Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Movie Musicals That Got It Right (Reich?): Cabaret

I'm cheating a little here.  I had said that (except for The Sound of Music) I would stick to reviewing movie musicals produced in the last 15 years.  I had intended my next Movie Musical segment to be about Jersey Boys.  But I just haven't been able to get out to see it.  My "meh, why bother" attitude reflects what I felt when I saw Jersey Boys the musical, and also the movie's general reception.  I do intend to review it before it leaves the theatres, but a Les Miserables movie event it is not.

Then recently, I saw the 1972 movie Cabaret on television, the first time I was able to watch it the whole way through.  Figuring that I would just forget the details if I waited until after reviewing the post-2000 movies, I decided what the hell.

Cabaret is in the Right column because I couldn't justify putting it in the Wrong column, but it's a much more tepid Right than I ever imagined it would be.  Cabaret the movie and stage musical alike are widely celebrated -- the movie if not more so because it made significant changes, yet retains the core of whatever made the stage version so good.  (Some critics of Les Miserables felt that it should have done the same.)  Both are based on a short novel by Christopher Isherwood called Goodbye to Berlin (1939).  While in the original stage musical, the lead female, Sally Bowles, is British and Cliff Bradshaw American, the movie changed it to reflect the nationalities in Isherwood's story, with Sally American and Cliff Bradshaw -- now Brian Roberts -- British.

Set largely in a cabaret club in 1930s Germany, Cabaret sets the whimsy of its lead characters' lives against the growing threat of Nazi power.  It should have stirred many feelings in me, but with the exception of one scene, it didn't.  Maybe it just reflects the fact that I grew up in a different time, and movies are made so differently now.  So while I can say that Liza Minelli as Sally Bowles was winsome, or Michael York as Brian Roberts was awkwardly charming, or that many of the numbers were staged imaginatively, I can't say that any of it left a lasting impression.

Plot Synopsis

Sally Bowles is a young American singer at the Kit Kat Klub in 1931 Berlin, with hopes of becoming a big success.  At the boarding house where she lives, she meets Brian Roberts, a young British writer who plans to tutor Germans for a living while completing his Ph.D.  Since Brian's room is closet-sized, Sally allows him to tutor students in her much larger digs.  So begins their unlikely friendship and even unlikelier romance, interspersed with the madcap numbers at the Kit Kat Club and dark images of the Nazis' rise.

The Good

Gritty Subject Matter.  Cabaret is hardly the first musical to be set during a volatile time period -- The Sound of Music was set also during the Nazi rise -- but it should be applauded for not shying away from the atrocities of Nazism, even at the risk of becoming a "downer."  The Sound of Music portrayed the Nazis as a relentless swarm, but beyond annexing Austria, we never really got a sense of what made them so disturbing.  Cabaret reveals the slow-growing anti-Semitism of everyday German people and the horrors that result.  One character's pet is murdered.  Police stare at a bloody sheet covering a body.  Sally and Brian's landlords trade opinions about a Jewish banker conspiracy.  Even the Kit Kat Klub introduces a number with a gorilla intended to represent a Jewish woman.

But of course the number that makes the hairs on one's neck stand on end is "Tomorrow Belongs to Me."  The iconic scene begins with an outdoor eatery in a bucolic German hamlet.  An angelic-looking boy's singing interrupts the diners' chatter.  Only the boy's face is shown in close up, so right then we suspect something isn't quite right.  As the camera pans down, we see that he is in a Nazi Youth uniform.  Yet his siren song is gripping the villagers one by one.  The longer he sings, the more his voice is joined by others, until it's a lusty anthem sung by the entire crowd.  (All but one elderly man, who must be sadly thinking that the country had enough violence not so long ago.)  It's a microcosm of the fervor that gripped Germany throughout the course of the decade.  Well done.      



