Anna S. (eliade) wrote,
Anna S.

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.
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