19 January 2007

A Song of Ice and Fire: the TV Show?

So I learned yesterday that one of the epics of recent fantasy literature is to be made into a television show. George R. R. Martin's dense humanocentric political saga A Song of Ice and Fire has been picked up by HBO with a view to televising the whole work - which has yet to be completed. Four of the (planned) seven books are published to date, with the plots not expected to be wound up finally until 2011; given the fickle nature of TV audiences, the likelihood is that however much the intent is there to serialise the whole work it will get cancelled before it gets that far.

At this point I am currently reading the fourth book. I have, on balance, enjoyed the series to date as it hits enough of my sweet spots to remain interesting: political machinations, humanocentric, actions with consequences and the spotlight on characters more than events. The caveat is that as each book has gone by it seems there is less of interest - not because any of the above have dissolved away but because the original cast of spotlight characters have largely been killed and replaced as protagonists with others of varying degrees of interest and, whilst still being about the characters more than events the books have seemed more and more ponderous. The newer viewpoint characters tend to engender less sympathy or empathy and, having had so many spotlights burn out, I find a reluctance to commit interest in their stories because they are likely to end prematurely. Yes, the series is about events bigger than any one character and the infighting and machinations are what makes the saga interesting on the one hand but lack of investiture in those who serve as a window on the world is an interest killer when it happens on such a grand scale. I also have issues with the age of a number of the protagonists which produces cognitive dissonance with the tone of their "voice" or thoughts in the writing and impairs my suspension of disbelief over some of the happenings.

All of that might suggest I'm underwhelmed by the idea of ASoIaF spawning a visual rendition: I'm not. In fact I'm very interested (else why write this?), and I can certainly see it working well. I am hugely glad that it has been picked up for television and not for film, as the small screen is a far better medium for the level of complexity and scale. The huge cast of significant characters would not lend itself to film, but is little problem in TV where each can have an episode here or there or, because total running time is longer for a series than a motion picture, cutting between them can be done without making it nauseating or underwhelming. The chances are that for TV purposes the characters will all be aged a little, removing a lot of the issues I have with their ages and actions, and the internalised thoughts (often the most jarring reading in the books, IMO) should disappear with (hopefully) good interpretation of the external dialogue and context used to give those insights instead. I also think that given the turnover in protagonists television, which is to me a much less personal medium (inspiring less investiture in the protagonists than literature encourages), will give a better dispassionate depiction of the characters: their dying when having previously been your view on events will be less jarring than I find it in the books.

Of course being, as I am, outside the US and, as it is, that the rights have only just been picked up in the first place it is debatable whether this oeuvre will ever reach my screen. Even if it does it is a long way away and plenty more information will trickle out between now and then which will guide he ultimate decision of whether to watch or not. I am cautiously optimistic, though. My reticence to go back and re-read books of this type (a good memory, short patience and not enough energy to read as many books for the first time as I would like to make re-reading something an exceptional event for me) means that this show, should it arrive will be a fresh insight and not undermined by devotion to the source material, even if my memory might find points of disagreement with the results.

I await with interest; I believe that is the first time I've genuinely felt that about a forthcoming TV show since the first series of 24.

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