[personal profile] wingedbeast
This one's going to have to start with a bit of linguistic setup. "Ruined my childhood" has become a phrase used for various reasons. Some of them are obviously... wrong. The adaptation of a beloved cartoon into a bad movie, for instance, doesn't ruin the time you spent, as a child, enjoying said cartoon. You still did enjoy that and you can still look back, fondly, upon the time you spent enjoying said cartoon.

There is a better use of the phrase, one that does describe a legitimate bad thing to do to a person that is, nonetheless, not as bad as the issues surrounding not doing that to a person.

I have memories of enjoying a particular performance of a particular kind of media with my sister, while we were both children. This was, by the good judgment of our parents, child-friendly. It didn't have bad messages. It didn't use bad words. It was a good way for us to be entertained safely. And, until a revelation a couple years ago, I could look upon those memories with fondness. The memory was comforting to me, a place of safe nostalgia.

Then, I learned something. This wasn't a new version of the old thing I enjoyed. This was new information and/or new perspective on the thing that I enjoyed. In light of this new information and/or new perspective, looking back on this thing that I enjoyed is no longer a comforting memory. Now, it is a discomforting memory.

This was not a nice thing to happen to me, personally. But, because other individuals matter just as much as I do, it would have been the greater injustice for my memory to remain unharmed by the new information. Even if the rest of the world found this out and I didn't, I would still be acting in a way that perpetuates that injustice.

This was my effort to state the concept without going into any specifics that might lead the conversation down the road of those specifics.

That said, let's talk about A Spell for Chameleon.

I was in late Junior High when my father lived within walking distance of a used bookstore. This was a great thing, to me. It was a source of books that were very inexpensive and that I could sell back in order to get more inexpensive books. One item I found was On a Pale Horse by Peirs Anthony. (By the way, if I ever really want to hurt myself, I'll deconstruct the Incarnations of Immortality series.) And, that eventually lead to me finding Xanth, which lead to me reading and greatly enjoying Xanth to the degree that there were a few days in college in which my life could be divided into eating, sleeping, reluctantly going to class, and imbibing Xanth books as quickly as possible.

So, my Case, here, will be to translate the books to film in a way that would fit that first use, the one I didn't defend, with a purpose, in part, of doing that other thing. Because, that thing that I enjoyed so much... has so much wrong with it.

For those who aren't aware, A Spell for Chameleon is the story of Bink. Bink is a human being in a magical land where every human being has some magical talent... seemingly except for Bink, himself. That's a problem because, in his society, once you reach a certain age, you must publicly display your magical talent (exceptions can be made for cases where the talent is not fit for display) or be exiled from Xanth into a world without magic.

In the book we follow Bink as he makes his way to the castle of the Magician Humphry, who can answer any question for the cost of a year's service and makes all petitioners undergo three challenges (the challenges manned by others for whom Humphry has answered questions). He asks what his talent is and cannot get an answer, but does get verification that he does, indeed, have a magic talent of some sort. When he returns home, this is not accepted, so he is exhiled to the land outside the boarder of Xanth, called Mundania.

In Mundania he meets the Evil Wizard Trent, who had been exiled decades before due to an attempted overthrow of Xanth. Said Evil Wizard is looking to invade Xanth with an army of the very kind of people that the humans of Xanth fear becoming if they allow the un-Talented to remain. When in Xanth, said Evil Wizard's magical talent is, in D&D terms, Polymorph Other, a powerful talent indeed, especially when compared to Bink, who is either absent talent or unable to use his talent and must now be the sole thing standing between Trent and taking over Xanth.

That's the framework. And, in that, you see a good story... Unti...

The issue isn't with an intended message or point of the book. It's more about that which the book seems to think is axiomatic. Imagine that story is a fish. Now, let's talk about the water in which the fish swims.

At the start, we have a bit where Bink was caught trying to create (via the pun of "sewing his wild oats") a nymph, which would be a beautiful woman without a mind of her own or the ability to reproduce. His mother finds this horribly immoral, but his father is more forgiving, considering this just a minor folly of youth, as women with minds are better relationship material.

He meets up with an evil sorceress, Irene, who wants to rule Xanth. But, she's a woman, so she can't be King. She can, however, with a great power of illusion, craft the illusion that Bink has a great and powerful talent, thus allowing him not only avoid exile, but gain the privileges of being King so long as he marries her and becomes her proxy. He resists this temptation.

She offers him the illusion of a beautiful, young, innocent wife. In reality, she's closer to middle-aged, but she's willing to go so far in her illusions. He still resists temptation.

He meets up with someone else and agrees to be their proxy not as King but in a trial. You see, the man he met is on trial for rape. But, if Bink goes in his stead and takes the trial, letting everybody believe that he is the accused, the trial will find that Bink is not guilty of this rape. And, that's where he meets someone known initially as Dee but eventually as Chameleon.

Chameleon does have a talent, but she doesn't want this talent. Her talent curses her to constantly shift, in a pattern not unlike that of the lunar cycle, between two extremes. In one extreme she is very beautiful indeed, but lacking in intellectual capacity (to put it much nicer than the book ever does). In another extreme, she is incredibly intelligent, yet lacking in beauty (again, putting it much nicer).

