Remember a decade ago when the world was going to end? Younger readers may not clearly recall, but a computer glitch dubbed “Y2K” (the date changing from 1999 to 2000 on January 1) was going to throw computers and thus the world into complete chaos. Planes were going to fall from the sky, bank accounts were going to reset while bankrupting corporations, energy sources were going to fail and missiles would launch and plunge the world into nuclear holocaust.
And worst of all, what if TheOneRing.net wasn’t available when I got to work and opened my browser? What if I couldn’t keep up with the latest news tidbit about the Peter Jackson team working on three “Lord of the Rings Films” by reading the fan site dubbed TORn (for brevity). I wasn’t obsessed, I was focused.
Winter-Is-Coming.net has taken me back to those days like a time capsule. That site, like TORn, is reporting daily on the minutia of a fantasy story told, in what I hope is grand fashion. Once again, like so many others, I have found myself checking in each day, following the tiniest details and I have been transported back to those days of eager anticipation when it seemed the world, as we know it, might end.
The newer site, dubbed WIC (for brevity) follows the in-progress work of an epic fantasy story written by author George R.R. Martin rather than TORn’s J.R.R. Tolkien. (All those “Rs” are enough to make me change my name to LaR.R.y Curtis in hope of being a grand writer.) HBO is taking a risk with a fantasy story and pushing boundaries with budget and cast and betting the farm that along with a fiercely loyal fan base of readers, the general public will take a chance on great storytelling rather than big-name Hollywood names and give the series a try. (The series does feature Sean Bean.)
It has been an exciting time for WIC, with the production going before the cameras followed by an intense period of post-production with the powerful publicity machine churning and now having the air date only weeks, even days away.
How well I remember the media build-up to the debut of “Fellowship,” a decade ago and those memories have been inescapable as “A Game of Thrones,” gets unleashed on popular culture. Fans of both eras paid careful attention when national critics weighed in on the potential of the series, bring the geek-favorite material to a wider and more general audience. As insiders we feel we understand the greatness of the work and understand the potential of the adaptation so when those less versed but with a wider audience have opinions, fans almost feel like not only is the production being discussed but in some way its followers as well.
Responses to mainstream coverage of the pet projects are pretty easy to predict and classify.
Somebody on a message board or an article response will declare the writer an ignoramus while others will defend the writer and explain that it is fans that are clueless. Others will be level-headed and measured, some will bring up the show’s need for far-ranging exposure while some will even discuss the merits of the mainstream article in question. While these are broad generalizations, and they can’t cover all possible reactions, they ring true for both sites.
Some fans can’t be pleased unless they are personally consulted by the production and other fans’ approval can’t be turned away by even the worst news-nuggets imaginable.
It has been fascinating to see WIC and remember TORn as official channels have recognized and legitimized the efforts of the websites’ creators as well as the fans. Entertainment corporations are a lot more aware of how to handle fans these days but both entities have embraced the sites with information, official images, promotional materials and even visits to media and other events.
I will not forget TORn tagging along to the Cannes Film Festival in France for a 20-minute preview of FOTR and me sitting at a computer hanging on every word about it. Similarly, when WIC attended the television critic’s screenings and discussions and sat down with Martin and the runners of the series, it gave me a nostalgic smile as I again poured over the text, not wanting to miss a detail.
Casting news and speculation was similar for both sites and similarly fun. Some decisions made it seem as though the production was trolling the fans sites taking castings suggestions while other actors were chosen against fans’ most fervent wishes while others were complete unknowns. The previously mentioned Bean is the most obvious thread between the two talent pools.
Are there other similarities? Fan gatherings? Yes for both sites. Fans adopting cast actors and following their general work? Check. Production promotions concentrating on the behind-the-scenes aspect of the job? Check. A nation with a modest film industry being delighted to land the big-money job and delivering? Check. Who is in / out character speculation? Check. Scene discussion and speculation? Check. Site produced script speculation and structure? Check. Breaking down every known image for clues and signs? Check. A world-wide following? Check. Will strangers meet over the interwebs and then in person and will life-long and “real” friendships be made? I would bet on it.
The similarities of the experiences of the sites and the circumstances around big fantasy go on and on but one of the most important similarities for me, making the sites feel like they are related at their core, deals with users.
Perhaps it’s the nature of the works on which all of the energy is based. Maybe it’s the conflicted character complexities, detailed world building, flawed heroes, subtle use of fantasy elements, potential loss, melancholy or tragic outcomes and references to larger mythologies and history that attract high-caliber readers to each site. But whatever the explanation, one of the most important features of each site, from my view, is the intelligence and general civility that prevails on each site among users.
News is always attractive, on either site, but it is the reader reaction to the news that makes a stay on either site a deeper experience and more worthwhile than reading the latest sensationalized report on better-known entertainment websites.
As a slew of new imagery arrives from HBO in the lead-up to the series premiere, I feel the same excitement and wonderment that LOTR fans had back in the day. And, almost humorously, the fan reactions run the gamut of responses. Some readers are irritated with interpretations that don’t match their own exactly while others are so pleased to have any television of Martin’s Westeros that nearly anything goes. Some criticize the critics while some criticize the devotees.
I confess to being a rabid fan of both authors and to being fascinated and thrilled by the process and results of adaptation. I am also a daily reader of WIC and used to be a daily reader of TORn but those days stopped when the owners gradually adopted me and I now have the privilege of helping the not-for-profit site as a senior staff member. And, do be honest, WIC publishing this essay, also lets me feel that I have contributed to the great good there as well.
The works of the “R.R.s” are drastically different and the two sites covering their adaptations each have a unique flavor as well. There are distinct differences but there are also remarkable similarities. If you know one site but haven’t visited the other, please accept my invitation to do so. If you haven’t read Tolkien or Martin, a great adventure awaits.
And finally, this year, only weeks ago in fact, after years of legal battles and studio finance details, Peter Jackson’s team returned to Middle-earth to begin filming a two-part film based on “The Hobbit.” All the comparisons about WIC by TORn now can be applied in the other direction. TORn now follows in the recent footsteps of WIC and if things go well for HBO (and fans) WIC will follow the second season of the production, revisiting the magic of the first. Hobbit news will flow through 2014 and Ice & Fire news may well go beyond that if HBO has a homerun on its hands.
Back in the day the non-specialized media wrote often and fervently about how New Line Cinema was risking its very studio life by making Jackson’s films and characterized the risk of making character driven fantasy as near folly.
Contemporary media wonders aloud if television viewers can possibly keep characters clear or can be bothered to tune in for an adult adaptation of a fantasy book (code for kid stuff). Often the undertone of derision or a bit of snootiness regarding the genre remains, making early 2011 feel a lot like 2000 in some respects.
Just as before “Fellowship”, I smell a big, obvious success.
Whatever the case, and whatever happens, its fun to be a fan.