Good Performances.  For reasons I go into below, the characters of Sally and Brian did not interest me as much as they should have.  However, they came across much better than they otherwise might have due to Liza Minelli and Michael York's performances.  Minelli is lively throughout, with her distinctive hair and makeup style.  Even beneath that, I can still say that her resemblance to her mother, Judy Garland, who died just three years earlier, is pretty strong.  As is her speaking and singing voice.  Minelli's voice is not as strong as I would like (I know, blasphemy), but she can sing, and does so with gusto throughout.

However, I was more drawn to Michael York's Brian.  Perhaps it was his warmth, his quiet reflectiveness.  He has a sense of the changes taking place much more than silly Sally does, though even he can't fully comprehend.  The more minor characters are good as well, especially Joel Grey's Master of Ceremonies at the Kit Kat Klub, who is at all times cynical and over the top.  A sinister clown, as the best clowns are.    

The Less Good

Lacks Energy.  Was it wrong of me to say this?  Somehow I feel like it was.  But truth be told, I just expected more vibrancy from a movie that spends long segments in a hedonistic cabaret.  Not Baz Luhrman levels of camera spinning and color explosion, just more life to burst out of the screen.  Yet something about the film felt flat to me.  To the extent that the cabaret scenes were active and alive, that energy did not carry over into the non-cabaret scenes involving Sally and Brian.  These scenes felt slow-paced and seemed to last far too long, with the obvious exception of the chilling "Tomorrow Belongs to Me."  Maybe it's just that I grew up in a different time.  Maybe MTV has conditioned me to expect bursts and dazzle, rapid cuts and sweeping pans.  Maybe my brain can't appreciate the stately pace of a 1972 film.  Regardless, I was never quite engaged with what was happening on screen, and thus never felt emotionally invested in the characters.

The Songs.  With the exception of "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" and the "Money" song, none of the songs stuck with me.  I know that some are classics, and shame on me for being critical, but that's just how I feel.

Less Deep Than Appears.  Maybe Cabaret isn't meant to be deep, but then why do a story about the carefree days before the Nazi rise at all?  What is strange about Cabaret is how little Nazism touches the lives of the main characters.  Brian is disturbed by growing Nazi sentiment, but it is his student and her lover who truly feel the effects.  Sally seems completely oblivious, not even reacting to the growing pro-Nazi sentiment of the Kit Kat Klub.

Because of this strange detachment, the Nazi threat never feels as dangerous as it could.  Cabaret seems to rely on the audience's knowledge of the actual Nazis' deeds to provide the necessary horror.

The human drama falls short as well.  Sally may be enthusiastic and unconventional, with a father who just doesn't understand, but there's not much more.  That gets wearisome after a while, even with Liza Minelli's spirited portrayal.  Maybe some of that is intentional: the writer of the story upon which Cabaret is based meant for Sally to be of little talent, but under the belief that she was destined for stardom.  The problem is that Minelli's Sally actually is talented, so if satire was intended, it is never clear.  Meanwhile, Brian is stiff and thoughtful, while sometimes surprisingly playful, but it's hard to say there is anything more to him as well.

Cabaret's message seems to be: "Look at these people and their little unimportant lives.  How silly of them to resent their fathers or to revel in their threesomes when the real threat is growing all around them."  If so, then my response is, "so what?"  Big bad things happen all the time while we go about our daily lives.  Are people just supposed to put their desires on hold to appear concerned enough about a threat that they probably can't do much about?  Yet I have the feeling Cabaret also wants us to be invested in Sally and Brian's relationship struggles.  For reasons I have already gone into, I'm not.  Maybe I'm over-thinking this.  Or maybe I'm not thinking about it enough.     

Conclusion

Cabaret is a classic, and as I've noted above, nothing about it is overtly weak.  It just isn't as dazzling and hedonistic, or dark and powerful, as it thinks it is or wants to be, and that leaves me with an "eh" feeling when I watch it.  Still, it is well made and well worth a viewer's time.  So Willkommen!



For more Movie Musicals That Got It Right or Wrong, go here.

