The Momentum Blog
Posted April 9, 2015 by Achala Upendran
Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite writers, not only for his ability to create creepy, chilling, utterly convincing mini worlds in his stories, but also because he talks so beautifully about the importance of his art and how he set about making it happen. In fact, he’s one of my favourite writers on writing, and makes the process sound both very accessible and magical at the same time. Curious paradox, but he pulls it off.
Anyway, in a now famous speech, Gaiman exhorted his audience to ‘make good art’. When life gets tough, he says, channel your energies towards creating something that will stand the test of time and make you forget about things. ‘Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor? Make good art….Make it on the good days too.’
This is brilliant advice for two reasons: 1) Anything that tells aspiring artists to buckle down to their work is welcome and 2) some day, someone else facing a bad day will be grateful to you for having created that ‘good art’.
I’m sure this has happened to many readers. When the bad things happen, or terrible moods and times come around, sometimes the only thing that gets you through them is someone else’s ‘good art’. This happened to me a couple of years ago. I hit a really rough patch, emotionally speaking, in my postgrad years, and despite all the love and support of friends and family, the only thing that really pulled me through was a re-read and reconnection with the Harry Potter books, specifically, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
I don’t know what exactly it was about the book that spoke to me at that time, whether it was that I found a reflection of myself in the increasingly moody and troubled Harry, the crazed, trapped Sirius Black, or just the fact that it took me back to the time when I had first read it: my high school years when things seemed, from this distance, so much simpler. Whatever it was, it worked, and the connection that I reforged with the book, always my favourite in the series, became even stronger. Now there are new emotional overtones that I associate with it, and it’s become dearer than ever before.
I do have other favourites, a large number of them, (un)surprisingly, fantasy books. There’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, a childhood favourite that sticks with me through thick and thin; there’s ‘The Gathering Storm’, one of the last novels in the epic Wheel of Time series; there’s always, of course, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and last but not at all least, ‘The Book of Lost Things’ by John Connolly. I find that fantasy books, more than any other genre (for me), are able to communicate that sense of hope, of convincing me that things will get better simply because so much of their storyline and moral grounding is driven by the idea that if you believe enough, you can do anything. Even save the world.
Making good art is not, therefore, just a way for you yourself to get over the tough times; it’s a way to help someone out there in the wide world have a better day. And that’s why among the ton of things I’m grateful for, my favourite writers are up there on that list. If they hadn’t believed in themselves enough to sit down and create these worlds, getting through the tough times might have been a lot harder. And so, I will take Neil Gaiman’s advice, hoping that some day I can return the favour, and always, always thankful that when he was down and out, he took the trouble to make that good art, too.Tagged: Alice in Wonderland, art, book therapy, epic fantasy, Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling, Lewis Carroll, neil gaiman, Wheel of Time, writing
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Posted March 13, 2015 by Eve Merrier
It was World Book Day last week, and public outcry was caused in the UK as one 11-year-old boy dressed as Christian Grey, complete with eye mask and cable ties. Other than it being wildly inappropriate, my main problem with this is that you’re supposed to go as your favourite book character – in all of available literature he chose that one dimensional suit-wearer. The boy needs to be taught what decent characterisation looks like. So here are my suggestions, collated from a world wide web of imagination and talent, for cooler book-based costumes.
1. Game of Thrones may as well have been invented for cosplayers. This World Book Day some of my library colleagues looked incredible.
5. Everyone born after 1990 has dressed up as Harry Potter at some point in their lives. Fact. So if you’re going to do it, mix it up with a winning accessory, like a casual three-headed dog. 6. Don’t be afraid to go for a full family costume. If your child gets lost they can just ask someone where the wild things are. 7. There are few things more charming in this world than a small child dressed as a Hobbit.
8. The White Witch from the Narnia series is a costume that anyone can throw together in moments with a bed sheet, tin-foil crown and some serious attitude. The latter is demonstrated fiercely below.
9. Back to Harry Potter, This Sirius Black is exceptional. I sincerely hope he maintained that expression throughout.
10. Had enough of dressing as characters? Dress as an author! This dude is a doppelganger for Margaret Atwood.
11. Why be an author or a character when you can be a whole setting. This kid is the yellow brick road. Bow down.
More bookish costumes are on my Pinterest board. Have you seen any other winning outfits? I’d love to see them – comments please!
Tagged: 50 shades of grey, book character costumes, Dressing up, fancy dress, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Hobbit, hunger games, Katniss Everdeen, Kids, lord of the rings, Margaret Atwood, Narnia, Where the Wild Things Are, World Book Day, Yellow Brick Road
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Posted March 11, 2015 by Achala Upendran
I fell in love with ebooks the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.
Four years ago, I was gifted a Kindle Fire. Enthusiastically, I downloaded a couple of titles, mostly course books that I couldn’t be bothered to search for in campus shops and online retailers. I told myself that these were books I probably wouldn’t reread once I graduated, and I didn’t need them clogging up space on my shelf and making my move out of the dorm any more difficult than it had to be.
This says a lot about my relationship with my Kindle. It was a repository of information whose nature, I assumed, was important but temporary, not a hallowed digital vault of books I planned to return to again and again. Frankly, I couldn’t make myself love this device; I bestowed no cuteisie nickname upon it, didn’t carry it with me everywhere and eventually, after I graduated college, reduced it to little more than a glorified gaming device, on which I played various silly, time consuming things. But an ebook reader, it was really not.
The ebook versus ‘real’ book debate has been raging for a while now, and people are as sure as ever that the upsurge of sales in one seems to indicate the death of the other. Publishers and their ilk really are a bunch of doomsday prophets, aren’t they? Surveys are always being conducted, asking people what they prefer to read and what they prefer to read it on and there’s always that sense of absolute vindication and triumph in the voice of the journalist who declares that yes, physical, paper books are winning this race.
