Thursday, January 18, 2007

Crossing Over to the Dark Side

Mixed emotions often follow ‘big’ announcements, and my emotion is in the minority (or seems to be) for one of the latest. As anyone who is familiar with the name George R.R. Martin has surely heard by now, it has been announced that HBO has picked up the rights to film Martin’s landmark A Song of Ice and Fire series – and it seems that things are progressing rather quickly in terms of production. Translation: this sounds like it’s for real. So, what’s the reaction from Martin fans – shouts of joy, unintelligible glee, proclamations that HBO is the only place that can do it ‘right’, etc.

My reaction – irritation, some anger, and now disappointment. While there are loads of good arguments for why it’s good when a work of one media crosses over to another, I’m ignoring them all and concentrating on how I feel about this. It saddens me that what people are treating as the greatest thing to happen to this series is its cross over to visual media – it will be watered down, loose its magic, and ruin my imagined interpretations and people scream in joy. What is it saying about books and the written word when such a reaction occurs? Is this indicative of people believing that a work is ‘incomplete’ if it’s only in the written form? Has imagination been monopolized by the huge, visual media conglomerates? Could these joyous revelers survive a week, or even a day without their TVs and video games?

As most of you know, I’m a regular poster at several message boards. One – Wotmania OF, where I’ve been a member for a long time now is the perfect example of how the written word seems to be fading in significance. Over the past 5+ years that I’ve been active in some form at that board I’ve seen it regress from a place of great discussion to one where a forum originally intended for book-talk has the majority of its activity talking about TV shows. What the fuck is up with that! TV shows? Come on, even the best TV show can’t stack up against a merely mediocre book. It seems that the visual media market has made the imagination an endangered species, and is working hard towards its extinction. I know there are others who think the same – speak up. Write, talk – be more intelligent and eloquent about it than I am (or less – whatever works).
I think I'm starting to get a handle on why the internet and such scares the publishing industry so much.

Saddened has grown to real anger, so I’ll stop here. /rant

PS – These related posts talk about books that just can’t be made into movies.

Related Rants: Can’t a Book Be Just a Book?


Johan said...

I really don't care. I don't watch tv and even if I did it probably wouldn't show up on any of the (three Swedish) channels I could watch in this house. How can the series affect your reading if you don't watch it?


Neth said...

Well, the way it may affect me is that now I will have to endure endless discussion about the TV version of ASOIF on the various message boards I like. Sure, I can (and probably will) ignore them, but it'd be better if I didn't have to.

One of my goals is to make people think about why they are excited to see ASOIF cross over to a visual media. Are the books not enough?

Also, I wonder what this will do to the time it will take to finish the series. IMO, Martin doesn't need anymore distractions - it already takes too long between books. With this, it will only take longer. I'd rather he finish the series, wait a few years, then do the adaptation. It would be easier for me to ignore, and maybe by then I'd be happy to see it.

Elio said...

A work of literature that does not spark the imagination isn't all that good, and imagination is at root a visual thing. People daydream in words; their daydreams are sensations, and chief among them is vision. It's a powerful thing.

For whatever reason, a lot of people are quite visual creatures, even if they adore just reading and imagining. Being able to see someone else's interpretation of a character as a piece of art is something people like to see ... and seeing how an actor plays a part, how a writer and director translates it to the screen, it's all very exciting.

Others are happy because it's a kind of recognition of the potential of the series. Imagine, all these fans who were on the ground floor -- trying to convince their friends to read the book with a happy malamute-looking dog on the cover to give it a try because it was so amazing -- are now vindicated. The number of people who've said, "This is something my fantasy-hating [friends|wife|parents|etc.] will watch, despite their refusing to read it, and I know they'll love it."

Others still are happy because it's great news for George, who has developed quite a relationship with his fans.

In the end, regardless what comes of it -- and it's very likely nothing will come of it in the end, because this is an option rather than a greenlight -- the books are just fine and untouched.

As to the distraction factor, only time and GRRM will tell. Possibly if things move forward, the precise degree of his involvement in development and production will be revealed.

Neth said...


You rather eloquently make some good points - of course I'm not really disputing the many positive aspects of this announcement, but mostly concentrating on how it makes me feel and trying to be something of a cautionary voice about potential downsides and unintended consequences.