The above images are used under the Fair Use Doctrine.     

Monday, July 21, 2014

Through an Introvert's Lens: Saved By the Bell

For the previous installment, go here.

And so we continue to the next installment of the Introvert series, to a show that no one takes seriously, yet seems indelibly etched into our collective brain.  That would be Saved By the Bell, the original series that ran from 1989 until 1993.

Saved By the Bell followed six high school students on their daily adventures.  The series was a spinoff of a failed Hayley Mills star vehicle, Good Morning Miss Bliss, which aired in 1988.  Audiences were underwhelmed by the show's tepid humor and moralizing, and Good Morning Miss Bliss headed for the chopping block.  Yet instead of swinging the axe, NBC decided to buy the rights and rework the show, turning it into Saved By the Bell.  Among the "saved" were lead characters Zack Morris, Samuel "Screech" Powers, Lisa Turtle, and the principal, Richard Belding.  Gone were Miss Bliss, the rest of the cast, the Indiana location, and several IQ points. 

Set at Bayside High in Southern California, Saved By the Bell revolved around good-looking budding sociopath, Zack Morris, and his band of supporting players: easygoing jock, A.C. Slater; cheerleader "dream girl" Kelly Kapowski; brainy, neurotic Jessie Spano; vain, fashionable Lisa Turtle; and nerdy human punching bag, Screech Powers.  Hovering along the edges were doofy, disapproving Mr. Belding and a cast of teachers so oblivious that if someone replaced their brains with chia pets, no one would notice the difference.

Good Morning Miss Bliss was not an intelligent show by any means, but it did attempt to keep the characters grounded in reality.  Adults were flawed, but generally well-meaning.  The kids could be smart-mouthed and self absorbed, but also kind and thoughtful friends.  The characters were tepidly drawn, but they still felt like people as opposed to oversized cartoon characters.  Whereas Saved By the Bell was like "Pffft to all this nerd stuff!  I'm too cool for school!"

Saved By the Bell episodes followed a pattern with little variation.

  1. The school would hold an event or assign a project.
  2. Zack would develop a scheme to profit from it.
  3. Zack would convince his reluctant friends to join in.
  4. Zack would either outsmart the slow-witted school guardians, or learn a valuable lesson.

Saved By the Bell fancied itself a latter-day Ferris Bueller's Day Off.  Except in Saved By the Bell's case, it was an ordinary person outsmarting animated cardboard cutouts.  That Saved By the Bell worked to the extent it did had much to do with the fun performances delivered by its young cast.

As popular as the show was, I doubt even its tween audience took it for an accurate representation of high school.  So why bother to consider how Saved By the Bell deals with introverts?  Because though its viewers might not have bought the entire premise, certain attitudes the show carried may have rubbed off on them.  Think how many Saved By the Bell moments live on in popular culture.  I only have to say "I'm so excited!" for you to know exactly where I'm going.  It is worth seeing what messages the show imparted.

Are There Any Introverts On Saved By the Bell?

Does a show that's all about being bright and shiny and fun even know what "introvert" means?  Again, an introvert is someone who is generally

  • reserved
  • interested in big ideas rather than small talk
  • needs to be alone to replenish after socializing
  • thinks before he/she speaks
  • prefers to observe rather than be the center of attention

Is there anyone like that on Saved By the Bell?  Bueller?  No character fits perfectly, but the one who comes closest is Screech.  And how does Saved By the Bell treat him?  Not well.  

Screech is the perpetual tag-along, existing to make clueless statements that the others respond to with scorn that frequently crosses the line into cruelty.  Lisa is the worst offender, but Zack, Slater, Jessie, and even Kelly have gotten in their digs.  Some examples:

Jessie: Eh, I hate coffee.  Suzy, can I have another cup please?
Zack: So why are you drinking it?
Screech: What else is she gonna do with the coffee Zack?
Zack: Use your head as a doughnut and dunk you in it.