We will ignore the irony here: most of journalist’s readers are accessing his words through some kind of electronic device, more like as not.
I only really got into ebooks recently, three and a half years after my Kindle was given to me. It happened, mostly, because I got a smartphone (I know right, what was I doing without a smartphone for so long? How did I amuse myself?). With the smartphone came all those wonderful apps, like Amazon and, here in India, Flipkart’s Ebook Reader. Lying in bed one night, I realised i really, really wanted to read Lev Grossman’s ‘The Magician King’. I checked Amazon and Flipkart: both said it would take them at least a week to get the book to me (evidently it wasn’t much in demand where I was), but I could buy the ebook (at a considerably lower price) and read it immediately.
Everyone who has ever lusted after a book, waited months for it, or just finished its predecessor in a series and is dying to read the next knows how very irresistible that offer is. To be able to literally read a book the minute you want to—that’s an offer that few can refuse.
I clicked, I bought, I started to read. And the best thing about this purchase was that I never had to worry about whether or not I had put it in my bag. I didn’t have to weigh my purse down, or carry a bigger one just to ensure that I always had some entertainment to hand. It was on my phone, my digital limb, and it was going with me everywhere.
The convenience of the ebook really can’t be overstated. It’s so amazingly easy to play with: you can highlight stuff with little concern about ‘blemishing’ a copy, you can put bookmarks in everywhere,even scrawl little notes without tarnishing the fine print. You can have a huge library on your device and the luxury of options—stuff that would come at a huge price, weight wise, if you were to carry physical books. I love my ebooks for all these reasons, and of course the little boost I feel about saving paper makes me feel just the teensiest bit heroic.
That being said, I don’t think physical books are going to go away any time soon, nor will I contribute to that. I still enjoy the feeling of a book in my hands, and I dare say that there are some authors who I’ll buy ‘real’ versions of rather than ebooks. And it’s going to be a long time before graphic novels move into digital format, for me at least. Though with enhanced ebooks becoming a thing…who knows how long that will last.
But I am no longer of that party that believes that only physical books were ‘real’, that having a book printed on paper is any indication that you’re a better writer than someone who’s chosen to go the ebook way. What makes or breaks a book is its story, and what builds that story is, most often in the books adults read, words. And words are the same, whether they’re in an ebook or printed on a piece of paper.Tagged: ebooks, fault in our stars, Harry Potter, John Green, Kindle, Lev Grossman, publishing, The Magician King, The Magicians, voldemort
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Posted February 16, 2015 by Achala Upendran
Valentine’s Day approacheth, and with it the looming spectre of that movie’s release. You know the one I’m talking about—the one that started out as a piece of heavily reviewed Twilight fan fiction and then snowballed into a three book deal. The one with the protagonists creatively named Steele and Grey. Yup, that’s the one.
I haven’t read the Fifty Shades series, so I can’t really comment on it, but the fact that it’s releasing on a day hailed as ‘the’ day to celebrate romantic love is quite amusing. If nothing else, it attests to the fact that love comes in all sorts of strange forms, and with a bunch of strange fetishes. To get into the spirit of things, I’ve compiled a short list of the most stirring, strange and downright scintillating love stories in fantasy lit that I have read in my (thus far) brief life.
The Moste Tragic Affair : In my opinion, Aeneas (of Virgil’s Aeneid) pulled the original Loving Hero Paradox. When he and his crew were shipwrecked in Carthage (in North Africa), they were taken in and sheltered by the Queen, Dido. Being a handsome, brave, smart and driven man, Aeneas took little time to win her heart, and soon the two were inseparable, to such an extent that she was neglecting her kingdom and he had thrown his quest to found Rome on the backburner. Finally, Aeneas realised that he had to get a move on, and possibly starred in the first great break-up scene in Western literature, where he gave Dido all the lines that would soon become classics like, it’s not you, it’s me, I am doomed to do this great deed and cannot get sidetracked by the pleasures of love, if I had my way, I would never leave you, etc. Being a rather emotional being, Dido built herself a funeral pyre and threw herself onto it, just when Aeneas was pulling away from shore. Later, when they crossed paths in the underworld, she refused to give him the time of day.
If Aeneas was the original Loving Hero, Dido was the first Taylor Swift. She knew that boy was trouble when he walked in.
Part Time Lovers and Full Time Friends: I know this is a bit of an odd choice, but I’ve always been a Hermione/Ron shipper, regardless of what JKR might say about him being the wrong guy for her. For one thing, this is the one couple who never have any ‘I cannot be with you because I must save the world/you from myself’ drama and they’ve seen each other at their absolute worst and learned to put up with it. Plus, I think it’s super sweet how the whole ‘opposites attract’ thing plays out between them: where Ron is laid-back, Hermione is over-zealous with her planning; where Ron is an improviser who operates (like Harry) on gut instinct, Hermione is a rational, theoretically-minded kind of girl. In many ways, this is a fantasy romance for any high-strung type A girl—to find a man as accepting and unthreatened (well, he eventually gets there) as Ron.
Love the Way You Lie: So the Wheel of Time series, like the Harry Potter books, is all about how (spoiler) love will save the world. Rand, the hero, is saved by his ability to love, to care for his fellow men. Rand is also saved by his immense love for and attachment to three very important women, but the most steadfast of those is, arguably, Min. Unlike most of the other characters in this series, Min has no special defensive powers, is not royalty and stays by Rand’s side through the darkest of times, literally almost dying for her dedication. I do find her need to be around him, regardless of his temper tantrums, a little disturbing, so as much as I like her, that’s why I’ve slotted this in this particular category.
The Love that Dare not Speak its Name: But most everyone knows about anyway. This title obviously goes to my favourite incestuous couple—Jaime and Cersei Lannister from G.R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s a true testament to Martin’s genius that he manages to get his readers emotionally invested in these incestuous psychopaths. I don’t know about you, but I sort of do find myself rooting from J and C to win through and (knowing the ways of Westeros) die together. What can I say—if you write it well, obviously even incest isn’t a barrier to ‘true love’.