So, the thematically there are four important women.

Least important is the nymph that would have come from the oats, had Bink been allowed to complete that process. Said nymph would have an existence somewhere between that of a sex-slave and a sex-bot... with a notion that they can escape, which has... implications that must not have been considered.

Second least important is Bink's mother who is framed as overbearing and/or overprotective.

The second most important is Irene the sorceress of illusion. She can only provide the illusion of what Bink wants most out of a woman, but will always be too powerful.

Finally, we have Chameleon... who is only pretty when she isn't smart.

What hurts the most about Piers Anthony's work, when looking back upon it with my current perspective, is how close he can come to doing some great deconstruction. A Spell for Chameleon is a walk through rape-culture. All that had to happen was for the author, at least, to notice this.

I am a fan of Death of the Author in literary analysis, but there are times when the author's notes should be taken into consideration. And, for those who argue that Piers Anthony did notice this and intended just such a deconstruction, I'll note that he's defended A Spell for Chameleon from charges of sexism by pointing out that Bink prefers Chameleon in her mid-way phase, with a balance of intellect and beauty.

...

This did not stop him from fathering a child in the far-beautiful phase, without her permission from a smarter phase, for the next book... That isn't framed as him having done anything wrong.

Okay. Let's talk adaptation. Because I honestly believe this should be adapted... just not with too much accuracy.

All respect given to such reviewers as The Dom* and Krimson Rogue**, as well as to the geek within myself that is going to be wounded by my saying this... not all adaptations need to be utterly faithful to the source-material.

That said, if we were to do this adaptation in such a way that some would say ruins their childhood, sticking close to the source material is ideal. All the pieces are there. We just need to make Chameleon one of the main characters and a more active character within the narrative.

So, we start things off much the same. Bink is a young man, reaching adulthood, seemingly without a magic talent and in need of some evidence of such a talent, lest he be exiled to Mundania. His mother finds out about his attempt to sew his wild oats and have a nymph for himself, responding as though this is a moral affront while his father views this not as a moral wrong but just as the kind of minor mistake the young can make. Then, he's off on that quest for an Answer.

On the quest (if in the miniseries, this would have to be the first episode, still), he meets up with the Sorceress Irene. Again, we can keep things accurate to the book... Though, this time, let's keep all the illusions over the age of consent, please?

In the second episode Bink can meet the character that would, eventually, be known as Chameleon. At the moment, she's called Dee. I... can see why some would prefer not the same exact meeting as in the book. Even though the book might frame it differently than rape, it still has Bink helping someone get away with using Chameleon's diminished mental capacity to manipulate her into sex. That said, it might be the right way to go.

It would be the right way to go because what would follow is a gradual introduction to Chameleon and her story. It would show us what she goes through and it would show us the kinds of attitudes she faces. This would be done a bit at a time. As Chameleon grows smarter she doesn't become more aware of her victimization (that's always there), but she does become more capable of explaining it.

She's always aware that the worst parts of her existence aren't really the fault of her talent. It's the fact that she lives in a culture controlled by people who are motivated less to see the person in her and more to see the desirable thing. People in power (people that are, not coincidentally in this society, men) see her in her most beautiful phase and are ready to imagine the things they'd do given the opportunity and, but less ready, less aware of the fact that she is a person. So, they look the other way with the "minor indiscretion."

With this awareness, this ability on her part to explain what has been both as plain as the nose on Bink's face and, to him, invisible all his life, we change what the story is about without having to change much of the story at all.

Instead of the story of a small-town boy who becomes a hero, this can be the story of two people who, by working together, become heroes. He with a talent of which he's not completely aware and she with, at least for a few days, a talent that makes her, quite possibly, the smartest person in Xanth.

With that, I come to the point of discussing Bink's talent. In the book, it is Trent who eventually figures out Bink's talent. Figuring that out is a part of the resolution of the story. Instead, it should be Chameleon. It makes more sense that she, the one with the most experience in his presence and two weeks of above-average intelligence notices. It makes more allegorical sense that she is the one who tells him.

Bink's talent is that no magic can harm him. Remember what I said about Piers Anthony coming so close? This is a great example because Bink's talent is a nigh-perfect metaphor for privilege. He's not the most privileged. He's not rich or a king but he can walk into a situation where others see clear danger and he sees, at most, a significant inconvenience.

This, I dare to say, does better than the book. In the book, Bink gets a mild glimpse into the imperfections of his culture. Here, he gets a deeper look and Chameleon gets not only to employ her intellect to find out about and advise Bink on the use of his talent, but someone who can, after learning so much, appreciate the intellect she has when she has it and respect her desires when she doesn't.

The story is the story of someone with great intellect and someone with great (though not absolute) privilege both leveraging what they have for each other and for the betterment of their culture.

Yes, some MRAs will complain about this. But, hopefully, by this time, we'll also be ready with The Post Apocalyptic Party Planners for Peace*** and their heads can simply explode.

*The Dom's channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPtiXdv7RoU8IkrJeNY73qw where he reviews, among other things, adaptations of novels.

**Krimson Rogue's channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSqyKubmwPrg3ZayK8KE-kA who does the same but with a different style.

*** http://wingedbeast.dreamwidth.org/24252.html

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