When The Amazing Spider-man came out, I was a little bewildered. Hadn’t a movie maker just put out a very good version of Spiderman? I loved the first two movies in that franchise. They were sweet and adventurous at the same time. They gave some time to character building. And along comes another Spiderman, a re-do of the story I loved? Why? And really, nobody else could be Spiderman. Tobey Maguire was Spiderman.
In essence I was experiencing a little Spiderman weariness. I had the idea that once the story had been done well, it didn’t need to be done again. In fact, I didn’t want it to be done again.
Except . . . when I went to see The Amazing Spider-man, I fell in love with the Spiderman story all over again, in a new way, for different reasons. How was that possible?
The writers simply found ways to overcome my story weariness.
There are a few stories and their retellings to which I have a weariness aversion—Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Camelot—but surprisingly, I’ve found stories that do more than an adequate job and overcome my weariness. They’ve pulled me in and given me a love for the tale in a new way. Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast did that for me. The movie Ever After (with Drew Berrymore) became one of my favorites.
But Arthur and his rise to power? I fell in love with the story first when my high school (a large school that did nothing half-hearted) presented the musical. I bought the soundtrack and memorized the songs. I loved that version of the story.
I also had a Classic Comic of the King Arthur story, a retelling of the one Sir Walter Scott had written, and now I read it with new understanding and appreciation. Besides The Lady in the Lake, there were other books such as The Once And Future King by T. H. White. Yes, I knew the Arthurian legend.
Camelot also became a movie, one of many, as it turns out, including Lancelot du Lac, Excalibur, Merlin, and King Arthur.
Imagine how uninteresting a TV series entitled Merlin seemed. Hadn’t everything that could be written about the Arthurian legend already been written? Well, no, actually not. This take, showing Merlin and Arthur’s connection as teens was strikingly different, and incredibly interesting as a tale of “how things came to be.”
But now, surely, there was nothing left to write about, no new way of looking at the oft-told story. And if there was yet one more version, surely it could not manage a fresh approach.
I was wrong again. Despite my story weariness, author Robert Treskillard pulled me into his Merlin Spiral trilogy with Merlin’s Blade. Teenage Merlin is blind and in love. I was hooked. No other retelling showed Merlin in such human terms and so vulnerable.
I’ve had other instances of story weariness, which I guess I’ll define as familiarity with a story to the point that another rendition seems needless and unappealing.
One such was Christian fantasy writer Jonathan Roger’s debut novel, The Bark of the Bog Owl. The problem with that book for me was that I’d read or heard the story was a retelling of the Biblical King David’s life. Except it isn’t. I put aside my story weariness for one reason or another and stepped into the delightful world of the Feechie and life in the swamp.
I’ll admit “Biblical fiction” is almost sure to get me rolling my eyes and digging in with arms crossed and foot tapping. Some authors such as Liz Curtis Higgs and Francine Rivers have taken true stories from the Bible and fictionalized them, similar to what Jonathan Rogers did (without the speculative elements).
Others like Tosca Lee (Iscariot, Havah, and due out in September, The Legend of Sheba: Rise of a Queen) and Elizabeth George Speare (Newbery Medal winner The Bronze Bow) retain the historical setting as well as the Biblical characters and storyline. This latter approach is much harder, in my opinion, because history is so unbending, and the Biblical witness so unimpeachable.
What I’ve discovered is that my story weariness can be overcome. I may not want to read one more Arthurian legend, and yet, when I do, I can fall in love with the new version. But there are some things that draw me in no matter how resistant I might be initially.
First, the story needs to develop the character. I already know the events of the story, so I’m not reading to find out what happens—usually my strongest motive for reading fiction.
Second the story can deliver pre-history such as the movie King Arthur accomplished or that Treskillard’s Merlin Spiral has done. By showing what led the characters to the point of the well-known events, the story delivers new and imaginative material.
A third option is to show the story from the point of view of a lesser known, or an imagined, character or even from the point of view of the “villain.” Iscariot takes that tack.
In short, my story weariness can be overcome.
I suppose because “there are no new stories” all fiction bears the responsibility of overcoming reader familiarity, and therefore, the best writers always manage to overcome a reader’s expectations, but some, I think, take on a greater burden because they tackle, not only a well-known type of story, but a particular, existent story.
Those that succeed are well-played! Hats off if they can make me love their rendition, as Treskillard has done with Merlin’s Blade, Merlin’s Shadow, and Merlin’s Nightmare.
How about you? Do you experience story weariness? What authors, books, movies, or TV programs have succeeded in overcoming your familiarity of a known story and made you love the new version?