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Visual imaginings of fiction

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  • Visual imaginings of fiction

    Oops! Another slightly awkward Perdixian construct title!

    This isn't exactly a new idea, but I'm interested in how readers 'visualise' the fiction that they are consuming at the time. This question arose from a discussion of the old chestnut about how films can 'ruin' the personal imagined world of a reader, as the cinematic interpretation is (of course) 'not how one imagined it'.

    Now, when I'm reading a book, I find that I don't always stick to one 'continuous' or internally-consistent set of images. In fact, particularly with SF or fantastical stories, I seem to hover in this peculiar world halfway between 'real' scenes and characters, and a sort of animated, cartoon-like medium which bears little resemblance to our physical experence, ie. my brain isn't playing a 'film' of the events, more creating a variable-medium construct of relatively vague impressions. The nearest things I can think of to illustrate what I'm driving at are (ironically) the films 'Yellow Submarine' or, perhaps, 'Mary Poppins' or 'bedknobs & Broomsticks', where setting and characterisation shifts between 'flesh & blood' and artwork. But it's a crude model; sometimes I just seem to drift into a 'chaotic' world of very disconnected abstractions that the fictional writing conjures up: there is no exact, logical imagery. I also find that the conjured visual imagery may vary on repeated readings, and that the characters change in appearance or behaviour between books (of the same series); there is a mutability of 'interpretation'. I find this only applies to my own characters when they are 'being created' - once formed, they are autonomous, and tend to be internally consistent, even if they do throw up odd behaviours and surprises, like one's children!

    A corollary of this is the effect that viewing a film (ie someone else's 'solidification') of the story has on one's internal imaginings: Colin Dexter said that he had to a certain extent to force himself not to write later 'Morse' stories with a view to John Thaw playing them! ie, the author himself had his original character idea partly modified by the televisual actuality!

    Will Mr M's 'Elric' be altered by his viewing of the film? It will surely be utterly different to the proto-Elric of the novels, and would possibly be so even if MM were to have total directorial and creative control of the movie - many 'imagined' things are just unfilmable. Or is the internal-Moorcock's own idea of Elric so rock-solid that external interpretation has no effect, like watching a film or play based on 'real' characters that the viewer knows personally in 'real' life? Aaaand, failing to pause for interrogative breath, was Elric visually a finished product with the first story, or did he 'morph' into different forms as time went by - subtle changes to the creator's visual conception of the character, like the changes in the cover illustrations?!?

    well, there you go... :D

  • #2
    Interesting question. My imaginings of writings are firmly in flesh and blood (i.e. I imagine them as people, not cartoons or anything else). Sometimes I read slowly, depending on the style of the writer, as I want to imagine every scene as I'm reading. I find MM's fiction flows very easily and is pretty easy to read quickly - probably because of his experience of writing in different media like comics. Many authors have very dense, needlessly descriptive passages which bog the writing down.

    On the subject of Clockwork Orange, it's interesting how much our perception of the book and the images we create have been affected by Kubrick's film. I have two paperbacks of the book from the 60s, one British and one American - the British one has the droogs in Teddy Boy type gear on the cover, while the US one depicts them as leather clad bikers, similar to Marlon Brando in The Wild One. However, it's almost impossible to read the book now without thinking of them dressed as they were in the Kubrick film.

    On the other hand, Norman Bates in the original Robert Bloch novel of Psycho is much older than the Bates played by Anthony Perkins in the film, but I find it easier to ignore that when reading the book, even though Perkins is very much associated with the Bates character. Not sure why, maybe because he was based on Ed Gein who was an older guy.
    'You know, I can't keep up with you. If I hadn't met you in person, I quite honestly would NOT believe you really existed. I just COULDN'T. You do so MUCH... if half of what goes into your zines is to be believed, you've read more at the age of 17 than I have at the age of 32 - LOTS more'

    Archie Mercer to Mike (Burroughsania letters page, 1957)

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    • #3
      Interesting since I worked with Jim Cawthorn from the beginning -- that is as I drafted the early Elric work, Jim drew pictures. So my model of Elric is Jim's. I doubt if any of the many, many versions of Elric which have been done since then have imprinted themselves the way Jim's did.
      However, one of the reasons I'm giving up writing Elric novels is because I'm actually involved in the movie version and in a sense I shall be part of whatever recreation process goes on. Having created characters, such as Jerry Cornelius, with a view to some form of metapmorphosis taking place, I suppose I'm luckier than many in that I am always curious to see what other people make of my characters. I started in comics, after all, so have seen my mind's eye view changed into someone else's innumberable times. It doesn't seem to make much difference to me. I think my characters are so firmly developed in my mind that other versions of them never imprint themselves. Jim's Elric was just how I imagined him (or so I believe, these days :) ) and I must say that Mike Mignola's version of Corum in the First Comics versions were very much as I imagined Corum. I doubt if Edgar Rice Burroughs was too pleased with some of the Tarzans they did -- from the bulky Elmo Lincoln to the blond Johnny Weismuller -- but those books were so different that I doubt many regular readers had their image changed, either. It's true that Simenon saw Rupert Hart-Davis before he was introduced to him and famously remarked 'C'est Maigret!', which must have been very flattering for Rupert and I must admit I can never see another version of Maigret without thinking he's 'wrong'. Certain other actors have somehow reflected Paget's Holmes so thoroughly you just aren't happy with other versions. I suspect it varies. Some actors just ARE the characters they portray. It would be wonderful to see such an actor play Elric and maybe, with luck, we'll find one. It's possible if we found someone so perfect I might start modifying my mind's eye version of Elric, but then it would be likely that any artist doing a graphic novel would be equally influenced. The problem would come later, perhaps, if that actor retired from the role...

