Thursday, April 15, 2021

Adapting to Survive


Cursed - the legend of King Arthur is reenvisioned on Netflix.

Adapting a book to the screen has many names - remake, reboot, revision... But they all have one thing in common: the story is, in part or whole, rewritten to survive.

From the point of view of the book, this isn't always good, where 'good' equals accurate or in the spirit of.... As I mentioned once in The Down Side of Adaptation, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jeffrey Eugenides reminds us that the book's story radically changes once it becomes visual. 

"It's no longer a book, and to try to insist on it being a book will usually make it a poorer film." - Jeffrey Eugenides

In the world of storytelling, adaptation is about the book withstanding a translation to 'motion pictures' and in the wild kingdom, adaptation means exactly the same thing

The okapi
The okapi has survived 16 million years through adaptations.

For today's post, I thought it would be fun to compare three evolutionary adaptations -- structural, physiological and behavioral -- in nature with those found in storytelling. For example, the okapi demonstrates structural and physiological adaptations that have allowed it to survive. 

    1) they have scent glands on their feet to mark their territory
    2) they use infrasonic calls to communicate with their calves so predators can't hear
    3) their tongues are 14-18 inch-long tongues used for browsing and washing their ears and eyes

Shadow and Bone | Six of Crows Macmillian 

A book adaptation with just as surprising structural and physiological changes as the Okapi is the new Netflix series adaptation of Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. In this revision, characters and environments are combined to survive as something new.

Instead of solely adapting its namesake book, the show combines it with characters and geography from Bardugo’s duology Six of Crows. - Nerdist

Another interesting form of adaptation in nature is based on behavoral changes. 

When it comes to this kind of adaptations in nature, squirrels take the cake. Did you know they can hibernate for up to 12 months? 

Photography: Alamy - Grey Squirrel Study at UE

A new series, also to Netflix, took the behavioral route when it adapted the time-honoured story of King Arthur. You might notice right away that Merlin doesn't quite behave the way we expect given a Disney upbringing. If you haven't seen it, you'll want to prepare yourself!

(the old) Merlin is a figure of great power and wisdom. His magical abilities are substantial and he’s generally depicted as a sort of all-seeing sage, who engineers the birth of Arthur and the rise of Camelot before falling victim to an ill-timed romance.

 Gustav Skarsgard’s performance brings this very different kind of Merlin to life.

In Cursed, Merlin is, to be blunt, a world-weary mess. Stripped of his magic and overly fond of alcohol, this character seems the furthest thing possible from an all-knowing, all-powerful wizard. And that’s not just an intentional choice on the part of Wheeler – it’s one that places this Merlin closer to his Welsh beginnings than many versions of the character that came afterward. - Den of Geeks

Love them or not, the revisions films tell of our beloved books are different, including sometimes shocking and unexpected takes. But, just like in nature, they have been adapted to survive new challenges in the environment, for better or worse.

How about you? What are your favorite adaptations? Most appalling? We'd love to hear your thoughts.

* * *

Crown of Bones audio sample
Try the Audio Sample

Kim Falconer, currently writing as A K Wilder, has just released Crown of Bones, a YA Epic Fantasy.

Kim can be found on  AKWilder TwitterFacebook and Instagram

Throw the bones, read your horoscopes or Raise Your Phantom on the site or have a listen to the audio version on the right.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

An Interview With Kristin Cashore – Talking Magic In "Winterkeep" & The GRACELING REALM Series



Over the past few years, I’ve nominated an annual blogging theme for my Supernatural Underground posts – and this year’s theme is Magic Systems in Fantasy.

My secondary theme is “Fun With Friends”, with the aim being to talk with fellow authors about the magic in their writing.

As with most authors, I’m a reader as well as a writer – and like many others readers I was swept up in the magic of Kristin Cashore’s first novel, Graceling.


In 2012, I was delighted to interview Kristin about her third Graceling novel, Bitterblue – which I thought might just be my favorite. Until, that is, I read Kristin’s recently published Winterkeep and immediately had a strong new contender in the favorite stakes.

So it feels very right to bring you another interview with Kristin today, which although it highlights Winterkeep, also focuses on the magic of Kristin’s Graceling Realm world.

UK Cover

Welcoming Kristin Cashore: In Conversation On Magic Systems in Winterkeep & the GRACELING REALM Series

HL: Welcome to the Supernatural Underground, Kristin. I'm so pleased you're able to be with us today, to talk magic in Winterkeep and your Graceling Realm world.

The Graceling Realm series involves several realms, from the Seven Kingdoms, the Dells and Pikkia, and now the Torla continent that includes Winterkeep. How important is the associated magic in making each realm distinct, but also connected?

Kristin: It’s true that as I’ve expanded my world to include new realms, I’ve given each part of the world a distinct kind of magic — and you’re absolutely right, I’ve tried to make the different kinds of magic feel connected, or all-of-a-piece. I’ve created thematic links between them, in the hopes that my readers will be more willing to come along for the ride.


