Up at The Atlantic today, I’ve got a piece about the challenges of doing fantasy adaptations, as illustrated by True Blood and Game of Thrones:
[Charlaine] Harris’s Southern Vampire books may be fairly conventional paranormal romances, lacking some of the higher-level philosophical and mythological resonances Alan Ball’s added to the franchise. But they’re an impressive example of world-building and pacing. Harris started out with vampires and shape-shifters, giving readers a grounded sense of those concepts and mythologies before adding werewolf hierarchies in the third book, witches in the fourth, and faeries in the eighth. That pacing gave readers time to get a full sense of how different kinds of magic work before introducing new part of the world and explaining how different concepts interacted.
By contrast, the show’s moved faster, introducing both witches and the idea that Sookie has faerie powers this season. As a result, both concepts and characters have suffered…One of the most important structural elements of Martin’s novels is the addition of points of view that clarify events and to provide different perspectives on events we’ve already visited once in previous books. To move that diversification of perspectives forward more quickly, Game of Thrones’ adapters replaced some generic scenes of courtly life with conversations between characters that set up rivalries at court, like those between the realm’s treasurer and its spymaster…These additional scenes don’t change the pace of events—just our understanding of them.
I hadn’t really thought of it this way before I wrote the piece, but pacing’s particularly important with fantasy because of the way it interacts with world-building. If you want to disorient people, it’s fine to drop them in and rush them. But if you want the concepts and the assumptions of the world to be really clear so you can use them later, you have to take your time.