Saturday, April 26, 2008

The ways of adaptors are woundrous [stet] strange

Yes...woundrous strange. That's my conflation of the word wounded and the word wondrous.

The average audience member has long been puzzled as to why adaptors of books to film have to change everything around...sometimes jettisoning the source material altogether. I am certainly one of those. I refuse to watch The Lord of the Rings trilogy because of the shabby way Peter Jackson treated Christopher Lee's Saruman in The Return of the King, for example. [Well, also because I didnt' actually like any of the movies, but that's a different kettle of fish.]

Anyway, in England, the BBC produces quite a few book dramatisations each year for radio. And many of these books are given a lot of time - relatively speaking. Running from 1 1/2 to 2 hours for most of 'em. Still not enough time to get through a complete book, but enough to do it justice, one would assume.

Which brings me to Terry Pratchett's Small Gods, currently playing every Saturday at BBC Radio 7. (Each episode is online for 7 days, so if you're reading this blog, you have no exuse to miss it!

Earlier today I tried to listen to it, and turned it off after 10 minutes in a fury. Small Gods is my absolute favorite Terry Pratchett book, and one of my top 10 favorite fiction books, period. And Patrick Barlow, who plays Om, is one of my favorite actors. So I hoped for great things. But knowing the quirks of adaptors, I was a bit nervous.

And in the first 10 minutes two rather vital changes had been made that just ticked me off. However, after calming down, I decided to return to the episode, and it turned out to be not that bad. Lots of the original dialog and prose was left "as is" and Patrick Barlow has a lot of fun with the role.

But the changes - oh the unneccessary changes - or.... were they unneccessary? Did this adaptor, Robin Brooks, have some motive in my mind? In other words, why did he change what he did?

There is a lot of narrative in a Terry Pratchett novel. This narrative voice provides much of the humor. In this adaption, Anton Lesser does the narrating, and he's excellent at it. (I don't know that American actors will know who he is - or indeed anyone in this cast, except for those fortunate enough to have been theater goers and London tourists during the late 1990s, as I was. Visited London, and saw the play Richard II, starring Anton Lesser as Henry, and Alex Jennings as Richard II. And here they are almost 20 years later, in a radio play together, Lesser as Narrator, Jennings as the evil Vorbis.)

Anyway, Brutha is a novice monk in the Citadel. A teenager, he can neither read nor write, but he has an eidetic memory. He remembers everything he sees, and has done since the day he saw a bright white light and somebody hit him.

The Citadel, in the land of Omnia, is the home of the Quisition, which makes sure that the Great God Om is properly worshiped. Om, who normally appears in the form of a great Bull, had come to earth one day three years ago to do some smiting...and when he had metamorphosized found that he had the shape of a small, one-eyed tortoise instead.

An eagle, intending to crack open his shell and eat him, has lifted him up to a great height, and dropped him. But he lands in a garden which is being hoed by Brutha.

And, as will become apparent in this episode, only Brutha can hear Om, because only Brutha, of all the people in the Citadel,( and indeed the land of Om) really believes in him.

So, below is the first change that really set me off, because there was no reason for it:

Om is telling Brutha to go fetch a high priest. If he doesnt, "there will be a shaking of the earth, the moon will be as blood, agues and boils will afflict mankind and diverse ills will befall." This is where the radio version stops. Pratchett adds another sentence - which is absolutely hilarious. "I really mean it." It's perfect. It's hilarious. It would have taken another second or two to say. Why leave it out? Especuially considering the inflection Patrick Barlow could have given it.

Next, we get something more egregious.

Brutha hears the voice of Om, and runs to tell Brother Nhumrod, Master of the Novices about it.

In the book, Nhumrod says, "Sometimes, as He in His infinite wisom sees fit, the God speaks to chosen one and he becomes a great prophet. Now, I am sure you wouldn't presume to consider yourself one of them?"

Brooks version has it:
"Sometimes, as in His infinite wisdom sees fit, the God speaks to chosen one and he becomes a great prophet. Do you consider your voice to have been in that category, Brutha?"

Do you see the difference?

Pratchett is saying that in this religion, there are no real prophets. It's just the religious hierarchy who decides someone is going to be a prophet, and they choose that person.

Then Brooks has Nhumrod going on --- adding a couple of sentences that Nhumrod never said in the book, about nighttime manipulation, etc. (Brutha thinks this, Nhumrod never says it.]

Then, when Brutha brings Nhumrod to hear what Om has to say, Om calls Nhumrod a pederast. Nhumrod is not a pederast. Moreover, Pratchett never uses this word in the book. Pratchett's words are these: Sometimes demons and devils did put disquieting thoughts in his head, but he saw to it that they stayed there and he did not in any literal sense deserve to be called what the tortoise called him, which, in fact, if he had heard it, he would have thought was something to do with feet.

Again, why the change? Pratchett assures his readers that Nhumrod is not a pederast, and so why even mention it in the radio version? Why not have Om call him an "old fool" instead. Unless Brooks wants to make some kind of a point linking Omnian priests to Catholic priests... but it's simply unfair. And at the end of the scene, Brooks has Nhumrod say another couple of sentences that are not in the book - a bit about cucumbers - another hint about Nhumrod's sexuality that simply does not exist in the book -- and therefore should not be introduced into this radio program. (Indeed, in the book Nhumrod' obsession is with melons - ie women's breasts, ie women...)

Then, things are really altered when Brutha and Om talk about religion. Brutha points out all the things that Om had done in the past, and Om points out that he never did any of that stuff.

"He [Ossory] said that you spoke unto him from out of a pillar of flame."


"And you dictated to him the Book of Ossory, which contains the Directions, the Gateways, the Abjurations, and the Precepts. One hundred and ninety three chapters."

"I don't think I did all that...."

"What did you say to him, then?"

"As far as I can remember, it was, "Hey, see what I can do."

Hilarious and quite a smiting at religion, with its one man seeing the burning bush, or the this and the that, and everyone else believing what this one man has to say...

There's no reason at all why Pratchett's dialog here should be changed...yet Brooks changes it. Very annoying!

Obviously, the point about the Omnian religion being created by men and not by Om himself has to be made, in less time than it takes to do in the book. Although, if you leave out Brother Nhumrod's extraneous added dialog, you have more time to say Pratchett's dialog here.

As for the voice work... that's fine.

I would've had Patrick Barlow use a different voice inflection in a few of his lines during that religion quarrel... but then he was saying Brook's lines, not Pratchett's, but overall he does a great job... has a lot of fun with it.

Everyone else does fine as well. Alex Jennings in particular as the cold Vorbis is excellent. Anton Lesser does a good job as the narrator.

So... three more episodes to listen to. Three more chances to hear Robin Brooks interfere with perfection.

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