Paper: Changing Minds, Changing Role: Guinevere Throughout Literary History

Today I had the amazing privilege of attending and speaking at my very first academic conference, the Seventh Annual Symposium on Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Saint Louis University (SLU).

As soon as I get my footnotes in proper format, I’m going to upload the paper I gave on academia.edu (great resource for all you researchers out there), so I thought I would share it here as well. It is basically a 20 minute version of the same argument I give in The Once and Future Queen, just WAY pared down. Hope you enjoy!

Changing Minds, Changing Role: Guinevere Throughout Literary History

When you think of Guinevere, chances are good two other names spring to mind: Arthur and Lancelot. For nearly two thousand years, she has been defined by the men in her life and the sin she committed. But the Guinevere of Arthurian literature is so much more. She is a bellwether of society’s views toward women, a character that changes over time as history’s thoughts on women evolve. She is a representative figure of the fears, hopes, lusts, and dreams of society, a figure ever morphing to meet the needs of her reader.

While a full account of Guinevere’s evolution is beyond the scope this presentation, I will endeavor to show through a handful of examples how she has served as both a warning and an aspiration for women over the last two thousand years.

Beginnings and Geoffrey of Monmouth
Guinevere begins her Arthurian journey in Welsh poetry and literature as very much a peripheral character, an object with no real identity or agency outside of her interactions with Arthur. The earliest mention of her is in the story “Culhwch and Olwen,” which is part of The Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh tales first written down between 1100-1225, but believed to be much older. Here she is little more than a symbol of Arthur’s court and its wealth. This is a silent, objectified role that she will play often in the future, even in the famous Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and is in keeping with the way women were perceived by the Celts.

While Celtic women were better off than their Greek and Roman counterparts, the Celtic world was not a matriarchal utopia, nor did its women have equal rights, as some like to believe. While they had many rights and laws that protected them, Celtic women could not act as witnesses, could not enter into contracts without their husband or father’s consent, and had limited rights of property ownership and inheritance. Even “a queen had no official or special legal rights independent of her husband.”[1]

Guinevere is also mentioned in four of the famous Welsh Triads, mnemonic devices dating to the ninth century[2] meant to preserve early folklore, mythology, and oral history. Here we find the idea that there may have been two or three Guineveres and the condemnation of Guinevere as one as one of the unfaithful wives of Britain: “One was more faithless than those three: Gwenhywfar, Arthur’s wife, since she shamed a better man than any of the others.” Some see this as proof that Guinevere had a bad reputation from the beginning, but others believe it was a later addition, written after Geoffrey of Monmouth introduced Guinevere’s affair with Mordred into Arthurian legend.

Either way, without Monmouth, there would be no Guinevere as we know her. His pseudo-history The History of the Kings of Britain contains very little information about Guinevere: only her lineage, her betrayal of Arthur with Mordred and her flight to safety in a convent. In fact, she is mentioned only six times and never directly speaks, establishing a tradition of passivity it will take hundreds of years to break, but is perfectly aligned with early medieval views of proper female behavior.

The Middle Ages are widely considered one of the worst times in history to be female. Powerful priests used the Bible—specifically the story of woman being created by Adam’s rib and St. Paul’s admonition that women should be subservient to men, remain silent, and never teach—to emphasize the superiority of men and sinfulness of women as descendants of an immoral Eve. The Virgin Mary, meek, mild, and completely obedient to God’s will, was seen as the paragon of womanly virtue.

Medieval woman were classified according to their sexual status, rather than their occupation: they could be virgins, wives, mothers or widows.[3] Their role was strictly to support the life desired by men. And when they went against societal expectations, like Mary Magdalene, they had to repent. Hence, Geoffrey of Monmouth has Guinevere first join in Mordred’s rebellion against Arthur, then flee to a nunnery for protection. There “she took her vows among the nuns, promising to live a chaste life,”[4] silent, submissive and humble, just as a medieval woman was expected to behave.

Chrétien De Troyes
The next major figure to shape the character of Guinevere was Chrétien De Troyes, a twelfth-century poet who invented the love affair between Guinevere and Lancelot as an example of courtly love, likely at the behest of this patroness, Marie de France.

