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Posts Tagged ‘Discworld’

RIP

::sniffle:: More than a little upset by the death of a man I never met, but who filled many quiet (and laughter-filled) corners of my life from late childhood reading Truckers before graduating to Discworld.

The following quotes seem to sum things up more eloquently than I can.

“AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.”

“Death isn’t cruel – merely terribly, terribly good at his job.”

“DON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING, said Death. JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.”

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Are you bothered if you have books within a series that have different style covers? I know of at least 2 people who may be reading this and literally cringing at the thought of that mismatched book shelf!

I quote from an email with a friend:
“Books have to have the same style covers, otherwise it’s illegal.  Everyone knows this.  It makes your bookshelves look untidy.”

Does it matter to you?

Jumping from one style of cover to another does make me want to go out and re-buy the books so the covers all match. Especially as usually one is a far more fitting and accurate style for the book than another in my opinion. And by accurate I think I actually mean deliberately vague! I’ve realised covers I tend to like are the ones which hint at a character, suggest what someone or something looks like, and don’t take the main character and slap a big picture of them on the cover. That image can never match what is in my head, and if it does, then it won’t match what you’ve imagined! Which is exactly why Kingshott has been deliberately very vague about describing his lead, Tristan in The Magic of Prophecy:

“I wanted to avoid describing him too closely as I wanted the reader to create their own image of what he looked like.  I always liked the fact that no two people see the same thing when they read a book and I wanted to leave Tristan as open to interpretation as possible, just to see how different people saw him.”

A successful cover depends a lot, I suspect, on the brief the artist is given by the writer/publisher. I wonder how many artists have actually read the book before they do the illustration for it.

To borrow from Goldilocks – Is it too blatant, too bland, or just right?

Polgara Too blatant?

Here we’ll take the example of Eddings’ Polgara the Sorceress. The American edition has a cartoon-like buxom young woman in a typical medieval dress looking directly out of the cover at the reader. The UK version has a softer image, still of a woman but she’s got her shoulder turned away, it’s just a bit more subtle than the American “look at me, the obviously mediaeval style dress, white lock in hair, owl on arm”. I’m thankful they’ve never tried to draw Ce’Nedra, she’d look like a Disney fairy!

Hobb’s book covers, on the other hand manage to provide examples of both the too bland and the ‘just right’. Sadly it’s the original UK covers that are a good example of a fantasy cover, and the latest reprint which are terribly bland.

Starting with the originals: We have John Howe to thank for these. Taking Royal Assassin as an example, look at the well-balanced mix between hinting at detail without force-feeding a main character’s image in your face (something he slides into in the Fool trilogy later on incidentally, oh and don’t start me on what that red dragon is doing there…). Notice the lovely stone carving in the borders, the little portraits of people in the book, sketched in the corners, not right in your face, and there’s Buckkeep Castle high on the cliffs above the town – it’s clear early on in the book that it’s the castle there on the cover, but it’s still an image viewed from some distance, leaving the reader the time and space to fill in the details themselves. There are no attempts here to portray too much detail, for example, he’s steered well clear of the oft-mentioned, and somewhat tantalising, tapestry of the Elderlings which hangs on the wall in Fitz’ room.

And now, sadly, we have a bland reprint in the UK. It’s like they ran out of time and forgot about the covers, panicked and chose an animal that was loosely relevant to that book in the 5 minutes before it was due at the printers. A Deer. A Dragon. A Wolf. All plonked in the centre of the cover. There’s no intrigue. There’s no detail. There’s no subtlety. There’s no pondering what will happen, who the people portrayed on the cover are (incidentally that was something Josh Kirby was very good at for Pratchett), there’s nothing to entice you into the book at all. If you don’t have the books to hand, can’t remember what the covers are like, or for some crazy reason haven’t read them (why? why?) then you can see an example of the 2 different UK covers, along with the truly terrible US one on Hobb’s own site. (Gah! And I’ve just noticed on the French cover Fitz, who is continually referred to as dark haired (to emphasis his Farseer family links) has gone blond!)

In the modern world where most people’s attention span is only 15 seconds, everything is super size, neon bright, in your face and loud it takes bravery to be subtle, but when considering books it’s the subtle which attracts.  When I’m looking for a book I want a delicate intricate plot with deep characters – and the cover should reflect this.

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I dedicate this, rather delayed, blog to my biggest (only?) fan, who keeps reminding me, whilst bored at work, how long it’s been since the last post.