--

Lisa: I made these friendship bracelets in Fashion Club.
Screech: Did you make one for me?
Lisa: For you, I'm making a friendship muzzle.
Screech: I'm speechless.
Lisa: That's the idea.

--

Screech: You hooligans.  You demolished my song.
Lisa: No we didn't, Screech.  It still says "Bayside."
Slater: Yeah, and we even left the words you put in: "it," "and," "the," "Bayside."
Screech: Oh... well in that case, it's okay then.

At the beginning of the series, Screech is a socially awkward nerd, but by the end, he is a caricature.  Though a science genius, his intelligence is given almost no respect, except for when the episode needs it to serve the plot.

He's not an awkward mess when he's in his element, 
in this case tutoring Kelly in "Beauty and the Screech."
Instead, Screech's most defining trait is his worst: his obsession with Lisa Turtle, who clearly despises him.  Despite Lisa telling him over and over and over that she is not interested in a relationship, Screech continues to pursue her.  To make matters worse, the one time his friends "encourage" him, it is to tell him to not take Lisa's "no" for an answer! 

Screech is occasionally given dignity, such as the story arc where he dates a fellow nerd, Violet Bickerstaff.  Although their geekiness is played for soft laughs, their love and their goals are taken seriously.  And shockingly, Screech goes from being a joke to a romantic and loyal partner, such as when he saves Violet from stage fright in "Glee Club."

Too often, though, Screech is given far less respect than the other characters.  He is portrayed as socially out of his depth and dense.  The other characters' reactions are always followed by a laugh track, suggesting that their nasty remarks are an acceptable response.  His "friends" rarely take his interests seriously; with few exceptions, they are just more fuel for derision.   

Does Saved By the Bell Value Anything Introverted?

So Saved By the Bell punishes its most obviously introverted character.  But what's more disturbing is the way it also seemingly punishes "introverted" ideas.  

The second-most caricatured person on the show is Jessie.  She is an unlikely introvert, being frequently outspoken and unafraid of the spotlight.  Yet she is also the only character besides Screech who is brainy, well read, and cares about big ideas.  On Good Morning Miss Bliss, her counterpart Nikki Coleman was fairly low key.  By contrast, Jessie is portrayed as a shrill and self-righteous killjoy whose values are openly mocked by "cooler" characters like Zack and Slater.

Yes, Jessie.  I too am offended.
That's not to say only introverts care about big ideas, but they are generally more associated with deeper thinkers, who are more likely to be introverted.  If this were a better show, I'd think Saved By the Bell was calling Jessie a poseur for believing that just because she adopts some heavy slogans, she is on the same level as the deep thinkers who made real sacrifices.  Instead, the show's mentality is more likely: "Nyahh!  Girls who care about stuff are stoopid!"

It's noteworthy that the one time Jessie's concerns are taken seriously, it's because Zack shares them.  In the episode "Pipe Dreams," Zack and company dismiss Jessie's concerns about the hazards of drilling for oil on the football field until an oil spill kills the animals they just freed.  Zack then gyrates from being gung-ho for oil riches to leading a resistance against the oil company.  It seems like the episode intends for us to go on a similar journey: we're supposed to think Jessie is just her usual shrill bitch self, and therefore worth ignoring, until Zack, sees the Truth.  Only then is it safe to think that environmental destruction is a not so good thing.

But otherwise?  Women's equality?  World peace?  The environment?  If you care, you walk alone, and Saved By the Bell will stick out a foot to ensure you trip.

Then Again...

Can you really criticize a show that brazenly stereotypes everything?  There's your howling pack of pocket-protector-wearing nerds, your dumb jocks, your bimbo cheerleaders, and so on.

That's an argument that South Park leans on heavily.  Yet as with South Park, a careful viewer can observe that even on shows that mock everything, certain things are treated with more respect.  On Saved By the Bell, Zack and what Zack stands for are the gold standard.