Never Let Me Go: There are so many, many stories about death inserting itself rather rudely between lovers, right from Romeo and Juliet to Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in the movie Ghost. But then, there are those lovers who refuse to let that be a concern, and march bravely into the face of it in order to yank back their better halves. My favourite in that line? Definitely Luthien the Super Elf and Beren from Tolkien’s Silmarillion. No character, regardless of gender or race, accomplishes as much as Luthien in Tolkien’s universe. Literally going to the halls of death to plead with the (for all intents and purposes) resident god to send her lover back? All in a day’s work for Luthien. I’m waiting for the Peter Jackson to make a movie about her.
Of course there are tons more, but to go on forever would no doubt be exhausting. And besides, who wants to sit around reading lists when they can write their own epic romance narratives, literally or figuratively? Or, best of all, both?Tagged: A Song of Ice and Fire, epic fantasy, epics, Game of Thrones, GRR Martin, Harry Potter, love stories, Robert Jordan, romance, The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien, Valentine's Day, Wheel of Time
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Posted January 30, 2015 by Achala Upendran
For someone who knows nothing about this kind of stuff, technology seems a lot like magic. I still can’t wrap my head around how dialling a number on a phone lets you connect to someone half a world away, and despite the efforts of a friend to explain it, the mechanics remain shrouded in a half mystical veil. I’ve started trying to figure out how websites work and are hosted (as an internet junkie, I feel I owe it to myself), but becoming an expert is going to be an incredibly long journey.
The fact that I just referred to it as ‘stuff’ should be some indication of just how ill-informed I am.
The point of this curious monologue/confession is: technology presents, like magic, a curious paradox. It works because of set rules: laws laid down by nature (or, if you subscribe to the theory, a Higher Power) which a man-made device manipulates or utilises in order to achieve certain results. If you break any of these devices down to figure out how exactly they operate, the rules will remain constant, as do the results of their operations. A computer cannot randomly begin to talk to you unless it is programmed to, and even that programming has certain limitations, though those limits seem to expand with every passing day, if not hour.
Now, magic, which should technically (pun not intended) be seen as the very opposite of science, has evolved in fantasy books to become one. The better crafted an author’s world, the more rigid her system of ‘magic’, or whatever constitutes the unknowable, immaterial power that various characters might use. For instance, Jonathan Stroud’s ‘magic’, worked by the ruling class in his slightly altered England, is dependent on the services of djinn, afrits, and other denizens of the ‘Other Place’. There are rules for summoning these powers, and limitations on what they themselves can do. And they are definitely not possessed of unending reserves of energy—as Nathaniel, the protagonist of the series, learns the hard way.
A really good fantasy writer creates a system governed by rules—what those rules are is completely up to the author, but once set in place, they do not bend or break. In a strange way, the thing that is supposedly most uncontainable, most difficult to explain, is the one that should, ideally, be best governed and codified, at least in its creator’s mind. Magic that works whenever it wishes to doesn’t help anyone—either the characters using it, or the readers trying to understand and learn to live in your world. For instance, a huge reason why many people (me included) had a problem with the conclusion of the Harry Potter series was that it appeared to hinge on an important magical fact that had not been included, or even hinted at, in the six books leading up to Deathly Hallows. It just seemed like Rowling, usually such a careful writer, had pulled a rabbit out of her hat, and the surprise was not entirely a good one. It seemed convenient, rather than well thought out.
One writer who really, really creates and plays by his own rules to superb effect is Patrick Rothfuss. His Kingkiller Chronicles are amazing for many reasons, but his ‘magic’ system is surely one of them. Kvothe, the protagonist, struggles to learn the different skills that would make him an adept, and like any student, he makes mistakes and overstretches himself, brings too much confidence to the table when he should have brought humility instead. He is brilliant, yes, but he also learns that there are things he cannot do, except, sometimes, as a sheer fluke. The road to naming and using those names (the way ‘magic’ works in this universe) is a long one, and even after two books, Kvothe still struggles at University to figure out how it all works.
The key to keeping your codified magic as mysterious and mystical as technology is (to the ignorant ones) is to restrict complete knowledge of it to a few characters, none of whom spend too much time talking about the theory behind all of it. For instance, in Harry Potter, we don’t spend any time in Dumbledore, or Snape or McGonagall’s head—and these are characters who are masters of their particular subjects and hence know a lot of the theory behind how various spells and potions work. Rowling gives us just enough hints through books and students—I’m thinking specifically of Hermione Granger here, who provides us, at various points in the books, the logic behind magical occurrences—to tell us that there is a larger system in place, that magic is a science that requires specific factors to produce an intended result. To be fair, there’s no ‘foolish wand waving’ in most of the magical arts, whatever Snape may sneer.
To sum up: a fantasy writer is many things. A linguist, a sociologist, a historian, a technician, a zoologist (or a demonologist) and, above all, a scientist. She builds her world from the ground up, and sets its rules in order, and then has to subscribe to her own absolute power by playing according to those rules. It doesn’t matter how intricate or beautiful your system is if you don’t allow yourself to work with it, or bend it in ways that are probable. ‘Magic’ can become all too easily a convenient tool that is used when nothing else seems workable, but the best authors don’t allow that to happen.
