Types of readers, and fandom

  • May. 20th, 2009 at 9:14 AM
my_daroga: Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera (phantom)
Yesterday, I attended a workshop given by Nancy Pearl of librarian action figure fame. The workshop was meant to give us a new way to address readers' advisory, which is the fancy MLS way of saying how to recommend (she says "suggest") books to patrons and friends.

Pearl's system disregards categories like "fiction" and "nonfiction" for pleasure-reading purposes and instead attempts to put books--and readers--into four basic categories: Story, Character, Setting, and Language. That is to say, all books have all four, but each book will most likely have a larger "doorway" for one type of reader. And readers will read primarily for one of these things. So the largest group, Story, includes stuff like Stephen King and Danielle Steel and Dan Brown is pretty much all Story, and most readers find "entry" into a book through this "doorway." That is to say, the most popular books are page-turners, and that's what bookstores and libraries have the most of. (She assures us this isn't intended as a slight, people just read for different pleasures.)

Character readers are pretty self-explanatory, and care less about being hurried along a plot and more about who they get to know and how well. Setting readers include anyone who mentions "I felt like I was there" as what drew them in, and that can be real places, historical time periods, or imaginary places like Narnia or Pern, I suppose. Language readers are the ones who say, "I like well-written books," though clearly someone can feel quite differently about Hemingway and Nabokov.

Anyway, as systems go, I think it has its merits--it means that when someone asks you for a recommendation, you're not looking at the plot itself or even the last book they loved, but at what it was that got them into and kept them reading that book. Any two given readers of the same book could have read it from different, or multiple, points of view. However, I kept thinking about the perversities of these categories.

For instance, when I wrote out some of my favorites, I realized that while I genuinely believe I read primarily for Character (with Language as a second essential bit, in the sense that I don't read for it but won't read if it's not to a certain level) but I don't at all read primarily Character-driven books. I am the only person I know who reads Philip K. Dick or Asimov and says, "ooh, I liked X and how they thought!" No one likes PKD for his writing--I'm told frequently. I love Phantom of the Opera for the characters--as I think most people reading this who like Phantom do. But I don't think the focus of Leroux is character--not the way he writes them, anyway. I'm a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, but don't care about mysteries and in fact would never pick one up unless there was a strong character element to draw me in (which is why I've confined myself to Sayers and the like).

I could be deluded, but that's my sense of myself measured against Pearl's rubric. And I think a lot of people read this way. And I got to thinking... a lot of fannish people read this way. One of her examples for Story-driven narrative was JK Rowling. Which, yeah, makes sense, right? (We're talking primarily, not that the other elements are totally missing.) And most people read this way. But fannish people, I think, are more likely to read for Character. Which is why fanfiction and other fanworks become so attractive and necessary. Just as societies have been built up around Sherlock Holmes for a hundred years; these aren't all inveterate mystery readers, though some are. These are people who feel an intense relationship with this character, else millions of words wouldn't have been written about him and his life would not have been endlessly mapped and pored over and reconciled to the canon and history.

So here's my hypothesis: that fandom could be partially "explained" by Character-driven readers responding and reacting to Story-(or other-) driven texts.

Thoughts? (Also, I still have a Dreamwidth invite, if anyone wants...)

Jekyll and Hyde, again and again

  • May. 2nd, 2009 at 5:33 PM
my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (Default)
Today I think I came the closest to seeing Jekyll and Hyde done as I want it to be done. I’ve always been attracted to the story, and aside from the novel (which I always felt held only the kernel of the story, a story Stevenson wasn’t willing or able to pursue) I’ve seen the versions with Spencer Tracey, Mary Reilly (horrible film and novel—I’m sorry, Malkovich!Hyde is really hot), heard the Anthony Warlow version of the musical, and very much appreciated the Moffat Jekyll miniseries from a couple years ago, which at the time came the closest to the ambiguity I feel is most interesting about Jekyll’s search. The miniseries fails in a couple of points, none of which is the performance of James Nesbitt at the center, but otherwise pushed a lot of my buttons where this story is concerned.

Part of what I love about this story—which Stevenson didn’t really touch, as far as I recall—is the fact that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person. This is obvious, of course, but so many versions make it black and white, and there’s an underlying assumption that Hyde is Bad and Jekyll is Good. Whereas, even if we accept that binary as the underlying theme of the story, Jekyll cannot possibly be Good. Jekyll is Both, the self before division, and what’s always interested me most is his repression, his insistence (at least publicly) that Hyde is not part of him, and the dialogue between the two selves. (You can see why Jekyll worked for me in many ways.)
musings on the ACT production )
But I’m curious about your Jekyll and Hyde experiences, if you like the story. What are your favorites? If you are drawn to it, why? And what haven’t you seen done that you’d like to see? If you like it, or even if you don’t, why do you think we (as a culture) keep coming back to it time and again? And how is it there’s still something to discover in it, as above? (And maybe that last question is actually the answer to the one before it.)