Zack is good looking, smooth talking.  He has great clothes and hair (for the early 90s) and has the latest in high-tech gadgetry (in his case, a shoebox-size cell phone).  His peers listen to him, look up to him.  He stands for fun, no rules, "too cool for school."  He is, in short, the ultimate extrovert -- if not the ultimate embodiment of the heterosexual white male in all his glory.

Yeah, yeah, you're awesome.
We, the viewers, are supposed to care what Zack thinks.  More than what Screech thinks, or Jessie thinks, or Slater, or Lisa, or Kelly.  We are supposed to care when he learns.  In the world of Saved By the Bell, if Zack doesn't support your beliefs, you can't just ignore him.  You must work to make him change!  And when he says he has changed, we are supposed to believe that he is sincere.  He is the sun around which the show revolves.

Note that it didn't have to be this way just because Zack is the main character.  Plenty of shows have main characters who are awkward and yearning for an ideal just beyond their grasp.  But here, Zack is the ideal.  Unless he goes through one of his routine "completely convincing changes of heart," if he does not share your values, your values are worthless.

In some ways, he's an extreme version of the Power of the Extrovert that we saw in Wicked.  Elphaba was worth mocking until Galinda decided it was time to stop.  Here, Jessie's causes or Screech's cares don't matter unless Zack decides that they do.  The extrovert gets to define who the introverts are and whether their beliefs are worthwhile.  And plenty of tween introverts who tuned in to Saved By the Bell would have learned that they were not.

Conclusion

To sum up, how does Saved By the Bell treat introverts?

Number of Introverts: One

Is the Introvert Prominent?: Mostly

Is the Introvert Active?: More reactive

How Do Other Characters Treat the Introvert: Like an ape that has just been lobotomized.

What is the Introvert's Reward/Punishment Compared to Others?: Constantly mocked, whereas the less introverted characters get treated with more respect.
        

Aw hell.  One for the road...


  
The above images were used under the Fair Use Doctrine.  The Zack .gif is courtesy of lolslater.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Seven Ways an Earth's Children TV Show Could Improve Upon the Book Series

In case you didn't hear, Jean Auel's Earth's Children will be headed for a television screen near you in 2015.  Only the pilot, but with a distinguished team behind it (including Ron Howard and Linda Woolverton), a series will almost certainly follow.

While details are sketchy, it is likely that the show's producers intend to portray all six of the Earths's Children books.  That should be a challenge, given that the final three installments received their share of criticism.  But perhaps in skilled hands, even the final installments can become an emotional, exciting viewing experience.  Below are seven ways in which a television series might improve upon its source material.

1.  Better Dialogue.  Linda Woolverton wrote the screenplays for Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Maleficent, so it's safe to say that she knows her way around dialogue.  As will anyone else who comes on board.  While Auel's dialogue could sometimes be stirring, it was frequently wooden (especially coming from Ayla) and drowned out by lengthy descriptions of flora and fauna.

2.  Tension.  Although Clan of the Cave Bear was tense throughout, that wasn't the case for the other novels in the series.  In The Valley of Horses, there was the initial tension over whether Ayla would survive in her valley, but not so much over whether she would get together with Jondalar.  The "tension" in The Mammoth Hunters could have been resolved with one conversation.  There was no tension in The Plains of Passage, save the encounter with Attaroa.  And while The Shelters of Stone and The Land of Painted Caves had ample opportunity for tension, neither delivered.

Television writers know that they can't leave things idle, so I would expect any opportunity for tension to be fully exploited.  And if the writers are really smart, they will rewrite certain encounters to draw real tension from them.  Imagine if the writers had Ayla confront Jondalar about his jealousy soon after her night with Ranec, only to find that the problem couldn't be easily resolved, thus setting up new tension between them?  Or if the writers actually worked with the ample opportunities for tension in The Shelters of Stone instead of pretending they did not exist?

