And here’s what I’ve been up to.
Even newcomers to the fantasy genre bring some experience with them. We’ve been awash in fairy tales since before we could understand language. We all know Narnia, or at least a Narnia, some other world, both like and unlike our own, in which our imagination can stretch its legs. And there’s a definite value to revisiting those tropes, returning to the Lamp Post in the woods as for the first time.
When I picked up Orphan’s Song, book one of The Songkeeper Chronicles by Gillian Bronte Adams, I thought that’s what I was getting into. I was soon pleasantly disillusioned.
Let’s briefly recap Sunday.
I woke up on time, fully rested, and hung out with Jesus for a while, one on one. I spent the rest of the morning with my vibrant, joyful church, The Cause KC. Intending to meet some friends for lunch, I went to Jack Stack Barbecue in the Crossroads, where I randomly met Jay Leno.
Yes, it’s been five years since Inception first lit movie screens. Well, plus about a month and a half. It has stayed fresh for us, without a sequel or rumor of one, the whole time. This happens with a movie of such caliber. In fact, I believe Christopher Nolan’s Inception to be the best film ever made, an example for all other movies to follow. You may not agree to such extremity, but most of you will agree that it was an extraordinary work.
What we need to figure out is why. Let’s take a closer look at the movie of our dreams.
I never get much done without specific goals. I use them at work, while I willingly crush my soul in the cold vise of corporate blogging. I use them in fitness, while I flop around on the gym floor and try not to think about how far behind the rest of the boxing class I am. And I use goals when I write stories.
Usually I’m bad at setting these goals by myself. Either I set them too close and fall hopelessly short of achieving them, or I set them too far out and think it’s a great idea to marathon two or three anime shows before I finally get to writing. And then I fall hopelessly short of achieving my goals.
But God knows this about me, so he gave me a good friend to help. Jesse Koepke and I have been meeting to discuss our writing projects monthly for a few years now, and after a while he started concluding the meetings with “What are your goals before next time?” Sometimes I would set them vaguely, floating somewhere in the aether overhead. But the more specific the goals got, the more actual progress I made.
It was at Jesse’s prompting that we got our outlines ready for NaNoWriMo last year and take the leap (he finished his 50k, I hit around 20k), and it was Jesse who found out about Realm Makers, a conference specifically for sci-fi and fantasy writers who are also Christians, just a few hours away in St. Louis. We’d been talking about finding a conference for a long time. It couldn’t have been more perfect.
We set a goal: We would each have something to pitch at the conference, a draft with which we were happy enough to put in front of an agent or an editor (or someone? We weren’t sure yet) as an example of our literary chops.
Last night I stayed up way too late finishing book two of the best fantasy series I’ve read since Rothfuss. Here’s why Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive needs a TV adaptation.
A few years ago, the notion would have been ridiculous. Fantasy TV series had ranged from Xena to The Legend of the Seeker, and they all sucked. But Game of Thrones proved that with a high enough production budget, a pseudomedieval show could thrive.
And it’s way too long for a movie series. The Stormlight Archive is just two books long so far, but it’s already clocking about 2,100 pages. It’s a huge story. You know from the start of the first book The Way of Kings, with its grand and ancient prologues, that you’re setting off to hike across all the known continents.
There are names, places, ages, magics, creatures, societies, and every creative and involved detail your nerdy mind could ever devour, but where Stormlight truly shines (pardon the pun) is in Sanderson’s gradual IV drip of the nerdiness. Unlike some fantasy works, which focus on worldbuilding minutiae, and others, whose characters are so strong they leave their settings vague and overexposed, the saga perfectly balances the two, pulling you along, investing you in characters while slowly pulling back the curtain on an intricate, alien setting.
But I’m going to focus on the nerdiness with these reasons, because that’s what will catch the TV viewer’s eye. Great acting and a tight script will win his heart.
An ancient, magical suit of armor, passed down from antiquity immemorial, that conforms to the bearer’s body, enhances his strength and stamina, and renders him nearly impervious. The visor, when closed, becomes transparent from the inside. Yes, this is basically a medieval version of Tony Stark’s famous robo-suit. It doesn’t fly, but it can supernaturally heal itself over time, and can even be regrown if shattered. Costumers could build these out of carbon fiber to make them look as light as the bearers make them seem in the book, though they weigh hundreds of pounds to everyone else.
The offensive counterpart to Shardplate, Shardblades, six-foot magical swords, swiftly and easily slice through anything. Except Shardplate and other Shardblades. They come packaged with their own mysterious past, a full library of martial arts forms, and a neat feature that allows the bearer to store them in an invisible realm when not in use. The nation with the most Shardblades can win all the wars. If Shardplate is Iron Man armor, Shardblades are lightsabers. I have no problem with this, and neither would viewers.
5. Political Intrigue
Stormlight isn’t all swordfights and spells, however. At any point in the series, there’s an underling knotwork of power struggles, posturing, debate, and conniving. If the action is Game of Thrones, the foundation is House of Cards.
4. Windrunner Cinematography
Throughout the series, we meet a couple of Windrunners, who use the local magic to affect the gravity around them. They can make things heavier, send people skyward, and stick themselves to walls. But that’s seldom how the ability is described. Sanderson makes it clear that walls and ceilings become floors. This sense could be conveyed with some simple camerawork, and the effect could be just as striking.
Spren are a little hard to explain. Sanderson’s world has a counterpart dimension, known as the Cognitave Realm. Spren are living ideas that seep through into the physical realm, taking the translucent, immaterial forms of tiny spirits. Most notable are nature spren, like stormspren and windspren; and emotional spren, such as fearspren, gloryspren, or creationspren. The coolest thing about spren is that they’re so common, and (are thought to) have so little effect upon life, that they’re regarded as normal, as we would regard leaves on the sidewalk or pencils on a desk. It would be cool to see a world constantly decorated with spren until we, as the audience, barely noticed them at all. Unless we were paying attention.
Oh, your story has dragons? That’s nice. Sanderson’s has feral, crustaceous scorpions the size of 747s. Not only are they towering, impressive, and deadly, their remains provide the chief basis for an economy. Who doesn’t want to see that rendered in glorious, high-budget CG?
1. Russel Crowe or Gerard Butler as Dalinar
I’ll let you read the books to discover the simple complexity of Dalinar Kholin, the Blackthorn, Highprince of Kholinar and War, but knowing that either of these actors could nail the part might give you an idea. Not that either has ever, or will ever, agree to do TV, but I can’t decide which of them would be better. I’d also like to see Eva Green as Jasnah and Martin Csokas as Sadeas.
Bonus reason: No sex!
Admission time: I don’t like Game of Thrones. When I heard the series was in production, I started reading the book and was soon halted by waves of rape, incest, and underage sex. I soldiered on until the extremely detailed wedding night of 13-year-old Daenerys and the much older horse lord dude. I gave up. The series, though glossing over the perversion by adjusting Daenerys’ age, still seems to drip with nudity and explicit sex.
But Stormlight, though intense, at times brutal, and voilent, has so far stayed away from the bedroom. The truest adaptation would likely be R for the body count, but not for girls getting nakers. And this could be refreshing for parents of young nerds.
So write your local producer and tell them to get moving on this. It needs to happen.