Monday, February 1, 2021

#ReadingMagic 30-day challenge, week 2


"What is a favorite location you’ve read about in a book (real or imaginary) that you’d love to visit someday?"

Since the next question is related, I'll stick with a real location for this one. I'd love to visit Prince Edward Island, the setting of the Anne of Green Gables novels. Lucy Maud Montgomery described the Canadian maritime setting so beautifully and lovingly it was as though the land itself was a character in the books.
"What fantasy location or world that you’ve enjoyed in a book would you love to visit someday and why?"

I'd love to visit Narnia in its more peaceful times. I think C. S. Lewis did a fantastic job of making Narnia just a super fun place for any kid or kid-at-heart to want to be: friendly talking animals, benevolent mythical beings, and prosperity and unity for all under the guiding paw of the great Lion. Often, as a kid, when I pictured heaven, I pictured Narnia.

"Who are three of your favorite characters from children or YA books and what about them do you most enjoy?"

1) Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time. I love Meg because she was the first literary heroine I ever really connected with. She reminded me of myself in so many ways: highly intelligent, independent, unconventional, tenacious, and deeply feeling. Not to mention she struggled with school and sociability. To read about someone like me going on an adventure and saving the day with the innate qualities that I also possessed was very empowering to me.

2) Hagrid is probably my favorite Harry Potter character. He's just such a warm, caring, accepting person, exactly the kind of friend just about everyone needs. He also has strong values and is a valuable fighter on the side of good. Also, the way he treats magical creatures totally reminds me of how I am with animals. 🙂

3) Christopher Chant from Diana Wynne Jones's Chrestomanci books. He's such an engaging character, with a sense of fun and whimsy that (perhaps purposely) obscures the gravity of his job and his powerful magical abilities. He's a snazzy dresser, and more importantly he's a great husband and father to his family. Any time he shows up, you know things are going to get interesting. Plus, he's a (somewhat rare) example of an adult in children's/YA fantasy who is both competent and sympathetic to the child protagonists. I quickly tire of the whole "adults are the enemy" tone some children's/YA literature takes, so it's refreshing to see an adult character who acts as a powerful ally in a plotline.

"The Zak Bates Eco-adventure team are made up of Ra-Kit, the life living magic cat, Sampson, her giant flying dog companion, and young teenager Zak. They travel around the world helping animals deal with their problems, most of which have been caused by humans. So, the question is, if you were to join the Eco-team, what mission would you want to go on and what animals would you want to help?"

Well, first of all, if there's talking animals, count me in. 🙂

As for my personal Eco-team mission... I would love to do something to help pet fish. It frustrates me how people often see fish, especially species like goldfish, as "low maintenance" "starter pets". In reality, fish are extremely sensitive creatures who require a great deal of attentiveness to their health and environment. It breaks my heart to see pet stores with crowded tanks and goldfish being sold cheap to five-year-olds. 

I feel it must be remembered that fish in aquariums are ultimately living in their own little safe bubble within an alien world that is inherently hostile to their physiology. It behooves humans to afford their piscine family members the utmost care and diligence. They need us in order to survive and thrive.
Help me save the fish, Zak! Just make sure Ra-Kit doesn't get hungry. 🙂

"What was the first book you remember crying in?"

I think this may actually have been Dinotopia, because I thought the concept and the artwork was so beautiful that it moved me to tears. James Gurney really knows how to make worlds spring to life in such a vivid, engaging, and lovable manner that you could have sworn they always existed, and you want to live there really, really badly.

I'm not a big crier. But two things that really get the tears going are great worldbuilding and happy endings.

Also, Ben Fife's blog post on this question really sums up how I feel upon coming to the close of a good book.

I cried while writing the resolution of Yonwin's character arc in Earthkeepers. I think that's probably a good sign. I hope readers pull for him as much as I did while I was writing him. Miette may be the POV character, and she comes to some pretty important realizations about herself and her life through the course of the plot, but Yonwin is the main character who arguably sees the most growth.

"What was the first book turned into a movie that you read the book for?"

If we are talking strictly about the first book I can remember reading that has ever been turned into a movie at some point, that's probably The Cat in the Hat. But I read that book waaaay before the movie came out. And have never seen the movie.