In his tales, Guinevere is a cold, shrew-like character who berates Lancelot as proud because on his way to rescue her, he hesitated a moment before stepping into back of a cart, lest he appear to be a common criminal. While this may seem like odd behavior, both characters are following the rules of courtly love, which insist that the man be almost obsessively in love and willing to do anything, even humiliate himself for his beloved, and that the woman be wanton and jealous and “correct any behavior in her lover that does not follow the rules of courtly love.”[5]

In Chrétien’s stories, Guinevere and Lancelot’s love is one of bliss and joy with no hint of remorse, which is in keeping with Marie de France’s ideal of courtly love. Although sexual relations are rarely portrayed as part of courtly love, it is possible that Marie—if she was indeed the source of the affair storyline—may have been using it as a bit of reverse psychology to emphasize the exact opposite of accepted courtly love behavior,[6] which kept love at a safe spiritual distance. In this way, Guinevere and Lancelot served as a warning to the members of her court.

The Vulgate Cycle
Not long after, in early thirteenth century, The Vulgate Cycle (also known as Lancelot-Grail Cycle) was written. Believed to be the work of Cistercian monks and clerics, the Vulgate Cycle is five interconnected tales telling the story of King Arthur from his birth to his death. These stories are the first to associate Guinevere with witchcraft and the Guinevere/Lancelot affair with the need for religious repentance from guilt.

As in earlier stories, Guinevere has no personality of her own, existing solely as an object of affection for the men in her life. Some believe she isn’t meant to be seen as a person, but as a symbol of Lancelot’s fatal flaw—loving her costs him the Grail and brings about the fall of Camelot. Here again we see her not as a woman in her own right, but as a person beloved by Lancelot, the Eve to his Adam who brings about his downfall.

It very well could be that the monks who penned this version of Guinevere, being chaste and cloistered away from the outside world, simply didn’t have the experience with women necessary to craft a convincing female character. Or, it could be that they were more interested in getting across their religious message of the evils of woman and the importance of repentance than in representing Guinevere accurately. Whatever the reason, they cast a long shadow of guilt that become more prominent as the popularity of the Arthurian legend soared at Thomas Malory’s hands.

Malory
Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur is one of the most famous works of Arthurian legend. It is the one that firmly placed a Christian King Arthur in the Middle Ages and made Guinevere a main character. In fact, she can even be seen as the prime motivator of the story, as she is the reason Lancelot goes on adventures and demonstrates his skills as the best of knights. Plus, her affair with Lancelot is what ends up allowing Mordred to usurp the throne. [7]

Like the story, Malory’s Guinevere is complex, and often contradictory, which can make it difficult to get a handle on exactly who Malory intended her to be. She is hot and cold with Lancelot and changes seemingly without motivation from a noble figure to a conniving adulteress and then again to repentant nun.[8] This is likely the result of the disjunction between Malory’s varied source materials and his own views[9] as he grappled with a sin he was forced to include, but then had to find a way to redeem.

Under Malory’s pen, Guinevere is symbolic of several things. First, of a woman’s role in helping her man attain heavenly perfection.[10] Throughout the tale, Guinevere “tries to repair Lancelot’s flaws.”[11] This is why she refuses his final kiss; by doing so she is in effect ensuring salvation for them both.

She is also symbolic of an ideal queen, a role at which she both succeeds and fails, and therefore appears contradictory. On one hand, she is a capable supervisor and helpmate to Arthur, yet she fails to produce an heir, which is her most important duty.[12] In succumbing to her feelings for Lancelot, Guinevere also fails in her fidelity to her king, which is the supreme duty of any subject, especially the queen. Later, in becoming a nun, she takes on the role of repentant sinner and acts as the guardian of morality for both the female sex and the court of Camelot, and by extension, as a warning for the women of the Malory’s time.

Renaissance and Victorian Eras
After Malory, the Arthurian world—especially in relation to Guinevere—went into something of a drought until the nineteenth century due to shifting morality after the Reformation[13] and the association of James I with King Arthur.[14]

This negative mood reigned until the Victorians revived interest in all things Arthuriana. When Tennyson introduces Guinevere in Idylls of The King, she is already with the nuns at Amesbury, anonymously in hiding because of the affair with Lancelot and the ensuing war. Tennyson is one of the first writers to acknowledge the significance of Guinevere by allotting her an individual idyll.”[15] To build her character, he started with the self-absorbed, scheming manipulator[16] of Malory and Chrétien, but made her more well-rounded with clear internal conflicts that give her a life outside of the actions of men around her.

