Tag Archives: book adaptations

5 SFF Adaptations That Would Greatly Improve Genre Diversity in TV and Film

Another day, another list of upcoming SFF adaptations that is a big, depressing sausage fest.

I feel like the common wisdom on the issue of diversity in media is that things are improving, but it’s very telling when just a quick count of the properties listed on this list of upcoming or possibly upcoming book-to-film/television adaptations shows forty based on work by men, but only five based on work by women. It probably goes without saying, but there are also only a couple of people of color on the list.

Moving on to the subjects of the projects, things are somewhat better, but not much. A full half of the projects focus on men’s stories, more if you count ensemble projects whose main characters are men. Only two projects are primarily about women. It’s a depressing toll, especially when we’d all like to believe that television and film are improving in diversity. If this list represents any improvement at all, it’s not good enough.

I don’t pretend to know exactly what would be good enough, but there are numerous books and comics that I think would improve the film and television landscape. Certainly, any of these would be significantly more interesting than another crop of shows starring square-jawed white dudes.

  1. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
    Space opera has gotten popular again, and this one is very good. I’d love to see it as an ongoing television series, though that would require some expansion upon the source material. However, the novel itself is very episodic in nature, being told as a sequence of vignettes, each one focusing on a different character. This would lend itself well to being adapted as a miniseries or as a short series on a digital platform such as Netflix or Amazon, or it could be easily streamlined into a long film. The major downside of this book is that the high number of alien characters would require expensive special effects to produce, but the right production company could create something really wonderful if they were willing to spend the money on it.
  2. Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
    This book just begs to be made into a big summer blockbuster a la Independence Day. I want to see it at the drive-in.
  3. Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
    Like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, but more fun. Either film the book as it is for a delightful miniseries, or start where the book ends and continue the adventures of Prunella and Zacharias. Or both. Both would be good.
  4. God’s War by Kameron Hurley
    While I’m not often a fan of just lifting characters from a book and writing all new stories around them for television, Kameron Hurley’s Beldame Apocrypha would be perfect for that treatment. Nyx is an amazing character of a type that doesn’t often get to be female, and her shifting crew of associates would make great fodder for a gritty sci-fi bounty hunter sort of thing. The world and characters Hurley created in this series are more than strong enough to carry a long-running television show, which would allow some of the bigger plots of the books to be explored at leisure.
  5. The Just City by Jo Walton
    The goddess Athena gathers thinkers and dreamers from all ends of history in order to build Plato’s Republic. Apollo decides to become human so he can grow up as a child in the Just City. There are robots. And Socrates. And philosophical debates out the wazoo. I would watch this on TV, and I think I’m not the only one.

Obviously, I’m not saying no more square-jawed white dudes, ever, but all of these suggestions would make for a very nice change in the current landscape of entertainment. They would be even better if we could get more diversity behind the camera and in writing rooms for them as well.

The truth is that every time there are new surveys of the industry, it’s proven over and over again that the needle of diversity hasn’t moved much in thirty years. While there have been somewhat more actors of color in highly visible roles, it’s simply not true that things have really improved that much overall. The same can be said for the presence of women in cinema, and those who don’t fit neatly into the gender binary fare even worse.

Any (but preferably all) of the five works I suggest here would be a step in a better direction.

Lionsgate will be adapting Patrick Rothfuss’s ‘The Kingkiller Chronicle’

Patrick Rothfuss’s epic story of one boy’s struggle to pay his student loans will soon be made into, apparently, both a television series and a movie (or four, probably, since that’s how movies are made these days). Also video games. And the deal also includes rights to Rothfuss’s other work in the same universe.

Hollywood Reporter broke the news a couple of days ago, and the author has a lengthy post on his blog with much more actual information.

I’m actually moderately excited about this. I sort of love to hate the books, which are technically good and highly readable even though the treatment of women both by the main character, Kvothe, and by the author in the narrative is highly questionable. Can’t wait to write thousands of words about any movies or shows that get made.

Movie Review: The Martian

The Martian was never going to be one of my favorite films, just like the book was never going to be one of my favorite novels (although I did really enjoy it when I read it earlier this year). However, like the book, the movie was smart and funny and deeply enjoyable. Also, perhaps counterintuitively, it’s a pretty great advertisement for space travel.