So perhaps it's more interesting to talk about the first book I read that was turned into a movie where I was aware of the film before the book: The Indian in the Cupboard.

I saw the film when it first came out and thought it was really cool. (Please note that I haven't seen it in years so my adult opinion may vary.) I also knew it was based on a book, and seeing the movie made me want to read the book because a) I knew books usually went more in-depth than movies, b) I was curious to compare the two, and c) I like books. So I read the book, and also enjoyed it. (I ended up reading the entire series and loved it.)

It was also an interesting experience because it was the first time I ever really thought much about the creative process involved in adapting books to film. Of course there was a part of me that wanted to say "no, you can't change anything about the book", and I am very much a "if it's not broken, don't fix it" type of person. 

On the other hand, even back then as a wee lass I recognized that film directors are creative people, who enjoy using creative license to re-interpret a story in a way that has more meaning to them. As long as they didn't do anything that would result in a lame overall movie or really alienate a fanbase, I was willing to give them plenty of wiggle room to explore and experiment.

The film version of The Indian in the Cupboard was a pretty liberal adaptation of the book (it even takes place in New York City rather than suburban England), but I thought both stories were valid and interesting in their own right. They also had the added benefit of helping me not feel like I was experiencing exactly the same story whether I read the book or watched the movie, which was a problem I often had with book adaptations of films (I'll talk more about that tomorrow).

That being said, I do think directors should exercise their best judgment when adapting a book to film, and it ought to be handled on a case-by-case basis. Using a more obscure book probably gives you more freedom to experiment. On the other hand, a liberal adaptation of a book that is currently trending would probably not go over so well in most cases. Can you imagine what would have happened if the Harry Potter films had been a highly divergent reimagining of the core plotline? What that would have done to the books' fanbase? Yikes. Sometimes, people just want to see a beloved fictional universe spring to life in the most authentic way possible, and that's totally valid.

And then there are books that may be too short, or lacking in a certain dimension, to make good as-is material for a feature-length film, such as most books written for young children. Sometimes even middle-grade books have a plot that benefits from the hand of a talented storyteller.

The example I'm thinking of is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It's a wonderful book. The 1964 film adaptation is a cult classic. But in 2005, Tim Burton tried his hand at the story and gave me something I never knew I needed but realized I'd wanted all along: a character arc for Willy Wonka. I loved how Burton transformed Wonka from someone eccentric but ultimately one-dimensional - almost more of a part of the whimsical scenery of the chocolate factory than a person in his own right - to a being with a sympathetic backstory, concrete character strengths and flaws, and plenty of his own learning and growing to do right alongside Charlie. To me, that film is a fantastic example of a book adaptation that gets the "adaptation" part right.

Oh boy. As someone with experience in both filmmaking and novel writing, this is a subject I could go on about for AGES. I think I ought to cut it short here or I might accidentally write a book about it.

"What was the first movie turned into a book that you read the book for?"

Unlike books turned into movies, I was never terribly interested in movies turned into books. The problem is that I have this quirk where I'm easily bored by repetitive/redundant information. 

A book adaptation of a film is usually just the same story in written form. Unlike book-to-film adaptations, film-to-book adaptations usually do not stray far from the source material in the interest of brand consistency. This is especially true for book adaptations written for children, where it would likely be very confusing to them if things happened differently in the book than in the movie they've probably watched a dozen times in the past week. So if I had seen the movie, I usually wasn't going to read the book adaptation. 

What I did like was movie-related literature that expanded upon what the film already presented. Star Wars's Expanded Universe material is an excellent example of this. Backstory? Further adventures? Worldbuilding expansion? Tangential minor character development? Yes please. To me as a consumer, that sort of creativity model is the ideal way for me to engage with a franchise in a way that does not feel redundant, but enriching.

But, back to the question. The first film-to-book adaptation that I remember reading was Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. If you were around back then, you remember the massive hype surrounding that film. "NEW STAR WARS MOVIE OH MAN YOU GUYS!!!!!" Well, I hated waiting to see the film, but the book was out! So of course I read it.

I can still remember pretty much the only thought I had upon finishing: "Wait, Qui-Gon DIES?!?!?!"