Tennyson’s Guinevere is a character torn between her duties to a man she does not love and the love she feels for a man she cannot be with. Arthur is presented as a godlike, perfect figure. Conversely, Guinevere is human and weak. In her affair with Lancelot she “betrayed both her public duty of assisting Arthur in his creation of a moral” kingdom “and her private vows to the husband who deserves her love and fidelity.”[17] With sins of this magnitude, her only hope for redemption came in suffering that moved her to sincere and deep remorse.

Like Victorian women, she is “condemned by the very conventions she is forced to enact.”[18] To be a woman in the Victorian era was to be subject to contradictions on a daily basis. Women were at once indispensable because they brought forth life, and utterly perplexing in a male-dominated world, especially once they showed a willingness to go against cultural norms and began, for the first time in history, to demand their rights. Guinevere’s prime sin, adultery, was decried from the pulpit and the judges’ bench, yet was the most rampant open secret of Victorian society – yet it was only acceptable behavior for men.

This hypocrisy was brought about by a flawed model in which women were expected to be submissive examples of physical and spiritual purity,[19] the angels in the house. But because Guinevere refused to conform to the submissive wifely role her husband and her society prescribed, she became not only a threat her marriage, but to social order, and the signifier of all threat to that order.[20]

Modern Era
With apologies to William Morris, T.H. White, and others could be discussed, we will now skip forward in time to the early 1980s, when, with the exception of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “featherhead” Guinevere in The Mists of Avalon, the character began being treated with respect and was equal to King Arthur for the first time. Penned primarily by women, she became a real person who was shaped by her past, with hopes and ambitions of her own. This Guinevere was the embodiment of the modern woman’s dream, able to handle anything, to overthrow the patriarchy and finally usher in the elusive era of equality women had been actively campaigning for since they first whispered the notion of suffrage nearly two hundred years before.

The first modern author to show Guinevere as Arthur’s equal was Parke Godwin in his early 1980s novels Firelord and Beloved Exile. His Guinevere is a woman with agency, intelligence, and a willingness to act according to her own whims. She is equal to Arthur in education, experience, and will, completely at odds with the meek, jealous, temperamental woman of previous legend. This is a Guinevere for the modern age, one who will rule alongside her husband and claim her worth in her own right rather than allowing others to define it for her. She is a fitting symbol of the time when women were beginning to come into their own as people, both in the workplace and in the home, demanding an end to the sexual harassment that plagued them for so long and speaking up for equal rights.

Beloved Exile was the first story to explore a non-cloistered life for Guinevere after Arthur’s death. It is likely not coincidental that in this same period women were beginning to enter the workforce en masse and take responsibility for their place in business and society as well as in the home. Hence, we see writers like Godwin placing additional emphasis on the administrative nature of Guinevere’s role as queen.

Another example is Sharan Newman, whose 1981-1985 Guinevere trilogy is still one of the best-known, most studied, works of modern Guinevereian fiction. She was the first to explore Guinevere’s youth, but also to give her a clear character arc that spanned the entire trilogy and helped the reader grow attached to her even as she matured. Her books “closely follow Guinevere’s voyage from a woman always relying on male wishes, desires, and rescues, to a truly adult woman who makes her own choices and therefore lives independently.”[21] This is perhaps best reflected at the end of the second book when Guinevere says to Lancelot, “All my life, I waited patiently for someone to come along and rescue me. But with Mordred, I knew no one could. And I stopped waiting. After all these years, I finally rescued myself.”[22]

Guinevere’s journey is one many women of the time could relate to. These readers were born in a more father/husband-centric time, and after a few decades of living, woke up to see themselves as individuals who didn’t need to depend on the men in their lives to survive, financially or in any other way.

