Karen is a fan of Harry Potter. She’s read the novels, and seen the movies. I have nothing against Harry Potter, and I understand that its extremely well-written…its just not really my thing. However, as we haven’t really had a date night together since our daughter joined us nearly seven weeks ago, I took Karen, very belatedly, to see the final Harry Potter movie. For me, it was entertaining, but I didn’t have enough backstory to really put the pieces together. She was impressed, and discussed with me after the movie how the film had differed from the novels in various ways. Her final conclusion, though, was that the adaptation had worked well.

A few years ago, I rushed to the film adaptation of Phantom of the Opera, as the show has been my favorite musical for years (the Broadway production remains one of the most amazing pieces of theatre I’ve seen). There were differences in the film, very notable differences and additions. I accepted them, however, because Webber had co-written the screenplay, and my thought was that, if the adaptation comes from the author, then the purity is maintained despite any differences. Now, I suppose that particular comparison might break down eventually, as Webber himself adapted Leroux’s novel from the early 1900’s. My point, though, is that I would have considered myself a purist where the storyline of Phantom is concerned. At the time, I accepted the changes readily because I felt that they had still come from Webber’s vision. Had another writer dominated the screenplay, I doubt I would have been as receptive.

A conversation with a family member over the weekend revolved around our inability to accept historical inaccuracies in film. I have the same problem with film adaptations of literature: liberties taken with the story drive me to distraction, because I’m very passionate about staying true the original work. All too often, stories are completely altered away from the author’s vision in order to make a “good film” (from Hollywood’s standards, at least, which are typically poor at best). This is particularly problematic when working with literature of historical importance, and occurs far too frequently in far too many spheres. Apparently, there were some significant differences between the latest Harry Potter film and the novel (fans can feel free to comment here), but Karen was okay with it because, in her perspective, it was a re-telling more so than a reinterpretation of the story.

As recording our stories in written form is a relatively new phenomenon in mankind’s history, perhaps our tendency toward literalness is also very recent. I say that because when stories were told in oral traditions, there were naturally some variations. This occurred not so much out of error, I think, but because storytellers, like historians, have a proverbial axe to grind; that is, a different part of the story to emphasize. That doesn’t mean that they’re telling the story incorrectly, but rather taking care to point out different things. We see this continue in our political realm today, and I would say that this would even account for some of what Biblical historians discuss as a set of perceived discrepancies among the Synoptic Gospels.

With this view in mind, I’m hard pressed to remain as much a purist in my favorite stories as I was previously. Of course, there is still a difference between a re-telling of a story, and a complete re-interpretation of a story. I’m still very selective in my tolerance of the second, but I think I am becoming more tolerant of the first.

This is sort of like seeing the same event from different perspectives, or vantage points. When we share those differing perspectives with others, we all come out better for it. Our stories deserve that same treatment, I think. A lack of literalness just might be a good thing.

Photo Attribution: Rosenfeld Media 

Looking at Where We Are

I was catching up on my Google+ stream and looking at my Sparks to see what was going on in different areas of interest a few moments ago. Two of the interests that I have listed on my profile are (of course) the Hard Rock Cafe, and comic books.

I remember a professional acquaintance telling me a year or so ago about a comic book discussion group that he hosted at a local library. I always wanted to make it, but never did. When he and I were discussing the world of comics and great issues of our childhood years, I recall his mentioning that he felt that comic books were a snapshot of where a culture is at any given point in history. I find myself in agreement with that (do we need to look any further than the Watchmen for evidence?)

I think that the reason I’m so interested in rock history as well, though, is very similar. I can certainly trace the more profound moments of my childhood by going back through the music that I was listening to at the time. This is true, though, of nearly all of us…I imagine that you can do the same thing. And, I think that, culturally, we can go back through our musical history and see in it the same snapshot of what was going on culturally at a specific time period.

The reason I count visiting and collecting merchandise from the Hard Rock Cafe among my hobbies is because of the museum aspect of the restaurants. I think that they give visitors a glimpse of the history of the music that is a soundtrack to our culture.

How do you remember profound moments in your life? Does music take you back there? If not comic books, do other books cause you to remember? Movies? How does artistic expression take you back to the “glory days?”