The thing about The Martian–and this was also true of the book–is that there aren’t really many surprises. From the moment Mark Hadley (Matt Damon, who somehow manages to be both well-cast and almost entirely forgettable in the role) gets left on Mars, we know he’s going to survive and get rescued. The story, in both book and film, is about how he does it and about how his fellow astronauts and people back on Earth work together to bring him home.

Of course, a lot of the more technical stuff from the book was necessarily omitted from the movie. It’s probably for the best, though. Even on the page it often read like Hackaday, and a two-and-a-half hour how-to video would have pretty limited appeal. While this diminished some of the sense of danger on Mars–a big part of the tension in the novel was the series of disasters, both minor and major, that Mark had to figure out how to overcome–the sleeker storytelling left plenty of space for the far more interesting things that were happening on Earth and on the Ares spacecraft.

Speaking of the Ares crew, they were without exception wonderful. Jessica Chastain is excellent as Commander Melissa Lewis and manages to portray a complete and compelling emotional arc with relatively little screen time. Aksel Hennie’s Vogel and Michael Peña’s Martinez got some of the funniest lines in the movie. Kate Mara’s Johanssen and Sebastian Stan’s Beck were  a little underutilized, but their love story from the book was included in a sweet and subtle way that I really appreciated.

On Earth, most of the action is shot from the point of Vincent Kapoor, a character who was of Indian descent (and named Venkat, actually) in the book, but was played by Chiwetel Ejiofor in the movie. As much as I love Chiwetel Ejiofor and his performance, this is a strange casting choice, especially when there are so few roles for Asian actors in American cinema, and more especially when there doesn’t seem to have been much effort at diversity elsewhere in the casting process, either. Even Mindy Park (who I read as probably Korean in the book) was a blonde white woman, and all of the non-specified Ares crew were white. It’s not the worst movie in terms of representation, but I think there were definitely some missed opportunities–especially since by the near future when The Martian is supposed to take place US racial demographics will have changed pretty considerably. Frankly, a future as white as the one we’re shown in this movie is just damned unrealistic.

It was a good flick, though. Going into the film, probably my biggest concern was that the (extremely thematically important) collaboration with China would be left out, but it was included, albeit in an abbreviated form. The most significant changes from the book were actually on Mars, where the majority of Mark’s final journey was cut, but I found that I didn’t mind this very much. The material that was left out was mostly what was a little tiresome in the final quarter or so of the book, when the drama of Mark’s constant crises started to feel a bit overdone. That said, if they could have worked it in, I think the giant storm that forced Mark to make a major change of course in the book would have been cool to see as well as being a nice piece of symmetry to balance out the storm that got Mark left on Mars in the first place.

I don’t think The Martian is a movie that I’ll want to see over and over again, and I think it’s going to be interesting to see how it ages as we learn more about Mars in the next few years. It’s a beautiful film, though, full of gorgeously crafted shots of alien landscape as well as almost-but-not-quite familiar technology. It’s an optimistic story about a good possible future, and it’s the sort of movie that should make everyone who watches it want to be an astronaut. Be sure to take your kids.

I will def see The Martian if Neil DeGrasse Tyson tells me to

Full disclosure: I will definitely be seeing The Martian anyway because it comes out right before my birthday and I loved the book. But this new trailer thingy with Neil DeGrasse Tyson in it is really excellent:

I also read a couple of interesting pieces about the movie over the weekend:

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell Recap: “The Black Tower”

“The Black Tower” might be the single best episode of television I’ve watched so far in 2015. It’s superbly written on its own, and it shines as an adaptation of a much-beloved novel. What (remarkably little, actually) is lost in the translation from page to screen is more than made up for by the incredible performances of Bertie Carvel (Jonathan Strange), Marc Warren (The Gentleman), and Ariyon Bakare (Stephen Black). This is definitely the best episode yet for all of these characters.

There's no such thing as bad publicity?
There’s no such thing as bad publicity?

We begin the episode with breaking of two bits of Jonathan Strange news: his escape from jail and the publication of his book, The History and Practice of English Magic. The publisher is delighted, although he does point out that the one problem with having a fugitive author is that he doesn’t know where to send all the money they are raking in from the book sales.

At his house in Hanover Square, Mr. Norrell opens his copy of Strange’s book, which is beautiful (a nice detail kept from the novel, where Strange insisted that part of his goal with the book was for it to be a work of art). The shot of Norrell weeping as he reads it is, I think, the most human and sympathetic we’ve seen him since his final tea with Strange, and it’s definitely the best we see of him in this episode.

