Movie Adaptations

Dear Wife and I recently went out to see “The Hunger Games” movie, and since then I’ve been thinking a lot about my reaction to the movie, and about how it compares to my reaction to the book.  And this got me thinking about the movie adaptations of books more generally.

One word of warning: as I discuss my thoughts on this subject, I’m bound to offer some spoilers from the movies and books I touch on. 

With respect to “The Hunger Games”, there were things I enjoyed about the movie.  It was certainly, in my opinion, a good movie worth seeing and I’m actually eager to see it again when it’s available to watch at home.  There were elements of the movie that made it superior to reading the book.  But there were elements that definitely made it inferior to the book as well. 

For example: the additional scenes focusing on Seneca and President Snow and Haymitch add a lot to the story – a depth that you don’t get from the book alone.  The scene that shows the reaction of Rue’s father after her death in the Games, and the resulting riot in District 11, was much more powerful on an emotional level than the abstraction of Katniss receiving a baked loaf and realizing it came from District 11.  On the other hand, the use of “Shaky Cam” was so disruptive in the early scenes that viewers never really felt settled in this world.  Even more problematic, the movie treated the relationship between Katniss and Rue in such a cursory fashion that the viewer doesn’t have time to be impressed by that relationship before Rue’s death.  I imagine that the viewer that hasn’t read the books might be a tad perplexed as to why Katniss reacts so strongly: poor Rue only had maybe five or ten minutes of screen time, tops (and that’s being generous by counting scenes in which she appears in the background), before her tragic death.  You really only understand how important this relationship was by reading the book. 

As I contemplated this, I realized something. Continue reading

Interrogating the Text #2: Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” – The Lessons

At first I was a little embarrassed that I was going to write three entries to run a full analysis of lessons learned from Lev Grossman’s novel, The Magicians.  I was able to contain a short review, analysis, and lessons learned of the short story discussed in my first “Interrogating the Text” series in a single post.  And then I realized: waitaminit… a novel is a lot longer than a short story, and there’s a lot more depth to what’s going on in a novel.  It only makes sense that a complete textual analysis for a novel is going to be longer than for a short story.  Heck… I’m probably missing a lot even confining it to three overlong posts.

That said, to get the full benefit of this post, you’ll probably want to check out the prior two posts discussing my reading of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians: here and here.  The first is a relatively spoiler-free review that discusses my initial reactions to the book.  The second is a deeper and more thorough (and far more spoilery) analysis of why I had the reaction I had.  Now, I want to bring it all together to talk about the lessons I think I can take away from all of that.

The short version, then, is that I enjoyed reading the book.  The reason I enjoyed it was, mostly, for the high-quality prose, style and voice of the book, first of all, and for the clever twists and tweaks on common and sometimes-cherished, sometimes-maligned fantasy (and YA fantasy, especially) tropes. Continue reading

Interrogating the Text #2: Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” – The Analysis

Last time I picked up the pieces of this “Interrogating the Text” series and gave you a general review of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.  But I wanted to talk a little about the writing lessons I learned from this book: what I liked, what I disliked, why I liked or disliked it, and what I can learn from that to apply to my own writing.

The remainder of this discussion won’t make much sense if you haven’t read The Magicians, I’m afraid.  And if you haven’t read it, and think you might like to, this post will contain spoilers for the ending of the book.  If you’re not sure if you’d like to, may I suggest you take a gander at my review in last week’s post, or this review here.  And one last warning: I’m going really in depth here, so this post is rather quite a bit long.  So settle in for an epic journey, if novel-writing-lessons are your cup of tea.

First, I want to make it clear, in case it wasn’t in my earlier post: I really enjoyed reading this book.  It was compelling and interesting.  For much of the book, it was a page-turner.  But I wasn’t satisfied by it’s ending.  Something felt off about it.

So let’s dig into that.

