Fancasting & long-winded book rec: Memory, Sorrow and Thorn

The other week, while I was running and desperately needed something to occupy my brain (something that wasn't "oh god oh god, I am going to die" or "a pox on all those bloody liars who claim this gets easier or fun"), I thought of Tad Williams and wondered what he is up to these days.

Specifically I wondered if he ever feels cheated when he sees stuff like A Game of Thrones and those terrible Terry Goodkind books scored telly adaptations in the wake of the Lord of the Rings-inspired fantasy craze, and his own work didn't. He's probably way too cool for such tacky thoughts but I'm not, so I'm more than happy to munch some sour grapes on his behalf ;)

Who the hell is Tad Williams and why should you care? Tad Williams is one of my long-standing favourite fantasy authors and an all around Very Cool Dude.

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He's written some excellent "traditional" high fantasy (those quotation marks are there because he's great at putting a fresh spin on traditional things), as well as Otherland, a fantastic series about virtual realities, and War of the Flowers, a steam-punky novel about a fairie realm that's moved on into the industrial age and beyond.

His fortes are character depth and world-building; whether the setting is medieval fantasy, gothy/urban/retro folktale or highly sophisticated virtual reality, his characters are always layered and their development throughout their stories is real and engaging. He's fantastic at putting you in his characters' shoes, and especially accomplished at doing it with diverse cultures. Whether it's the ageless hauteur of an elf society, the tribal memories of the Bushmen or an Inuit-based people, or a consciousness embedded solely in artificial intelligence, he puts you in their heads and hearts; he does away with the concept of "other". It's a remarkable talent that not many writers have; off the top of my head, the only other two who I think do the same as well or better are Neil Gaiman and Robin Hobb.

Tad was also one of the first authors to fully embrace online fandom and the possibilities it opened up for telling stories in new media. Long before the rise of Facebook and its ilk, he was interacting with fans on now-ancient message boards, kept them updated on his current projects, personally answered emails and encouraged active fan participation. His Shadowmarch novels began as an online interactive project where he would post new chapters of the first novel as he was writing it, while encouraging and using fanart for the project, constantly engaging with fans as the story evolved, and being an active part of building the community surrounding it. The project was subscription-based, and unfortunately it eventually petered out (due to lack of funding, if I recall correctly), and the Shadowmarch novels were later published the traditional way; but I'm a sucker for artists who try to do something new with every new project they take on, and I admire Tad hugely in this regard.

Which is why I can't help feeling a little sad/miffy at seeing the current hullabaloo over the Game of Thrones adaptation and the ensuing renewed attention for the books. Not because I think A Song of Ice and Fire isn't interesting - it's good, solid entertainment, or at least it was before George R.R. Martin got so bogged down in detail - and I am genuinely pleased that one of my favourite genres is getting mainstream attention. I don't think GoT was the best choice for a TV series, however; not while there were better-quality options around.

And that's where I think Tad Williams, among others, got robbed. His Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series (The Dragonbone Chair, Stone of Farewell and To Green Angel Tower), written a number of years before A Song of Ice and Fire, has all the elements that presumably landed GoT its TV deal - medieval setting, large-scale supremacy conflicts between a multitude of royal houses, battles and politics and magic and dragons and wolves, sinister religious/mystical happenings including an extended summer/winter conflict, a vast diversity of settings and cultures, an intriguing set of characters and relationships, and even (oh-so-importantly) a throne made out of unconventional material (dragon bone here instead of swords, lol).

Let's look at pretty covers:

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Teenagers! Arrows! A Person of Small Stature! Awesome architecture! You can't see her, but there's a wolf, too!

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Summer! And winter! Swords with names! Significant scars! And bonus butterflies!

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Elves! Knights! Princesses with weapons! EVEN MORE WINTER!

In addition to those things, the books have excellent pacing and momentum (something that especially the later books of GRRM's series lack), greater depth, humour and poignancy and some fantastic friendship stories, and OH LOOK AT THAT, THEY'RE ACTUALLY FINISHED. What they don't have is massive amounts of sexploitation and gratuitous porn (there are sexytimes, but Tad generally fades to black).

