Friday, March 09, 2012


When Jimmy Olsen is kidnapped by the Clan of the Firey Cross (or as it may be, the Yellow Mask) Clerk Kent gives his description to the police chief, and distinctly describes him as brown-haired.

Do you say:

a: Clark Kent made a mistake. The Historical Jimmy is a red-head.

b: The red haired Jimmy is a different person from the dark haired Jimmy: there are two Jimmies, just like there are two Ronnies. Radio Jimmy is dark-haired, but Comic Book Jimmy is red-haired.

c: How interesting: when he was very young, Jimmy must have been embarrassed about his colouring and used hair dye (when that would have been a very unfashionable thing for a boy to do in the 1940s.) Perhaps his friendship with Superman caused him to accept himself as he was. Or maybe hair colouring just became too expensive during the war. That could make a really interesting piece of fan-fict, come to think of it...

d: I wonder what specific cosmological force resulted in the Jimmy Olsen of Earth-R having different colouring to the Jimmy Olsen of Earth-2?


Some people got very cross with Harry Potter and the Deathly Harrows because it closed the setting down and off. Some of these people had written stories in which Harry married Hermione. J.K Rowling revealed that in real life he didn't, and this matters a great deal to them. 

I overheard someone who had just seen the abomination remarking "I am well pissed off with J.J Abrams, because I have two shelves of Star Trek DVDs, and now they didn't really happen."

Whatever "really" means. In real life, neither Harry Potter nor Captain Kirk exist. Nor Santa Claus, nor Hamlet. I have serious doubts about Nick Clegg. 

Some people say that they have tried to read Jane Austen, but felt that it was spoiled because someone had removed all the zombies. Actually, disregard that: they probably only say it to annoy me. But go back and try to read  The Final Problem on the assumption that Holmes really died and is really not coming back, which is clearly what Arthur Conan Doyle intended when he wrote it.

That's the problem with worrying about what authors intended, isn't it? If an author writes his story meaning one thing, and then goes home and changes his mind, does the story change, even though it stays exactly the same? Did Obi-Wan "really" lie to Luke Skywalker because George Lucas says he did, even though, when he made Star Wars, he clearly intended him to be telling the truth? Obviously, Obi-Wan didn't "really" do anything at all, because there is no such person. 

Try to excavate Bob Howard's pulp hero from the corporate Conan that L Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter and Frank Frazetta and Arnold Schwazenegger and above all Roy Thomas created out of his corpse. Reading the stories in publication order, rather than as a spurious biography helps somewhat. Imagining that you are reading them in a magazine helps a bit more. Consciously picturing Conan as not looking like Frank Frazetta's pictures helps a lot. (He was Saddam Hussien's favourite artist, don't you know?) Saying "Bob" helps, a bit, actually. But it can't really been done. The bad fantasy epic has overwritten the very good collection of yarns and tall tales. The terrible movies are the dominant flavour in the soup. Conan has that haircut. He just does. The lake of story has been well and truly pissed in.

Books and movies influence books and movies which come after them. But they also influence books and movies which come before them. Jackson's King Kong and J.J Abrams abomination will affect every single viewing of King Kong and Star Trek for as long as people continue to buy DVDs of old TV shows and very old movies, which. They aren't just parodies: they are acts of psychic vandalism.

Whatever you may have heard, all stories are NOT true.



Louise H said...

I'm not aware of any fanfic writer who gets upset about additional canon making old stories obsolete; what we care about is what we can write in the future, reasonably canon-compliant. The complaint about HP was that without that otherwise pointless postscript it would have been possible to write stories in which Harry marries any number of people or no-one at all, except that JKRowling didn't like the idea.

Fanfic people are by far the least attached of anyone to the idea of fixed narrative, objective reality and establishing "what really happened". We fill in the holes one way today and a completely different way tomorrow. There are some fanfic writers dedicated to their single interpretation (see that total abomination, One True Pairing) but most play around with lots and don't claim truth for any of them.

Probably as a result, we don't tend to have a huge problem with adaptations and remakes. If we don't like them we merely exclude them from our view of canon and move on.

Mike Taylor said...

Surely Superman's possession of X-ray vision shows that be perceives wavelengths of light differently from us. So of course he perceived Jimmy's red hair as non-red.

Andrew Stevens said...

At some point, presumably we'll see discussion on radical stagings of theater works which clearly fly in the face of the author's original intentions, which you have previously written favorably about.

Is it okay to do this to Wagner or Shakespeare because they're long dead and their works are in the public domain, but not okay to do it to Alan Moore or Orson Welles because they're either living or recently dead? Or is there some other reason why one is okay and the other isn't? Or is the punchline of this series that you're going to come out in favor of DC Comics after all?