What did I like about The Magicians?  I liked the book’s style: while not as lyrical or poetic, for instance, as the works of Cathrynne Valente, it was nonetheless composed with a very compelling and interesting style.  It’s intelligent, and it makes no excuses for its intelligence.  It comes with a clear literary pedigree, but instead of eschewing the conventions of genre or speculative fiction and especially of YA fantasy (despite being decidedly not a YA book). 

I especially liked the manner with which the book played with genre conventions, and the clever use of a book (series)-within-a-book.  The Magicians plays up the tropes of the normal-person-enters-magical-world (i.e. “portal fantasy”) at every turn, and cleverly lampshades these conventions several times.  (For example, the Harry Potter books are mentioned by name in the course of the narrative, as is Tolkien’s Middle Earth.)  And there’s a lot of cool meta-fictional layers to the whole idea of Fillory in the book.  For example: Christopher Plover, the fictional author of the Fillory books, has a webpage.  There are even web pages for “fans” of the Fillory series.

But there were some difficult things about The Magicians as well, and they relate primarily to the characters and to the ending.

The characters are somewhat problematic in The Magicians because most of them, with the exception of Alice, are to a greater or lesser degree unlikable. Continue reading

Interrogating the Text #2: Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” – The Review

Some time ago – back in August, now – I started a new, very occasional series of posts focused on critically reading and reviewing published works of fiction that I call “Interrogating the Text”.  The series, so far, has had a grand total of one entry (on the subject of Catherynne Valente’s “The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland – For a Little While”).  Today marks the second entry in that occasional series.

I recently finished reading Lev Grossman‘s send-up to the fantasy genre: The Magicians.  It was an interesting read – I enjoyed it but, as I say, with caveats – and at about the two-thirds mark I resolved to blog about my reactions to the book: what I liked and what I disliked and why.

I’m going to start this off with a relatively spoiler-free review of the book, in a general sense, before I load up with an extra helping of spoilers and do the in-depth analysis that someday if this series ever gets more than two entries will be thought the hallmark of the “Interrogating the Text” series.  I’ll be breaking this down, then, into two posts.  One for the review, and one for the spoilery analysis.

So… Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.  I liked it, but with caveats.  I keep saying that.  What does that mean?  It means that I found the writing and story to be engaging and interesting.  It was very well-written, stylistically.  The prose was at times poetic, clean, and evocative.  I kept reading because I found I had to know what happened next.  And yet, at the end of the story, I wasn’t satisfied. Continue reading

The Tragedy of Multi-Volume Epics

Read an interesting article this week on “the perils and pleasures of long-running fantasy series” by Zack Handlen.  The article seems to conclude, ultimately, that all very long, multi-volume epics are by design doomed to disappoint – and yet we love them anyway.  It’s a difficult conclusion to reach.

Zack Handlen appears believes this happens because readers become attached to the characters in these stories – a true enough proposition.  I know I’ve become strongly attached to characters in long-running series.  The readers, Zack argues, are involved in an intimate “relationship” with the series that is ultimately “one sided”.  With each successive volume, the epic fantasy author raises the stakes – and reader expectations – for the final volume, making his job increasingly difficult.  Part of the problem, the article suggests, is that the once a book is published, it’s “set in stone”.  The author can’t go back and tweak it, revise it, and refashion it.  As the story changes in the telling, the details at the beginning of the series may no longer mesh with the reality that comes at the end.  The series accumulates so many threads, some are left loose and other resolved unsatisfactorily for at least some readers.

However, I’m not sure I agree with the general thesis that all long-running epic fantasies necessarily lead to disappointment.  Continue reading

