Monday, March 19, 2012

When the Learning Curve is Steep - Sometimes HBO Can Help

Confession time: I watched the entire first season of the Game of Thrones HBO series before I read the books.

I know. I know. It was very Impure Reader of me. I should be thrown on the hellfire that awaits those who use CliffsNotes to write research papers. (Yeah, I know! There are people out there that do that! Not readers of this blog, of course....But they are rumored to exist.)

My friend John will not be meeting me in that .5 level of hell. Because he decided to read the books before seeing the series - if he ever, in fact, watches the series.

For the readers who are pure of heart and pure of intent...I give one warning whilst pursuing A Game of Thrones as a reading adventure: it might take a bit to get into the story. George R.R. Martin has this uncanny ability to write about a whole new world. Perhaps that should be Whole New World. Operative word: Whole.

He has a cast the size of four or five armies. He has the lineages of those characters stretching back five generations. He has two continents worth of weather, culture, clothing, courting, and infighting to tell you about. And all of this stuff is richly imagined and well-executed.

But it is a lot.

Once upon a time, while taking Shakespeare, my professor told my class that utilizing CliffsNotes, watching the Bard's plays - or the movie versions of the plays - and using Wikipedia to help us gather the plot details was not a cheat. His argument was that Shakespeare's language wasn't familiar to most people and that as soon as you got past "What the hell is going on?" you could get to the meat of the matter. He told us to utilize whatever was at our disposal in order to facilitate understanding. Then the discussions could really get going.

While I won't go so far as to say Martin is Shakespeare - after all, he's writin' in easily understood English - it might speed the process of getting into the first book if you have witnessed the relationships between the characters with your eyes. Martin does a great job of creating these characters but sometimes the names are tricky: relatives are named after one another, just like in real life; some character names are spelled very similarly (i.e. Tywin and Tyrion); and there's always a House of ________ surname to try and keep track of. Plus, if you watch the show, you have the added bonus of knowing how to pronounce all the names.

The important thing to know: once you're in the story, you're in the story. It's a rare book/series that makes you blink when you turn the last page, surprised to see the real world staring back at you. ("Hello, children. Where did you come from?")

I might have considered this steep learning curve a negative for the book series, except there's such a work ethic embedded into the text - you just know Martin did a crap-ton of work and that should be respected...and you just know deep down in your readerly soul that it'll pay off.

So have you guys ever 'cheated' and watched the movie version before the book? Have you ever read a story where the details were increadibly focused? Where the world seems like it could exist right now, just on a different planet?  That's some imagination right there! 

3 comments:

  1. I "cheated" on Game of Thrones, too, out of self-defense. A coworker kept coming in a talking about big plot twists, even though I told him I was waiting to watch until I could get to the book.

    I have a question on the Shakespeare thing. Did the students who "cheated" then have to actually read the work? And was this a required class for an English degree? I'm not sure how you can really get Shakespeare's plays without his language. He's a poet, after all. And that informs how he tells the story. There are so many puns and other plays on words that you'd miss a lot without the language.

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    1. Yes, the 'cheaters' still had to read the play. All of the classroom conversation was about the language. The argument for watching the plays/reading Wikipedia or CliffsNotes was specifically to get the plot points. That way you weren't struggling to understand what was going on overall and could get deeper into the finer points - like sex jokes - that are embedded in the language.

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    2. Okay. That I can understand.

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