And just because you play by the rules doesn’t decrease your wow factor. After all, I still think the internet, and all that it makes possible, are pretty amazing, magical things.Tagged: Bartimaeus trilogy, epic fantasy, fantasy, Harry Potter, Jonathan Stroud, Kingkiller Chronicles, magic, Patrick Rothfuss, science
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Posted January 23, 2015 by Eve Merrier
This week I read Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It’s very special. One of its best qualities is the blend of ordinariness with the fantastical. This is epitomised by the eponymous ocean, which looks like a duck pond. It struck me that all the best means of travel through space, time, and various other dimensions, are ordinary. Or at least they look it. That’s the joy of it: bringing the magic into the real world, making it feel like you just have to find the right wardrobe…
Narnia is a good place to start. The wardrobe is, of course, the most iconic means of reaching Aslan’s realm, but you can also get there via train platforms, with magical rings given to you by a sinister uncle, or through a picture in your aunt and uncle’s spare bedroom.
Fireplaces work well too. Not to take you to a different world, but to travel around Harry Potter’s version of our own. The traveller also needs to be in possession of Floo powder and to speak the name of the place they want to go to. Apparently, it’s also important to keep your elbows in. I think I might start telling children that Santa Claus is Dumbledore’s brother, travelling by Floo.
The TARDIS may be iconic these days, but the UK used to be covered in police boxes, so it was a subtle way to travel. The interiors of the boxes used to be used as mini police stations, so you could, quite easily, plop it down anywhere and step out without anyone batting an eyelid.
Powered by the fire, the innocuous wooden door of Howl’s Moving Castle has a dial to turn, depending on where you’d like to step out. This works no matter where the castle is. The flower meadow, which Howl is showing Sophie for the first time below, is my happy place.
In Yonderland, the funniest TV series in existence, the pantry functions as a portal. Debbie is a suburban English mum, and a bit bored, until and elf appears from her cupboard, insisting that she is The Chosen One and must save Yonderland. Though they’ve lost the scroll that says how she’s supposed to do it. Each episode, they venture through her pantry to a magical realm, ensuring she’s home in time to pick up the kids. Watch a clip.
Fiction is also full of swirling wormholes, rips in time and high tech teleporters. They’re cool too. But I think there’s something truly excellent in using the ordinary as the basis for the extraordinary. The more closely it resembles our world, the easier it is to believe in magic.anime, Books, C. S. Lewis, Diana Wynne Jones, doctor who, fantasy, fiction, Floo, Harry Potter, Howl's Moving Castle, J.K. Rowling, Miyazaki, Narnia, neil gaiman, police box, portals, science fiction, Studio Ghibli, tardis, teleportation, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, time travel, writers, Yonderland
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Posted November 7, 2014 by Achala Upendran
I’ve been thinking a lot about Ginny Weasley. You could put this down to reading The Half Blood Prince again, where she leaps out of the background of the mill of Hogwarts students and assumes the vaunted title of ‘love interest’ for our hero. You could also pin this down to certain ruminations brought on by events unfolding around me, but that’s quite beside the point.
What’s the deal with Ginny Weasley? She’s smart and pretty and a wonderful Quidditch player, so obviously she’s got all the elements needed to be a popular girl. In the course of two books, she dates three boys, not a staggeringly high number, but certainly more than any other girl in the series (besides, significantly, Cho Chang). She’s capable of attracting a snooty Slytherin, Blaise Zabini, and of impressing the selective Slughorn. Evidently, she’s quite something in the Potterverse.
And yet, for all her awesomeness, Ginny is never made privy to the secret of the Horcruxes, never becomes part of Harry’s inner circle in his mission to destroy Voldemort. Sure, she has a vague idea that he, Ron and Hermione are up to something of crucial importance to the war effort, but she doesn’t know exactly what. Nor does she seem to push too hard to find out what it is. Harry’s reasoning for leaving her out of things is clear: he doesn’t want to endanger her. And Ginny, being perfect, accepts this without question, even going so far as to say ‘I knew you wouldn’t be happy unless you were hunting Voldemort. Maybe that’s why I like you so much.’
Hey, I just realized Ginny uses his name too.
Ginny, for all her awesomeness, is something Harry has to protect, and in order for him to do that, he has to deny himself both her company and any obvious display of attachment (in this case, dating her). But, at the same time, if we are to believe Dumbledore, his ability to be attached to Ginny, to ‘love’, is the power that holds him in his stead against Voldemort. This is underscored when, in the Forest, it is Ginny’s face that bursts into his mind when the Dark Lord levels the Avada Kedavra at him.
Ginny is the centre of what I have rather creatively dubbed the Loving Hero Paradox (TM). This paradox plays out every time the hero of a fantasy or superhero saga resists love/shuts beloved away because he is afraid that she will fall prey to the evils of the foe, but then, ironically, relies (un)consciously on his feelings for her to distinguish himself ideologically from the villain he fights. This happens time and again in novels/movies where there’s a good versus evil fights; consider Rand in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time or even Peter Parker in the Sam Raimi directed Spiderman.
In Harry’s case, the turn away from Ginny is a rather half-hearted move, considering the wizarding world is so small that their association with him makes the Weasleys a well-known and obvious target anyway, even without the addition of romance. Besides, just because he wants her to stay out of it doesn’t mean Ginny actually sits around tamely waiting to be rescued. She’s one of the leaders of the internal resistance in Hogwarts, going so far as to attempt to break into Snape’s office in a misguided attempt to steal the sword of Gryffindor.
Of course, this move begs the question of what on earth the kids hoped to achieve by doing that. How were they planning to get it to Harry? Did they really know that Harry needed it? I don’t recall Harry ever telling Ginny that Dumbledore had left him the relic. This is one of those random moves that Rowling pulled in Deathly Hallows that requires a deal of explication.
What really bugs me about the Loving Hero Paradox is the fact that it’s so very… male. the only female character I’ve seen pull this ‘oh I can’t be in a relationship because I have better things to do’ line is Katniss Everdeen (and hey, it’s completely justified in her case because honestly, I don’t think she really knows what she feels for either Peeta or Gale until far into the books) and Egwene in Wheel of Time. And even Egwene wasn’t averse to a little romance—she just didn’t have time to deal with Gawyn’s drama until she had cemented herself as leader at a crucial juncture in the war against the Shadow.