Casting in my mind

  • Jan. 23rd, 2009 at 2:16 PM
my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (rochester)
I think I've found my Draco. I wasn't looking for one. And I think he's an older version of the writer-formerly-known-as-mistful's Draco, which is more or less irrelevant to anything. (ETA: Not that mistful's Draco is irrelevant--the pairing-him-up-with-a-face-that's-too-old-anyway sort of is.)

He's Alec Guinness in David Lean's Great Expectations.

Draco )

I don't actually "cast" fiction--my own or others'--very often. I'm not terribly visual, and I don't generally find a need to "know" what people look like. The verbal descriptions, the cipher, is enough. I don't picture the players in my mind's eye. But every once in awhile, when I'm not looking for them, I'll realize that someone fits the unspoken template residing in my head. Which is why Siddig el Fadil is now my Persian.

The Persian )

And oddly, Tilda Swinton is my Silver from Tanith's Lee's The Silver Metal Lover (with a little help from Photoshop):

S.I.L.V.E.R. )

It's happened with my own characters, too, such as the time I watched Whale Rider and realized Keisha Castle-Hughes was the main character of a story I'd spent months writing. At that age, anyway--not so much anymore.

So what about you? I'm sure other people do this, and many of you probably more often than I do. We all have trouble, sometimes, ridding our minds of actors' faces who have actually played the roles (does anyone see anyone other than Vivien Leigh when they read Gone With the Wind? Not that I mind--and maybe that's another post. See icon.). But what about the ones who suddenly seem to fit a character you love? I guess that's what dream casting is all about, but in the above instances I wasn't trying to find anyone who fit. I'm interested in those characters (yours or other peoples') who have suddenly attained a face for you, and who they are, and if that's changed anything for you. Have you ever cast anyone so strongly that, when the film gets made, you just can't accept whoever they chose? Has it affected how you see that character?

Oh yeah--photos welcome!
my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (persian)
[livejournal.com profile] tkp has done a great public service by writing up a brilliant little essay on a few archetypes she and I have been discussing, revolving (among other things) around Batman, Phantom of the Opera, Spike and Angel from Buffy, and Rhett Butler. It touches on a lot of my favorite themes (see username) and as much as she drops my name in there, I owe her that. No, I don't, but she really is awesomecakes with a side of awesomesauce and I'm lucky to have her thinkiness online and off. Check it out and join in!
my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (persian)
One of the minor characters in Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera is at the center of a small, but important, debate: was the Siren a separate character from Erik?

Leonard Wolf's translation of the text raises this question by pointing out Erik's confused grammar. Here is the relevant passage, from the Persian's narrative after Erik returns to the house, dripping wet:
"There was a heavy sigh followed by a cry of horror from Christine. Then we heard Erik's voice speaking to Christine in the personal form of address. 'I beg your pardon for showing you a face like mine. What a state I'm in. It's the other one's fault. Why did he ring the bell? Do I ask passersby what time it is? He won't ask that of anyone anymore. It's the siren's fault." (p. 280)

Wolf's footnote reads, "First Erik blames the other one, then the siren. Since Erik is the siren, we are left in some perplexity. Whom is Erik blaming?"

I never considered the implication that the siren is a separate entity, and I don't think Wolf's reading this correctly. For me, Erik's "other one" is Philippe--it's his fault. He's the one who rang the bell, after all. Later, blaming the siren, he is pushing the responsibility off on his other self, as a child might blame an imaginary friend. After all, when the Persian is almost ensnared by the siren's voice, it is Erik who emerges from the water: "'All of a sudden, two monstrous arms emerged form the water and grasped my throat and dragged me irresistibly down into the gulf. Certainly I would have been done for had I not had time to utter a cry that allowed Erik to recognize me." (p. 263) Erik then goes on to proudly demonstrate his trick of breathing through a reed--a trick the Persian calls "the trick of the siren."

If anything, I would venture that the siren--apart from being yet another shadowy figure of the Opera's underground--is Erik's feminine half, his anima (thank you, [livejournal.com profile] tkp). He is constantly referred to as having the voice of an "angel," though Raoul notes at the dressing room that it "did not belong to a woman." (142 p.) This doesn't entirely leave out the possibility that Erik can sound enough like a woman to warrant the siren description--especially when singing through a tube.

It has been argued that the Andrew Lloyd Webber version includes the siren(s) in the title song, the voices who sing "He's there, the Phantom of the Opera" as the Phantom takes Christine across the lake. However, in the libretto in my possession (the one in the George Perry book), these singers are merely listed as "Offstage Voices."

Like the shade, I believe there's room for interpretation of everything we see in the Phantom's domain. But I believe that as written, the siren and Erik are one and the same. For me, Erik's appropriation of a dangerously seductive mythical creature is even more interesting as an aspect of his own character, rather than a separate one. But I will open the floor now to your own observations and theories.


my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (Default)
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