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RE: [mythsoc] New Narnia stories?

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  • Rateliff, John
    ... Separate events in separate media; apples & oranges. You re free to disagree with Tolkien but I think he s right. ... See below. ... If you read carefully
    Message 1 of 11 , Mar 2, 2005
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      > From: David Bratman
      > About Jackson's films, you said, "Tolkien himself came down firmly on the
      > side of 'better a glimpse of Noakes' cake than no faerie at all'." If
      > that's true, then why not a cheap knockoff latter-day Narnia book than no
      > Narnia book at all?
      >
      Separate events in separate media; apples & oranges. You're free to disagree with Tolkien but I think he's right.

      > And you said, "By an overwhelming majority, most people like both the book
      > and the films." What if it turns out that most people like both the
      > original Narnia books and the knockoffs?
      >
      See below.

      > Comments that others have made in claiming that Jackson's excretions are
      > tolerable are even more clearly applicable than these to knock-off Narnia
      > books.
      >
      If you read carefully what I wrote, you'll find I don't share your fear of adaptations into other media, whether it's films, music, spoken-word recordings, plays, graphic novels, art, or whatever. My distaste is for authors so unoriginal that, instead of creating their own worlds or characters they have to munch and mumble the bare old bones of other authors. I think it's a mistake to try to write in another author's voice rather than your own. There are exceptional cases where genius has pulled it off, but it's a bad idea as a rule.
      In short: creating a new work, or adapting a work into a wholly new medium (such as Jackson making films based on LotR) does not harm the original work in any way, however well or badly the adaptation is done. Writing new stories by another hand, whether it's pseudo-Conan, pseudo-Herbert, pseudo-Barrie, pseudo-CLS, or whatever, doesn't harm the original author's work either but it's tacky and not to be encouraged.
      For the record, though, in this particular instance I'd be perfectly happy with no Narnia at all (again, I agree with Tolkien*). It's not my ox being gored, but I still think it's a bad idea, motivated by greed rather than artistic inspiration. That said, I'm sure Disney will produce some amusing bits of fluff of no great consequence. They did a good job with their early Milne shorts (which I've been surprised to not find referenced in this discussion before as examples of good adaptations that stand beside the originals in quality).
      Finally, I think there's a consensus (everywhere except on this list) that Jackson's films aren't "excretions" and they're far more than merely tolerable: they're great works as well as successful adaptations. I wish they'd been more faithful, but my irritation (which can at times grow quite sharp) doesn't distract from Jackson's achievement, nor does his achievement detract from Tolkien's in any way.


      *that said, it doesn't bother me that other people like them; more power to them for finding enjoyment in something that didn't do much for me. I have better things to do than play F.R. Leavis. Literary quality is either self-evident or unprovable: there's really no middle ground.


      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • David Bratman
      ... It s not good enough to say apples & oranges , John: you must say what s different about them. Why is a different book by a different author confusable
      Message 2 of 11 , Mar 8, 2005
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        At 09:22 AM 3/2/2005 -0800, John Rateliff wrote:
        >
        >> From: David Bratman
        >> About Jackson's films, you said, "Tolkien himself came down firmly on the
        >> side of 'better a glimpse of Noakes' cake than no faerie at all'." If
        >> that's true, then why not a cheap knockoff latter-day Narnia book than no
        >> Narnia book at all?
        >>
        >Separate events in separate media; apples & oranges.

        It's not good enough to say "apples & oranges", John: you must say what's
        different about them. Why is a different book by a different author
        confusable with the original, while a film retelling of the original story
        is not? We already have had ample evidence presented that people confuse
        the film with the book.

        >If you read carefully what I wrote, you'll find I don't share your fear of
        >adaptations into other media, whether it's films, music, spoken-word
        >recordings, plays, graphic novels, art, or whatever. My distaste is for
        >authors so unoriginal that, instead of creating their own worlds or
        >characters they have to munch and mumble the bare old bones of other
        >authors. I think it's a mistake to try to write in another author's voice
        >rather than your own.

        Adaptation into another medium is exactly that: "trying to write in another
        author's voice." It's not always a mistake, if sufficient originality and
        imagination are brought to the task. Jackson tried both to be very
        different and utterly faithful, and fell between two stools.



        > In short: creating a new work, or adapting a work into a wholly new
        >medium (such as Jackson making films based on LotR) does not harm the
        >original work in any way, however well or badly the adaptation is done.
        >Writing new stories by another hand, whether it's pseudo-Conan,
        >pseudo-Herbert, pseudo-Barrie, pseudo-CLS, or whatever, doesn't harm the
        >original author's work either but it's tacky and not to be encouraged.

        We've already been over the "harm of the original work" question, and amply
        proven that it does harm readerly understanding of the original work, but
        if you don't think the new Narnia will harm the original Narnia it's a moot
        point. But if the only harm that the new Narnia will do is that it's
        "tacky", why this fierce resistance to the idea that Jackson's grotesque
        simplifications of Tolkien are tacky?


        >[Disney] did a good job with
        >their early Milne shorts (which I've been surprised to not find referenced
        >in this discussion before as examples of good adaptations that stand beside
        >the originals in quality).

        I stand in mute astonishment at this equation.