As the 1980s came to an end and the 1990s began, Persia Woolley was penning a completely different take on Guinevere, described by one scholar as “arguably the most outspoken and independent of all the Guineveres written by feminist Arthurian authors.”[23]

In Wooley’s trilogy, Guinevere is very much Arthur’s equal. When she learns that Arthur would like to marry her, she weighs the pros and cons of his proposal with her father, considering first what it would mean for her people, as she views herself as their mother. When she accepts, Arthur takes her as his co-ruler, granting her power and listening to her innovative ideas. This, too, is consistent with the mores of the time, when the idea of the “man of the house” was gradually fading and men were ceding marital power in favor of establishing a more equal married relationship. Women were also holding the offices of mayor, governor, and congresswoman for the first time, so it is not surprising that Woolley allowed Guinevere to rule while Arthur was away, a success he later acknowledges.[24]

Conclusion
With the decline in popularity of feminism at the end of the twentieth century, authors and publishers soured on the idea of Guinevere, no longer seeing her, and the feministic power she represented, as relevant. According to a 2002 study, “no fewer than forty books on Arthurian themes were published in the United States in the year 2000 alone,”[25] but only a handful were written from the female perspective.

Enter self-publishing in the late 2000s. These authors, freed of the constraints of what agents and publishers believed would sell, looked at the market, realized it had been more than a decade since a Guinevere book was published, and took up the call to arms. Nearly a dozen versions of Guinevere’s story – from historically accurate historical fiction to paranormal fantasy and romance involving vampires and faerie changelings – have been self-published in the last five to ten years. These Guineveres are a far cry from the character’s docile, silent origins; rather, they are heroines for the #Metoo era, women who are strong, intelligent, sexually liberated and in charge of their own fates. Even when their main storylines echo those of Monmouth, Malory and Tennyson, these Guineveres triumph, carrying the Arthurian legend forward and positioning it for future generations.

From a silent object or possession and a living morality tale highlighting the importance of repentance from sin, to a warning of proper Victorian female behavior and an inspiration to second and third wave feminists, the character of Guinevere has undergone massive changes as the role of women in society has evolved. She has reflected the best of womankind as a helpmate and moral guardian, as well as the worst as a shrew and wanton whore, until, finally in the modern era, under the pen of female authors becoming a reflection of their hope for equality. Given this pattern, there is no doubt that Guinevere will continue to change as society does reflecting both our aspirations and fears of female power until the day the war of the sexes comes to an end and Guinevere can finally take her place beside Arthur, ruling Camelot in parity and peace.

[1] Macleod, Sharon Paice, Celtic Myth and Religion: A Study of Traditional Belief (Jefferson:North Carolina, McFarland & Co., Inc., 2012),188.

[2] Fries, Maureen, “The Poem in the Tradition of Arthurian Literature” in The Alliterative Morte Arthure: A Reassessment of the Poem, ed. Karl Heinz Goller (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer), 31.

[3] Leyser, Henrietta, Medieval Women: A Social History of England 450 – 1500 (London: Phoenix Press, 2003), 93.

[4] 101 Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain, 259.

[5] Comer, “Behold Thy Doom,” 16, 22.

[6] Walters, “Introduction,” lxi.

[7] Howey, Ann, “Once and Future Women: Popular Fiction, Feminism and Four Arthurian Rewritings,” (PhD thesis, University of Alberta, 1997), 28.

[8] Comer, “Behold Thy Doom,” 72.

[9] Ross, “The Sublime to the Ridiculous,” 193.

[10] Walters, “Introduction,” xxxi.

[11] Wyatt, “Women of Words,” 135.

[12] Jillings, L. G., “The Ideal of Queenship in Hartman’s Erec,” in The Legend of Arthur in the Middle Ages : studies presented to A.H. Diverres by colleagues, pupils, and friends, eds. B. Grout et al. (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer; Torowa N.J., U.S.A.: Biblio Distribution Services, 1983) 123.

[13] Gossedge, Rob and Stephen Knight, “The Arthur of the Sixteenth to Nineteenth Centuries,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Arthurian Legend, eds. Elizabeth Archibald and Ad Putte (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009), 103.

[14] Ross, “The Sublime to the Ridiculous,” 32.

[15] Gordon-Wise, The Reclamation of a Queen, 49.

