Reboot? No, Re-imagine.
a guest post by J Tullos Hennig
Always a factor, lately it’s beyond pervasive. Be it book or movie, its practically required to be tied-in, redone, revamped, or jumpstarted from extant (often overused) material. Forgive my sounding like a crotchety old fart, but there are entirely too many reboots these days.
Now, before you take me to task for a strange—even arsy—statement from an author who’s publishing a series based on the legends of Robin Hood... well, let’s consider the whys. (And I do hope you’ll allow me a teensy pass in the fact that I first wrote ‘my’ Robin over 30 years ago.)
So it seems to me this reboot thing can be winnowed down to a basic comparison: does said reboot qualify as what as come to be known as ‘fanservice’, or is it devoirs?
Devoirs is a word and concept from the Old English (kindly indulge the word-nerd ) and has roots in ‘to give’; not only an act of obligation and courtesy, but one of homage and duty. It stresses sincere recognition of what has come before, with strong implications of renewal, remittance, and possession: What has come before now comes through me and I, in turn, pass it along.
Fanservice... well, it’s nice to be in on the joke. (Particularly for those who didn’t grow up being in on the joke very often; and even more particularly for those of us who were SF “geeks” back when we didn’t use the word, since it meant “to bite the heads off small animals, as in a sideshow act”.) I like to say “I grok it”, or call it being “of the body” (and yup, following fanservice rules, if you know those phrases, you get extra points!) A wonderfully inclusive feeling, to know someone is talking to you, you’re in the know, and you don’t have to work that hard to slide yourself into the adventure—hey, they already speak your language!
Except when they don’t.
So. While fanservice and devoirs can meet in the middle to great effect, there more often a stark difference between the two. The former is often little more than a device; a high-five or side-wink to an already invested audience; it costs little and unfortunately, often ends up meaning just as little. Usually dictated by marketing—which, to (very) roughly paraphrase LeGuin, might be deedy at selling deodorant, but shouldn’t be the dominant factor in the making and freedom of art—it has many regrettable limitations. To use a farm metaphor from my childhood, “you’ll milk a cow dry if you don’t have her freshened”. On the other hand, a bit of the second concept used in an meaningful fashion isn’t so, well, easy. It requires deliberation and regularly challenges renewed investment, not only from the creator but the audience.
Damn, but I miss that investment.
I keep looking for it. The question I ask myself, as author and reader: does a familiar situation carry its own meaning, instead of relying upon familiarity to provide it? Is it merely one of context, or can it carry its own import and subtext?
Let’s talk examples. As my present immersion therapy at this moment in time concerns the legends of Robin Hood....
- Fanservice is putting in the archery tournament just because, well, Robin Hood. Just have him shoot at a target and rescue the girl, fercripesake!
- Devoirs is putting in the archery tournament because, well, yes, Robin Hood... but you craft it into mindful necessity, not instant device. What if the prize arrow is a Saxon artefact captured by the Sheriff, and Robin has to get it back?
- Fanservice is changing a screenplay away from the Sheriff’s PoV because it might not market well without Robin as hero.
- Devoirs is writing an excellent book from the Sheriff’s PoV, making him a tough man in a tougher spot.
- Fanservice is making Marion the ‘hero’ in a seeming sop to feminism... except that strength is reliant upon making the male heroes ineffectual.
- Devoirs means Marion has agency outside involvement with the lads, her own journey and her own role.
So, instead of the same ol’, tired ol’ reboot, perhaps we need more re-imaginings. Less surface-scratchy retellings that don’t challenge us to think outside the box; more rich investments of time and heart-space, where familiar characters manoeuvre us unto unfamiliar territory, twist expectations and trim our sails for unexpected horizons and, always, honour old friends whilst transforming them into new ones we didn’t realise we had.
Its what I’ve done my best to accomplish with the Wode books. And let me put it out there, right now: I would love to hear some examples of well-told re-imaginings. Let’s compare lists.
About the Author
Nomad by birth and bohemian by nature, Jen lives with her longstanding Amazing Spouse in a remote cottage on the Pacific Northwest coast. This merely encourages–nay, guarantees–already rampant hermetic and artistic tendencies, particularly in winter. Comparisons have also been made to a bridge troll. Hopefully emulating the one under the Fremont Bridge: moderately tolerant, but… you know. Bridge troll. An equally remarkable daughter and grandkids, as well as many students—human, equine, avian and canine—have taught her much of what she knows. Wild places, travel, and interlibrary loan fill the gaps in said education–
And merely encourages the boundless escapades of a press gang of invisible “friends”, who Will. Not. Be. Silenced.
About the Book
By J Tullos Hennig
The Hooded One. The one to breathe the dark and light and dusk between....
When an old druid foresees this harbinger of chaos, he also glimpses its future. A peasant from Loxley will wear the Hood and, with his sister, command a last, desperate bastion of Old Religion against New. Yet a devout nobleman's son could well be their destruction—Gamelyn Boundys, whom Rob and Marion have befriended. Such acquaintance challenges both duty and destiny. The old druid warns that Rob and Gamelyn will be cast as sworn enemies, locked in timeless and symbolic struggle for the greenwode's Maiden.
Instead, a defiant Rob dares his Horned God to reinterpret the ancient rites, allow Rob to take Gamelyn as lover instead of rival. But in the eyes of Gamelyn’s Church, sodomy is unthinkable... and the old pagan magics are an evil that must be vanquished.