This month was going to be a neat segue from maps in books to pictures in books, or on book covers, but along the way I’ve got sidetracked into film adaptations and other book related imagery instead.

I’m not a fan of reading a book after having seen an adaptation of it on TV or a film (the other way round is fine though).  Friends at uni (quite rightly) insisted I read the whole of Lord of the Rings before watching The Fellowship of the Ring at the cinema. I want my own images and ideas in my head about what a place or character looks like before a director offers their ideas. However some adaptations are good and the characters and places are similar to the ones in my imagination.

The film version of Atonement by Ian McEwan was very well done and stuck fairly closely to the original book I thought. And the level of detail that had gone into the buildings, clothing and scenery in Lord of the Rings was stunning and must have done wonders for New Zealand’s inbound tourism (no wonder Tourism New Zealand is thrilled that The Hobbit will be filmed there too). Casting was spot on with Ian McKellan as Gandalf, and I was rather fond of Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn too (but that was more of a personal appreciation  to be honest!)

I excitedly awaited the recent Discworld films for months before they were released. But personally it didn’t always ring true, either the storyline in the films was chopped up and reorganised too much to stay true to the original books or Pratchett’s descriptions of people and places seemed to get lost along the way. Going Postal (with the brilliant Richard Coyle as Postmaster Moist von Lipwig) and Hogfather were very good. However The Light Fantastic-Colour of Magic massacre was terribly disappointing. I didn’t watch it to the end, they simply tried to cram too much in and ended up not doing any of it very well. I guess the decision whether to stay faithful to a book or make a good movie (at the expense of the book’s original story) is a hard one – something I think JK Rowling probably experienced, as different directors treated Potter adaptions differently.

That’s the problem with trying to adapt a fantasy book. Otherworldly places (and people) will always form a set picture or idea as you read. To see someone else’s perception of, for example, The Tower Of Art is always going to be different to your own. Which is understandable. I’m not sure the total and utter miscasting of David Jason as Rincewind is forgivable though (one thing other fans agree on). Even putting aside the fact he was cast as Albert in the first Discworld film, Hogfather, and then played Rincewind, there’s no way a tall skinny gangly wizard can be translated into the short, rounded figure of David Jason. The Discworld wiki describes Rincewind as “athletic” – which makes sense with all the running away he frequently does – David Jason doesn’t strike me as someone good at running!

The Royal Mail’s December special edition of fantasy stamps featured Rincewind and Nanny Ogg. The Rincewind stamp had a gangly (slightly sleazy looking) character on it. Which, whist somewhat lecherous does fit my idea of Rincewind better at least.

Next time, if anyone’s still interested, I’ll head back where I was originally going in this post – book covers.

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Many fantasy books include maps showing the position of towns, coastlines, borders between countries and sometimes even town centres.

I love having a map in a book. It’s something I’ll pore over before starting the book and refer back to during the story. It gives a sense of place to a foreign land, helping the reader picture journeys and locations in their mind. Especially if there are different countries and borders playing a role in the story; for example Hobb’s Six Duchies and Eddings’ Aloria both cross borders and have different nationalities playing a far bigger role than, say, Rothfuss’ Name of the Wind (so far at least)).

Some authors go far further and development geography and weather systems as well. Eddings covered some of these aspects in his Rivan Codex. But Terry Pratchett is the author that mainly springs to mind here. He has created a series of maps of his very well-known Discworld, some spanning the disc, as well as more detailed town maps of Ankh-Morpork; the country of Lancre and even Death’s Domain (there can’t be many authors who have drawn a map of Death’s house and gardens!) Not to mention his books explaining science in the Discworld and “Roundworld” (Earth) – but that’s heading a little off topic.

But is a map necessary for a good fantasy book? A quick discussion with fellow fantasy-fans didn’t result in any books springing to mind that didn’t have a map. Do all (fantasy) authors create a map whilst writing? And do they need to share it with their readers? Is an author better if they can share their ideas of distance, location, layout etc with words rather than resorting to a drawing?

I read an (unpublished) fantasy story a few years ago that a friend wrote. The main character was never described physically in much detail. Deliberately so that each reader painted their own picture. It used to drive me mad asking him for a description and never getting one.

He did sit down and sketch a map of the world though for me. In just a few minutes too, so he clearly had the map in his head even I had the first (and possibly only) drawn version!

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