06 May, 2013

Surviving the Adaptation (of Your Favorite Book)


A friend of mine and I are massive fans of the A Song of Ice and Fire books by George R.R. Martin and yet are having completely different reactions to HBO’s adaptation, A GAME OF THRONES. I am mostly fine with the changes within the adaptation, even when they diverge greatly from the source. She is frustrated and at times hostile toward changes from the source material.

I completely understand that reaction. It is the same one I had while watching the first two movies in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. At least until I made an essential bargain with myself, with help from the great J.R.R. Tolkien.

You see, Tolkien wrote the Middle-Earth stories in character, meaning that he wrote the material as if it were from historical documents. This was made evident when he went back to The Hobbit to change and add to the story of the One Ring, which had originally lacked the significance it would later possess in Lord of the Rings. He justified the changes by saying that it was based on more accurate historical information.

When I learned of this the light bulb went off in my head.

In the spirit of Tolkien’s original vision, why couldn’t I as the reader and viewer absorb the adaptation in this way? Perhaps Peter Jackson found historical documents that contradicted the information in the books. Tolkien was working off the hobbit version of history, while Jackson chose the human perspective. That would explain why Tolkien covered more of the hobbit’s plight (Scouring of the Shire), whereas Jackson had a more cynical view on some of the human story lines (like Faramir’s). That doesn’t mean the movies had more accurate information, just different. I could still prefer the Tolkien version of events but without completely discounting Jackson’s material.

I then thought I could do this with any adaptation of any book. If great master Tolkien could do it, then everyone should be allowed. Therefor, “Thrones” show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss aren’t raping George R.R. Martin’s masterpiece (mind you, Martin himself has also made adaptation changes in his own episode scripts). They are interpreting it based on different historical documents snatched through a time portal between Westeros and Earth. Perhaps these documents were written by Lannister historians instead of ones from House Stark.

Why not?

Worst case scenario, once you digest the different perspectives on the (faux) history you love, you can always dive right back into the written word and believe it to be the correct version. Until then, enjoy the adaptation. It’s actually quite a wonderful experience --if you let it.



15 comments:

  1. Interesting! I never thought about it like that. I'm gonna try it and let you know.

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  2. You know who needs to read this? Elio from Westeros.Org. His reviews are painful to read.

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    1. Funnily enough, I was just responding to someone about Elio... on another site... weird.

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    2. Ugh I hate Elio's reviews so much. He ascended to super fan status because GRRM mentioned him a few times. Elio thinks it means he is also the most important ASOIAF fan in the universe. I find him intolerable.

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  3. I never knew Tolkien wrote the first retcon. What did he change? I guess I read the version of the Hobbit after that. Is it safe to say he pulled a George Lucas? lol

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    1. In the original version of The Hobbit, Gollum actually bet the ring and felt bad when he realized he had lost it. He showed Bilbo the way out as a consolation. However, when Tolkien made the One Ring and tied it to Bilbo, he realized it made no sense for Gollum to do this.

      So, in essence, he didn't just create retroactive continuity, he rewrote elements of a chapter from a book that had been around for more than a decade.

      He didn't just pull a George Lucas. He did far more. He reinvented a moment from benign to the MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE SERIES!

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    2. Thanks, I did not know this about the One Ring v 1.0. I disagree with the premise of your post though, because the change was made in the service of making the story more vital, and by the person who would know best. Lots of the changes made in adaptations as in GoT or LoTR movies actually serve to make the story deliberately dumber, so as not to lose people in nuance. To me this has been a shame especially in GoT not because the original writing was so great, though it could be, but because I feel like I'm not trusted as an audience member to understand.

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    3. Skipjack, we are actually not in disagreement at all. I do think a vast majority of changes made to television and film adaptations are done so to "dumb down" the original material for easier mass consumption. However, I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing. Especially since the books still exist. And those of us who love them can always act the elitist in any conversation with show fans who are ignorant of the "facts". ;)

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    4. And with respect to Tolkien's changes being his and therefor more valuable than that of someone adapting the source material, that is not the point of this post.

      It isn't who has more legitimacy to making changes (like GRRM making changes to his own story in his one episode per-year of GOT), but that once the original author does it, there is good reason to accept it in another creative realm.

      Holding television and movie adaptations to the source material, when books don't have the same restrictions (actors, characters, budget), is unfair. My method allows one to enjoy both without getting too affected by the differences.

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    5. Reading about this reminds me of the views of two authors -

      Stephen King always said he didn't mind letting go of his books to be made into horrible movies. He said that fans could always go back to the books and enjoy them. Having a film of the same name didn't diminish the original story.

      The other is Todd McFarlane. His theory was that he purposely wanted the Spawn comic books to be different from the Spawn Animated Series and the Spawn Movie. He said that it gave fans more variety to enjoy the Spawn world.

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  4. I agree with your points about when authors change their own work that it gives others a free pass. Tolkien did it so PJ can do it. Martin does it in his screenplays so DB and David can do it. It works even better for GOT since Martin is alive and writing for the show. I don't need to pretend it is history to enjoy the show but if others do then great. Someone get Elio to relax.

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  5. You guys are being so mean to Elio. He has the best site for book fans and he helps George when he gets stuck.

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    1. Elio is great for book knowledge, no doubt about that. The guy has earned all the praise he has received.

      But I don't think much of his episode reviews. He tends to be very unreasonable about his purist book views. That's why I usually just skim what he has to say and roll my eyes. ;)

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    2. Really all I can stomach from his show reviews is a quick skim, but I will say westeros is great for book info and so is Elio. I just don't get how such a fan of the books can (to me) seem so hostile to the show that has made the books more popular than ever thus making westeros.org more popular and Linda has at times seemed to descend into hysterical paranoia over how "awful" the show is.

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  6. I like this idea. I'm gonna try it.

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