I'd be much more comfortable with this if the series were complete, and to entirely honest, if it's made, I'm sure I'll see it at some point (though I will try to hold out until the series is finished).

It still just doesn't sit right with me.

Race said...

Neth, I understand where you are coming from, but I think you are underestimating people. (which believe me is hard to do) I'm excited by this news because its another way to experince something that I love. Its a rare movie that can surpass the book it was adapted from. I don't expect this to improve upon the books either, but I do believe it will add something to the overall "song" experince. Plus it will bring new awarness to the series, possibly bringing more fans to the books. I don't see how it takes away from the written work.

Carl V. said...

I emailed a link to this post to a friend of mine who is a big GRRM fan.

It is an interesting debate. On the one hand I love the LOTR films. However I had not read the books prior to seeing them. That being said I do believe they are an example of literature to film done right.

Eragon (eventhough, again, I haven't read the book) is not.

I am equally concerned about the Stardust film. I love the book so much and I am afraid of what the film version will be like.

It may be a bit different considering that this is TV. Are the special effects, whatever they may be, going to be cheesy like "The Librarian" or the best that technology has to offer?

On the subjects of the decline of the written word, it is an argument that I don't entirely buy. I think the proliferation of alot of crap 'literature' due to publishers wanting to get more and more of our dime waters down the book buying stats. In reality I truly believe that people read more than ever and that their experiences with good books are as amazing as they have been in any time period. If anything, with the ever increasing number of book bloggers I think reading and the encouragement of others to read will continue to cause the written word to flourish. Thats just my uneducated opinion. ;)

Scott said...

I wish I could say that perhaps the watered down visual media presentation leads people back to the source material... but the numbers don't lie. Book sales slump, small independent shops close and we are part of an aging readership.

The kind of magic that happens within my mind when I read a scene, rather than watch it, is worth sharing with my kids. But perhaps their creative vocabulary will consist primarily of visual media. The tools to imagine their stories visually are more accessible, and essentially their playthings. If Joyce were to have the ability to share with us the Ulysses in his head, I doubt the work would be less for the experience. But the written word was his medium, to communicate with us, (the aforementioned aging readership), and as far down the line as he could see.

So hopefully this is less the death of imagination than the next evolution of it. And while my paper reading time is limited, my internet reading is rich and varied and often inspires much of the magic of which I spoke as I dip into these individual lives I'd never have had access to previously. It makes me wonder: Did the great oral traditionalist once bemoan the rise of written story as only the skeleton of his multi-hued presentation?

Further muddling the issue is the fact GRRM was a TV writer. If he understands the medium, and it's his story... ok, maybe I'm looking for a ray of hope because the books are so dense with character interaction, I can in no way see how they can do it justice. Wait... what side was I arguing?

KingSlayer said...

I was never a huge fan of Tolkein. I think his books are good, but not the best (GRRM's ASIOF would be rated much higher in my opinion). But, I do believe that Peter Jackson's movies on the same books were pure magic! There is no other fantasy movie i can think of which matches the visual beauty and pure excitement which comes across in the LOTR movies.

Call me a nut, but I hope ASIOF gets a similar treatment in its visualization. There will never be a substitute for reading this series and understanding the complexity and intricacy of GRRM's vision, but if it is well crafted into a visual media, it will only add to the series's popularity and fame. I hope that the guys at HBO understand what they are doing. They need to treat this series with a lot of care, and I believe GRRM himself would be involved in a creative capacity. That should to a great extent improve the chances of the series looking and feeling authentic. Though that means more waiting time between books for us addicts! Gulp!

Cheers man, and I do understand how you feel. They might just wreck it completely, wont they! Darn!

jenclair said...

Don't see how they can do it and am surprised they want to try. I often wish they would just "create" their own show ripped off from a novel, but not purporting to be the novel. Television shows replicate themselves all the time; if a show is a success in one season, the next season there will be an imitation on every channel. Why can't they just imitate a novel?

Neth said...

Nice - this post is generating discussion just as I thought it might.


I assume you were saying that it is easy to underestimate people. If that's the case, I agree. While I try to be an optimist in life, I am a very skeptical and even cynical person about quite a bit. This is partially an example of that.

-Carl V.

