisms to work. The first two Harry Potter movies were almost slavish to the books and did nothing to capture the real magic of that world. The third movie (directed by the incredible Alfonso Cuarón) did take liberties and yet it finally captured the true spirit of the books. The remaining movies followed that model, sometimes for worse but mostly for the better. And given that JK Rowling pretty much had veto power over those scripts, I would presume that she agreed.
We just finished watching the second Hobbit movie for probably the sixth, maybe the tenth, time. I know plenty of Lord of the Rings fans that are almost spastic in regards to Peter Jackson’s rendition of the sacred texts. Me, I shrug most of these deviations off. Faramir and Aragorn were pretty much one dimensional in the books. However by adding doubts and failings to those characters, Jackson made them live and breathe on the screen. Some fans complain about the addition of Tauriel to the Hobbit saga but come on, that book was such a sausage fest they had to add someone female for a little parity. There’s plenty of actual quibbles I have (the cartoonish action set pieces are a big one) but on the whole, if you put on a Hobbit or LOTR movie, my wife and are in front of the TV for the next three hours. The SPIRIT of the books is there. Changes in some characters made sense for the medium and on the whole, the movies work.
I am sad to say that this now brings me to Game of Thrones. I wanted to see this made for TV or movies in the worst way. I wasn’t the only one. When it was announced that HBO was going ahead with an adaptation the collective nerdgasm shook the Internets like nothing since the day the first Fellowship of the Ring trailer was released. Over on the Song of Ice and Fire forum, there has been a lot of quibbling. It’s understandable. First of all, a lot of the posters there are young and young people have a really hard time understanding the troubles of adapting a favorite book to another medium. They’d bitch about Cersei’s hair color, Peter Dinklage’s accent, the little pedantic changes that mean nothing to the story. Me, I was happier than the two cats with full bellies, sleeping on a warm bed behind me. And that’s where I remained for the first three seasons.
Season four of Game of Thrones, based on the second half of the book A Storm of Swords, just finished. It is probably the most spectacular of the books with several WHAT THE HELL moments, a stirring battle at the Wall, and great character moments. This season of GoT got spectacular ratings, surging past the Sopranos as the most popular series to ever air on HBO. So they must be doing something right. But wouldn’t you know, this is the season that pissed me off.
There’s been some deviations from the book that just have not made sense. A lot of fans had issue with Brienne facing off against the Hound, which never happened in the books. But I didn’t. It gave that episode a remarkable fight, it still sent Arya on the path she was supposed to take, and left the Hound still in the ambiguous state the book left him in. So no foul, no problem. It was other changes that frosted my shorts to the point where I was shaking with fury. Jaime, on a rocky road to redemption, rapes Cersei (it was consensual in the book) which just fouls his pathway out of his own personal hell. Lady Stoneheart never appeared and likely never will, totally changing the arc of Brienne’s character. And worst of all, when Jaime frees his brother Tyrion, and then Tyrion goes to his father’s chamber, the dialog is totally changed from the books, changing motivations that will ripple on through the entire series.
So to conclude this nerdrant, I am still tolerant of changes in adaptations. I’ll never read much fan fic, even the stuff my wife recommends mostly because I have too many “real” books to read and far too little time to waste on something I have little interest in. But hey, there’s still nothing wrong with that. I get that moving a book to a movie or to TV is going to result in some changes. Those mediums are far more linear and there’s little possibility for interior thoughts or monologues. But you have to keep the spirit of the work, its intent. This is where Game of Thrones is losing me. It’s set a course for characters from their original and compelling arcs, storylines that were easily adapted and yet ignored. When you do that to something beloved, you best hope I don’t catch you in the privy with a crossbow in my hands.
This has been Jerol is a Grumpy Old Man and Get Off My Lawn Rant #421. Transcripts may be ordered from your NPR station.