Perhaps this has to do with the fact that not all that many fantasy/superhero novels or movies are centred on a female protagonist, and so we don’t meet all that many heroines who have to choose between being publicly in love and saving the world. When there are more such gems floating around in the market, we might be able to take a more informed call.
So no, I don’t support Harry’s rather lousy move of breaking up with Ginny at the end of Half Blood Prince. Not only did he choose to do it in a public location, in full glare of the media, at a funeral (man, what an ass. He’s worse than Peter Parker in some respects), but he also was stupid enough to believe that Ginny would sit tight and stay safe on his say-so. He really didn’t know her very well, did he?
I am so glad she proved him wrong.
Tagged: Daniel Radcliffe, fantasy, Ginny Weasley, Harry Potter, hunger games, Jennifer Lawrence, Katniss, love interest, romance, Wheel of Time, young adult
Posted June 16, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
The fact is not all books that are adapted for film should be adapated for film. In this golden era of long-form narratives on TV screens and praise for ‘literary’ television, we are increasingly debating about whether a film can do justice to a book as it once could.
In a sense, we are witnessing the living out of Marshall McLuhan’s prediction that television will become the dominant art form – even if it has taken a little longer than originally anticipated.
As as more and more actors and directors are seeing television as the medium to deliver stories that last longer than an opening weekend, I think we may be on the verge of seeing an increase in book adaptations travelling to serialised television, rather than condensing into two hours on film. The long-ago success of adaptations like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Brideshead Revisited show that in comparions to their more recent versions in film, some stories just do work better on TV.
In light of this, I thought I’d look at some films that should not have been adapated for film, and instead would have been better served piped to us through our television, with a dedicated cast, crew and team of writers serving the story, rather than the box office.
1. World War Z – Max Brooks
In a highly scientific study conducted by myself and involving asking whoever happened to be on Facebook and Twitter two nights ago, this was unanimously the title we wanted to see made for television, rather than the abomination that was served up by Marc Forster in 2013.
Despite the fact that the film of World War Z made enough to put a sequel into development, it was so far removed from the source material it might as well have been titled Generic Zombie Apocalypse Movie. The book, translated appropriately, would be perfect for episodic TV, and removed enough from The Walking Dead to still be fresh.
Seriously. That film was stupid.
2. His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
Yet another utterly disappointing film adaptation. It is such a shame that the full scope and vision of Pullman’s story didn’t make it onto screen, given where the story goes come The Amber Spyglass, I am frequently saddened that this may never come to pass.
Hopefully, given that The Book of Dust is soon to be completed, some adventurous souls may feel compelled to bring this to fruition. Since Game of Thrones has shown how to do epic fantasy on a TV budget, and the complications of Pullman’s story that would necessite heavy SFX work, this may be possible sooner rather than later. Actually, it is possible, now. Do it. Please.
3. Watchmen – Alan Moore
While the film was an ambitious attempt, it was also terrifically sterile, in a way that only Zack Snyder can achieve. The film got so many things right (certainly the casting, and the visual tapestry of the era), but yet got it entirely wrong, sucking all possible energy and emotion out of the original.
And look, nobody has to worry about pleasing Alan Moore, as he’ll just hate it all anyway. But the episodic nature of the original would translate seamlessly, and it’d be the perfect antidote to this Avengers-saturated world.
4. Harry Potter – J.K. Rowling
Look I honestly believe we will see a TV series adaptation of Harry Potter in our lifetime. It’s just a matter of when.
Despite the box office and fanaticism, enough time has passed for us all to acknowledge that all the films were pretty poor adaptations, excising enormous swathes of material from increasingly large books and leaving a bit of a narrative mess on the cinema screen. (Really, watch Goblet of Fire and imagine you don’t know the plot from the book. It makes no sense. No goddamn sense.) The richness of the world in the books is infinitely lacking, and would be far better rendered in TV land.
5. The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco
Okay this is really just for me, but it would be perfect.
The film with Sean Connery and Christian Slater is so laughably bad, so completely uninterested in understanding the novel that it essentially tries to turn Umberto Eco into Dan Brown. And I know this will never be made into a TV series (medieval monks, no female roles, antiquated literary references, did I mention the monks?), but the book is so capitvatingly visual and dramatically suspenseful, it would be the easiest adaptation to write. Especially in the era of True Detective, and morally inconclusive detective stories, this is the morally inconclusive detective story.
And perfect for all those character-actors who litter our TV screens like affectionate gargoyles.
6. Interview with the Vampire – Anne Rice
The film actually isn’t bad, though it is downright hysterical in parts, but Anne Rice on TV? So good.
And the fact that it would then pave the way for The Vampire Chronicles to be adpated wholesale, erasing all the bad memories of a. Tom Cruise, and b. Queen of the Damned.
Now that I’m writing this down, I’m actually surprised this isn’t happening, seems like a perfect fit.
7. Tomorrow, When the War Began – John Marsden
Again, for much of the same reasons as above, there is so much material here that a TV series would be rolling in plots and characters.
Given the success of this series in Australia, and the lacklustre performance of the film, it’s actually surprising nobody is doing anything about getting this onto TV. Those working in television should really move heaven and earth to get it done, firstly because we never get any locally produced content of this type on our screens, and secondly because it would work as an ongoing series.
(How terrible is that poster design, by the way?)
8. The Karla Trilogy – John le Carre
I mentioned Tinker, Tailor earlier, and as much as I loved the casting and direction of the recent film, I missed the depth of the story that is present in the book, and the original ITV adaptation with Alec Guinness.
Back then, it was deemed too expensive to film the sequel – The Honourable Schoolboy – despite it being the best in the trilogy, as it’s largely set in Vientiane. Production rushed into Smiley’s People, the third book, and while the TV series is okay, it lacks the feeling of resolution that would come from having an intact trilogy.