Mr. Norrell casting his spell to destroy Jonathan Strange's book.
Mr. Norrell casting his spell to destroy Jonathan Strange’s book.

It’s clear that Norrell has mixed feelings about the book, but he truly believes it to be dangerous enough that he puts down his copy at least long enough to magick all the other copies of it out of existence. The way they show this spell is kind of uncharacteristically (for this show, anyway) silly, as the books just start disappearing–each with an audible pop–but it’s a welcome bit of levity in an otherwise very dark episode. And, honestly, I suppose that for many bibliophiles, this tiny bit of comedy isn’t going to distract from what an enormous crime it is for anyone to censor any book as completely as Norrell does Strange’s.

Jonathan Strange in Venice.
Jonathan Strange in Venice.

In Venice, and completely unaware of Norrell’s destruction of the book, Jonathan Strange is hard at work trying to summon a fairy, and he’s looking much the worse for wear. He’s also, frustratingly, consistently successful at summoning the Gentleman. He just can’t see him. My favorite thing about these first scenes of Strange is how perfectly realized his Venice workshop is. It looks like exactly the sort of place that a wealthy and slightly mad and extremely single-minded fugitive magician on a mission might be hanging out. My only criticism is that it looks like he’s been there for years rather than for only a couple of months, and so it becomes another sort of example of the show’s struggles with conveying the passage of time.

Jonathan Strange has lunch with the Greysteels.
Jonathan Strange has lunch with the Greysteels.

I was super excited to see that they managed to squeeze in the Greysteels, and it turns out that Flora is at least as delightful in the show as she ever was in the book. Jonathan Strange’s first meeting with Flora and her father is excellently done, if a little rushed. They managed to get Clive Mantle to play Dr. Greysteel, and literally every look on his face is my favorite. He is so fed up with Flora’s shenanigans, but she’s clearly a force of nature he can’t control even a little bit. The Greysteels have been visiting with Mrs. Delgado, the crazy cat lady from the book, and have I mentioned how happy I am that they didn’t cut Venice and the Greysteels from the show?

"All you men leave me in peace."
“All you men leave me in peace.”

At Starecross, Vinculus is trying to convince Stephen Black to let him out of his cell, and Lady Pole is just fucking done. She’s exhausted with trying to communicate with people about her situation, and she’s disheartened (though not particularly surprised) to learn that Jonathan Strange has fled the country. It seems that she has finally given up on their ability to be of any help to her at all, and she intends to sleep so that she may keep watch over Arabella at Lost-Hope.

Well, this is embarrassing.
Well, this is embarrassing.

In Parliament, we get to see a great shouting match, as Sir Walter Pole and Lord Liverpool have become pretty unpopular these days. Basically everyone is pissed off about the magicians, and they blame Sir Walter particularly for promoting them.

At Hanover Square, Mr. Norrell is desperate to learn what Jonathan Strange is doing, and this precipitates a trip to the prison to ask Drawlight about it. Poor Drawlight is looking even more poorly than Jonathan Strange these days, but he’s still managed to glean some gossip about the magician and his doings in Venice. To learn more, Norrell sends Drawlight to Venice to spy on Strange in person. While this is basically what happened in the book, I felt like it was out of character for Norrell to threaten Drawlight in person the way he did here. In the book, it’s Lascelles who retrieves Drawlight and sends him on his way alone, because Norrell doesn’t get his hands dirty with that sort of thing. I suppose I understand why it might be easier to film it the way they did in the show, especially in an episode where Norrell has relatively little screentime when compared to Jonathan Strange, but still. It’s a small departure that actually makes a fairly big difference in the way we understand Norrell’s character during this part of the story, and I don’t care for it.

Mrs. Delgado.
Mrs. Delgado.

Returning to Venice, Jonathan Strange has decided to pay his own visit to Mrs. Delgado. He offers to give her her heart’s desire if she will teach him to be mad. The deal is quickly struck; Mrs. Delgado is turned into a cat, and Jonathan Strange has concentrated all of the old widow’s madness into one dead mouse. He tries to eat the mouse whole, but finds that Mrs. Delgado’s madness was even stronger than he expected it to be, so he returns to his laboratory to try using it a different way.

Marc Warren gives great face as the Gentleman in this episode.
Marc Warren gives great face as the Gentleman in this episode.