Don't get me wrong, I do think that LOTR was done extremely well (though as any proper fanboy, I have some reservations about things). But I do still feel a bit of a loss of magic - what did my Frodo look like?

I don't know if I agree with you on book proliferation. What you refer to as 'crap literature' seems to be what is selling the most. Now, I'm not sure how much this is a product of what people actually want versus a product of people liking what the big publishers are cramming down their throat. That would be another topic (though no less interesting).


Yes, this is a time of transition, and visual media is at the heart of it. In a lot of ways, it is the next evolution of imagination. However, I think that simple TV/movie adaptation doesn't really belong in the same sentence as the internet/technology revolution that's happening. Watich a TV or movie is a passive process (from the brain's point of view). Reading is an active process. That's enough in my mind to support my belief that this adaptation is a big net loss in the imagination department (at least for the viewers). Note - I'm using "my" and "I" a lot here, this is intential since I'm discussing my feelings and opinions, not telling others what they should think or feel.

Yes GRRM has experience in TV writing - from the writing of the rest of the series perspective, this is a very bad thing. On one hand, it will take GRRM's direct involvement to make it great, on the other, his direct involvement will delay the completion of the books. I wouldn't object quite as much if the series were complete.


yeah, we are pretty close (though I was a fan of LOTR well before the movie came out).


Oh, I'm not surprised that their trying this at all. Adaptation of books and comics, particularly in the SFF realm are big money with the success of LOTR and Harry Potter. A huge number of SFF books get optioned by Hollywood these days, though few actually make it to the screen.

My own thought is that the vast majority of writers in Hollywood are incapable of a truly original thought and just don't have anywhere near the same writing talent as a mediocre novelist (yep, I'm being cynical again). Combine this with the fact that a popular SFF book/series will come with some automatic fans - they are guaranteed an audience of some size. This adds up to a no-brainer for Hollywood.

Keep the comments coming - it's a fun discussion.

Carl V. said...

I love the way this issue is a really thought provoking one, at least for me. I've been mulling it over for days.

To me alot of the issue stems around timing. I didn't see anyting amiss with the idea of putting LOTR to film. Then again epic fantasy films had not been done for awhile and the author is deceased. I believe LOTR spawned a whole new generation of readers of the books of the trilogy plus the various side works of Tolkien, biographies about the man, etc. that would not have came to discover the wonder of the books otherwise. I know this for a fact because I am one of them.

The unfortunate side of LOTR on film is that it has spawned both literary and small/big screen projects of varying quality. Not to keep beating a dead horse, but I think Eragon is a perfect example of a film that felt rushed out to capitalize on the fantasy film market before Hollywood moves on to the next big thing.

I guess I say all this to say that I both wholeheartedly agree with you on one side and also have views on the other side. A good example of where I am in complete agreement is with Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula. That book has been a favorite since my first reading of it at age 12. I went through a period of my life in which I read it every year and even now I don't manage to go to many years between re-reading it. I think it is a magnificent classic in both its language and content. I have never, NEVER seen a Dracula movie that comes anywhere close to the interpretation of the characters or story presented in the novel. It may simply be that the novel as such cannot be filmed but that doesn't take away from the fact that every Dracula film is dreck compared to the story and no doubt many have chosen not to read the story because they feel they already know it because of whatever film incarnations they have seen. That is where I can fully understand your fears.

However, I cannot begrudge the author for this opportunity. Whereas Stoker and Tolkien, to name but a few, were not alive to reap the financial rewards that film could have brought their way, GRRM is. Although he is a well known and respected author I am not entirely sure how much money he makes doing it. Coventional wisdom would say that the money earned from a celluloid interpretation of his work will allow him to devote even more time writing and producing great works for the fans. This may or may not actually be true. I also feel that, because of this age of increased contact with authors, people are more likely to be inspired by films to pick up the book and give it a try as well as engage in conversations with the author or with fans in a forum setting.

Overall it is probably the quality of the production that makes the most difference as to whether or not it will result in increased book sales and long term growth of that author's readership.

Sorry to go on and on but the subject is an interesting one!

Carl V. said...