3.  More Nuanced Characterization.  While television thrives on heroes and villains, good writers know that the best drama comes from characters who are not entirely good or bad.  Which means that some of Auel's characters could be given more complex shading.  One obvious choice would be Marona, Jondalar's ex, reduced to a screeching Mean Girl in The Shelters of Stone.  Imagine if the writers (and actress who played her) gave us the opportunity to identify with her?  Showed that Marona's actions were not driven solely by spite and entitlement?  The entire Ayla-Jondalar-Marona storyline could play differently, including its cringeworthy outcome.

And what about Ayla herself?  Auel presents Ayla as unquestionably "good" throughout the series, only adding some gray in The Land of Painted Caves.  But what if Ayla wasn't simply the good and pure child of nature?  What if she had real failings, such as blindness to the impact of the lessons she was teaching ("Oh crap, maybe I shouldn't have told them that men help create babies")?  Or her self righteousness pushed people down paths that were not the best suited for them?

What if Jondalar had more attributes than "hunky sex machine who worries"?  Game of Thrones has had some success making certain characters from A Song of Ice and Fire more complex, and let's hope it's the same way here.         

4.  Subplots Involving Other Characters.  Though Auel occasionally focused on other characters, her novel kept the POVs squarely with Ayla and Jondalar.  But even a television series with just 10 episodes per season has too many episodes for it to be Ayla and Jondalar all the time.  Therefore, it wouldn't be surprising if some characters received subplots that were completely independent of the Ayla-and-Jondalar main plots.  For example, in Season One: Will Oga ever be able to get beyond the nightmare of losing her parents in an earthquake and learn to love Broud?  Season Three: The other Mamutoi are concerned about Vincavec's growing power.  Season Five: Lanoga struggles with growing up way too fast, having to be a mother to Laramar and Tremeda's other children.

These are just some examples.  Done wrong, these subplots can be silly, but done right, they enrich the texture of the show.  

5.  No Scenery Description.  Imagine instead of pages of description, just a long, lingering shot of the plains.  Bliss.

6.  No "Pleasures" Description.  This is where the choice to air the series on Lifetime gets interesting.  Obviously for television, there can be no pages of description of "Pleasures."  Yet because Lifetime is basic cable, it might also influence how much the viewer is shown.  If the series were on HBO, I would expect weekly scenes of Ayla's naked breasts and Jondalar's naked backside (since HBO seems allergic to showing penis), accompanied by their moaning and grunting in "pleasure."  But basic cable would require the series to be more discreet.  So instead, we would see Ayla mostly concealed beneath the furs during the sex scenes.  That might seem like a more prudish choice, but it might also have the effect of making the sex scenes more intimate, more tantalizing.  We can't see it, so we have to imagine.     

7.  Better Conclusion.  Game of Thrones has shown that some story arcs can be rewritten to be more effective.  See, for example, Gendry taking the place of Edric Storm, or Brienne meeting up with Arya.  Here, the Earth's Children writers will have the opportunity to completely rewrite the final dismal chapter of the series.  Surely they must understand that "Hey, men can make babies, too!" is not a satisfying resolution for anyone not named Jean Auel.  Surely they must be aware of the thousand Amazon reviews slamming The Land of Painted Caves.  Since Auel is likely too old to produce a Book Seven, this may be the last chance to make things right.  Show us Durc.  Let the Zelandonii find out about his existence.  Produce a conflict between the Clan and Others, or at least something more compelling than a tour of cave paintings.  Do it, show.  We need you.


The list above takes into account only the ways the show could improve upon the books.  It doesn't consider how the show might simply be different from the books.  Will the show take note of updated research and have Brun and the Clan speak?  Will the Clan be lighter skinned?  Will the show introduce any research that clashes with Auel's utopian vision of Other society?

It also doesn't take into account how a television series could fail in the same way, or even be worse than the book series.  Clan of the Cave Bear would be the toughest to pull off in terms of creating believable interaction between two races of human.  The movie showed how easily that attempt could fail.  Even if the television producers managed to succeed, they would still need to contend with CGI'd mammoths, lions, and other wildlife.  If it looks cheesy and fake, they will lose the audience, unless everything else about the series is really top notch.

