Mosaic / Reviews / May 2, 2012

Read? Watch? Why not both?

In the last decade audiences have seen the best-selling popular books become film. From children’s and young adult novels such as “Harry Potter,” “Twilight,” “Eragon” and “Percy Jackson” to adult series including “The Lord of the Rings,” “Sookie Stackhouse” (HBO’s “True Blood”) and the advent of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” based on “The Song of Ice and Fire” series by George R. R. Martin, our favorite reading material is optimal blockbuster material. As a marketing strategy, producers can be assured that a majority of the readership can be turned into viewing audiences.

With every release, however, come the bevy of complaints and compunctions over the differences between our beloved books and their reproductions. Deviations and failed expectations seem unavoidable, what with the difficulty in turning 300-some pages of words into a two-hour visual experience, not to mention the impossibility of finding an actor who lives up to the perfect Edward Cullen in our heads. This should come as no surprise to anybody — Robert Pattinson doesn’t cut it. However, “Game of Thrones” changes the game.

Released in the spring of 2011, the first season of “Game of Thrones” encapsulated the first book of George R. R. Martin’s series. The pilot’s opening is coherent with the prologue. The end scene of the season finale in which Daenerys hatches her dragons is the final chapter of the book. Anyone else who’s read the books and seen the television series will note that there are significant disparities, but the divergences are opportunistic.

Martin’s books are written from the third-person free-indirect point of view of his main characters. He takes pages to explain familial, political and cultural histories and nuances. The worldly details and close proximity to favorite characters are lost in media translation, but in exchange readers are shown the costumes, get to hear their voices, and are given scenes with secondary characters otherwise “off-stage” in the books.

Ask a reader if King Renly is gay, and they might tell you they are not sure, but ask the viewer and they will say that is obvious. If you’re reading and watching Martin’s series you get the best of both forms, plus a richer, fuller experience.

Season two of “Game of Thrones,” covering book two, “A Clash of Kings,” was released on April 1 of this year — this past Sunday was episode five — and Martin’s fifth book in the series, “A Dance with Dragons,” was published last summer (about the same time as HBO’s first season ended, wouldn’t you know.)

Though the differences in the book and the show have gotten more significant, including a name change, the show continues to be a suspenseful, sensual fantasy drama worth the expense to feast your eyes on. Paired with the books, an absorbing, textured read in and of themselves, the “Game of Thrones” experience is a triumph of television drama and literature. The partnership is an innovation for media and marketing that will change the way people read and watch their favorite stories.

Renni Johnson

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