Saturday, February 10, 2007

Narrative and Adaptations

Michele over at Scholars Blog has an interesting entry on a discussion of narrative that Philip Pullman delivered at a talk she attended. Now, I'm not a fan of Pullman's work but he articulates the basic concept of narrative very well. Here's a quote from Michele's report of his talk:

We receive an enormous amount of information every day, most of it through our eyes, yet it never overwhelms us because our unconscious effortlessly processes the information we receive and fits it into contexts that allow us to make narrative sense of the information.

Fundamental Particles of Narrative are neutral, but they have a metaphorical charge that allows them to mean more than one thing, and this move from the literal to the metaphorical is what allows them to be used to make narrative sense of events.

That's why it is so much easier to watch television than it is to read a book. The brain doesn't have to work as hard to put all of the pieces of the story together. In a world without television, authors had to include that kind of detail to convey the picture, but may not feel the same need to incorporate such minutiae in today's writing.

I was caught up by the discussion at Scholars Blog because this past week at Didi's we were discussing the novel, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and the Anthony Andrews production of same. We were all agreed that the book was enjoyable froth, but part of what makes the book satisfying froth is the way in which Baroness Orczy presents her story (narrative). Each chapter is a distinct segment of action but when translated to the screen, the novel's action (minus the descriptive passages) only constitutes at best a two hour TV move (with commercials). When I pointed that out, PatP. recalled that the Anthony Andrews version of Pimpernel is somewhat fleshed out by incorporating bits of the next novel in the series, El Dorado, where the Pimpernel is rescuing the young Dauphin. Orczy had been fortunate in having success with the dramatic version in 1903 and with the novel version in 1905. It's not surprising then that the structure of the dramatic form facilitated the narrative of the other.

In watching the DVD version of several of the BBC Campion mysteries, it's clear to me that Margery Allingham's mysteries were perfectly structured as stories even though some of the charming period aspects of the text version have to be dropped for television. On the other hand, seeing the stories visually makes them far more accessible to a wider audience. It's at times like this that I actually understand the value of the visual adaptation in supporting the ongoing life of the print product.

Before I go, I must mention that in Didi's post, if you scroll down to the very end of the post, she picks the most unutterably romantic passage from which to quote. At the end of Chapter 16, we see that Sir Percy lets the woman he loves leave and then he stoops down and kisses the ground on which she walked. Now there's a scene that no one even *tries* to do visually. Why? Hold still, Didi dear, while I beat you about the head and shoulders with my reality nightstick. Sir Percy really is a bit of a fantasy figure.

Update: Must be the phase of the moon or some such. I see that Superfast Reader has also been talking about novels and adaptations.

Update II: Okay this is definitely an alignment of the planets. Cam over at Cam's Commentary also had some thoughts on novels and movie adaptations.