November 23rd, 2003


The Tale of the Shining Prince

I read this story last night, The Tale of the Shining Prince by Illuferret (the link's to the main story index) and was still thinking about it this morning when I woke; I haven't had breakfast yet this morning so I'm only capable of simple sentences, but I want to get my thoughts out before they evaporate. We'll see how that goes.

While reading I thought of peasant_'s recent unpopular opinions post, where she says: "It is perfectly possible to write stories where the characters have no resemblance to the show characters beyond their names, and still to consider what you write is fanfiction." At first glance, I have a hard time agreeing with that--I mean, I of course agree that a story is fan-fiction, regardless of its accomplishments or goals, but I usually assume that the chief, unifying goal among writers will be characterization even when everything else is tossed out the window. Like, you could have Buffy Summers as an opera singer on Mars, where all her friends are androids, but if the characterization was good enough--if the story nailed voice and expression and mood and attitude and reaction--then it would have that one key, recognizable ingredient that made it Buffyfic and gave us a reason for wanting to read it.

But there are things wrong with my idea. For one, characterization isn't enough in a case like that. I don't care about opera singers on Mars. I like the Sunnydale milieu, vampires and darkness. So there would have to be other things that work in a story like that. Things like plot and style and atmosphere would need to win me, to successfully replace everything that'd been removed. And there's a question of whether a well-mimicked surface of manners can serve as characterization or whether character is also context--is Buffy really the Buffy we want if she hasn't killed vampires, sent Angel to Hell, angsted over career day? Can a SoCal tan be replaced with a Mars-dome pallor and a thing for malls reinvented as an addiction to the shopping strip on sublevel B?

But then there's the characterization question itself. There are stories that take characters and age them and drag them out of their normal sphere of influence and give them so much backstory and fresh context that the correspondences with canon almost get buried in originality--I'm thinking of a story like Lust Over Pendle, where supporting characters are fleshed out to the point where you have to hit the restart button and get to know them all over again, and get to know them *better*--the Neville in J.K. Rowling's books is just this clumsy dork you get introduced to at a party and ignore, barely getting his name. Here, it turns out he's the center of his own universe, as Draco is the center of his; they're not walk-ons in the Harry Potter show.

So then there's "The Tale of the Shining Prince." It's also working in the margins of canon, or between the lines. The characterizations are reinvented in many ways. And like "Lust Over Pendle" it's got an entirely different style and tone than canon. Significant changes in style and tone can radically change the source material, because like glossing recently said, style is substance. So here, many things are happening:
  • The writing style is completely different from canon's.
  • Characterizations are built from off-stage scenes canon would never give us.
  • We're asked to believe in such things as a Slytherin tradition of erotic mentoring.
  • The sympathetic point of view is shifted to Draco, Snape, Goyle, Lucius, et al.
Canonical material is there on every page, but for many of the expected story elements there's almost *no* overlap with canon.

But it's still fascinating because I can't find any major contradictions either. It strips out anything obfuscatory from Rowling's work--Harry's biased POV, the "young adult" language that renders the world in simpler terms--then sets out to write everywhere that canon isn't. Different pattern, different materials, different creation. As if you told two people to design a dress, but one person used flannel and cotton and came up with a frock, and another author used tinfoil and oil paint and tea leaves and came up with a dress you could only hang on the wall and gaze at.

There are many cool things in this story: the subversive fairy tales which slyly signal the reader to read from a different point of view; the descriptions of the Malfoy portraits and lineage; Draco's compulsively written lists; the revelation of Lucius's love for his son (which *does* turn canon on its ear, I think, along with our expectations, but in a way that makes so much sense). Also cool is the way the story slips around its chronology. In combination with the style of writing, which I can't even think of terms for--fragmented? elliptical?--it feels like you're getting the organically shifting, associative thought processes of someone recollecting his life, a narrative that moves forward on idiosyncratic logic. Except it's not just focused on Draco; he's the thread on which it runs, but the POV moves around. The structure makes me think of pieces of memory in a pensieve, mixed together, being accessed by someone else, the unifying sensibility of the story. All of it has this detached quality. Dreamy, I think Te described it as.

I had some issues; Ron's characterization was focused only on his most negative qualities, I thought. And the Remus-Snape-Lucius triangle is odd, though the writing gradually soothes you into taking it for granted. Almost. Other tiny notes felt off; mostly, though, I didn't care. The writing is compelling. Something about it just lulled me forward--the rhythm, but maybe also a kind of emotional monotone, like a thin, glassy sheet of ice that covers everything being recounted and which for the most part strikes me as a stylistic metaphor for Draco's repressed memory and what it does to him. His internal emotional landscape, his affect, is disturbing, distorted, disassociative, and deeply fucked. Which of course engages me.