        > Finally, I think there's a consensus (everywhere except on this list)
        >that Jackson's films aren't "excretions" and they're far more than merely
        >tolerable: they're great works as well as successful adaptations.

        Actually, there's a strong consensus among serious Tolkien scholars
        everywhere that the films are, in their capacity as adaptations, severe and
        unnecessary distortions. You are the primary, and a very singular,
        exception to this consensus.

        That the average punter out there sees a story about Frodo and Aragorn and
        the Ring and figures it's pretty much the same as Tolkien's story about
        Frodo and Aragorn and the Ring only shows how little the average punter
        knows about Tolkien. Anyone who thinks that's an elitist comment is
        invited to submit a detailed refutation to the proposition, "Scholars know
        more about the books they study than the average casual reader does."

        I salute Jackson's management and accomplishment of an enormous film-making
        enterprise. In this he has been more successful than any other film
        director in history. But that is the only sense in which I would call his
        films "great works." As a fantasy story on its own, separate from
        Tolkien's, it is unremarkable and merely average. It has none of Tolkien's
        greatness, and to claim that it does have that greatness is merely to
        confess one's ignorance of where Tolkien's greatness lies.


        >they've built up their own community and started their own branch of Tolkien
        >scholarship that in time will probably turn out to be just as valid as the
        >one that grew out of fanzines.

        As Carl said earlier, this will be Jackson scholarship, not Tolkien
        scholarship. Jackson scholarship is a legitimate pursuit: my only
        complaint with it is when it floods over into and interferes with Tolkien
        scholarship, which it already is doing. It is this sort of thing I refer
        to when I write of "harm to the original."

        David Bratman
      • jamcconney@aol.com
        In a message dated 3/8/2005 1:16:42 P.M. Central Standard Time, dbratman@earthlink.net writes: Adaptation into another medium is exactly that: trying to write
        Message 3 of 11 , Mar 8, 2005
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          In a message dated 3/8/2005 1:16:42 P.M. Central Standard Time,
          dbratman@... writes:

          Adaptation into another medium is exactly that: "trying to write in another
          author's voice."


          Not really. I once taught a course called "Literature in Film" in which we
          had a grand old time watching movie adaptations of everything from 'Hamlet' to
          'Silence of the Lambs' (no Tolkien on film worth speaking about back then).
          The final project for the students was to find a piece of literature (short
          story, poem, scene from a novel, something that hadn't been adapted before) and
          write it as a screenplay.

          As you might expect, some got the idea at once that they could use only
          dialogue and visual images to tell the story and did some really quite good
          things. Others never managed it, picked up chunks of description and presented it
          as dialogue, never really made clear what was supposed to be happening on the
          screen, etc. One and all nodded and said YES! when one student said,
          "Wow--that was HARD."

          What I'm saying, rather long-windedly, is that print and film are two
          different arts, two different disciplines. The adapter should try to be faithful to
          the original author's vision, but can never speak in the same voice.

          Unless maybe we don't all mean the same thing when we say 'voice'--even in a
          group that seems to have a lot of academic types, there are many subtle
          differences in such words....

          Anne


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        • David Bratman
          ... the ... Well, here s John Rateliff s definition of writing in another author s voice : authors so unoriginal that, instead of creating their own worlds
          Message 4 of 11 , Mar 8, 2005
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            At 02:49 PM 3/8/2005 -0500, Anne wrote:
            >Not really. I once taught a course called "Literature in Film" in which we
            >had a grand old time watching movie adaptations of everything from 'Hamlet'
            >to
            >'Silence of the Lambs' (no Tolkien on film worth speaking about back then).
            >The final project for the students was to find a piece of literature (short
            >story, poem, scene from a novel, something that hadn't been adapted before)
            >and
            >write it as a screenplay.
            >
            >As you might expect, some got the idea at once that they could use only
            >dialogue and visual images to tell the story and did some really quite good
            >things. Others never managed it, picked up chunks of description and
            >presented it
            >as dialogue, never really made clear what was supposed to be happening on
            the
            >screen, etc. One and all nodded and said YES! when one student said,
            >"Wow--that was HARD."
            >
            >What I'm saying, rather long-windedly, is that print and film are two
            >different arts, two different disciplines. The adapter should try to be
            >faithful to
            >the original author's vision, but can never speak in the same voice.
            >
            >Unless maybe we don't all mean the same thing when we say 'voice'--even in a
            >group that seems to have a lot of academic types, there are many subtle
            >differences in such words....

            Well, here's John Rateliff's definition of "writing in another author's voice":

            "authors so unoriginal that, instead of creating their own worlds or
            characters they have to munch and mumble the bare old bones of other authors."

            And that is what a screenplay adapter does. QED.

            If it is unfair to use that characterization of a screenplay adapter, it is
            equally unfair to use it of the "pseudo-Conan, pseudo-Herbert,
            pseudo-Barrie, pseudo-CLS" book authors of whom he does use it. (And who
            exactly are the pseudo-Barries he has in mind? Barrie was a dramatist, and
            the most prominent pseudo-Barrie works are on film.) Maybe these pseudos
            are bad writers. But badness has nothing to do with medium. Other book
            pseudos are good writers. (Much pseudo-Lovecraft surpasses the original,
            for instance.) And many screenplay writers are very bad indeed.


            David Bratman
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