Thou Shalt Not Play Thy Neighbor False

Welcome to my new book blog. In the days and weeks to come, I will be posting comments on a wide range of books, both fiction and non-fiction, in hopes of discovering what more might be said about the wonderful activities of reading and writing. Some posts will be an amuse-bouche; others will be a full meal; a few will simply be dessert. A great deal will depend on what my readers are hungry for and on what I have time to serve. Yet my aim will always be to provide the kind of sustenance that enriches a life lived among books.

Like a lot of readers and viewers, I was bothered by the recent rape scene between Jaime Lannister and his sister-lover Cersei on HBO’s Game of Thrones. Unlike those such as Laura Hudson over at Wired.com, who was offended because the scene was a rape, I was annoyed because the scene was a profound change from the one in the book, needlessly provocative and unnecessary.

The scene in the book does take place near the casket of their son, the dead King Joffrey –which is creepy enough–but the sex is consensual. The television series, however, struck a completely different tone, as Jaime callously disregards Cersei’s protests with the words, “I don’t care.” Director Alex Graves may have thought he was creating an exciting new kind of power struggle in the show, but he wasn’t. Jaime’s words give the lie to that.

What was almost as annoying as the scene itself was the evident disagreement between producer David Benioff and Graves in the days that followed. Benioff, who’s read the books thoroughly, knows perfectly well that the scene in the book and the scene in the show are two different things. I fault him most of all for not reining in his director and sticking to the material and the tone of the book.

If there was a silent agreement between the two of them to make that scene a rape rather than a reunion (and I don’t know that there was an agreement), it wouldn’t be the first time a television show has been deliberately false to its source material, but it was unnecessary. Those who have read the books already know that the world of Game of Thrones is as dark, gritty, and violent as a fantasy world can be, and that is precisely the point: what would happen if you created a world in which survival, prosperity, and happiness is guaranteed to no one; a world in which no one is particularly honorable; a world in which violent death is the norm rather than the exception; a world in which the only comfort for some is to believe in tales and creatures that existed–if they existed at all–long ago? George R.R. Martin has been fracturing fairy-tale tropes all of his professional life, from Beauty and the Beast to Game of Thrones. The body of his work is so well detailed, its tone and temper so clearly established, that it is unnecessary to change it. You may condense characters or borrow lines from later books in the series, as the producers and writers have done. You may even look ahead and perhaps create one ending for the TV series and one for the books, as has been rumored for some time now to be the story’s ultimate fate in a few years. What you may not do is play false to the spirit of the books. Whatever faults there may be in The Lord of the Rings films, Peter Jackson was, above all, faithful to the world that Tolkien created. The mishandling of the Jaime-Cersei reunion is one of the very few times that Game of Thrones the TV series has done less than its best with the books.

I might say that I read Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire  books a couple of years ago in e-book form, on my IPad. Although like most readers I believe that nothing can or will replace the tactile and intellectual joy of handling a physical book, the Ipad has been a godsend to me, especially for reading in bed at night, which is the only time I have to read these days. Add to that, if you will, the immense storage capacity of the Ipad and other reading devices and the relative cheapness of e-book editions, and you can see why I count myself in the camp of those who have come to love the era of the electronic book.

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