With the first book, Graceling, I established a world where occasionally, a person is born with an extreme skill of some kind, and that person is marked by having unmatching eyes. Sometimes those eyes are quite ordinary eye colors like brown, black, gray, hazel, or blue, but other times, a Graceling might have an eye of a bright and unusual color, like red, silver, gold, purple, copper. And the skills, called Graces, can be a variety of things, from something creative, like baking or drawing, to something physical, like swimming or fighting — to something mental, like mind-reading or mind control.


Then, when I wrote Fire, I established a world full of “monsters” — animals shaped like the regular animals we know (mountain lions, horses, insects, raptors), but vibrantly, unusually colored, and with the power to control minds. My main character, Fire, is a human-shaped monster with vibrantly-colored hair and the power to control minds. I suppose I felt that such a world could believably exist side-by-side with a world where some people have dramatically-colored eyes and have a range of magical abilities, including mind control.

Most recently, with Winterkeep, I’ve established a world that contains telepathic sea creatures called silbercows (who happen to be bluish-purple) and telepathic “blue foxes” (though only the kits are pure blue; the adults turn gray). So, I’m continuing the theme of significant colors, of telepathy, and of powerful animals in the natural world. Humans, of course, are animals in the natural world, so it’s made sense to me that some of these powers rest in humans, while some rest in non-human animals.


I suppose I chose these particular magics because I’m drawn to them for one reason or another. But I also wanted to create a sense of consistency, so that the world has a sort of familiar internal logic. I’m not sure if it would work, for example, to establish a new setting where people can teleport, or time travel, or step through a painting into another part of the multiverse (as happens in my unrelated novel, Jane, Unlimited). That would be too much of departure from the kinds of magic I’ve established.


As I continue to write in the Graceling Realm (which is my intention), it’ll be interesting to see the dramas and conflicts that arise between characters as the magics of different parts of the world begin to mix more. I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but I’m excited to find out.

Helen: I’ll put my hand up for being very excited to see what happens, too. I also love the connection between color and magic, which creates a bright thread through the Graceling Realm books. In Winterkeep you’ve not only introduced a realm that has unique powers associated with the natural world, but one that is geographically distinct. To what extent is this a ‘shift’ away from the earlier Graceling magic?

Kristin: It’s a shift in that this is the first Graceling Realm book I’ve written in which the magical power resides only in non-human animals. There are some Gracelings in the book — humans with magical powers — because they’ve traveled to Winterkeep from other parts of the world. But in Winterkeep, humans aren’t born with magic. The telepathic silbercows and blue foxes possess the only magic native to the Torlan continent. But again, humans are animals and part of the natural world — we (most of us anyway) merely like to imagine ourselves separate! — so while I’m not going to pretend there isn’t a distinction between a human with magical fighting abilities and a sea creature who can talk with her mind, I do see them existing on the same plane.


I suppose that in Winterkeep, I’ve created telepathic animals that are humanesque, in the sense that they have complex communications systems, societies, and interrelationships — but then again, a lot of animal species have those things. We just don’t understand them, and we have power over them (which includes the power to misinterpret them, and define them as we see fit). Humans do the same with all parts of the natural world, trees, rocks, water, the elements: We are the ones who decide what these things are, what they mean, what they need, and, too often, what they’re “worth,” and how they can be exploited by us. It’s possible that I’m drawn to create magic that resides in non-human animals and non-human spaces, in addition to magic that resides in humans, because I’m distressed that we humans in the real world fail so often at acknowledging that we’re part of a system, over which we have power we usually wield badly. I wonder if subconsciously, I’ve created a world in which I’ve tried to make the power a little bit more even? Or the humans — some of them, anyway — a little more conscious of their place in the system?

Whatever the reason, my silbercows and blue foxes — and to a limited extent, my monsters — have a one-up over humans, in the sense that they can communicate freely across species. They don’t actually need words and languages, just ideas. However, as in the real world, their fates are inextricably bound up with the decisions of humans.

Helen: Winterkeep is also a “winter world” (which I love!). To what extent was the world and its magical elements shaped or influenced by your Arctic Circle Residency in 2018?

Kristin: My Arctic Circle Residency was one of the absolute best experiences of my life. For two weeks in October, I lived on a tall ship with a bunch of other artists and a small, excellent crew, sailing around Svalbard in the Arctic Circle. Every day, once or twice, we climbed into zodiacs and visited the land. It snowed a lot. I saw glaciers, mountains, whales, walruses, fresh polar bear prints on a regular basis. I saw the northern lights; we sailed through sheets of ice; seals visited us while we were in the zodiacs. We learned to work the sails; I climbed the mast (which was terrifying!). Also, our ship, the Antigua, was easily the most beautiful home I’ve ever had.

Winterkeep: early planning

Winterkeep was already in revisions at that point, so while the experience certainly influenced my rewriting of parts of the book that take place on a ship or descriptions of some of the landscapes, it would be disingenuous to say that the trip strongly influenced the book. However! While I was on the trip, I was planning my next Graceling Realm book (in revisions now), which is from the point of view of Hava. That book was deeply influenced by my Arctic residency. I don’t think it would exist if it weren’t for my incredible two weeks in the Arctic.