For what it's worth, I'm moderately relaxed about radical stagings. I don't like them; I prefer to see Wagner's work fairly close to how he envisioned it (e.g. the Met), simply because Wagner was a genius and 99% of the people who direct Wagner works (including his descendants), quite frankly, are drooling no-talent hacks. However, I certainly understand why people who have seen the same opera 35 times are fine with seeing it performed in radically different ways, even if almost all of them are dismal failures. (They're really not though, usually, because Wagner is so brilliant that his music and libretto almost always overwhelm whatever idiocy the director has chosen to inflict so the effect is like a pygmy kicking a giant's shins and the silly stagings end up being inconsequential distractions if the performances are good enough.) I just feel sorry for the neophytes who, after seeing Lohengrin performed by a bunch of people in rat costumes might never watch another Wagner opera.

But I am also fairly relaxed about DC Comics' plans for Watchmen. When I first read Watchmen in the '80s, I was convinced it was an instant classic. However, events overtook the story. Now that we know how dreadfully wrong Alan Moore was about the inevitability of nuclear war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., Ozymandias no longer looks like the "smartest man in the world," and so the story loses essential credibility. This greatly detracts from the power of the piece and robs it of its timelessness. It cannot, therefore, remain a classic, so I can't get too fussed about its desecration. (In contrast, the musical Chess, written and set at the same time and with major Cold War themes, still works as a period piece.) As long as DC doesn't plan any epilogue pieces, discussing what happens after the comic, I don't think this is any sort of big deal.

Phil Masters said...

After due consideration, I have decided that there is no simple answer to the question of whether it's okay to create sequels to or radical re-imaginings of classic works.

Obviously, any literary character worth talking about has an imaginable off-stage life. (And whether we worry or not, the fanfic community will imagine and write down such things.) Likewise, they'll have a resonance and symbolic power that will be tempting to later writers. Whether anyone can create anything worth the time and expense from that material seems to vary in ways that have little if anything to do with the quality of the original work.

First off, though - if a character was originally created for use in some kind of serial fiction, then of course it's possible to create more stories about them, and possibly good ones. There may be questions about whether anyone can do as good a job as some original creator or another (leave that to the critics and fans on a case-by-cases basis), and there are certainly practical issues about whether the original creators are properly rewarded (yes of course they should be), but I wouldn't worry for a moment about the mere idea of someone telling new stories about Sherlock Holmes or Doc Savage or Superman or the Greek gods. That's what they were for.

(Exception of sorts; when the series was clearly created for the sole use of the original creator, then I say hands off, however many stories are left untold. I don't particularly want anyone else writing new stuff about Aragorn or Philip Marlowe, thanks very much.)

In other cases, it seems to my instinctive aesthetic judgement that some stories are complete and closed to themselves, and messing about with those characters just seems crass. Of course Hamlet had a life at university before his father died, and something happened to Denmark after the curtain fell, but telling stories about either just seems otiose; Hamlet the play is a closed system. (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is a fine piece of work, mind, but that's more of a meta-commentary on the original.) Falstaff, on the other hand, is a character who can expand beyond the limits of the play in which he first appears, and fictions which re-use him, starting with Shakespeare's own, somehow seem quite a plausible prospect to me.

Likewise, Schismatrix tells more or less the complete life story of Abelard Lindsey, and I reckon that even Bruce Sterling shouldn't go trying to fill in gaps there. Conversely, a sequel to Metropolis might be fun, perhaps exploring the nature of idealism after the revolution is over.

All this may actually be related to the difference between comedy and tragedy, or it may be nothing like that simple. I don't know. It's also possible that I lack imagination, and could be convinced of almost anything by a good enough writer. Did anybody think that the first Mrs Rochester was a worthy subject for literary super-fanfic before Wide Sargasso Sea appeared? I certainly wouldn't have voted for a sequel to Blade Runner, but one appeared (in novel form) to passable reviews a few years back. And I'm plain unsure in some cases; I could imagine a competent prequel to Casablanca, but one with David Soul as Rick, which was what actually happened?

And the peculiarity with Watchmen is that it's almost certainly a complete, closed narrative - yes, these characters have histories and unexplored aspects, but they're utterly irrelevant to the working design of the thing, which comes to a solid conclusion - and it's very much a personal creation, but it borrows its imagery from a genre which is all about wide-open serial narratives, so some dim-witted suit somewhere was bound to think that it was ripe for extension by other hands sooner or later.

JWH said...

I really hate the kiss at the end of Prince Caspian. It seemed really cruel.