Books of a Certain Length

Author’s Note: This is a topic near and dear to my heart.  Thinking about yesterday’s post about the rise of YA fiction as a force majeure in the SF&F publishing world, it wasn’t far for me to start thinking about book length.  Also, to be entirely honest, Dear Wife suggested both topics.  I’ll also note: this is a very meaty (i.e. wordy) and at times contentious topic.  For that reason, I am going to do something I rarely ever do on my blog: I’m implementing sectional subtitles.  Why?  Because this turned out to be a real, long, in-depth, even semi-scholarly article on the topic of wordcount length, with quite a bit of data and market analysis.  Your conclusions will be your own, but I’ve tried to synthesize a lot of information for this article.  I considered splitting the article into several posts, as I often do when a single post grows this long, but I felt that it would weaken the analysis to have the disparate elements separated onto different pages.  So, instead: one long post with sectional subtitles.  Finally, you’ll find I prefer the compound word “wordcount” as opposed to splitting the word into two: “word count”, which is the more common usage.  The reason for this is that when I refer to “wordcount” I’m referring to a single, distinct idea: that is, the total number of words in a manuscript.  Splitting the word into two diffuses this unified notion. 

~

Books of a Certain Length

If you look around on the internet, it won’t be hard to come up with some solid advice for how long your book should be – depending on which genre and market you are writing for.  I encountered advice on the issue in this post on the Magical Words blog – where you’ll find me entering the fray in the comments.  There’s also this post on The Swivet.  I won’t quote all the genre length guidelines these two posts suggest (which are mostly in accord).  But if you’re either a fan of meaty Epic Fantasies or books like the Harry Potter series, and write in anything approaching a similar vein and genre, you might find some of these guidelines a trifle… strange.  Epic Fantasy is given a high-end wordcount length suggestion of around 120,000 words.  For YA it is suggested you stay under 80,000 words with some flexibility up to 100,000 in special circumstances.

For those of you unfamiliar with relative wordcount lengths, you may consider that and say to yourself: “Okay, so, what’s the big deal?”

The Challenge of a Verbose Writer

Let me first start by offering this full disclosure: my writing style tends toward the robustly wordful.  For example, I’ve participated in several “Flash Fiction” challenges during the history of this blog (with most results posted  here) with the goal of turning out a super-short story under 1,000 words in length.  I rarely reached that goal.  My first attempt at a novel, “Project SOA”, had reached the two-thirds complete mark at approximately 140,000 words before I abandoned that version of the story.  I’m planning on my current novel project, “The Book of M”, to be about 125,000 words… but I fully expect it to be closer to 175,000 (based on my experience of planned length versus actual final length for other, shorter works).

Of course, I’m no professional, as yet. Continue reading

The YA Revolution

Some ten years ago, as a young man still in college, I could proudly claim that I hadn’t read any children’s books since I was, in fact, still a child – largely excepting my personal pet favorite, “The Chronicles of Prydain”.  I was an adult, and throughout my teen years and into my early twenties I was reading adult fiction. 

But by that point in time, a publishing phenomenon had begun.  The Harry Potter books were taking the reading world by storm, and a new movie adaptation of the first book in the series was soon due.  I hemmed and hawed and pooh-poohed.  I didn’t read children’s books.  I was an adult.  Other adults might read children’s books, but they were quite beneath me.  Such is the folly of a young man straining to be something more than he yet was.  (And, I suppose, still yet is.)

And then I saw the movie.  And I relented, and I read all the books then extent.  And they were fabulous, and I looked back at my amateurish self and cursed him for not relenting sooner, for what sort of childish sop is so elitist and snobbish that they look down their noses at good books just because of how they are marketed?

Since then, the craze has continued, and it has boiled over.  I’m not talking about the Harry Potter craze.  I’m talking about the YA craze. Continue reading

More “Boys vs. Girls”, Fewer Books from Borders…

Apropos of my Friday post about audience gender in Speculative Fiction, I came across this today: an article about Joanne Rowling’s mega-successful “Hermione Granger” series

Now, I’m a fan of the Harry Potter series, and I’m also a believer in egalitarian ideals.  So I get where this article is going.  Essentially, it is critiquing not Harry Potter but the society that makes it such that in order to meet the goal of “appealing to both genders” the series necessarily had to be about a boy.  I’ll agree, Hermione was easily the most capable character in the book, and I seriously identified more with Hermione and, say, Neville Longbottom than I really did with Harry. I didn’t have a terrible upbringing like Harry.  But I was seriously good in school, and I studied and worked hard throughout.  And it would’ve been cool, I thought, if the hero could’ve been someone who was like me – who was good in school and liked studying and liked knowing things.  Instead, that role went to a supporting cast member.