Since the film did well, and reignited the interest in faithful spy stories, a modern-day version of le Carre’s Karla trilogy would be unbelievably excellent to see. The Honourable Schoolboy in particular is, to me, one of the premier spy stories, presenting that to a wider audience would be a wonderful thing.
Tagged: adaptations, anne rice, Books, films, Harry Potter, John le Carre, Philip Pullman, tv series, World War Z
Posted January 16, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
In last week’s post I briefly alluded to the success of Catching Fire as a film adaptation of a popular book. In order to examine why I think it’s an enormously successful film, it’s worth looking at how we should measure the quality and success of book adaptations to the screen.
There’s a particular part of the story that occurs in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows where Harry and Hermione are on the road, travelling from location to location, on a seemingly hopeless quest. Additionally they are doing so without Ron who has left the two alone, and it’s the most extreme moment of conflict between the three friends in the entire series.
In the book, the situation itself builds up over a series of chapters, and after Ron’s departure, plays out in long passages of exposition and dialogue exploring Harry and Hermione’s disappearing hope and drive on their particular quest.
In the film adaptation, this extended section of the plot plays out in the following scene, a scene which to me is the strongest piece of cinematic storytelling in the entire series:
So why is this scene so good? Why is it emblematic of a successful approach to adapting fiction – particularly popular fiction – for the screen?
The Harry Potter films are never going to go down as exemplars of the cinematic form. Wildly successful financially, as adaptations they benefit enormously from the collective knowledge of the books by their audience.
The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets were plodding in their fidelity to the books, almost tokenistic in how they were adapted, they were examples of film adaptations made to please the audience, who just want to see visual representations of their imagination. They don’t want to experience the story on screen, they want to be reminded of the story they read. While this approach can be initially successful, over time the efforts look tepid and uninspired.
The Prisoner of Azkaban had the fortune of being directed by Alfonso Cuaron which made it cinematically enjoyable and visually entertaining, but was a case of sacrificing one over the other, and the motivations of the characters – particularly during the time-travel ending – is almost indecipherable if one hasn’t read the book.
The Goblet of Fire was possibly the worst example of adaptation in the series: entire plot lines are abandoned midway through the film, characters are forgotten about, and the audience is left not entirely sure what’s happening and why. This problem only increased as the books became longer, with The Order of the Phoenix, The Half-Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows also suffering from having to adapt hundreds and hundreds of pages into two hours.
In short: they all relied on extensive knowledge of the books for them to actually make any sense. Cinematically, they don’t.
What the above scene does is distill pages and pages of words into two minutes of dialogue-free visual storytelling. The relationship between the characters is painfully evident, including the character who isn’t present, and the performances of the actors acknowledge the complexity of emotion that occurs at that part of the plot. It’s also a rare use in the series of existing music as first diegetic and then non-diegetic soundtrack to the scene. The thematic concerns of the music underscore the characters and the scene and the entire plot.
Everything works, very quickly, very easily, very economically.
If a picture tells a thousand words, then this is how to adapt.
But sometimes, the inverse happens, and a sentence in a book ends up telling a thousand pictures. Take, for example, a moment in an entirely different series, in The Return of the King when the fractured friendship of Frodo and Sam is put to the test by the presence of Gollum.
Remarkably similar to the Harry Potter example, particularly in that the scenes are there to make manifest the enormity of their quest, and the difficulty they have in sustaining and withstanding the journey. In the book, this dynamic to Frodo and Sam’s friendship is suggested, but nothing more comes of it. It’s there to embody the danger Gollum’s presence represents, but that is all.
When adapted to the screen, this doesn’t work so well. An audience needs more than just the suggestion something might happen. If there’s threat, there needs to be the playing out of that threat. So the film sees that moment through, and Frodo and Sam’s friendship does break down to the point where they separate, and it becomes the ultimate breaking of the fellowship created in the first book. Here, the source material is expanded to visually tell the same story in a different way.
Ultimately, there needs to be a balance between the book and the film, in an adaptation. The story needs to work, it needs to be a representation of the story that already exists in written form. But it needs to be told according to the rules and abilities of an entirely different medium. Sometimes that means expanding and creating, other times it means condensing and suggesting.
The reason why this is problematic these days, is the success of franchises like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings have shown to studios that there’s enormous financial reward in adapting an popular fiction series. Transplant the audience into a cinema, and you get the revenue.
But if the recent failures of Ender’s Game and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, and conceivably the Narnia and Twilight films, are representative of anything, it’s that audiences will get sick of the endless repetition of by-the-numbers adaptations. Films that are either just visual replications of the books, there to remind the audience of what it was they once read, or films that don’t adapt, they just remove until the book is a filmable length, but all the coherence and nature of the plot lost by omission.
Where Catching Fire succeeded, was in understanding how the story as it was in the book worked, and finding a different way to depict that onscreen. It wasn’t too afraid to alter or invent, but knew enough of how to tell the same story visually.Tagged: adaptation, Books, film, Harry Potter, lord of the rings, movies
Posted August 27, 2013 by Mark
Steven Spielberg and George Lucas recently spoke about an upcoming implosion in Hollywood, predicting that a string of $200 million blockbusters would fail and that would spell the end of the blockbuster era. If they’re right, soon we’ll be in an entertainment landscape where better, smaller films dominate, rather than a handful of uber-budget franchises.
What I want to argue isn’t that Spielberg and Lucas are wrong, but that the era of the blockbuster has already ended, and that we are in a new and more frightening era – the Age of the Franchise.