I understand what you mean about the magic of reading and using your own imagination. I guess for me, when it is well done, I still don’t mind seeing someone else’s interpretation of a piece of literature. Sorry to keep using this as an example, but LOTR really made me aware of this. Watching all the behind the scenes things and realizing how much love, dedication, and care went into preserving Tolkien’s work while having to do so in the parameters of how films are structured really made me appreciate how a visual interpretation can be different from my imagination and still be good. Once again, though, that is predicated on how well the film is made (see my previous rants on Dracula).

And yes, there is a lot of ‘crap’ literature selling like hotcakes, but I also think that advertising, book blogging and internet-reviews, etc. have increased the sales of good and great books far above what they would be selling otherwise. I also think that having a forum like the internet allows those of us who are passionate about books to spread the seeds of that passion to people that we might otherwise not be in contact with. That not only encourages others to read to themselves and their children, thus creating a new generation of readers, but also encourages regular readers to discover some of the best and brightest works out there. The recent (for me) phenomenon of book challenges has caused me to both pick up new books that I wouldn’t normally have looked at (Thirteenth Tale being a good example) as well as buying and reading classics, like Wilkie Collin’s The Woman in White, that I also did not have on my ‘to read’ list previously. Those two books are really good examples of how internet communication has increased book sales over the last year. I guess I really don’t see quality literature as a dying art form no matter how much television or movies encroach upon it. Do I see the newspaper dying: yes. I just don’t have that same kind of doom and gloom viewpoint on books.

I hope I am in no way intimating that you are wrong and I am right. I think all feelings about this are valid and if you feel that GRRM crossing over into film even slightly diminishes the magic of the work then that is a valid feeling and I certainly agree with you that this 'can' happen. (and the odds are unfortunately high that it won't be done right, rather than that it will!). I certainly don't feel a work is incomplete without it being made into a movie. By the same token there are several books that I wish hadn't been made into films simply because I didn't feel like the book was worth anything on its own!

On a different note, I have been given the first book of this series by a dear friend who is a huge fan of it. The decision has to be made: read the book first or watch the movie.....okay, now that you've gotten off the floor from your dead faint, I am kidding. I will (most likely) be reading the book first and most assuredly won't be letting the film dictate whether I read it one way or the other. As I said, I would've been less inclined to get to the LOTR trilogy, The Silmarillion, many Tolkien bios...all of which I LOVE...had I not experienced the films.

michael jon snow said...

I understand how you feel, and I have a bit of a fear that they will cut out parts of the book that I really like, or change characters too much.

However, as you lament, there is a percentage of the population that simply won't read a book (especially one of this size) and by presenting this story in a visual media you expose the story to a much larger audience. Being able to discuss this story with friends who would never read the story is what has me most excited.

Why does anyone get excited about any movie or TV show that is coming out? Because they think that they will enjoy watching the movie or show. This is really no different. Its a show where we (well I anyway) already like the setting, the characters, and the story. Why not be excited about it?

Carl V. said...

"Come on, even the best TV show can’t stack up against a merely mediocre book"...

Again, I'm not picking, just loving how much this post has made me think about this stuff. By and large that is true but for me Firefly (with Serenity tacked on as the wrap up) came so close to the euphoria that I feel when reading a good book that it is hard for me to compare the two experiences and pick one over the other.

Jeff said...

neth, first off let me tell you that I respect your opinion but I don't share it.

I'm happy for GRRM. All most writers want is for as many people to read their work as possible. A HBO adaptation of his work, if done well like say there current ROME series, may steer more prople to pick up his books and read them. Television and movies get authors exposure. This should also lead to hopefully more financial success for GRRM while he's alive and can enjoy it. I'm always saddened to think of all these writers estates that make all kinds of money on writers works after they've passed away.

As for my imagination of the characters being affected by the upcoming television series. The way I view some characters may change but a tv series won't effect my love of the book series because a tv series won't be able to give me the depth the novels do and that's why I will always love the novels best just like the LOTR films were great but they don't compare to me to the novels which are twice as good as the films. But that doesn't mean I can't enjoy a tv series like I enjoyed the LOTR films for what they are. If more people are exposed this way to the series then there are more people I can enjoy talking to about it and maybe we can introduce more people to fantasy reading like the LOTR films did. I know that the Harry Potter movies have brought kids in looking for the books and when they've read the HP books they branch out for more books which are similar like Limmeny Snickett, The Spiderwerk Chronicles, etc. Wether it's books, tv, movies, or video games they stimulate our immaginations. Some just more than others but they really all feed of each other.