[16] Bonner, “Guinevere as Heroine,” 51, Comer, “Behold Thy Doom,”53.

[17] Umland, Rebecca, “The Snake in the Woodpile: Tennyson’s Vivien as Victorian Prostitute,” in Culture and the King: the Social Implications of the Arthurian Legend, eds. James P Carley, Valerie M Lagorio, and Martin B Shichtman (Albany: New York State U of New York P, 1994), 283.

[18] Comer, “Behold Thy Doom,” 65.

[19] Bonner, “Guinevere as Heroine,” 8.

[20] 309 Ahern, “Listening to Guinevere,” 105-106.

[21] Gordon-Wise, The Reclamation of a Queen, 128.

[22] Newman, Sharan, The Chessboard Queen, 248.

[23] Cooley, “Re-vision from the Mists,” 32

[24] Cooley, “Re-vision from the Mists,” 28

[25] Beatie, Bruce A. “The King Arthur Myth in Modern American Literature.” Science Fiction Research Association, “SFRA Newsletter 259/260 ” (2002). Digital Collection – Science Fiction & Fantasy Publications. Paper 76. Page 35 http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/scifistud_pub/76

Mistress of Legend Takes Silver in the Foreword Indie Book Awards

Well, I came home to a wonderful surprise in my mailbox tonight: a certificate telling me Mistress of Legend won Silver in the Fantasy category of the Foreword Indie Book Awards. I didn’t even know they had held them already!

I am so glad because I am so proud of that book. I feel like it is the strongest in the series, yet I know it is difficult for judges to judge the final book in a trilogy when they haven’t read the first two. But the fact that this one won tells me I did my job in making the story make sense on its own.

I’m Quoted in Publisher’s Weekly!

I’m over the moon to say I am quoted in a Publisher’s Weekly article on Taleflick, the company through which I got my TV/movie option for Madame Presidentess. It may seem silly to be excited about this, but Publisher’s Weekly is very much about the traditional publishing industry, and rarely delves into anything with independent publishing or self-published authors.

In case you don’t want to read the whole article (which you should), here’s my quote, where I talk about what Taleflick has done for me:

I highly recommend Taleflick. But I would also recommend going with the $88 package. If you’re a writer, you can write your own logline, etc. and no one knows your book better than you. I didn’t even know the $300+ package was an option. It must be new.

Mistress of Legend Finals in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards

I am weeks behind on announcing this, but Mistress of Legend was a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards in the fantasy category. These awards give out one gold medal to a category winner and 5-6 silver to the finalists. I may not have gotten gold this time, but I’m proud to have the silver!

TaleFlick Testimonial!

I have talked with several of you about Taleflick, the company I used to get the book option for Madame Presidentess I really, really love them and now I can say it officially to the whole world. Here’s the testimonial video they filmed in my house a few weeks ago:

And how cool is this to see TWO of my books on their Top Picks list?

If you have questions about them, feel free to email me at nicole [dot] evelina [at] att [dot] net (I wish I could just link it, but I don’t want spam) or private message me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Mistress of Legend Wins a Chaucer Award

Just a quick note that Mistress of Legend has won its first award! It took home first in category in the Chaucer Awards for historical fiction at the Chanticleer Book Awards, the same award Madame Presidentess won in 2016.

They say we should have our official winner’s seal by the end of the month, so for now I’m using the contest image.

Hamilton: Three Lines That Grab Me as a Writer

Spellbound Scribes

I want this poster!

Earlier this month, my mom took me to see Hamilton in Chicago as an early 40th birthday present (my birthday is in August, but we were up there for a conference). I knew it was going to be good, but I was not prepared for how much it blew me away! I could go on and on about how great the choreography and lighting were, and how much of a genius Lin Manuel Miranda is, but this is about an aspect I never anticipated…how much Hamilton touched me as a writer.

I cry at musicals. A lot. It’s because I love theater and it makes me very emotional. But there were several moments that touched me deep down as a writer and made me sob all the more, but this time, they were happy tears because I knew someone else–and Lin Manuel nonetheless–felt the same way.