I'm not sure I said what I meant to say about this and I said it at much greater length than I'd meant to. Now my brain is mewling for bacon.


Watched the first hour of "Pump Up the Volume" tonight. Still an amazing movie, I think, and not as dated as it should be. Lots of stuff to cry about in the first 60 minutes. It captures teenage angst--the agony and the dorkiness--so well. Love the bit when they cut from shot to shot of kids dancing in their rooms, and the bit where that one kid recounts his gay experience, and just the bone-deep absolute misery of the *other* kid as he talks to HHH, saying how alone he is, just before he kills himself.

Also, Seth Green has a tiny bit in the movie. If you get a chance, take a look at him. Because, dude. If he'd been the *true* age for his role when they cast him as a high school kid in BtVS, *that's* what he'd have looked like. Scary. Seriously. He's got a little seedlet of cuteness that will one day sprout into Oz, but he's also an utter dork.

Was thinking just now of how I see cool stuff in stories or movies and make mental notes to myself to use it someday, but I rarely jot it down. Like at the end of "Enemy of the State," Will Smith's character does this thing where he sets up a meeting between the Mafia and the NSA and orchestrates it to create a critical miscommunication--perfect strategizing. Or, in "Everwood" tonight, which I watched for the first time, there was this bit where the doc tries to help the nice stuttering boy and it made me think of the BtVS scene where Xander uses Willow to practice asking Buffy on a date and you'd have that whole triangular subtext going on, and you could twist it for fun and have someone else overhear just enough of the conversation to assume there's a relationship going on there.

Basically, plot tricks--elementary in some cases, cliched in other (you'd have to find a new twist), and occasionally just very neat. I want a big book of plot tricks and themes and tropes that I can browse through.

Clones, even. Clones are fun. Or variations on that--twins, robots, magically disguised substitutes, etc--where someone is removed and another person takes their place, and you've got all this double-play going on where your characters don't know what the audience knows. I want to play with clones.

I was disappointed with "Everwood." Sorry, fans. I came in on that scene mentioned above and briefly got interested by the possibility that they might actually play through a whole scripted, romantic dialogue between the gruff old doctor and the young hottie. But no. And then I got pissy, and my thoughts derailed and I dwelled on how fed up I am with most network TV, because Jesus fucking Christ, it's just so unrelentingly heterosexual it makes me want to kick puppies. So this was the frame of mind in which I watched the rest of the episode and as you can imagine, it only made me crankier. It was *all* centered on budding romances, and it was tedious. Also, I wasn't impressed by the writing. Not sure what the attraction is about the show, except the eye candy. But seriously: strip away genre and what do you have left? A hundred shows just like this. Slices of very ordinary life, as seen through the mainstream eyes of Hollywood. I just. Don't. Care.

Where's my fucking ten percent? Where's the queer? I want the scruffy doctor to harbor a secret, inappropriate crush on a pretty young guy and for the subtext to be amped up to 11 as they trade romantic lines, and then the boy gets all confused and blushes and leaves, and the doc swipes a hand down his face and feels like a monster, but in the end, as with Brian and Justin, Ben and Michael, true, sweet love will prevail.

Someone--someone on my friends list whose identity I don't remember right now, but undoubtedly a lovely person, I should preface by saying--someone wrote the other day, via the latest meme, the unpopular opinion that slash was no longer transgressive, and that in fact writing het was just as transgressive if not *more* so because of the prevailing slash climate. And you know what? There's a *reason* that's gonna be an unpopular opinion, because it's on *crack*. My TV shows me men and women smiling goopily at each other, playing each other love songs and scheming for romance. The other day I watched a cable montage with, I don't know, *seventeen* movie shots of people kissing as red roses tumbled over the screen. I'll just let you guess how many of those kisses were between men and women. Yes.

Wow, I'm working myself into a pisser. I started out so fresh and perky, I swear! *g* Ironically, I've been writing Spike/Buffy noir all day and am all kick-ass excited about it. Hee. I'm so transgressive.

yeah huh.

On BetterBuffyFics just now:

WHAT WILL I NEVER EVER READ: Boy Slash just ewwwww

I'm not even turning on comments for this. None are needed. See previous post.