So yeah. I'd love to be able to not compare and not feel a little annoyed, but the parallels are just too there to ignore. I love that the Lord of the Rings movies opened up fantasy as a genre to screen adaptations that appeal to a wide audience, but I do wish the projects that were filmed in their wake had been chosen for more than what essentially boils down to "oh look, there's battles and kings and DUDE, ALL THE TITS! SIGNED!"


That... was a much longer intro than I had planned. Actually, during that half-hour run I was mostly daydreaming about who I would love to see cast if MS&T ever did get adapted to the screen, because I love those books and I think they're eminently filmable. So I, like a proper nerd, ended up fan-casting a bunch of the characters and wanted to put it somewhere I could remember, and then somewhere along the way I apparently got wrapped up in a Tad Williams pimp campaign instead.

It happens.

Anyway, here is the actual purpose of this post:

FAN-CASTING MEMORY, SORROW AND THORN

Disclaimer: I don't have someone for *every* character because then I'd be at it for several weeks. Some of these choices are kind of stand-in options, and some are hard or near-impossible to cast because they require actors from ethnic groups who don't *have* a lot of actors (or at least not many I'm familiar with) and would likely necessitate discovery of new talent. Basically, I've just cast the ones I could match up in my head.

(Plot summary? Uhm... Tolkien-esque fantasy with better characters. There's a quest for magical swords. There's a kitchen boy thirsting for adventure. There are royal brothers at odds. And a possessed castle. There is civil war and Shakespeare shout-outs and a whole host of religious people, none of whom you should trust because religion is clearly evil. And vikings. And sexy elves. Did I mention the sexy elves? I think they could stand a bit more mention. SEXY ELVES, Y'ALL.)


Simon - Rupert Grint:

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I've pretty much associated Rupert with Simon ever since he suddenly grew insanely tall and awkward in Harry Potter. Technically, the role calls for a 15-16-year-old, but at 23, Rupert still has all the boyish qualities needed to pull this off - and he has enough range to master both the dopey kitchen boy in Simon's clueless mooncalf phase and his gradual development into an earnest, appealing and capable young man who wants to be a good knight and is just a little too tall for you to pinch his cheeks for his excessive adorkability. Also, Rupert needs more leading roles. Also, REDHEADS FTW.

King Elias - Angus MacFadyen:

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Jovial, charming and volatile, impatient and used to getting his royal way... Angus would rock the shit out of this role. I was thinking of his performance as Robert the Bruce in Braveheart (and was very pleased once I could think of someone other than Sean Bean, because Sean Bean really does not need any more of these parts, lol).

Prince Josua - Cillian Murphy

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There's no one else who could play Josua as he could - broody and bookish and tortured and far too serious, but with that occasional spark of wry humour that saves him from cliché. He'd be wonderful at the complicated situation with Vorzheva - trying to handle a relationship with a woman who he does care for but who's so fundamentally different from him that it's a constant struggle for them to be together. And he'd be fantastic at the escalating conflict with his older brother, and at that whole deal about fighting for a crown he doesn't actually want, but doing it out of a sense of obligation because he knows the alternative would be so much worse. I'd cuddle him but he's too princely for that.

Princess Miriamele - Dakota Blue Richards:

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Elias' daughter & Josua's niece. Although I've come to loathe the character of Franky in season 6 of Skins, I admire Dakota's portrayal of her - she is an enormously talented young actress. She has exactly the right mix of fierce/independent and vulnerable to play Miri - a spunky princess is a difficult part to write or act these days without slipping off into stereotype, but Tad succeeded in writing one well, and I believe Dakota could play one well. Plus she's plenty versatile enough to pull off Miri's other personas, Malachias and Marya:

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Cross-dressing girls FTW!

Pryrates - Jean Reno

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Long before GRRM penned Melisandre, there was Pryrates, the Red Priest. And I daresay he was about a dozen times creepier and more seductive. I get fangasms just thinking of how Jean Reno and Angus MacFadyen could rule the screen together.