After steeping the dead mouse in some water (and I’m not sure if this is more or less disgusting than the way he ground up the dried mouse and mixed it with water in the book), Jonathan Strange drinks a few drops of the mouse liquid and continues on with trying to summon a fairy. Sure enough, Jonathan finds himself able to see the Gentleman on his very next summoning attempt, for all that he is nearly too mad to realize at first what he’s done.

For his part, the Gentleman is just absolutely furious, although quietly so, and as soon as Strange releases him from the summoning he goes to complain to Stephen Black about it. Still at Starecross, Stephen Black decides after this visit from the Gentleman to listen to Vinculus, who promises that he knows how to free Stephen from the fairy. When Stephen leaves Starecross, he has Vinculus hidden in the back of his cart.

Back in Venice again, Drawlight has arrived and is rather conspicuously lurking about in the background as Flora Greysteel helps Jonathan Strange shop for a dress for his wife. Clearly in high spirits following his first successful contact with a fairy, Jonathan is practically effervescent as he fills Flora in on his plans to revive Arabella and restore magic to England. Flora asks if he will teach her, and Strange affirms that he will teach “all the women and the poor men,” and this affirmation is an important piece of the characterization of Jonathan Strange as having a much more egalitarian philosophy than the very class-conscious and chauvinistic Mr. Norrell.

The second meeting.
The second meeting.

Jonathan Strange’s second meeting with the Gentleman doesn’t go nearly so well as he’d hoped. Strange is prepared to negotiate for Arabella’s resurrection, but the Gentleman’s reply is a flat no. He cannot resurrect Arabella because of “certain circumstances”–obviously, to the viewer, the fact that Arabella is not, in fact, dead at all. Unfortunately, Jonathan Strange knows nothing of this, and his pain is palpable. However, this leads Strange to question the Gentleman about his previous interactions with English magicians, and this is how Jonathan Strange discovers the secret of how Mr. Norrell resurrected Lady Pole.

Lady Pole at Lost-Hope, disappointed again.

Denied his wife, Strange demands that the fairy bring him a token from his last dealing with an English magician, and he receives Lady Pole’s finger in a box. Using the finger, Strange is able to travel through a mirror to reach Lost-Hope, where he finds himself at one of the Gentleman’s balls. Strange is greeted first by Stephen Black, who is aghast at the magician’s appearance there. Then he is met by Lady Pole who at first, hopefully, asks if Strange has come to rescue them, but quickly becomes deflated when she realizes that he had no idea that she or Stephen or Arabella were even there.

Jonathan Strange faces the Gentleman alone.
Jonathan Strange faces the Gentleman alone.

When Jonathan sees Arabella, he becomes distraught and yells for the Gentleman to release her, but the fairy instead dispels all of the revelers except Stephen Black. All of the fairy Gentleman’s anger at the magicians is released in one terrific spell. Though it drains much of his strength to do it, the Gentleman curses Jonathan Strange with eternal darkness and deports the magician from Lost-Hope.

Before we see what happens to Jonathan Strange, Stephen Black wakes up back in the English countryside, where he is still traveling with Vinculus. As they prepare to continue on their journey, Stephen confronts Vinculus about the prophecy and demands to see the book that Vinculus claims to have, at which point Vinculus strips off his shirt to show that he is the Book of the Raven King.

Stephen Black and Vinculus.
Stephen Black and Vinculus.

“Our meaning is written in our skin,” Vinculus intones, to which Stephen Black says that his skin means that he will always face racism and oppression. Vinculus replies that his skin says the opposite, and that Stephen Black “will be raised on high” and become a king. It’s a powerful scene, and Ariyon Bakare’s performance is note perfect. The show has often struggled with doing justice to the character of Stephen Black, but I think they really nailed it here. It also helps that in this episode they finally shot some Stephen Black scenes outside of poorly lit English houses so we can see a bit more of Ariyon Bakare’s face, which is highly expressive when not in shadows.

Flora Greysteel enters the darkness.
Flora Greysteel enters the darkness.

In Venice, an enormous, swirling tower of darkness has appeared over the city. While most of the city’s denizens are fleeing, Flora Greysteel runs towards it–because of course she’s the sort of woman who runs to the danger instead of away from it. She finds Jonathan, who tries to send her away, but Flora is desperate to help her friend. Strange tells her that she will know what to do when the time comes for her to help him, but she is only persuaded to go when her father comes to escort her to safety. They pass Drawlight on their way out, and when they get back to their own apartments, there is a mirror waiting there under a blanket.

