From book to screen – fandom, fanaticism and Game of Thrones

Season one of George R. R. Martin‘s excellent Game of Thrones has just finished and, like most of the fans of the books, I am thrilled with how it was interpreted.

In fact, like many fans of the books, I have been insufferably excited by the whole thing. I keep getting into long hyperbolic conversations with other people who have read the series to debate every twist and turn and boring the bottom off my poor partner, who has never read the series. My enjoyment of the HBO’s adaptation inspired me to reread the entire series of the books (and pre-order my copy of Dance With Dragons, which is out next week) and I can’t wait to see their take on book/season two.  Like Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Lord of the Rings the screen version of Game of Thrones has been lauded for its casting and vision, managing not to alienate the loyal readers of the series in its portrayal of Martin’s epic tale.

But unlike the Lord of the Rings adaptation, it’s making some big tweaks to the story. Coming from a recent rereading I can clearly see changes to both some of the characters and the narrative, that I assume HBO have done deliberately to take us to places that the books didn’t. (I won’t spoiler them here, but feel free to ask me about these in the comments or advance your own theories on the changes of direction.)

Any avid reader of the series can see that HBO are not doing a completely faithful adaptation, but very few texts that are transitioned to screen make it there unchanged. Most books need to be altered extensively and most authors – and readers – have to accept that. True Blood author Charlaine Harris was philosophical about the changes that would need to be made when her Southern Vampire series was adapted for the small screen. “I had to hand all control over to Alan Ball. But having said that, I was pretty careful about who I handed it over to. So I really can’t complain about what he’s done and in fact I’m very happy.”

That adaptation – True Blood – made some sweeping changes, with numerous minor characters being fleshed out into starring roles and a complete departure from the books’ versions of events.  This can confuse the hordes of new readers who decide to buy the books, based on what they have seen on TV, Charlaine finds. “It’s delightful from a sales point of view, but they do tend to bring a different expectation. They do have the tendency to see the characters as the actors on television, which was not the original intent. Every now and then there’s the tendency to get the action in the books confused with the series, which is quite different.”

When done well the changes that seasoned script-writers and directors make to books make for excellent viewing. Not all authors react with such equanimity when confronted with change to their works, even when those changes are quite minor. Anne Rice was so loudly dissatisfied with some of the casting for the adaption of her novel, Interview with a Vampire that she took out an advertisement to complain, stating that Cruise “is no more my Vampire Lestat than Edward G. Robinson is Rhett Butler.”

After viewing the film, however, she became a convert to the changes that had been made, praising both inserted scenes and Tom’s performance with an enthusiasm that puts even the most avid Game of Thrones fans to shame. “I’m no good at modesty. I like to believe Tom’s Lestat will be remembered the way Olivier’s Hamlet is remembered. Others may play the role some day but no one will ever forget Tom’s version of it.”

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Sadhbh Warren

Sadhbh Warren is a freelance writer and proud booklover. Her name is pronounced Sive - like five – an Irish name, easier to say than spell! She lives in Sydney, writing travel and humour articles, and is always on the lookout for a great new book.

3 thoughts on “From book to screen – fandom, fanaticism and Game of Thrones”

  1. After watching the first season of Game of Thrones, I ordered the four book set and have been devouring them. I love how they follow the book reasonably closely. Hopefully they let the series have its full run.

  2. I’m also hoping they get to tell the full story (and, you know, Martin releases the end of it…) but I’ll be interested to see how they tackle it. Book 2, Clash of Kings, was rumoured to need at least 2 seasons to cover the contents, so we could be looking at 6 season minimum. Here’s hoping HBO keep the faith!

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