“Literary Psychic Trauma”

I finally watched the first two episodes of Game of Thrones last night, to see what all the fuss was about.

I found it to be a rather curious experience.

Having read all of the books to date, there is of course, absolutely no ‘dramatic tension’ in the story line for me. I know who is walking dead, and where the dramatic plot turns are coming up. So I’m feeling a bit displaced while watching it. I find my thoughts running to – “Huh, nice casting choice there… Oh, not what I would have chosen… That’s different than the book… Nice costumes… Ridiculous sword… Peter Dinklage rocks…”

Now, this isn’t necessarily the way I feel about seeing an adapted version of any literary story I’m familiar with. I loved watching “The Lord of the Rings” for instance – and of course, I knew the story intimately. I loved watching “Apollo 13” – and hell, I LIVED that story at the time it was unfolding, glued to the television for newscasts at the time. And yet I found the film to STILL have all of the dramatic tension of fiction, despite knowing the historic outcome. (Always a tough thing to pull off when dealing with historical material.) And there are pieces of fiction I would like to see adapted into cinematic expressions. I would pay really good money, to see “Glory Road” adapted faithfully, and I’ve read it at least a dozen times.

I’m just not getting it from GoT. I’m not being drawn into the story. Why is that? Is it because the story is ‘unfinished’ in my head? Still waiting for the novels to wrap it up? But shouldn’t that make it MORE engaging, rather than less? Sure, the graphic sex and violence is visually shocking – I guess. Though my imagination was certainly as graphic or more so.

I’ve given this conundrum some requisite thought while shampooing my hair. The usual slot I allow in my daily routine to ‘deep thinking’.

I reflected back on my exposure to the novels. I must say, I found them VERY engaging.

At first.

The first, three (?) books – I devoured. The world was interesting, compelling, unique. Always a good sign. The characters seemed fully drawn, tragically flawed. I love that. When Brandt was injured, I was emotionally devastated. Wow, what a daring thing to do to this character. And then Eddard’s storyline twist shocked me completely. How DARE he kill someone I so completely identified with. Another daring choice!

All too soon, I began to realize, NO ONE WAS SAFE.

Sure, it’s engaging. It’s riveting. It keeps you on the edge of your seat – ANYTHING could happen to ANYBODY!

And then, a strange mindset began to set it. I’m almost compelled to call it a kind of ‘literary psychic trauma’.

There’s a cinematic trope in War Movies. First you get the audience to love the extended family that is the platoon, or squad. Then you kill a few of them, to show just how painful war is. You want the audience to experience a taste of the shock and horror (however removed) that real combat holds. And finally, you introduce ‘The New Guy’. By now, the core group of regulars are bound up so tight, they don’t bother to learn ‘The New Guy’s’ name. Because he won’t last. He’s not one of them. He’s expendable. It’s even a line that inevitably comes up, “What was his name? I can’t remember…”

Hell, you may as well put them in a Red Shirt – and send them down with the away team.

So, if this Trope is a reflection on something that happens in REAL combat, then might this kind of psychic displacement happen – in ‘literary’ combat?

Kill off enough key characters, and your reader doesn’t dare engage anymore. “Huh, an Onion Knight… that’s interesting, but I don’t give a shit about him.”

I mentioned the first THREE books were engaging. By the time I had read the fourth – I was already on thin ice with the author regarding my emotional investment in the characters. Martin had done his job a little too well. FIRST he drew me in, and hooked me. THEN he shocked and compelled me. THEN he betrayed my emotional investment. Not once, not twice – but REPEATEDLY.

Use any literary trick too often and it becomes a Trope – a parody of itself. With each new character introduced – I held back a little bit of emotional investment. ADD to that, I was waiting for what seemed to be an eternity for each new book release… And my emotional investment was growing colder and colder.

By the time “A Dance With Dragons” was released – I had lost mental track of all the plot twists, and what little emotional investment I had in the story – was stretched perilously thin. I went online and printed out the WIKKI article of the series so that I could get back up to speed on all the various house alliances, world differences, and character arcs.

Having read all of the books to date – my interest in the NEXT book – is perilously close to nonexistent. I’ve waited on series before. The Amber Series, the Riverworld Series – so I’m not inexperienced with that dynamic. I EAGERLY awaited the next installments in each of those worlds.. I’m almost, ALMOST coming close to reaching the threshold of ennui that compelled me to stop reading the “Wheel of Time” series after the fourth book. “The same old same old, rehashed and stretched out…”

By the time I was toweling off from my shower, I was convinced that two factors had combined to make the television series less engaging for me, an avid reader of the books – than it might be for a new fan being introduced to the story for the first time in cinematic form.

The first, of course, was knowledge aforethought. No surprises left for me. But the second thing – was far more important. That ‘literary psychic trauma’ – that divorced me from investing in the character’s storylines had followed me from the books – to the television show. Great job Mr. Martin.

I can understand how someone completely unfamiliar with the storyline, watching it UNFOLD in front of their eyes, trapped in cinema space-time narrative (Uninterrupted by life, like novel reading is) – would find the stories compelling. So, I suppose I might just envy the newcomers their roller coaster experience.

But I smirk a little each time they’re emotionally betrayed.

My original plan was to wait till the entire book series was complete, and then watch the adaptations. Perhaps I’ll watch another episode or two.

Perhaps not.

 

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