Friday, January 21, 2011

Why authors should love history on TV, even bad history

Tonight one of my favorite franchises, Starz’s Spartacus debuts a new series, Gods of the Arena. I was seriously hooked on Spartacus: Blood and Sand last year - my Starz forum name is iluvcrixus (guess who my favorite character is!) I’m watching for more than the muscle-bound, gladiator eye candy on the screen, though it helps keep me entertained. The portrayal of decadence and vice in Roman society at every level fascinates me, as do the parallels between society today and in the past. I think shows like Spartacus find their niche among fans because the characters resonate with the audience for their good and bad qualities. Every genre fiction writer chases this elusive goal; building worlds and peopling them with memorable characters.

More importantly, historical pieces are good because they make certain periods familiar or easier to understand. Regardless of the quality in the dramatization, they allow people who might be less inclined to read about history to watch it instead. Adaptations like the more recent Pillars of the Earth miniseries, based on Ken Follett’s novel and Robert Graves’ I, Claudius in the 1970s allowed for visual representations of history. As a reader, I’m totally engaged by novels where scenes unfold as if they were on the screen, so it's not hard to understand why visuals may be more appealing than words on a page.

Even a poorly done version of history on television can spur interest in an author’s book. While most try to get it right, screenwriters face the same quandary as authors; how to keep the plot and characters entertaining, while preserving elements of a setting or ancient society. Where they fail, an author might and should do better with an accurate depiction of how life was in another era. The goal of entertaining the audience remains the same, regardless of the mode in which it’s delivered.

Now, I’m going to settle in for an hour of Gods of the Arena, and forget that Barca, the Beast of Carthage, really shouldn’t around in this series unless he’s just a hot 70-year old gladiator.


Jorgh said...

I love Spartacus. I mostly started watching because I'm a Xena-tard and I love Lucy Lawless, but it's a great show. My love of the Rome series was another motivator.

Historical dramas are indeed great. I love most of the ones I've seen, even if they aren't always that accurate.

Anywho, enjoy your Spartacus! I have to wait for the bluray/dvd release :(

Lisa Yarde said...

Jorgh, here's the other crazy Xena-Rome-Spartacus fan! That's great. Call them campy, inaccurate, whatever have you, I loved these all these shows. Have you heard a Rome movie was planned for this year? I was so disappointed when the series was cancelled, because it seemed they had years worth of history to explore. Let's hope we get to hear Pullo yell "13!" again someday.

Jorgh said...

Oh yeah, I was so mad when I found out Rome was canceled. So much wasted potential there.

I really do hope they eventually make the movie. It's definitely something to look forward to.

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