Welcome to the Flaming Faggot

Callovia is called "the boundless empire" yet you have managed to find its northern border - a notorious roadhouse deep within the Madrasan Marches on the edge of the wilds of Llanvirnesse. The sign above the door reads "Flaming Faggot," which would suggest a cozy, homey inn with fresh biscuits served at teatime if not for the severed troll heads mounted on pikes at the gate.

As you cross the threshold the raucous din quiets momentarily as all eyes dart to the door and calloused hands drop instinctively to well-worn sword hilts. The threat, instantly assessed, is dismissed and roadhouse patrons go about their business hardly missing a beat.

Grim, hard-eyed men huddle around tables in close conversation thick with conspiracy; caravan guards gamble away their earnings; Caemric rangers sit close to the fireplace cooking the damp of the Black Annis from their clothes as they warm their innards with Red Dragon Ale; minstrels play and buxom wenches dance for the pleasure of men who pay them little attention - until they need a companion to warm their bed.

As you approach the bar, a huge, bald barman with a greatsword slung across his back slides a mug of freshly-pulled ale towards you, its frothy head dripping over the rim.

"Pull up a seat, lad," he says, "and let me tell you a tale of high adventure."

Friday, September 3, 2010

More on Imagery

In my last post, I commented that a picture trumps a thousand words, but I don't think I realized just how true that was until I had time to think about a comment that was made about the depiction of dwarfs in the Lord of the Rings movies.  I don't know how many times I've read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but it has been a lot - certainly far more times than I've watched the movies.  I first read it when I was eleven years old and have re-read it many times since then.  I read it again last year and I was shocked at how many things that I thought were in the book were not.  My false memories were scenes imprinted in my brain from watching the movies.

It is odd, and a bit disturbing, that the movies, which I have watched only a few times have over-written my memories of a book that I have read many, many times.  This goes to show just how visually attenuated our brains are, that my memories can be altered by a few images.  This also makes me wonder how people perceive stories when they see them first as movies and only later read them.  Will they ever truly see and internalize the scenes described in the book, or will their minds automatically default to the cinematic portrayal?  I have quite a few movies in my DVD collection that are adaptations of books that I love: Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Last of the Mohicans, and Master and Commander, just to name a few.  I'm reluctant to let my daughter watch any of these movies until she's had a chance to experience the books.  Is it possible to truly appreciate a work of literature after your mind has been imprinted with the Hollywood version?

This leads me to wonder: do movies based upon books have any artistic value or do they just seduce us down the path of intellectual laziness?  Do they stab blazing fiery pokers in our mind's eyes, forever blinding them and killing our imagination?  This is not an indictment of all movies; original screenplays tell stories intended to be viewed on the big screen, and there are many of these that I love.  But I've yet to see an adapted screenplay that was anywhere near as good as the book that inspired it.  Sure it was neat to see the Battle of Helm's Deep, or the Battle of Pelennor Fields on the big screen, but I'd already seen these battles played out in my imagination many times before and I'm not sure that a movie, no matter how sophisticated its visual effects, can ever match that.

I've always acknowledged that visual media play an important role in my imaginary creations, and I've said before that the story boards of my games are always painted in my mind's eye by Frank Frazetta, but I think we need to be careful about what images we view because, as I said, a picture can trump a thousand words and the wrong picture can do a lot of harm.

A few years ago I hired an artist to illustrate all of the new fossil taxa that I described in my book on the Cambrian brachiopods of South Dakota, and it was a painstaking process to ensure that all of the illustrations were exactly perfect.  I always felt guilty about making the poor artist redraw pictures several times over until every detail was correct and in perfect proportion.  Professional scientific illustrators are used to this, though, and understand the need to get the drawing exactly right.  I know, that no matter how thoroughly and exhaustively I described the species, it would all be undone by a single inaccurate illustration because the picture, not the words, is what will stick in people's heads.  I doubt very much that this much care and attention is given to cinematic adaptations of literary works.


nykster said...

I don't think you will ever see a movie that is better than the book. This is for several reasons mainly that a movie can only be 3 hours long at max before people get bored and tired.
I myself can only read for about 2 hours straight before I have to get up and stretch and move around.
Second would be the budget. In order for a movie to be decent, several dozen experienced and talented people need to be hired and they do not come cheap.
Third is imagery. Every person who reads a book imagines it a little bit differently than the next. Some of these images cannot be produced in the real world. Thus CGi comeinto play, and no matter how good it is, it can be picked out from the real thing on the screen.
Fourth, and last for my post, is that there is a limitation to what can be done on screen. That limitation is getting less and less every year, but it still does not have the freedom that writing has. When you are writing, thre are no physical limitaitons you need to abide by. You do not need to make or reproduce any of the things you write about. Wheras if I were to make a movie from a book about a dragon, I now need to get a dragon. Most likely CGI, the real ones are a hassle to get to do tricks.

Anonymous said...

I read the Jurassic Park books after having already seen the movies. Several characters and sections of the story were significantly different (especially the second one, which was almost a wholly different story, yet because the characters were described well enough, I was able to imagine them in a new way and not think of them as the same characters from the movies. And yes, the books were much better than the films.

Another good example is Conan. I'd seen the movies (and read the comics) before ever reading the original REH authored stories. But Howard's writing is so evocative, I was easily able to picture Conan the way he was described, rather than the way Arnold or Marvel comics portrayed him. For that matter, I did not picture him quite like Frazetta's art depicts him, either.

So I do think it's possible for our visual minds to be overwritten with things we read. Perhaps it would not be so in the case of lesser authors, but if the work is solid, I don't think it's a problem, at least not for all readers.