The Black Tower.
The Black Tower.

Unable to learn anything from the Greysteels, Drawlight tries to leave town, but finds himself being chased by the tower of darkness, which is calling his name. The poor man finds himself pulled to the center of the darkness, where he comes upon Jonathan Strange, who promises not to harm him if Drawlight will take three messages to England. First, the box with Lady Pole’s finger and the explanation for it must be given to Childermass. Second, there is a letter for Lady Pole herself. And the third message, as it was in the book, is for Mr. Norrell and is simply, “I am coming.”

Once more at Hanover Square, Mr. Norrell is preparing to leave for his home and library at Hurtfew Abbey when Sir Walter and the Lord Liverpool arrive with a final commission from the government: stop Jonathan Strange. Mr. Norrell upbraids the Ministers for encouraging Strange in the first place, and then says that he doesn’t even know if he can stop Jonathan Strange or even what Strange is capable of doing.

Childermass notices the mirrors first.
Childermass notices the mirrors first.

While Mr. Norrell’s household is finishing packing up his belongings, Childermass notices strange sounds coming from the mirrors in the house–like faint scratching or the pecking of birds. After the Ministers have left, Norrell is examining a large mirror more closely, when it smashes open and a flood of ravens bursts out of it, which is terribly dramatic and a striking visual effect.

The episode ends with Vinculus’s meeting with the tree. As soon as they arrive at the out of the way place–a sort of canyon, with just one tree in the center of it–Stephen Black points out that this is not a friendly looking place, but the camp out to wait anyway.

Vinculus and the Gentleman.
Vinculus and the Gentleman.

Soon enough, the Gentleman arrives, visiting Stephen for the first time since he cursed Jonathan Strange and still in a peculiar mood. When he realizes that Vinculus can see him, the Gentleman seems to turn his residual malice on this new target, suggesting that they kill Vinculus and then go do something else. Vinculus informs the fairy that he will find that Vinculus is “a hard man to kill,” but, while Stephen Black weeps helplessly, the Gentleman hangs Vinculus anyway. Keeping with the tarot card symbolism that was so common in the book, “The Black Tower” has as its final image a hanged man in a tree rather ominously covered with ravens.

The Hanged Nan.
The Hanged Nan.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell Recap: “Arabella”

Compared the the first four episodes of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, not a lot happens in this episode. Instead, “Arabella” is a slower-paced hour focused on character development and feelings. Overall, I think it’s a strong episode, but there were a couple of odd adaptational decisions that I’m not thrilled with.

Jonathan Strange pulling water from the well. I DO love the look of the magic in this show.
Jonathan Strange pulling water from the well. I DO love the look of the magic in this show.

The episode begins with Jonathan Strange at the Battle of Waterloo, which doesn’t feel anywhere near as epic as it did in the book. We see nothing of Brussels. Instead the action takes place in an almost comically tiny fort surrounded by a veritable sea of CGI army guys, although most of the actual action in the wide shots is obscured by an enormous cloud of smoke and the whole battle is over in just a couple of minutes.

At the end of the battle.
Wellington, Strange, and Grant at the end of the battle.

During the battle, Jonathan Strange magicks some water out of a well to put out a fire, whips up some vines to keep some guys from climbing the walls of the fort, and almost gets blown up. In a moment of desperation, Strange uses his magic to make a huge mud hand and squishes a guy that was about to kill him–very clearly violating his own earlier statement that a gentleman would never kill anyone with magic. It ought to be a huge deal, but everything happens so quickly that I didn’t really feel the weight of this moment. Even the wide shot of the devastated battleground and a long look at the melancholy faces of Wellington, Strange, and Grant as they observe it just feels off–probably because Wellington ruins the gravitas of the moment by wondering aloud what will be done with them now. I suppose this could be read as ironic, but I just didn’t like it. It would have been better to just stick with the three men silently looking at the horrors of war.

When Jonathan Strange returns to England, he goes back to residing at his country house, Ashfair in Shropshire. He’s obviously quite changed by his experiences in the war–his hands shake, and he’s got a touch of gray in his hair–but he seems focused on rebuilding his life with Arabella and writing his book. I like these quiet domestic scenes, and I love that Arabella is the illustrator of her husband’s book, but I feel like everything goes a little too quickly back to something a little too close to normal after Jonathan’s trauma at Waterloo. Mostly, while I think the gray in his hair and the tremble in his hands are nice, subtle ways of showing the change in him, Jonathan’s final decision to use magic to kill is not really commented on in any specific way, but ends up sort of smushed together with the whole war experience.