Binabik - Chaske Spencer

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Stand-in choice; it's hard finding suitable Inuit or Native American actors who could pull off Binabik. Chaske could work, I think (not that I've seen him in anything except, erm, Twilight *hides*), although he's a little too pretty. But in costume/make-up and with the perspective shooting to shrink him to Binabik's size? He could pull it off physically; alas, I haven't seen enough of his acting to know if he's got the range.

Sisqinanamook - Annabella Piugattuk

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This lovely lady, however, would be perfect *paws* Daughter of the Qanuc leaders, kick-ass warrior girl torn between loyalty to parents/tribe and fiancé's mission to save the world. ALL THE FEELINGS.

Charlie Hunnam - Sludig

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I may have squealed when I found this pic. I love Charlie Hunnam, I love grumpy Viking type Sludig, I love the unbreakable bromance between him and Simon and Binabik, and I LOVE the idea of him acting with Rupert. There is, in fact, absolutely nothing not to love.

Jiriki - Harry Lloyd

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Slightly torn here. On the one hand, I think Harry would be perfect as Jiriki - he has that slightly creepy not-quite-human quality, like a cat or a bird (thinking of his performance in The Family of Blood on Dr Who) and he's got elf prince written all over him. Plus he's already proven that he could pull off the white hair, lol. On the other hand, I'd almost like someone less well-known (one possible alternative is Marcquelle Ward who is physically stunning - despite the shortage of any pics in which he isn't in rapper get-up - but having only seen him in Britannia High, I don't know if he could pull off the acting).

Aditu - Ruth Negga

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Yeeaaah. I was thinking Aditu as soon as I first saw her in Misfits. She's inhumanly beautiful, unsettlingly sensuous and fantastic at mocking idiots. There's the teensy-weensy thing of her and Harry Lloyd not looking a bit like siblings but pffft, trifles. I think they'd have great chemistry, and she'd be priceless at riling up Simon and all those other prudish human types.

Dr Morgenes - Patrick Godfrey

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Fatherly kindness, check. Witty charm, check. Scholarly badassery and wisdom, check.

Rachel the Dragon - Kathryn Hunter

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Rachel the dragon, mistress of chambermaids at the Hayholt and the last character I ever thought I'd root for, until I did, quite fiercely. Kathryn's a bit younger than Rachel is supposed to be but I think that's secondary. She could be awesome at terrorising the entirety of the Hayholt servants and at ordering Simon around, but (as shown when she played Mrs Figg in Order of the Phoenix), she's also got that protective/motherly streak that Rachel tries so hard to hide.

Princess Maegwin - Julia Jentsch

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Hernystiri princess! Competent, smart and deeply socially awkward! Plagued by unrequited love and the most frustrating string of heartbreaking miscommunications since Romeo and Juliet! Also greatly skilled at digging out caves. (Yeah.) I think Julia Jentsch is gorgeous, but she's also one of those actresses who can believably play someone who's convinced they're unattractive. I can so see her being Maegwin - all abrupt and prickly and inadvertently hurtful in her desire to protect herself.

Eolair - Joseph Mawles

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If ever there was a dude who looks like he's got elves in his ancestry, here you go. Quiet but intense, always in the background and never invisible. All the understated strength and all the awesomeness in battle.

Duke Isgrimnur - James Cosmo

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Poor James Cosmo, he must be beating off these roles with a stick. Whenever there's a grizzled old Viking warrior type to play, I bet he's the first one they ask ;) But I can't help it if he's perfect for Isgrimnur. Loud and blundering and utterly devoid of social graces, grumpy and crotchety but with a heart of butter. No one could do him better.

Duchess Gutrun - Judy Parfitt

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Awww yeah, these two. She'd make a great Gutrun - she's easily got the poise and authority but also that fussy mother hen vibe. Judy would be perfect at clucking over Vorzheva and her husband and being quietly unsettled by Aditu because she's so outside her comfort zone. And she's got amazing presence and grace.

Guthwulf - Michael Wincott

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Okay, I confess. This entire post is an excuse for my fangirl fantasies of seeing Michael Wincott play Guthwulf. The ruthlessness! The gloomy brutality! The conflict of loyalty re: old warrior buddy Elias! That-thing-that-happens-in-the-dungeons! Guh. They'd need to give him extra scenes, mind. I'd insist.

