the sound of genre

I’ve written before about my experiences watching Game of Thrones, and now I’m starting to read the first book (which is also called “Game of Thrones,” conveniently enough).

I’m not going to go all the way through the book series, partly because the books are really, really long (I believe some of the individual volumes are longer than the entirety of Lord of the Rings), and partly because the series ends in the middle and of course there is no guarantee that the final books will ever be written.

But it is interesting to read, because, on the page, GoT is a “fantasy” genre story, in a way that the television show really isn’t.

To some extent, at least in the case of fantasy, “genre” seems to reside in the voice, in the way it’s written, and it doesn’t transfer to the screen, at least not completely. On television, it’s a TV show — one that happens to have swords and horses and dragons.

I did not notice this with Lord of the Rings, but the difference there may have been that I had read the books (many times) before I saw the movies, so I may have unconsciously added the “voice” to the experience of watching it on the screen.

On the printed page, Game of Thrones is very full of noble titles, castle names, family relationships, family seats, geography, history, genealogy, and legends. The television show, of necessity, whizzes past a lot of that. In addition, the absolutely vital information, especially in the first episode, is sometimes shoved in very awkwardly. People are constantly telling each other things which everybody already knows (“As your brother, I need to be sure you’re aware…” and so forth). A lot of the rest — names and relationships and so on — is left out until and unless the audience actually needs it.

It makes me think of Henry James (of all things). I have seen many film adaptations of stories and novels by Henry James, and all but one were dismal failures. Without that irreplaceable authorial voice, they are just stories about some people doing some things (or, quite often, hesitating about doing things). Plot was never the point with James.

The one exception was an adaptation of The Golden Bowl that I saw on television once, where a minor character was telling the story, after the fact, to a friend, and that became narration, which sort of worked (though it didn’t make up for the fact that I could never stand The Golden Bowl).

Anyway, I feel like I’ve been reading Game of Thrones for a long time, and my Kindle tells me I’m only 34% of the way through it, so, given that at least I got a blog post out of the experience, this is probably a good time to stop.

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