One thing this show does nicely is create gorgeous, atmospheric scenery, even if it does feel a little out of place. I loved this shot, but it doesn't really fit the tone of what follows.
One thing this show does nicely is create gorgeous, atmospheric scenery, even if it does feel a little out of place. I loved this shot, but it doesn’t really fit the tone of what follows.

Back in London (introduced in this episode with the above shot), Mr. Norrell is denouncing Jonathan Strange to anyone who will listen and frantically trying to find a way to prevent the publication of Strange’s book. I was happy to see the show include the publisher, Murray, who practically laughs Norrell out of the room when Norrell and Lascelles try to bully him.

Moss oak Arabella.
Moss oak Arabella.

While the moss oak Arabella we saw at the end of the last episode wanders the countryside freaking out honest folk, Lady Pole dreams that Arabella will be taken by the Gentleman and tries rather unsuccessfully to communicate her fears to Segundus and Honeyfoot. Lady Pole beseeches them to send a message to Jonathan Strange, but it is too late. Stephen Black comes in the night and spirits Arabella away to Lost-Hope.

The border between England and Faerie is another gorgeous bit of scenery.
The border between England and Faerie is another beautiful piece of scenery.

This decision to have Stephen be the one who actually, physically kidnaps Arabella is one that I just can’t get on board with because it seems so out of character. We’ve seen Stephen hanging around with the Gentleman quite a bit, but he always seems reluctant at best and more often revolted by the fairy. We’ve even gotten to see Stephen Black’s subtle resistance of the Gentleman, even though Stephen becomes increasingly hopeless and despondent as things continue on. Even in this episode, there are times when Stephen refuses to do the Gentleman’s bidding while they are in the same room together, so it doesn’t make sense that Stephen would kidnap Arabella on his own, without any evidence of his being compelled to do so and with such evident guilt and shame about doing it.

In the novel, it’s actually left somewhat mysterious exactly how the Gentleman manages to steal Arabella away in the night, and I think that something similar could have been done on the show. Or they could have had some random fairies do it. Or they could have had the Gentleman in the carriage as well. Or literally almost anything except having Stephen Black be the sole kidnapper.

Enchanted Arabella is almost creepier than moss oak Arabella.
Enchanted Arabella is almost creepier than moss oak Arabella.

One thing I like about the way that Arabella’s enchantment is handled is that it’s made very clear exactly how Jonathan Strange is tricked into renouncing his wife. I’ve never felt that this was particularly well done in the book, but in the show it’s pretty unambiguous. However, then the show turns right around and does another thing I don’t like: has Arabella enchanted in such a way that she doesn’t remember her life before Lost-Hope at all.

Lady Pole at Lost-Hope.
Poor Lady Pole.

In the book, Arabella and Lady Pole are both very aware of what has happened to them, and while this doesn’t exactly give them any agency or control over their stories, it does give them distinct personalities. Lady Pole simmers with fury and frustration. She resents Mr. Norrell for his abuse of her and she has no good opinion of Jonathan Strange for what she sees as his neglect of his wife. Arabella, on the other hand, is trapped entirely in faerie instead of dealing with the stress of living in two worlds like her friend. Where Lady Pole has no faith in the magicians’ ability (or desire) to rescue either of them, Arabella holds onto hope that her husband will come for her.

I actually really hate that we are losing this dynamic in the show. After all the show has done to treat these two women fairly in the narrative, even expanding upon Lady Pole’s role quite a bit, it’s deeply disappointing that they’ve sort of senselessly cut out this part of their relationship. If nothing else, it kind of cruelly deprives Lady Pole of the comfort of her friend, and for no real reason.

At Ashfair, Jonathan Strange doesn’t notice that Arabella is gone until a neighbor arrives to tell him that she’s been seen wandering the countryside again. When it’s discovered that she’s not in the house, Strange first attempts to use magic to locate her but is confused when his scrying says that she’s not in England, Scotland, or Wales. Strange and a search party go out to look for her, and they soon find moss oak Arabella and return her to the house. After extracting Jonathan’s assurances that she is his only wife, moss oak Arabella dies in the night.

Dead "Arabella."
Dead “Arabella.”