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      • #4
        I used to have an 'archetypical' conception of Holmes as Basil Rathbone, but became so hypnotised by Jeremy Brett's astonishing 1980's interpretation that the latter has probably taken over in my inner eye (it would have been nice to see Gilette, of course, whilst the barely-remembered Douglas Wilmer was excellent; as was Christopher Plummer - Oh, dear! You were right!). The irony of Brett, of course, is that the character pretty well took him over, and contributed to his depressive decline and early death. Strange to think that a fictional character can contain such power!

        (I've had just the slightest glancing whiff of the effect myself, when I was playing 'Death' in the medieval miracle play 'Everyman' at college: It only ran for three nights (student production) but the costumes, dialogue and 'outdoor' set were so involving that I had a lot of trouble getting 'out of character' again afterwards. I'd developed the portentous, slow gait and thousand-yard-stare I thought appropriate to a fleshless chap in black with a scythe, but found I was still 'doing' it at a party a few days later when folk kept breaking off conversation to remark 'Why are you looking at me like that?' Heh heh. Swish! :lol: )

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Michael Moorcock
          It's true that Simenon saw Rupert Hart-Davis before he was introduced to him and famously remarked 'C'est Maigret!', which must have been very flattering for Rupert and I must admit I can never see another version of Maigret without thinking he's 'wrong'.
          There's an amusing slip here Mr. M, if you don't mind me being pedantic and pointing it out. Rupert Hart-Davis is of course a publisher, Rupert Davies was the actor who played Maigret. :) It reminds me of a moment in (I think) The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius where reference is made to 'Billy J. Fury' (Billy Fury? Or Billy J. Kramer?) I always wondered if it was a minor error that made it past the proof stage, or a typo or something?

          As far as a movie Elric goes, I would say Paul Bettany definitely. I've seen photos of him that look very similar facially to artists conceptions of Elric. I think he was made for the role (or vice versa).
          'You know, I can't keep up with you. If I hadn't met you in person, I quite honestly would NOT believe you really existed. I just COULDN'T. You do so MUCH... if half of what goes into your zines is to be believed, you've read more at the age of 17 than I have at the age of 32 - LOTS more'

          Archie Mercer to Mike (Burroughsania letters page, 1957)

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          • #6
            At the mere mention of Elric casting suggestions, my fingers type "Jude Law"... not because I want him to get the part, but just to save his more ardent fans the bother of getting their hype machines in gear. I live to serve!

            I've said this before, but I actually have very weak "visualisation" muscles. If I have a pencil in my hand, and a "client" in mind, then I can usually produce the goods, but when I'm reading (as far as I recall) I don't really have any pictures in my head. I just get caught up in the words, and go along for the ride. Perhaps I'm missing out on something.

            Having read a book on lucid and/or active dreaming, I know that this is an area of my brain that requires a bit of a workout.

            My inability to think in pictures is one of the many reason I put whatever artistic ability I possess down to pure genetics. When all else fails, blame your grandfather.
            "That which does not kill us, makes us stranger." - Trevor Goodchild

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            • #7
              Neither Bettany nor Law, I'm afraid. Only Gwyneth Bloody Paltrow for Elric, I reckon. She's got the lot: Pale, long blonde barnet, doom-laden eyes and she appears to be a right bloody whinger to boot. Give her a nice black helmet with some dragon wings on and dub her over with Brian Blessed and voila! Perfect. :lol:

              Don't be silly, Dee. You have excellent visualisation skills; I think I often go 'totally abstract' when reading, too, and your excellent work denies your assertions! :D

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              • #8
                Thanks, Aral. I am very bad at names indeed, so both were probably mistakes. I'm bad at faces, too. I have been known to rush up to perfect strangers and embrace them as old friends while old friends are passed by with me wondering 'who the hell does he think he is' ? I often mention this, so that old friends, or even acquaintances, will I hope forgive me when it happens to them.

                Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
                The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
                Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


                Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
                The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
                Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

                Comment


                • #9
                  Book covers definitely influence me a lot. I hadn't really ever stopped to think about it much, but when you ask I find that's totally the case. Elric will always look like a Michael Whelan painting to me.

                  Whatever I first see sticks though if I liked the story and didn't like the cover (which happens with classics sometimes) then I'd probably have to go seek a different edition. Or try hard not to look at it...
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                  • #10
                    I think a lot of book covers (SF in particular) often seem 'wrong' to me; not that they don't gel with my own imaginings as such, more that one ask's oneself 'did the artist actually read this book or not?'. I think a lot of publishers just said: 'Oh, do something really weird with brght colours, and preferably bits of naked ladies. And a gun'. Lurid, that's the mot juste. Very like the movie posters of the Seventies; All the characters looking either grim or sexy, an explosion, some firearms and an articulated lorry jumping a chasm in the jungle over a U-boat. And it doesn't matter if it happens in the film (/book) or not. Just do it. I notice they've started doing it again recently. All a bit Athena.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Perdix
                      I think a lot of publishers just said: 'Oh, do something really weird with brght colours, and preferably bits of naked ladies. And a gun'. Lurid, that's the mot juste.
                      I have to say that those memorable Bruce Pennington covers for the 70s NEL Burroughs Mars books were a major factor in me buying them when I was about 11 or 12.
                      'You know, I can't keep up with you. If I hadn't met you in person, I quite honestly would NOT believe you really existed. I just COULDN'T. You do so MUCH... if half of what goes into your zines is to be believed, you've read more at the age of 17 than I have at the age of 32 - LOTS more'

                      Archie Mercer to Mike (Burroughsania letters page, 1957)

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