(PLEASE NOTE: Spoilers ahead for The Wheel of Time.)
All right. All right.
First, I’ve been sick; that’s why I haven’t been blogging. I haven’t been writing anything, because anything I tried to write would have been like, “And then the guy said to the thing, ‘Damn, I feel like crap. I hate the fluezzzzzzz!'” And nobody wants that.
Secondly, there are actually several rants that need to be ranted here. I will attempt to encapsulate them briefly, so as to get to the main point.
Rant The First: Epic Fantasy Series That Are Too Fucking Long.
First up is, sadly, my favorite series of all time, Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time. I love these books. So much. I love the writing. Jordan’s descriptions are lovely and evocative and enchanting, his sense of poetry is unmatched since Tolkien, his opening line and paragraph is one of my favorite sentences ever. I relate to all of the characters and care deeply about their fates. I find the world fascinating and inspiring both. I love the names. I love the language he made up. I love both the complexity and the internal logic of the magical system — I love it all.
But there are about five too many books in the series. Part of the problem is that after Book Six, Lord of Chaos, the main character, Rand al’Thor, goes into a slow downward spiral, and it’s too fucking slow, and too far down. The books get repetitive and monotonous, and it’s really a shame, because the first six books are fantasy perfection. And then, of course, there’s the issue that Robert Jordan died before he finished the series. The thing I dreaded most as a reader, and it happened. (Not to say that my suffering was anything like his or that of his loved ones. But really, I have not suffered a worse reader’s heartbreak, ever, nor do I expect to. Well, maybe the ending of Of Mice and Men. “And I can take care of the rabbits, right, George?” AAAAH GAWD THE FEELS!) Now, as a reader I was very fortunate that Jordan’s death was not a surprise, and he left copious notes behind, and his widow found another author willing to finish the series the way Jordan wanted. Brandon Sanderson, a successful fantasy writer himself. And Sanderson did the right thing: he wrote Jordan’s story, but he didn’t try to make his writing sound like Jordan, and so the last three books in the series do not read like a parody. Unfortunately, they also don’t read like Jordan. And I hate to admit it, but the series ending is not great. Like I said: five books too long.
Next: George R.R. “Fucking Sellout” Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire.
I started reading the series in 2003, recommended to me by a student just as the third book came out in paperback. He told me that the fourth book was about to be released in hardback. He didn’t know it, but he was wrong: the fourth book was delayed until the fall of 2005. Then, when it was published, it only comprised half of the storylines (like many epic fantasies, Martin uses two or three dozen POV narrators, switching them every chapter or three). There was an author’s note in the back to explain. “I know, this is only half of the storylines; don’t worry! The other characters’ stories are just about finished. It was just that this fourth installment was getting too big, and so I decided to split it in half: one time period, two volumes. You’ll get the rest real soon.”
That book was published in 2011. In the meantime, Martin edited two other books, cowrote one, published a novella, and started some TV series based on his books. Called Throne of Lies, or something.
(And I don’t even like Will Ferrell. But this is too perfect.)
Now, I wish all authors all the success in the world. Martin has become a household name based on his imagination, and bully for him. But that guy put himself before his readers, and no author should do that. Ever. And I take it a little personally because the guy who recommended the series to me died, of leukemia, before he ever got to read Book 5, let alone the end of the series. Because Martin wanted to make a TV show.
Series should have been ended already. Two more books, slated for publication who-fucking-knows-when.
Rant The Second:
Turning books into movies and TV shows.
The problem here is that the words “based on” are misunderstood by, well, pretty much everyone. Film and books are entirely different media. They do different things, in different ways. On the most basic level, reading is an auditory exercise (Written words are just frozen sounds; this is why we learn to read by doing it out loud.), and film is a visual exercise. Different inputs, different qualities, different strengths and weaknesses. There is nothing that a book can do well that a movie can do the same way, and vice versa: nothing shows action like a movie; nothing builds suspense, or irony, like a book.
So it’s one thing to take a great idea, great characters, a good story, that you found in a book, and turn those things into a movie. Good ideas make good movies; sure. Good stories, good characters — these things are important in movies, yes. But the two products are not. The. Same. They’re just not. Comparing them isn’t even like comparing apples and oranges (which actually have many things in common): comparing them is like comparing cars and soil samples. You can find things to say — this car runs well on this kind of soil! Why, these two are the same color! — but isolating the points of comparison gives the impression that they are genuinely similar objects or experiences, and they’re just not.
Therefore, I do not ever see the point of saying, “I thought the book was better than the movie,” or the reverse (Which is never true, by the way.), because it will always be the same answer. If you like movies better, then you liked the movie version better. And if you like books better, then you liked the papery version better. That’s it. The two things just shouldn’t be compared.
The problem is that movies and TV are so much more popular, and so much more profitable, and since we live in a popularity-influenced capitalist society, it is inevitable that people talk about books that inspire movies or TV shows as if they’ve “made it.” As if these books have now reached the Winner’s Circle, and hit the pinnacle of awesomeness. Any time anyone mentions To Kill a Mockingbird (And by the way: SO excited for Harper Lee’s second book, and damn all naysayers), they have to mention the movie and it’s four Academy Awards, and they do it as if that means more than the book’s 40 MILLION COPIES SOLD or its PULITZER PRIZE. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine movie. But have you read that book? That is a thing of absolute beauty. Who cares about the damn movie?
Right. Now read this.
