January 13, 2020
Blogger Kristopher Denby, of The Sound and Fury of Kristopher A. Denby, has recently posted his review on Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself. In short, he didn't like the book, seeing it as just another overused copycat of Tolkien. He muses,
"Seriously. What’s wrong with one book that tells an engrossing, solid, character driven story? Oh, right. Those other books are for world building. Setting up the environment, while introducing the audience to the various characters that will inevitably wander some lonely, barren part of a fantasy world on a quest for some holy trinket (sprechen sie ring?). If you’re lucky (not so in the case of The Blade Itself ) the author might get ‘round to telling you just exactly what these characters are going to be getting into in the other two books, and why you should even give one crap about them, their plight, or their silly quest. Unfortunately, by the time Abercrombie begins to explain some of these little details in The Blade Itself, I was too bored to really care one way or the other."
Now I’m all for personal opinions. Not everyone is going to agree on whether or not a book or movie is good. That’s understood. Heck, that’s desired even. But the part I’m concerned with is the problem with a story that spills outside the bounds of one book. True, many SFF stories span multiple volumes, telling sprawling epics that take thousands of pages to complete. The rare standalones, such as Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker or Elantris, are unheard of.
I think a problem people have with multiple-book series is that they don’t have the time to sit down and read them. In our busy world, we have so many things to do, reading time is not a priority for most. People get it when they can, but more often than not, reading is cast off until we have time for it. Personally, I carry a book with me almost everywhere I go. I read when I take the dogs out. I read in the bathroom. I read while my wife shops. And every night before bed, I usually put in an hour or two. Books have always been a part of my life, and I’ve always wanted to progress in the story whenever I could.
And therein is my problem with trilogies. I don’t see a trilogy as three separate stories. No, a trilogy is one long story spread out over three volumes. While each individual piece will have its own sub-plot, these sub-plots alone don’t tell the story, only when they come together is everything made clear. Think of STAR WARS. A New Hope introduces the characters and the main plot: the Empire is bad, the Rebels need to overthrow it. By the end of Episode IV, the Rebels had made a huge dent in the Empire, but had they overthrown it? No. Empire Strikes Back adds virtually nothing to the main plot (Empire still strong, Rebels still struggling), but it remains one of the strongest pieces of the trilogy, expounding on the Force and the characters more. Finally, Return of the Jedi brings about closure to the plot, eliminating that pesky Palpatine and his evil side-kick Vader for good, ushering in a new era of peace and pie for everyone.
I read (and watch movies, etc.) for the story. If the plot and characters are strong, and I can connect somehow, then I’ll usually progress until I’m finished with the story. That means if it’s a trilogy, I’ll read three books. I don’t feel right about making my opinion based only on part of a story. That is why I struggle to give up a book if it’s not working for me, or why I find individual books within a series more difficult to review as opposed to the entire story.
The same argument can also be made with short fiction. Some people don’t like short stories because they’re not long enough (i.e. Mom). They want a thick novel that devotes the right amount of time to character, setting, plot, and the like, and a short story is confined to only a few thousand words, scads less than needed. You can go back and re-read the quote above and substitute short-story for “book” (and the same logic throughout) and you end up with something that points to our minimalistic, fast-paced society.
The point is, it doesn’t matter whether a story is 2000 or 200000 words, so long as it’s engrossing. My recent delve in The Wheel of Time comes to mind. I read The Eye of the World and thought it was merely okay. Still, being only Book 1 of 13 or something, I pressed on with The Great Hunt. And I could not finish. The story is unresolved in my head, but it was not keeping me invested in it. I felt bad giving up, but I had no desire to finish, either.
This brings me back to the beginning. Not everyone will agree on whether or not a story is good. I personally loved The Blade Itself (reviewed here), ranking it in my top favorite reads of last year. It’s okay that Kristopher doesn’t like the book (who am I to say what people should like?), but I just feel like he’s not giving the story a chance by giving up after Book One. There’s much more to be found, and I hope he picks up the last two books one of these days.
Unless you've been hiding out under a rock, you've probably heard of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, written by the late Swedish journo-novelist Stieg Larsson. The conclusion to the book trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, just came out earlier this year. All three novels are international sensations, and I admit, I bought a copy of the opening number to see what all the fuss was about. But, as it goes, I never got to read it, and now I'm not sure if I ever will.
In 2009, a Swedish version of the movie was released. Like its source material, the film received excellent reviews. Performance-wise, Michael Nyqvist (Mikael) and Noomi Rapace (Lisbeth) both acted their characters perfectly, so I've read. The tone of the movie was on par with the book, and all around it's grossed loads of money, if you want to measure success that way. Knowing that Hollywood would be releasing a (likely dreaded) adaptation soon, I decided to rent the foreign film and watch it on Friday night. (The movie is in Swedish, but subtitled in English.)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a layered story. Chiefly, journalist Mikael, recently indicted on several accounts of libel, is contacted by the wealthy entrepreneur Henrik Vanger. Forty years ago, Henrik's niece, Harriet, vanished, and ever since then Henrik's obsessed over her disappearance. He hires Mikael to try and uncover what happened to her. Meanwhile, Lisbeth Salander, a modern-day punk with a troubled past, has been hired to hack into Mikael's computer and keep track of him. Eventually the two's paths cross and from there the film evolves.
This summary is a rough review at best. There are several things going on throughout the movie, and the disappearance of Harriet Vanger takes the back burner. The list of suspects is large, and the film takes time to investigate most. In America, this stuff would largely be overlooked, I think. Hollywood seems too bent on churning out action and memorable climaxes that not enough time is spent on the rising action. In Sweden's movie industry, at least with this film, this is not the case. The plot slowly unravels, inviting the viewer to learn more about the protagonists and their lives. The whole time I was wondering what happened to Lisbeth in her past? Is Mikael as "good" as he's portrayed? Characterization is truly the main driving force behind the movie.
Lisbeth is a highly fascinating character. Immediately you can tell she's got something going on with her. She comes across as cold and uncaring to nearly everyone. She's obviously smart, being her career choice, but how smart? She's a character with a past that's strongly affecting her every action, and I was interested to explore her more. Add Mikael to the mix, who's a bit more open to conversation, and dynamic between the two is amusing.
Stylistically, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a dark film. Part of this comes from Lisbeth's wardrobe. Part from the cold, deadly grip of Sweden's winter. Most of it's from the darkness that's becoming more apparent as each minute ticks by. Incredible acts of violence, some very graphic, and you can't help but feel a pang in your gut. By the end of the movie, I remarked how sick and disgusting some things were, and Keisha agreed. Yet, despite this grisly nature, the movie is great. The real world is not peaches and sunshine. It's not hard to imagine every dark action taking place outside of the film, and it's a tragedy that such things happen in our world. The movie is graphic, as I've said, and borderline Realistic, but that culminates in making the film even better.
After watching The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I can't help but wonder how the final two books pan out. What's in store for the two fascinating protagonists? Furthermore, I wonder now if it's even worth reading the book after watching the film. What was omitted? Would a Wikipedia summary suffice? I'm not sure, and if any of you could tell me, let me know. Overall, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was an exceptional movie, filled with mystery, tension, and unforgettable characters. It's dark, but in my opinion there's enough light shining through the shadow to make it worth your while. If you're going to watch it, I'd recommend doing this version instead of waiting for the Hollywood atrocity that's bound to happen.