When we think of our favorite media being turned into something else (ie, that a book will become a show or movie), a lot of us internalize that we want exactly what happened in the original medium to occur again, just in a new medium.
I’ve been guilty of this (although I maintain that the movies about that Lady in Scotland’s* boy wizard books cut important plot stuff in favor of super-lengthy creature fights.) What we forget when a piece of art is depicted in a new medium, ie, movie to novel, tv show to comic book, graphic novel to stage musical/play, that the new medium has strengths and limitations that the original doesn’t have. And they should use their strengths. But when translation happens, people can get miffed about changes.
Don’t get me wrong. Hollywood can and does butcher some of our favorite stories. (eg. World War Z and most movies based on Ursula K. Le Guin’s books, to name a few.)
Being a novelist, I sometimes don’t immediately get how other mediums tell stories. When I first heard Splendor and Misery by clipping.
, I liked some of the songs, but thought that some of them were hard to listen to, or even understand. But I realized that this is not just an album, it’s a story told through songs, so when the end of “The Breach” ends with horrific clanging and sirens, that’s the slave from the song breaking free and taking over the ship. Another song, the static-heavy “Interlude 02”, is a code transmitted through space. If you listen closely you can hear the voice say, “charlie…foxtrot…"etc.
Are they songs the kind to be on the radio or win a Grammy or inspire a sing-along? No.
Are they essential parts of a larger story? Oh yes.
It’s no secret I love the Garages for making great music about Blaseball, the thing that got me through year 1 of the pandemic. One of their songs, "Won’t Strike Out,”
written and performed by Autumn, retells a legendary showdown in the game between Polkadot Patterson (Canada Moist Talkers) and Chorby Short (Yellowstone Magic). Here’s the chorus:
they won’t strike out they won’t strike out
a frog facing a star on the pitcher’s mound (x8)
Yup- the chorus is sung eight times before the next verse.
Weird Blaseball context: Chorby (fan canon has them as a frog) had blood type “O No” which meant they couldn’t be struck out until the pitcher threw a ball. Star pitchers like Patterson don’t throw a lot of balls, letting Chorby chill in the batters box for 112 foul balls before Patterson threw a ball, and then was finally able to easily strike the frog out.
Most Blaseball games take about 25-30 minutes, while this one at-bat took over nine minutes to play out. I missed it, but those who saw it said frankly it was pretty boring, even though it makes a great story.
I don’t mind repetition in songs, and I do like this song, but even I got a little tired of the chorus. WHY so many repetitions? It felt like bad songwriting–sorry, Garages, but it was all me, not you–but it took me longer than I like to admit to realize that this isn’t just a song telling what happened with lyrics, the lengthy chorus is a recreation of the experience, complete with the rough translation of 112 foul balls in music form. Applause, Autumn and the Garages. I shouldn’t have doubted.
Lastly, we’ll look at a graphic novel translation to a musical, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. I saw the musical before I read the graphic novel, which made it easier to catch the one panel that inspired possibly the most famous song from the show, “Ring of Keys”. The song describes in aching, confused detail how ten-year-old Alison felt when she saw an “old school butch” for the first time and felt an unexpected and shocking sense of kinship.
Your swagger and your bearing
and the just right clothes you’re wearing
Your short hair and your dungarees
And your lace up boots.
And your keys oh
Your ring of keys.
The panel from the comic just has a delivery woman getting something signed. In Bechdel’s art, you barely notice she’s wearing a ring of keys on her belt, half blocked by the counter. Little Alison in the background is completely entranced.