A Review of “Carte Blanche”

Carte BlancheCarte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Having grown up enjoying James Bond’s adventures as a not-so-guilty pleasure from childhood onward, I quickly snatch up any new Bond novel that is released. I can trace the small handful of authors that have penned 007’s adventures from Fleming forward, and, for the most part, all of these authors have gone to great lengths to stay true to Fleming’s character. This is the second novel in four years to follow Bond’s adventures, the previous by Sebastian Faulks placing Bond in the height of the Cold War with a great depth of character development. That novel was a thoroughly enjoyable and Fleming-like adventure. In fact, Faulkes presented Bond as close to Fleming’s creation as Daniel Craig portrays Bond on the screen…that is to say, very much like Fleming’s Bond.

This is Deaver’s first entry into the pantheon of Bond authors, and the jacket made the book sound exciting and promising, placing Bond in a modern day, post 9-11 world in a rush to stop a terrorist event. The title is acquired from the fact that Bond is, as one of the best-of-the best “00” section agents, given “carte blanche” to complete his mission in any way possible. Deaver explores the political consequences that come with this freedom through the book in realistic and enjoyable detail.

Deaver, in fact, presents a nicely woven adventure, opening in the midst of a massive scale attack on a locomotive that Bond thwarts, and never slowing down through the weighty 400 + pages as Bond attempts to unravel a mysterious event labeled “Incident 20,” which is detected in whispers by British intelligence services, and promises mass casualties when accomplished. Deaver incorporates modern technology into Bond’s world quite well, and those of us who enjoyed Bond’s mid-career movies with all of his gadgetry will be quite enamored by Deaver’s imaginative descriptions, as well as all of the occasions that Bond’s mobile phone has an app for that. Deaver writes action sequences that are full but never over-stated, and does an excellent job of avoiding gratuitous gore or bloodshed in doing so, while never shying away from Bond’s using his well-known “license to kill” (although he never uses that phrase in this novel).

And, I’m sure that Deaver is an excellent thriller writer, with several novels already to his credit. I’m thinking, though, that perhaps he shouldn’t have tried Bond. Or, at least, he should have taken greater care to stay closer to the character.

Firstly, Deaver takes liberties with the setting of Bond’s adventures, placing him with an office known as the ODG, not MI6, where Bond has always been in his previous incarnations. However, since Deaver brought over the other major and necessary characters with Bond (i.e.: M, Bill Tanner, and Moneypenny), I was able to roll with the punches on this. Deaver also makes a quite interpretive dive into Bond’s family history, which, while proving to be an interesting subplot for the story, hung me up at times as being perhaps too great a liberty taken with the character.

Secondly, and most importantly, Deaver overuses a device to frustration in his storytelling. We’re led to a catastrophic event on several occasions in the book, breathlessly realizing that Bond has failed in his task to enormous consequences and loss of life, only to discover in the following chapter that he had actually swooped in and taken everyone to safety moments before the explosion. This was interesting the first time, odd the second, and actually made me want to stop reading after numerous other usages (and I’ve read at least one other review indicating the same frustration). This was complicated by the fact that Bond’s last minute victories were accomplished through forethought that is just simply untenable, as we’re taken back through previous chapters and told that his actions were actually to secret away a device that he would need later, or to obtain information from another character through that conversation that we thought meant something else. This is just unworkable in the reader’s mind, despite the fact that we’re dealing with a larger-than-life character.

And, along the lines of Bond being a larger-than-life character, thirdly: Bond is presented here as a “knight in shining armor” sort of character. This is accurate to a point, as he is driven to prevent an attack and save the lives of thousands of people. However, Fleming’s original cold and calculating Bond who follows orders, manipulates others without hesitation, and doesn’t spare lethal force, is missing here. Deaver tries to present Bond this way at times through various descriptions, but the descriptions are found to be at odds with Bond’s actions and moments of conscience.

Ultimately, Deaver presents a good story idea that is marred by poor execution of plot twists and very unsuccessful attempts to place a modern re-interpretation on a classic character. I’m not opposed to re-interpretations, but they need to be good ones. The book is well structured and well-paced, and the concept of the story is gripping. The book would make an average-quality Hollywood movie that most casual Bond viewers would likely enjoy.

Unfortunately, casual Bond viewers aren’t typically the ones (I don’t think) who read these books. The long-time fans are, and we tend to be purists. As such, we will find ourselves disappointed in Deaver’s offering, which is, in the end, only a mediocre delivery.

If you’re a general thriller, suspense, or espionage fan, this may be a good book for you. If you can remember and name all of Bond’s major arch-nemeses throughout his career, as well as your favorite weapons, then it may be a waste of your time.

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