Helen: I am so glad to learn there is another Graceling Realm novel coming soon! And I love the way Winterkeep ends with a question, “Are you ready for a little magic?” Yet sometimes magic, like other aspects of storytelling, can surprise the author. Where there any surprises for you in the magic of Winterkeep? Or the other Graceling Realm novels for that matter?

Kristin: Magic creates so many problems for authors! Or at least, it does for me. When you’re writing a book, you’re trying to create challenges that are difficult for characters to resolve. People are keeping secrets from each other, or they face difficult physical or mental challenges. But — if your book is full of characters who can read minds, then suddenly it becomes awfully easy for those characters to figure out the secrets. If it contains characters who can control minds — suddenly those characters have an enormous advantage over everyone else. If it contains characters who win every fight — how are those fights ever going to be interesting?


I especially had this problem in Fire and in Bitterblue, each of which contains a (different) powerful mindreader. At one point in Bitterblue, I had to go so far as to give my mindreader a serious illness, just to get him out of the way for a while! The illness fit the character and worked at that moment, so I think it ended up okay — but that’s the challenge. You have to find solutions for the problems you’ve created for yourself, solutions that fit the character and the world. Solutions that the reader will go along with.


I suppose I’ve written enough of these books at this point that I’m never exactly surprised when my magic creates tangles for me, but it is often hard to predict where it will happen. In Winterkeep, the telepathy of the blue foxes was complicated by the fact that blue foxes, by nature, often lie to humans and to each other. So, humans have particular ideas about how their telepathic power works — but that’s because the blue foxes have been lying to the humans. How their power actually works is a whole other story. Conveying that to the reader got very thorny while I was writing! With every revision, I tried to simplify and clarify the foxes’ magic more. It’s a lot of work to get the magic in your books to seem seamless to the reader. I’m never surprised that it’s a lot of work, but I’m often surprised by where the tangles arise!

Helen: One of Bitterblue’s defining characteristics, in a world shaped by magic, is that she doesn’t possess magical ability – abilities in which, conversely, heroines like Katsa and Fire excel. I have always enjoyed that contrast, which manifests again in Winterkeep. How central do you feel magical elements need to be in, in order to make fantasy storytelling rock?


Kristin: It’s funny, some of my favorite fantasy series don’t contain magic at all. I always think immediately of Cynthia Voigt’s Kingdom books, which, incidentally, have influenced every book I’ve ever written that takes place in a wintry landscape. I think it really, deeply depends on how the author chooses to use the magic in their world, and how careful they are as they weave it into the fabric of the story. There are many, many fantasy stories about a character who doesn’t know they have magic — or doesn’t understand some part of their magic — then gradually, over the course of the story, that character comes into their powers. Whether that book feels seamlessly magical, a natural sort of magical coming-of-age, or whether it feels like the growing magic is merely a plot device to keep things moving, depends entirely on the author’s choices. I think that a book can have as little or as much magic as the author wants, and that magic can be central or not, as long as the author has thought it through!


I will add that in the case of Bitterblue, like you, I’ve always enjoyed her contrast with so many of the other characters. Of course, Bitterblue is a queen, so she does possess a lot of power! But in terms of her physical abilities, she’s just a regular person — so I relate to her. And I relate to the feeling of being a regular person surrounded by extraordinary people, and trying to figure out my own role. I suppose fantasy is a great place to explore that kind of dynamic. Feeling incapable is part of the human condition.

Helen: Bitterblue is a favorite character of mine, for all the reasons you’ve just illuminated. Nonetheless, I do feel considerable anticipation that the next book will return to a character with Graceling powers. Thank you so much, Kristin, for visiting Supernatural Underground today and  sharing your insights into the magic of your Graceling Realm worlds. I feel quite sure readers will enjoy it as much as I have – and be equally delighted to learn that Graceling Realm #5 is on its way.


To find out more about Winterkeep and the GRACELING REALM series,

please visit Kristin on her website: 
This Is My Secret: The Blog and Website of Writer Kristin Cashore

You can also find Kristin on Twitter: @KristinCashore


Photo credit: Kevin Lin
About Kristin Cashore: 

American writer Kristin Cashore grew up in northeast Pennsylvania and now lives in Massachusetts with her husband. She earned her master’s degree from the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons College in Boston. 

Her epic fantasy novels set in the Graceling Realm (Graceling, Fire, Bitterblue, and Winterkeep) and her standalone novel Jane, Unlimited are all New York Times bestsellers and have won many awards.


Rocking 2021 with “Magic Systems in Fantasy” on Supernatural Underground: Previous Posts 

January 1: 
Happy New Year – Ushering In A Year of Friends, Fellow Authors, & Magic Systems

January 5: 
An Interview with AK Wilder – Talking Magic In Her New-Out Crown Of Bones (AMASSIA #1) 

February 1: An Interview with T Frohock 
– Talking Magic In A Song With Teeth & The LOS NEFILIM Series

March 1:  An Interview with Courtney Schafer–Talking Magic In The "Shattered Sigil" Series


About The Interviewer:

Helen Lowe's first  novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. The second,The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012, and the sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter Of Blood (Book Three), was published in 2016 and Helen is currently completing the final novel in the series. She posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog, monthly on the Supernatural Underground, and tweets @helenl0we