As for it taking it longer for him to finish the book series. I'm ok with that, too. I have plenty of other novels to read in the mean time as I wait for ADWD to come out. Trust me all of us book lovers always have shelves over flowing with other novels we are waiting to get too.

Carl, I hope someday you read that copy of A Game of Thrones your dear friend gave you. :) I want to also second Carl's recommendation of Dracula. Great book which no movie has ever captured correctly which most likely will be the case with GRRM's adaptation. I guess that also reassures me that the original work lives on and is not diminished in anyway over time no matter what media adapts them. Classics endure.

great post.

Carl V. said...

Don't pressure me Jeff!!! A 'dear' friend wouldn't pressure me!!! ;)

omninaïf said...

Movies/TV make your imagination for you. You need not do anything but sit back knowing all you have to do is watch this person's version of this story. The images tell the story.

Books create different images to everyone, making your brain try to conjure up images from simple (or intense/depending on the author) decriptions.

Maybe people prefer to be feed Hollywoods bowl of crap instead of Robert Jordans?

Don't get me wrong, I love a good movie. But I think the movie in my head is always better. Because I don't have to be PC and I don't have to make Legolas slid down stairs on a shield while in the middle of a battle, to make it more 'action' packed.

Wild guess here, without resource of course. But what 'Fantasy' movie out there, that wasn't based on a book, ended up being fantastic? Before you answer, Comics (Graphic Novels) are books or should be damn well considered.

LOTR was the best Fantasy movie (series) I've ever seen. But I had a better time reading them.

I guess my point is, most of the times, things are best left alone. But I always like to be proven wrong.

But do not listen to me, since I can't even hear myself.

On a side note:

"A work of literature that does not spark the imagination isn't all that good..." - elio

Reading anything makes your imagination work. It's if it alters you state of mind, for how ever long, that makes it good. I've read horrible books, but just for them sticking with me, makes them powerful.

Carl V. said...

For another perspective, I offer this:

One of the things I despise most about book to film adaptations is (parts of) the marketing that then occurs. Being a person who loves the way a book is presented, the cover, the quality, etc. I really dislike many of the cheap 'books with pics from the movie' that come out as part of the promotion for the story. Yes, I believe they sell alot of copies which again is a really good thing, but I wish they all didn't look so bad. For example, once again, the LOTR stories. There are the hardback and trade versions with Alan Lee covers...brilliant. There are older version with Tolkien's own illustrations. Also very cool. As much as I liked the characters chosen for each role, I hate the books with their pics on it. I feel the same way about the promo pics I have seen for copies of Gaiman's Stardust that will be coming out. More people will read it, which is great since its one of my favorite books, but there are so many great versions of it out already.

In the end though I am glad I grew up and live in the generation that I do. When I was a kid there was no such thing as cable and eventhough I still watched alot of TV, my imagination was stirred first and foremost by books. My love of books continues strongly today and yet I also have the opportunity to have been moved by shows like Firefly and Wonderfalls, and films like Serenity, LOTR, Amelie, Mirrormask, etc. (the list could go on and on). Although if one had to go away I would pick books over movies any day, I am so glad that I do not have to make that choice.

Neth said...

Wow Carl, you really have devolped a passion about this. It seem you share some of the conflicted thoughts that I have (though, I've really only concetrated on the more cynical thought here). Movies/TV certainly have their place and are (can be) an artful expression all their own, even when adapted from books. Though with few exceptions, in my mind, the books just tend to be better. You're example of Dracula is dead on.

-Michael Jon Snow and Jeff

As I've emphasized here, these are just my thoughts, and I said that I was ingoring the positives (of which there are many). It may seem that I'm being way self centered in emphasizing the me in all this, but I'm really just trying to get across that these are my opinions and emotions and that I fully understand that other people's opinions and emotions are likely to be different, and no less valid than my own.

The potential positives here are great, though I'm still not sure they outway the potential negatives. I sincerely hope to be proven wrong, and that I'll watch a great program as enthusiastically as the rest of you. But for now, I'll stick to my guns and the books.