Are franchise movies and blockbusters the same thing? No, even though one gave rise to the other. The main difference in my definition is that a blockbuster is a film in which there is a clear beginning, middle and end. It’s a film that dominates the box office over a sustained period of time. It’s a film that only has a sequel if the box office justifies it. And many blockbusters weren’t blockbusters until after their release date. Examples of blockbusters: Jaws, Star Wars, Independence Day, Jurassic Park.
A franchise movie is a different beast. Franchise movies are made with the express purpose of getting not just one, but several sequels. More often than not it comes from source material, such as comic books, novel series, television or older movies. The franchise movie dominates the box office for a brief, intense, period before being pushed aside by the next franchise film. Rather than a sustained box office run, franchise movies make the bulk of their money in the first three to ten days of release. These are movies that have guaranteed box office. Examples of franchise films: Any Marvel film, Transformers, Harry Potter, etc.
It used to be the rule that sequels were all about diminishing returns. The first movie would make the most money, and the sequels less and less. A three film series was the best anyone could hope for, and if a fourth movie went into production, it was almost embarrassing, and usually direct to video (of course there are exceptions such as the Star Trek series). Now, the first movie is pretty much a marketing campaign for the sequels, with a follow-up only deemed successful if it significantly out-grosses the previous film. This has already been taken to its logical conclusion with the Iron Man movies, Thor and Captain America essentially being expensive ads for The Avengers.
So if the blockbuster era is bookended by Star Wars movies, the franchise era is bookended by Harry Potter and, well, who knows? Maybe Batman v Superman?
Tagged: films, genre, Harry Potter, movies, star wars
Posted July 26, 2013 by Nicola Rhind
The publishing industry can be cutthroat at times, and the stakes are high for unestablished authors competing for contracts and readers. Audiences are more selective, faced with so much choice that they don’t even know where to begin (Should I start Kardashian Konfidential or The Handmaid’s Tale? The choices!).
Bookstores – whether digital, or bricks and mortar – carry thousands of titles all begging to be read. Even earlier in the process there is competition between authors to secure publishing contracts, leaving many unfinished works languishing by the sidelines. So how do you start yourself off in an industry with limited resources to be shared? The answer is simple, really: the Internet.
Now I know that that is a really obvious answer, considering the major advances in technology that have allowed for say, digital publishing, but I am more specifically referring to the realm of fanfiction, and the vast online communities that create a built-in fan base of readers and mentors for aspiring authors. Fanfiction sites allow writers to borrow from the popularity of better-known books, movies and tv shows, and develop their own work within these ready-made worlds. For a hopeful writer, this provides an opportunity to improve their writing skills and test story ideas within the marketplace.
While fanfiction is a great tool for getting your foot in the door as an author, this is also the realm where the boundaries start to become a little bit blurred, as amateur authors mix their own ideas with already established worlds. How do you decide who owns what? Do authors have any rights to their work after fans have adopted their stories? This is an issue that has resurfaced time and time again, and was really thrown into the spotlight with the rapid and raunchy rise of the Fifty Shades of Grey EMPIRE, a story that famously emerged from the sparkling depths of the Twilight Saga fandom. Similarly, fans of J.K. Rowling have spawned hundreds of thousands of Potter-esque fables, which is also linked to the success of seemingly overnight hit Cassandra Clare. Clare had successfully dabbled in Harry Potter fanfiction, and upon completion of her online works was offered a publishing deal that produced a trilogy not unlike her previous offerings. Bloggers across the Internet have been heatedly discussing the contested originality of Cassandra Clare’s published works, and it certainly brings up the issue of ownership once more, particularly in terms of ownership of elements to a story (like particular characters and plot points).
More recently, the online book blogging world has been shaken by the mysterious and sinister case of Jordin B. Williams’ novel Amazingly Broken that has sparked accusations of intense plagiarism of multiple best sellers, identity fraud, and all-round skullduggery when it came to promoting the book. Readers were furious to find Williams’ book had directly plagiarised large passages from other authors of a similar genre, and the author has since been confusingly linked to a previous fanfiction story with a duplicate plotline. The issue remains unresolved and very perplexing, as new details are still being uncovered.
The expansion of the publishing world online has opened up an intense can of worms regarding intellectual property and plagiarism. Perhaps these examples are a cautionary tale for aspiring authors looking to utilise online communities, or a warning to publishers to be wary of unknown writers. Either way, the backlash online can be immense.
Tagged: ebooks, fan fiction, Harry Potter, ownership, plagiarism, reading, Twilight, writing
Posted April 2, 2012 by Anne
MARK’S TOP 5
Patrick Bateman – American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Everyone’s favourite serial killer. Bateman is an enigma and each time I read the novel I have a different reaction to him. He’s capable of shocking acts of the most extreme violence, and is totally obsessed with surfaces, and bad 80s pop music.
Tyrion Lannister – A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin
I’ve managed to get through three of these massive books quite quickly as I read as fast as I can to get to Tyrion’s chapters. He’s a member of the hated Lannister clan (boo Joffrey, you twerp!) and he’s usually trying to help them get what they want (no spoilers in the comments below, I haven’t finished the books yet!) but you can’t help but like him and hope he succeeds.
Abigail Gentian, Campion & Purslane – House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds
In order to explore the galaxy, Abigail Gentian creates 1,000 clones of herself (500 male and 500 female) and sends them off in starships. Several million years later, two of those clones, Campion & Purslane, are travelling the galaxy together as they’ve fallen in love. Perhaps the most narcissistic coupling in the history of the universe.
Roland Deschain – The Dark Tower by Stephen King
King’s epic seven novel saga (soon to be eight) is held together by the presence of Roland, last of the gunslingers. He looks & dresses like a character from an old Clint Eastwood Western, but he has the skills and spirit of one of King Arthur’s knights. He can’t remember how long he’s lived for (time doesn’t have much meaning in mid-world) but it seems that he’s always been obsessively searching for the Dark Tower, as once he reaches it he can save all worlds (including ours). He’ll save your life and then kill you if it’s called for.