And that was when I learned a very useful function for book adaptations. They could warn me of tragic plot twists and/or (potentially) jumpscares, two of my absolute least favorite things in movies, ever, and a large part of the reason why I disliked going to see movies at the theater. But from the distanced safety of words on a page, I could learn how the plot was going to go and know when to close my eyes and plug my ears, or at least emotionally steel myself.

... Actually, nowadays I just kinda avoid movies where I have to do that. But that's another reason why book adaptations are useful--they can help me decide whether or not I even want to watch the movie.

"Have you found any books as an adult that you read as a kid & forgot about?"

I kind of want to take this one in a bit of a different direction and talk about a book that I read as a kid, half forgot, and have not been able to find as an adult!

Growing up, I had a nerdy uncle who totally enabled my reading obsession by giving me wonderful fantasy books. The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, and so forth. 

One day he gave me this beautiful illustrated book that told the story of a world inhabited by three goblin-like species. One was small, cute, and Hobbit-like; one was big, strong, and mean; and one was smart, self-serving, and also mean. The two latter species had combined forces to oppress the former, and the book detailed their society's history and culture, ending on a note of hope that one day balance would be restored.

I loved this book. I thought the worldbuilding was fantastic and compelling, the art was beautiful, and I fully planned on looking out for other books by the same author, as it sounded like he wanted to continue the narrative.

However, my family moved a lot. And the next time we moved, I got rid of a lot of my books because I wanted to make moving as hassle-free as possible for my parents. That was a decision I really regret now, as I'd had quite the library built up. Unfortunately, this book was among those that were given away.

And, now that I'm an adult and still wondering if there was ever more to the story, for the life of me I can't remember the book's title or author, so I haven't been able to find it! Extremely frustrating.
If the book sounds familiar to anybody, please drop me a line! You will be my hero.

"When you read, do you have images that come to your mind to go with the story? Voices?  Sounds? Smells? Tastes?"

Yes, definitely! One of the reasons why I loved reading as a kid was because I had such a vivid imagination that I could easily picture what the words were describing. I distinctly remember it was common for me to build very concrete ideas of what characters and creatures looked like. If a character wasn't portrayed in an illustration, I would often end up "casting" someone to "play" them in my imagination, either an actor or even someone I knew in real life. And most creatures' appearances ended up getting based on dinosaurs in my imagination. (And then of course I'd get upset if a film was made and the characters looked nothing like how I imagined, because how dare they not know what I was thinking.)

The same with settings--if an author described a setting that was unfamiliar to me, I would often build it up in my imagination to look like a landscape that I was familiar with. For example, even though I know it's not at all what Tolkien had in mind, every time I picture Fangorn I think of the oak forests of southern California.

I think it's really fascinating how speculative fiction writing often is not so much about trying to get readers to connect with a different place or person, but about ultimately using fantasy as a metaphor to evoke specific feelings in the reader. 

When I write about a mysterious old forest, for example, what I'm really trying to do is help you tap into that exhilaration and sense of wonder and reverence that you feel when you explore someplace old and mystical. Or when I write about a character finding understanding friends and powerful allies despite how much of an oddball she is, I want you to feel like the same thing could happen to you, too.


  1. This is great Teresa. I love hearing how other people have experienced books (and movies). On your Willy Wonka observations - I confess I think I've only seen the 05 version once, but your thoughts mirrored my own. I also loved the inclusion of Wonka's father - played by Christopher Lee, no less. Saruman. Dooku. Diabolical dentist father of Willy Wonka. Death. He owns the screen whenever he's on it. I've loved it when an author says they want a character to sound like Saruman. I'm sure I don't hold a candle to him, but I can do my best to emulate him.

    AND - Have you tried asking on goodreads about your mystery book? I had one I read once that I couldn't remember the title & someone there was able to tell me.

    1. Thanks! Oh wow, I didn't even realize Christopher Lee was Wonka Sr.! Mind blown. I'll have to think if I have any book characters that sound like Saruman in my head, so I can make sure to give you that voice direction. I think you do a great job!

      I did ask on Goodreads, but I didn't get a response. Maybe I should have kept bumping up the topic. I might try again one of these days.