(Now, Hermione lost me when she went ga-ga-eyed for some dumb jock, i.e. Viktor Krum.)

I disagree with the criticism leveled directly at Harry’s character in that piece, but the general criticism of society is sadly valid. Continue reading

Writing Process & Pottermore: The Unpublished Underbelly of the Story

So, if you’re a serious, hard-core fan of Harry Potter – or, alternately, if you’re such a SF&F nerd that you actively seek out any and all news on the SF&F industry (and maybe, also, happen to be a fan of Harry Potter, which is clearly a related condition) – then you may have heard about the announcement of Pottermore yesterday.

For those who haven’t, despite ascribing to either of the above-listed conditions, a short primer: Pottermore is basically the official release of the ebook editions of the wildly popular Harry Potter series made concurrent with a fan-community/facebook/online HP-encyclopedia.  You read through the e-editions of the Potter books – which will only be available on Pottermore.com – while also playing games, maybe sharing your family-friendly fanfiction (this is unclear from the announcement, but hinted at), and otherwise interact with other fans together online… as if you couldn’t already do almost all of that online except read the books on your e-reader.  Regardless, it seems like an interesting idea – and almost certainly a keen marketing coup that should drum up interest in the impending release of the ebooks.  If I had an e-reader, I’d definitely be interested… and even so, without one, I’m at least a little curious to see what it’s really all about.

But what caught my attention about this announcement is a line I read here that touches on some of Rowling’s background notes related to the Harry Potter universe.  I was already thinking about writing this week about background notes and research and my “Project Bible”, so this confluence struck me as a good way to open the discussion.  Here is what was said about the previously unpublished material:

Though fans of Harry Potter expecting another book from the author set in the wizarding universe will be disappointed to hear that Rowling has “no plans to write another novel,” hopefully they’ll take solace in knowing that later this year Pottermore will unveil of 18,000 unpublished words about characters, places, objects and more from the world of Harry Potter. For example, there’s material on a certain romance between Professor McGonagall and a Muggle when she was a young woman, how Vernon & Petunia Dursley met each other, more extensive information on Slytherin, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff houses (we know quite a bit on Gryffindor already) and plenty more.

Continue reading

The Maker’s Art, Part 2: Refining a Definition of Mythopoeia Through a Sample Exegesis of the Fantasy Corpus

In the previous post I began a discussion of a topic I’ve long wanted to address here on this blog: the concept of Mythopoeia as a distinct genre within the sphere of Speculative Fiction.  However, I ended the first part of my discussion with what appears to be a fatal contradiction.  I defined Mythpoeia as a work of constructed or artificial mythology, but then acceded that most works of modern Fantasy Fiction (and indeed many works of other subgenres of Speculative Fiction) are predicated on invented mythologies.¹  Still, I contend that there is a line of separation between a true work of Mythopoeia and a work of modern Fantasy Fiction.

Just what, then, is that line of separation?  Consider this: I would assert that Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”, in fact, is not a work of Mythopoeia.  It is, rather, an artifact of Tolkien’s Mythopoem.  It is a physical manifestation, in book form, that attests to the existence of the underlying mythopoetic work.  In other words, a novel, or a novel series, is not Mythopoeia.  But a novel – frequently, but not always, a novel of Epic or High Fantasy – is typically the the primary mechanism by which the reading and media-consuming public will discover and interact with the Mythpoetic work. 

It is my contention, therefore, that while many works of modern fantasy and science fiction include mythological motifs and invented backstories and mythologies, few writers and creators are creating Mythopoeia by design.  Most of the imaginary mythologies and backstories exist solely in support of the fantasy novel to which they are attached, with little or no intrinsic value of their own, and with little of interest to explore outside the framework of the novel.

Take the Harry Potter novels, for instance. Continue reading