Brother Cadrach - Patrick Joswig

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Perpetually drunk ex-priest with a dark and disturbing past. This may well be a ridiculous choice - the only part I've seen Patrick Joswig play was the dude in the Asian jail who got Oliver Sommer addicted to drugs on AWZ. But I think he could do the right kind of mix of smarmy and desperate and sympathetic, following Miramele around with his strange twisted loyalty and making no secret of his utter cowardice. Wonderfully ambiguous.

Vorzheva - Zrinka Cvitesic

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It was so hard to think of someone who could play Vorzheva - a woman with a very specific kind of beauty, someone foreign and passionate and angry about being utterly out of her depth with the person she loves, struggling to find her footing in a strange country and redefine her own role after winning her independence. I was thrilled when I found Croatian actress Zrinka Cvitesic and watched some footage of her... she's wonderfully emotional and intense and would make a stunning Vorzheva.

Aspitis Preves - Jamie Bower

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Mrow. Could Jamie Bower do a charming yet smarmy, seductive piratey nobleman? Cheerful, winsome, pretty and utterly vile? Yes, oh yes, he could.

Jeremias - Skandar Keynes

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Simon's old BFF, later tortured and abused (like pretty much anybody in these books, come to think of it), later squire. It's a small part so hopefully Skandar wouldn't outshine too many other people too much, but he could definitely do the shy/quiet/traumatised thing.

Fengbald - Stipe Erceg

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Fengbald needs to be darkly attractive yet off-putting. Stipe kinda does that even when he plays a sympathetic character (oh hello Edukators!), so easy choice there.

Natalia Wörner - Geloë

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Another "not quite it" choice - Natalia has that earthy look (hello Pillars!) and she can certainly play someone slightly other-worldly, but she's a bit too young and sensual for Geloë, who is very much not a sexual character. However, I was flat out of older earthy-type actresses with yellow eyes who could believably turn into birds, so there you go.


There's a whole host of other characters that I didn't get to or didn't have anyone in mind for (the other Sithi, all the Norns, Ineluki, Deornoth, Isorn, Vorzheva's father, Camaris, Strangyeard, etc etc) but there's no way I can do all of them. I had fun matching up faces in my head, though. Procrastination: ACHIEVED!

Comments

Came for the Cillian, stayed for the Annabella

These books are high on my list - I'll probably begin as soon as I finish the Robin Hobb catalog. (Just picked up City of Dragons at the library today!!!) I'm looking forward to visualising them with these characters. So many amazing actors here - I can't comment on how well they match the books yet, but I do know this would be a hell of a series!

Re: Came for the Cillian, stayed for the Annabella

Woohoooo! When I run the world, telly producers will ask me about these things first. Hope you enjoy the books when you get to them, they're good fun. (And you know, you're even allowed to visualise the characters differently <333)

OMG isn't Annabella adorbs?? I was so happy when I found her. What a smile!
DUDE JESU SWEET CHRIST. PLEASE MAKE THIS A REAL THING. OH MY GOD CRYING. I DON'T EVEN CARE ABOUT THE STORY AT THIS POINT. Although your Tad pimping was extremely effective, jsyk. But Joseph Mawles you had me sewn up by Joseph Mawles.

(Although you kind of lost me a bit with Jamie Bower, soz) But I am perfectly willing to make tea during his scenes or something.

Will get reading. You know, after I finish all the Ship of Magic, Sandman (and GoT) still to go.

SOMEONE FIRE ME ALREADY I NEED TO GO ON THE DOLE.
LOL I KNOW HOW YOU FEEL. There are so many fun things to do, why must we squander time on woooooooooooooork.

Mhmmm, Joseph Mawles. Dude needs to be in everything, ever. Have you seen Clapham Junction? Because GAAAH and GUH and all the other vowels in between. He is illegally good.

Hahah, Jamie Bower's role would be small and entirely hateable. You'd manage.

(Anonymous)

Casting correction :)

I can agree with all but two...

Ian Hanmore is the perfect Pryrates for me and when I think of Geloe I see Judy Dench :)

November 2016

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