When Jonathan Strange wakes up to find what he thinks is his wife’s (rather gruesome-looking) corpse, I think it’s fair to say that he loses it. By the time his brother-in-law, Henry Woodhope, arrives, Strange is well into searching through what books he has looking for a clue for how to return Arabella to life. In desperation, Strange even writes to his old tutor begging for help, offering to give up magic entirely if only Mr. Norrell will tell him how he brought back Lady Pole.

Childermass is starting to lose patience with Mr. Norrell's shit.
Childermass is starting to lose patience with Mr. Norrell’s shit.

In London, Mr. Norrell has still been trying to figure out how to prevent the publication of Jonathan Strange’s book, but for some reason he barely entertains the idea of helping Strange–even with Strange offering not to publish. We see in these London scenes just how much Norrell is under Lascelles’ thumb, and we also see some of the stress that this puts on Norrell’s relationship with Childermass. In the end, Norrell never even replies to Strange’s letters.

Arabella's funeral.
Arabella’s funeral.

A full week after Arabella’s death, Jonathan Strange is finally forced to admit defeat. Even the spell he used to reanimate the Neapolitans has no effect, and Norrell’s silence leaves him with no hope of help from that quarter. In perhaps the most moving scene of the show so far, Henry Woodhope finally convinces Jonathan that they must let Arabella go, and she is finally buried in a familiar, snow-covered graveyard.

Have I mentioned lately how much I love Alice Englert as Lady Pole? She just nails her performances over and over again.
Have I mentioned lately how much I love Alice Englert as Lady Pole? She just nails her performances over and over again.

Meanwhile, at Starecross, Honeyfoot and Segundus are perhaps making a breakthrough with Lady Pole’s treatment. Honeyfoot recognizes some of the stories Lady Pole tells because they are similar to fairy tales that his mother collected when he was a child, only Lady Pole’s stories are from the fairies’ point of view. While Stephen Black is skeptical of the magicians’ methods, Lady Pole is insistent that they do what they can to make it possible for her to communicate what she’s been trying to for years. Unfortunately, just as they seem to be making some headway in understanding her, they are distracted by someone dropping Vinculus off at the madhouse.

Mr. Norrell.
Mr. Norrell is still determined to stop Strange’s book.

After Arabella’s funeral, Jonathan Strange returns to London to finish his book. He meets with Sir Walter, who warns Strange of the danger of writing too favorably about the Raven King. After telling Strange that “we do not require English magic to be restored any more than it already has been,” Sir Walter promptly reports to Norrell on his conversation with Strange.

Next, Childermass is sent to speak with Strange. Spotting Childermass hiding in some shadows, Jonathan Strange greets the other man warmly and invites Childermass back to his house to discuss the book and to see the illustrations Arabella produced. When Childermass expresses some dissatisfaction with Norrell, Strange asks if it’s not time that he left Norrell and joined him, but Childermass refuses. He’s not done with Norrell yet, but he is willing to promise Strange that there will always be two magicians and two opinions on magic in England. Things take a quick turn, though, when Childermass tells Strange how desperate Norrell is to prevent the publication of Strange’s book. On hearing that Norrell would do “anything” to keep him from publishing, Strange flies into a rage and steps through a mirror before Childermass can stop him.

Jonathan Strange assaults Lascelles.
Jonathan Strange assaults Lascelles.

Jonathan Strange tumbles out of a mirror at Mr. Norrell’s house only to be met by Lascelles, who insists that Norrell is not home. Norrell does come downstairs, but he refuses to speak and Jonathan really only gets a glimpse of the other magician before Lascelles and the footmen wrestle him out of the house. Out in the street, Strange continues to rant until he’s arrested for breaking and entering and tossed into jail. His friend Grant comes to have him released, but before Grant gets the door unlocked, Strange has disappeared into a reflective puddle on the floor.

It’s a great ending to a well-constructed episode. While I have some complaints about it, I think the show has so far been very true to the source material, in spirit if not in every particular detail.

The Shannara Chronicles looks kind of amazing

I didn’t expect this show to be good at all, but it looks like it might be. Everything in this reel shown at SDCC looks incredible, and I’m looking forward to a light, fun alternative to Game of Thrones.

I’m really encouraged by the fact that it looks like they’re preserving the post-apocalyptic world of the Shannara books instead of turning it into a generic fantasy setting. Judging from what we see here, it looks like MTV has really captured the sense of a magical world built upon the ruins of something much more familiar to us.

Coming in January 2016.