Yes - I agree with most everything you've said there. Of course I still enjoy reading Robert Jordan, while fully admitting he's far from the best author out there.

You ask about a SFF movie without a novel origin? Well, how about Star Wars - it's as much fantasy as science fiction. Of course I'm almost certain that a significant factor in my liking the original trilogy so much was my young and impressionable age.

Also, I have not yet seen Pan's Labrynth but it sounds absolutely spectacular. And I'm sure there are many more movies that were movies first and utilize elements are essentially SFF in nature. A whole other discussion could be started on that.

But, as I've said - visual media just cannot stimulate the imagination in the same order of magnitude as books.

nessie said...

Hey Net

Carl directed me here. Thanks I was unawares about the recent news.

Am I happy about this?

Only if they do it right!

Peter Jackson. George Lucas. They did it right. And, especially in the case of the former since the story was founded on a book, the thing is that even they don't feel that their works replace the written word but complement it. And I think thats the key word here. Like makeup for a woman - its to complement the beauty not shadow or artificially take over.

A book is definitly a book standing on its own merits. But there are some others who learn only through other medias - my brother reads books AFTER he sees a movie that he loves and finds out there is something written out there on it. He has disabilities and being a bibliophile, its hard for us to talk about stuff. But now that I know this, I begin to buy him movie/book combos with success!!

I do see your very valid point that some people are going to be replacing the text with the visual and that is not correct. Elijah Wood when stopped in the street between LoR movie releases was asked 'What happens next?' would get mad that people were watching the movies without reading the book first. But the fact is these are the people that would never have picked up the book in the first place.

Plus, wasn't it such a surreal experiance when watching LoR to see whats in your head right there before your eyes.
In closing, GRR Martin's masterpiece can become an Eragon - great book and discusting film that needs to be buried which would be a shame for the author and the wonderful characters he has developed. I know how frustrating the WofT forums are when all they worry about is 'when is the movie coming out?" but hey neth! There will always be people like me with book blogs that u can come by for a chat with!! ;)

fyi am half way through feast of crows and can't finish it because there isn't anything on Jon or Arya (well little on her). I really am hating that fact. But am sure like Robert J, a big slammer is headed my way.

All the best and thanks for the partience on reading my (long) rant :)

Carl V. said...

It is an easy subject to have all sorts of different thoughts and feelings about, Neth.

And, um...its okay to sound self centered about the is your blog! ;)

Pan's Labyrinth...excellent...did a non-spoiler review on it in the wee hours of the morning today.

Jeff said...

nessie... keep reading Feast because there are some big developments by the end, one of which involves Arya but, I will echo your thoughts in that I was disappointed that my favrite characters ( Jon & Tryion ) stories were moved to A Dance with Dragons, too.

omninaïf said...

Star Wars was an excellant original series. Although I see the Fantasy aspect in there, I would call it more 'space opera'.

Carl V. said...

Where are you Neth???

Neth said...


Relax, I'm still around. It's just that as much as I would like to pretend otherwise I do have a day job (that often takes up significantly more time that a standard 8-hour day) and I also have rather busy personal life beyond the internet. Sometimes having a life really cuts into reading time and geek time on the internet ;)


A couple of tangental things:

Wow, your brother likes to read books after seeing the movie - I'm the opposite to an extreme. If I've seen the movie, I'm more likely to not read the book. Also, my understanding of bibliophile is that it is someone addicted to books rather than the opposite. I certainly fall into the bibliophile realm myself, thankfully my wife balances me somewhat.

Did you really compare Martin and Paolini in a positive light? That sounds like blasphemy to me, though I much admit that I haven't read Eragon (nor do I intend to).

I haven't read AFFC yet - the extended wait last time really pissed me off. At this point, I'll reread the series and get all the new books when he is done.


Yes, Star Wars is probably best placed as a space opera, but with a magical force that binds everything together, it definately has some strong fantasy elements (depite Lucas' terrible attempt to keep it sci-fi by introducing metachlorians).

Carl V. said...

Just had to give you a hard time since you hadn't posted anything new in a week. ;)

I haven't read either Martin or Paolini but can understand the blasphemy of comparing the two!

Neth said...

I'm neglecting work at the moment to write my next review :D

It'll be up later today or tonight.


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