Okay, I'm going to be a bit of a Tolkien heretic here and say that The Lord of the Rings--the original novels--weren't perfect. To be sure, the breadth of Tolkien's imagination and skill at myth-weaving may well be unparalleled in the history of storytelling; the saga compares favorably to works like The Odyssey and Paradise Lost. As an epic, Tolkien's work was flawless. But any good epic tends to have failings if you treat it as a novel. Tolkien's characters are larger than life, but most lack depth, in the way of most myths. His canvas is magnificent in scope, yet distancing. The story contains emotion but you're rarely drawn into by that emotion--if you are drawn in, it's by the striking combination of scale and attention to detail. It's the same reason one generally doesn't feel "drawn into" the Bible. The good Mr. T's language was unabashedly biblical.
Anyone aware of the film, even if they haven't seen it yet, is aware of the visuals, and I'll add my enthusiastic awe. They may not be precisely how you may have seen Middle-Earth; they weren't precisely how I saw it. But they were very, very close. More than any other fantasy film, the world seemed real.
Yet the marvel of Jackson's film is that he kept the feel--indeed, many of the words--of Tolkien's language, but made it natural and everyday, in the way that the best stagings of Shakespeare (but only the best) manage. He pushed the emotion in Tolkien's story right up in your face; I have little doubt that most of the changes from the original books were done to have that effect. I also have little doubt Tolkien would have hated that, and that it's likely at the heart of what makes the most diehard fans uncomfortable with the changes. But Jackson is doing what a good filmmaker must; he lacks the tools of internal dialogue or the authorial voice. Whatever one thinks of the value of "show, don't tell" as a writing maxim, in film it's not advice--it's an imperative.
--but that's not what I was actually going to write about.
A couple weeks ago I'd written that I'd gone back and looked at my own abandoned novel, In Our Image. I've kept looking at it.
God, what a mess. I'm not talking about the minor problem of me writing myself off a cliff after 40,000 words; no, I mean logic holes you could put a bullet train through. If this is set far enough in the future for dramatic modifications of animals--guard dogs you can give verbal orders to, raccoons who know a few hundred words in ALS--to be commonplace, there's going to more changes in the rest of the world than a monorail for transportation. Why aren't people carrying a descendant of a cell phone? Everyone's carrying them now. If Tara's worth several million dollars, there'd be more security for her than a spiked fence around the subdivision her owner lived in. Unless Kevin was a hermit, he'd at least get some idea of what Tara was pretty damn quick. And where the hell was I going with the AIDS subplot? Or the eidetic memory? Or the report of another AFS like Tara killing himself? Or the psychopathic clown in the hovercraft?
Okay, there was no psychopathic clown in a hovercraft. But there might as well have been.
So I've been playing around with notes for the story. In text editors. In Dramatica's brainstorming system. In an outliner. And this weekend, finally, in a word processor.
The new chapter one is maybe two-thirds the size of the original. The basic setup is the same--but I don't know where things are going to go from here. I mean, I have a general idea, which is honestly already clearer than the general ideas I had in its first incarnation. I just hit several things that made me go "damn!" this time through; it'll be back to poke at notes and keep fleshing things out, going through exercises in an outliner I based on notes from a writing workshop Pat Murphy gave, or going through more molar-grinding hours with Dramatica. (The program drives me absolutely batshit, but I can't say it doesn't make me think about the story.)
In some ways I'm hesitant to even write about this, given how aggravating the first flameout of the novel was. At 3200 words in, I'm probably, oh, a twenty-fifth of the way into things, and it's way too early to see if this attempt will go any better. Indeed, if it will go anywhere farther than it has. It's about to be put on "holiday hold," given that I head to my mother's immediately after work tomorrow. (No, NetPoodles doesn't give you the day off before Christmas. Are you kidding?) I could bring my laptop with me, but most of my presents still aren't wrapped; I'll barely have time to look at anything.
But it's good to visit the characters again, to find new ones (and even good to suspect that I got a couple of them wrong the first time around). I can't promise them I'll do any better by them in 2002 than I did in 1992--but I've missed them.