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Movie vs. Book: The Haunting of Hill House

Don’t fall over from shock. I’m actually blogging rather than announcing something. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a trend. 🙂

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you likely know I have a thing for haunted houses, both in fiction and in real life. Like real haunted houses, not the fake kind that pop up around Halloween and are only good for a jump scare. No, no, I mean the old ones that have actual spirits in them. I have an aunt who for many years counted ghost hunting among her hobbies, so maybe it runs in the family.

Oddly enough, I can’t handle horror movies. I saw one in 1999 (The House on Haunted Hill remake) that scared me so much I had to leave the theater before it ended (there are reasons for that even though it is a terrible movie) and I haven’t watched one since. (Crimson Peak being the exception, but it was so bad it hardly counts as horror.)

Harlaxton Manor

However, one of my favorite guilty pleasure movies has long been the 1999 remake of The Haunting, starring Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta Jones, Owen Wilson and Lili Taylor. I will be the first to admit this movie is cheese – or at least the last third of it is. But I love it. You see, I have a special connection to it. I was fortunate to go to England for the first time in the spring of 1999 as the capstone to a class I was taking in college. We were there for two weeks and the first week we stayed at Harlaxton Manor, an old Jacobean manor house in Lincolnshire that is now used in part as the overseas campus for the University of Evansville. (It really is haunted by at least two ghosts. Ask me how I know.) That just so happens to be where The Haunting was filmed just a month before. They still had set pieces we got to see and we were allowed to fish through a pile of what they considered trash for souvenirs from the set. I got a wardrobe tag for the photo double for Nell (I checked the credits and it is authentic) and my friend got the padlock that is prominently seen in an exterior night shot when they show how the front gates are chained at night. I’ve seen every “making of” related to that movie. Sadly, only two of the interior shots (minor ones you wouldn’t even notice) and the exterior actually made it into the movie. The rest was filmed on a sound stage.

Quick plot recap for those who have not seen/read The Haunting of Hill House: Psychologist Dr. David Montague (in the book) or Marrow (in the movie) contrives to bring together a group of unsuspecting subjects (who all have some kind of psychic abilities) in order to study, well, here’s the first place where the plots diverge: in the book, it is supernatural phenomenon, but in the movie it is more the power of suggestion in supernatural phenomenon. Anyway, you get the point. He is hoping for a large group, but ends up with only two: Nell, a timid woman who up until recently has acted as caregiver for her mother (who has now died) and Theo, an obnoxious, possibly lesbian (or clearly bisexual in the movie), socialite who can be downright mean. Then there is Luke. In the book, he’s the heir to the house who is only there at the insistence of the current owners who want family present and as a possible love interest for the girls. In the movie, he’s another study participant. So they gather and are told about the history of the house and not long after supernatural things start to occur. Eventually, we are lead to question if those things are really happening or are just in the minds of the participants, especially Nell. I’ll leave it at that to avoid spoilers.

The Haunting has been adapted for screen three times: first in 1963 by Robert Wise (I’ve seen parts of this version and can say it is much better and closer to the book than the later version) and again in 1999 by Jan de Bont, then for Netflix in 2018. (I have not seen this; my friends have warned me it would be too scary for me.) If you want to see laugh out loud parity, watch Scary Movie 2, written and directly by the Wayans Brothers, which was highly based off of this movie. (Fun fact: their version of Theo was the inspiration for the physical description of Mia in Been Searching for You.)

For purposes of this blog, I’m only going to discuss the 1999 movie and the book.

The top picture is an actual interior of Harlaxton that appears in the movie. (I have the exact same picture from when I was there.) The bottom is one of the many interiors shot on a sound stage.