Joe Pitt – The Joe Pitt Casebooks by Charlie Huston
The Joe Pitt books are written in a masterful noir style and feature a main character who’s something of a private detective for vampires. He’s tough, and in many ways he has a strong moral core. But he’ll also betray friends, play everyone against each other and beat up people for the heck of it. In each book he winds up getting brutalised in quite creative ways by his enemies so by the time he limps into the last chapter you just hope the guy finds some peace.
Lily Bart, The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
The stunningly beautiful and bitingly sardonic Lily, who throws away every opportunity she is afforded due to pride. “Why must a girl pay so dearly for her least escape,” Lily muses as she contemplates the prospect of being bored all afternoon by Percy Grice, dull but undeniably rich, “on the bare chance that he might ultimately do her the honor of boring her for life?”
Scarlett O’Hara, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
When I was little I convinced my mother to make me hoop skirts, which I wore around the house for months after reading this book, so enamoured was I with the delightfully charming and malevolent Scarlett. “Marriage, fun? Fiddle-dee-dee. Fun for men you mean.”
Patrick Bateman, American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
His materialistic obsession with surface detail and image divides readers, -“It all comes down to this: I feel like shit but I look great” – but I’m firmly on the side of Bateman worship. His general revulsion for human kind is strangely appealing, and charmingly/jarringly similar to the sentiments of those around him. “If another round of Bellinis comes within a twenty foot radius of our table we’re going to light the maitre d’ on fire. So you know, warn him.”
Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
This is a no brainer. Whenever I’m asked about the spelling of my name Anne Shirley’s line spills unbidden from my mouth – “Anne with an ‘e’”.
Anton Chigurh, No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
I was tossing up between the heroes, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell and Llewelyn Moss, or the villain, psychopathic killer Anton “What’s the most you’ve ever lost of a coin toss?” Chigurh – of course I had to go with the villain, even though one of my favourite lines in the book is the Sheriff’s “If it ain’t a mess, it’ll do ‘til the mess gets here”.
Sebastian Flyte, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
“Drinking is not a hobby, Sebastian,” says Lady Marchmain to her wayward (probably homosexual, definitely alcoholic) son. I disagree. I adore Sebastian’s indulgence in the finer things life has to offer, but perhaps I should treat him more as a cautionary tale than inspiration. “If they treat me like a dipsomaniac, they can bloody well have a dipsomaniac.”
JOEL’S TOP 5
Harry PotterBret Easton Ellis, favourites, Harry Potter, Patrick Bateman
Posted March 28, 2012 by Joel
So JK Rowling finally made her ebooks available for sale last night. It’s about time. It’s been described as the ‘Beatles moment’ for ebooks. The Beatles moment they’re referring to is when the Beatles finally acquiesced to selling their albums digitally on the iTunes store.
The Potter ebooks are a bigger deal in book publishing circles than the Beatles going on iTunes for a number of reasons. Imagine that instead of making their music available on iTunes, the Beatles had set up their own website and payment system and forced all the retailers to link through their site in order to purchase their content. Imagine, too, that all music being sold at that point by major retailers was sold with restrictive DRM (digital rights management) and the Beatles were the first major brand to sell without it.
JK Rowling and the Pottermore project (led by ex-HarperCollins head of digital Charlie Redmayne) have done something with ebooks that has never been done before. They’ve effectively forced Amazon to list the books without actually selling them directly. That means JK Rowling and co. get all the sales (and I mean all of them – there’s no commission being skimmed off by paying via PayPal or anyone else). They also get all the customer information that Amazon would ordinarily collect. And they’ve done it by making their books available without DRM.
The screenshot above is the only DRM that Pottermore is including on the books sold through the site. It sits on the copyright page, and identifies the user of the ebook. If you were to post up the unaltered version of a Pottermore ebook on a file sharing site (or email it to a friend, who then shared it), you could be identified with this code, and presumably you could be sued or blacklisted from Pottermore if Ms Rowling was so inclined.
This kind of watermarking, also known as ‘social DRM’, doesn’t restrict the user from doing what they want with the file, but it does make the user think twice about sharing (particularly with someone they don’t trust). As far as I can find by opening up the EPUB file this code doesn’t exist anywhere else in the book except for on the copyright page, so it would be relatively easy to remove it (but not much easier, it should be pointed out, than removing normal DRM from an ebook).
The power of this kind of DRM, though, is that it can be applied by anyone, not just a book retailer, and it costs (virtually) nothing to implement. Importantly, it also means that ebook readers of any platform can buy your book and put it on their device without syncing, linking, three different logins or any other issues. It allows sharing among friends and family that you trust, and it passes the Grandma test (my grandma would understand how it works).
Amazon has been forced to list the books to avert serious leakage from their platform. If Amazon had decided not to link and list the Potter ebooks via their site, then Pottermore would have sold them to Kindle customers anyway. And those Kindle customers, who may have never bought an ebook from outside Amazon before would all of a sudden know that it was possible and how to do it. And Amazon doesn’t want that.
This opens up a massive opportunity for publishers to use a brand like JK Rowling to get some more leverage with Amazon. The Pottermore purchasing system may not be the smoothest around, but it works and it’s certainly not beyond publishers or their intermediaries to set up something similar. Publishers have tried to do this before – but they haven’t done it with a brand like Harry Potter.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and Pottermore has demonstrated one way that publishers haven’t tried yet. Amazon’s chokehold on the distribution of digital books is not as watertight as it seemed just yesterday morning.
For its part, Momentum is making our very first debut author’s book available without DRM. The Chimera Vector is available for pre-order right now from your retailer of choice for the early bird price of $AU2.99. Go on, you know you want to.Amazon, Charlie Redmayne, digital publishing, DRM, Grandma test, Harry Potter, iTunes, JK Rowling, Kindle, Pottermore