Okay. Okay. So this brings me into Rant The Third: people who DON’T KNOW WHAT THE FUCK THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT. The Executive Producer said this:
So if the show does become an ongoing series, will they need to recast? Selvage says that since Lews Therin doesn’t really appear outside of the prologue, no recasting might be necessary. The prologue is “really just a dialogue between good and evil, and you have to do the prologue and the age of legends in the series.” The characters of Lews and Ishmael “don’t necessarily show up other than flashbacks in the series.”
OH MY GOD WHERE DO I START?!?! Actually, I’m going to start with this:
“We don’t have to worry too much about the continuity between [the prologue] and the main story,” because the actual story “starts out with young males and females at the beginning.” So they don’t need to worry about recasting those two characters, or else keeping [!!!]Billy Zane[!!!] around. (My emphasis. Duh.)
All right. Part of me hates this, because Billy Zane is not all that much of an actor. Sir Ian McKellen should play Lews Therin. But on a superficial level, Zane fits the part — Lews Therin is middle-aged in the opening sequence (Age is weird in this series — he’s actually something like 500 years old. But think of a well-preserved 45-ish.), he is olive-skinned, handsome but intimidating, and supremely, fatal-flaw-in-a-Shakespearean-tragedy-sense arrogant. So maybe Zane can pull it off. I have liked him in some things. I can live with that. (That’s assuming he’s Lews Therin. They could have cast him as the villain, since Zane does a pretty good villain. But either way: it could work. Inasmuch as any of this could work.)
The much bigger problem is this: this EP doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. Lews Therin Telamon is the Dragon. Rand al’Thor, the primary protagonist in the entire series, is the Dragon Reborn. Jordan made this quite literal: Rand is possessed for half of the series by the ghost, mostly the voice, of Lews Therin. Rand constantly hears the guy talking in his head; he has conversations with him; he dreams Lews Therin’s dreams; he remembers — relives — Lews Therin’s memories. So do several other characters who personally knew the guy the first time around — namely, pretty much every major villain. At more than one point, he looks at himself in the mirror and sees Lews Therin. Lews Therin is almost as important a character as Rand himself. “Don’t necessarily show up other than flashbacks.” Jackass.
And it’s not just Lews Therin you need for continuity: Ishamael is the main villain in the first three books. So there’s this big devil thing, right? The Dark One. Source of all evil. Enemy of all things good and light. And he’s got these thirteen cronies, the Forsaken. Think Nazgûl, but EVEN MORE BADASS AND FRIGHTENING. The Dark One is imprisoned (Oh — and who imprisoned him? LEWS THERIN TELAMON.), and cannot personally touch the world or affect events, so he works his evil through his Forsaken. Know who the #1 Forsaken is? ISHAMAEL. Now, you could kinda bluff this, because Ishamael wears a full-face mask — but still, you need at least similar actors. And I’m not talking somewhere down the line, if you end up converting all 14 books into TV shows; this is books 1, 2, and 3, man. (Now he says that they don’t even know what parts, or how much, of the story will get made at all; but you really can’t jump into the last half of a 14-book series and expect to make any sense.) And then Ishamael shows up in all kinds of dreams and memories and suchlike for the next few books. AND he gets reborn and becomes a villain again, though then he’s in a totally different body, so no big deal.
Oh — and that line about “The prologue is ‘really just a dialogue between good and evil,'” what kind of bullshit is that? The Prologue is a discussion between Lews Therin Telamon, who has lost his mind in the struggle with evil, and Ishamael, who wants him to become lucid enough to realize what he’s just done (Lews Therin’s other nickname apart from the Dragon is “Kinslayer.” We’ll leave it at that.). Sure, Lews Therin is “good,” and Ishamael is “evil,” but much of the point of the series is questioning those two labels and the easy way we pin them on this person or that, or this action or that. But the Prologue isn’t even about that: it’s about a crazy man trying to delude himself about the blood on his hands, and another guy trying to make him face it, because they hate each others’ guts. That’s it. There’s barely any good or evil in it — for much of the first book, you really think Lews Therin is a villain, himself, because his last crimes were so terrible that he has been used as a watchword of evil for generations when the “young people” (Rand and his friends, etc.) come into the story.
And by the way: it’s Ishamael, not Ishmael, whoever the hell wrote that article. And this quote
“Obviously, the pilot was a prologue to the eye of the world, which is the first book,” adds Selvage.
WHAT THE FUCK?!? DO YOU NOT KNOW THAT THE TITLE OF THE FIRST BOOK IS THE EYE OF THE WORLD?!?! WHY IS THAT NOT CAPITALIZED? WHY IS THAT NOT UNDERLINED? HOW STUPID ARE YOU?
So. My point is, that this series should not be made. Because if it is, I’m going to have to put up with comparisons and discussions of comparisons ad nauseam. Any time I mention my favorite fantasy series, people will start talking about — the TV show. “What did you think of the show? Did you like the show more than the books?” And then there’s the real problem with making a film adaptation of a great book: it means that forevermore, in our impatient, digital, screentastic Fahrenheit 451 world, nobody will ever again read the books. They’ll just watch the show. Ten years ago, every one of my students had read Harry Potter. Even the ones who didn’t like reading very much had read at least one of the books. Now? None of them. Because they’ve all seen the movies. So why should they read the books?
Because that pile of dirt over there is nothing like my car. Even if Billy Zane sat on both of them.
EDIT TO ADD: And even though this whole thing is a travesty, I’d like to see a discussion of Dream Cast in the comments. My first pick: Benedict Cumberbatch for one of the Forsaken. Probably Rahvin. And Viggo Mortenson for Lan Mandragoran. GO!