My thoughts on the book vs. the movie:

  • Characters – Nell is much better fleshed out character in the book. (Granted that is usually the case with film adaptations.) She has a charming, captivating imagination in the book that you can easily see devolving into madness, something totally lacking in the movie where she is just child-like. Theo is meaner in the book (sometimes unnecessarily so) and still lacks the depth of a fully-formed character, but she’s better than the vapid version in the movie. It’s like she only exists in the movie so Catherine Zeta Jones can be sexy. And Luke. *sigh* He’s a filler in both versions, but at least in the book he has a bit of a purpose as someone for Nell and Theo to fight over. In the movie, he’s just – there. Its like they felt they had to include him. One character I’m glad they axed in the movie is the doctor’s wife, who in the book is cartoonishly obnoxious, overbearing and wholly unnecessary. And why, why does each version have a different last name for the doctor? (Even different between the two movies.) Of all things to change, that is NOT important!
  • Plot – This actually follows much more closely than I expected. Most of the supernatural phenomenon are similar, at least until you get to the end of the book/movie, which I think is good. Jackson does a pretty darn good job of scaring the crap out of you, to the point where it doesn’t need to be embellished. However, the back story of the house is TOTALLY different, another completely unnecessary change from book to movie. In the book, the story is of the tragic family of Hugh Crane and his two daughters who possibly haunt the house. In the movie Hugh Crane is a coal magnate who employs slave labor and the ghosts are the children he worked to death. WHY? Why, why, why, why, why? Ugh! Throughout the book, I found bits and pieces that the movie gave a brief nod to (such as one of Crane’s wives hanging herself), but if you hadn’t read the book, they didn’t make any sense. They do now that I have read it, but it is a sign of poor film-making when you don’t weave your homages into the plot.
  • The scene from the 1999 movie where Nell’s bed attacks her.

    Setting – I’m biased here. I think Harlaxton was perfect for the movie, especially in it’s isolation and architecture, though I wish they would have used more of the actual interior in the movie. What they did design was beautiful in an odd way, but also way over the top. I would have preferred more of an old Victorian house interior, the kind of place that could give you the creeps in real life. (For what I’ve seen of the 1963 movie, they did right in that version.) There is a scene in the book where Nell fears the canopy of her bed is going to lower and suffocate her. Now the scene in the movie where Nell’s bed attacks her and cages her in makes more sense. But there is one change in scenery doesn’t make sense to me. In the book, next to the huge main doors there is a little door that goes into the library that Nell refuses to enter. For some reason, it scares the hell out of her. (I don’t think you ever find out why…or least I don’t remember it.) In the movie, when Nell finally gets up the courage to enter, it goes into a replica of her mother’s sick room. I think there is supposed to be some psychological symbolism there, but to me it is totally baffling why they didn’t keep it as a library and a totally pointless change.

  • Script – If you’ve seen the 1999 movie, even without having read the book, you will find yourself repeating “in the night, in the dark.” I was thrilled to find that phrase came from the book. Seriously, anytime anyone says “in the night,” I have to say, “in the dark,” which makes me giggle. Read it or watch the movie and you’ll see why. And the movie tagline “some houses are born bad” also comes from the book.
  • Ending – I won’t give anything away here, but I will say that the ending to both the book and movie are highly unsatisfying. The book feels like Jackson got bored with it and took the easy way out. I mean, there is sort of a motivation there, but there are other ways the same point could have been accomplished that would have been more in keeping with the plot and more satisfying for the reader. The movie, oh the movie. Let’s just say that someone was impressed with their own CGI skills. The movie actually scared the bejezzus out of me until they showed you the ghost of Hugh Crane. I am a firm believer that your imagination is way scarier than anything Hollywood dreams up to make a ghost visible. At this point, the movie devolves into a sort of morality tale that pits the evil child-killer (Crane) against the savior of their spirits (Nell) for the redemption of the house. It has a kind of similar theme to the book’s ending, but is utterly ridiculous.

(The cherubs are from the 1999 movie.)

Even for all it’s faults, the book is iconic and has spawned countless ripoffs and retellings. (For a fairly good YA version, read Lois Duncan’s Down a Dark Hall.) Jackson’s writing is likely the reason why. That woman can turn a phrase and build atmosphere like no one’s business. The movie, is…well…likely only admired by me and the director.

Have you read the book or seen any of the movie/TV adaptations? Let me know your thoughts. I’d love to discuss them in the comments.

The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy Wins an IPPY for Best Fiction Series

I just got a huge surprise that The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy won Best Fiction Series in the IPPY (Independent Book Publisher) Awards! It took home the Gold Medal, which is the highest award. I didn’t even know it was a finalist. It so wonderful to see that people like it and appreciate the 19 years of work that went into the series.