So we await the pilot episode of the new series, and look forward to seeing how well television producers can adapt the Earth's Children novels.

The above image was used under the Fair Use Doctrine. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Update: I've Alive, I'm Alive, I Am So Alive!

(If you don't know what I'm referencing, check out this video.  Actually, check it out anyway; it's a good song.)


I don't normally go this long without posting my first update of the month.  Nothing is wrong.  The simple truth is that I have been swamped.  My business is growing, which means more time on client files and doing other legal work.  And with regard to my novel, I am in the process of chiseling it down to 120,000 words (at present, nearing 138,000... so a ways to go).  I am also still researching the sequel, and happily getting closer to feeling like I have enough research.

This weekend, I realized I was exhausted.  I needed to vegetate on July 4 and 5.  July 6 I had to spend reading other peoples' works to prepare for my writers groups early this week.  This coming week is brutal, and the following week won't be fun, either.

I hope I'm not whining.  I'm just letting y'all know why I haven't been posting as frequently.  Plus it's summer; the desire to relax is strong.  I will be going on vacation at some point, and may end up posting some "reruns" that you may have forgotten about during the next month or two.

However, I do have at least one brand-new Movie Musical post coming up, as well as another Through an Introvert's Lens (taking on a guilty pleasure from our childhood).  And probably some other good rants along the way.  Stay tuned.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Book Review: The Seance

As I stated in my The Crimson Petal and the White review, I will be reviewing neo-Victorian novels that were written within the past 10 to 15 years.  I am interested in learning: (1) what aspects of the Victorian Era they incorporate; (2) what "modern" elements they bring; (3) what works and does not work; (4) how well they conform to expectations of "what will sell"; and (5) whether it's a good story.

John Harwood's The Seance (2008) was never a big best seller like The Crimson Petal and the White, but it was well received.  It is quiet in all of the ways that Crimson is flashy, never trying to be about a big idea or a shocking premise.  Yet it still manages to be bittersweet and effective.

The Seance is characterized as a "horror" novel, but I never read it as such.  Instead, I saw it as a novel interested in the supernatural, and in certain fads of that time period.  It uses that angle to explore the hopes and fears of the main characters.


Plot Synopsis

Spoilers to follow.

Set mainly in the 1880s, The Seance focuses on a young English woman named Constance Langton.  When she was a child, her little sister died, and her mother transformed almost overnight into a depressed recluse.  Constance tries to bring her mother out of her depression after learning how to perform seances.  "Perform" being the key word, because Constance does not actually speak to the dead.  Yet she does a convincing enough job of "calling" to her sister to fool her mother, who then commits suicide in order to be with her.

Sometime later, Constance learns that she has inherited Wraxford Hall, a house with a malevolent past.  Wraxford Hall was once owned by Magnus Wraxford, an egomaniacal mesmerist long presumed dead.  As Constance learns more about him and his miserable wife, Eleanor, she wonders if their story could help her understand who she really is.


Victorian Elements

In terms of tone, The Seance feels more like a Victorian novel than The Crimson Petal and the White.  There are some very identifiable Victorian elements, specifically the obsession with mourning.  Losing one or more children to illness was not uncommon back then and the Victorians allegedly responded with more pomp and ritual than any social group before or since.  This mourning fetish can definitely be seen here with Constance's mother: she clings to her dead child and refuses to change her room, much the way Queen Victoria mourned Prince Albert by having his water basin filled every day decades after his death.

The cadence of the writing, with its lightly stilted formality, also feels very Victorian.  But what marks this as a truly "Victorian" novel, in a way that Crimson is not, is the complete lack of sex.  Constance and Eleanor are both proper ladies who might have suitors or fiances, but never sexual thoughts or actions.  This accurately reflects an era where many writers thought it improper to even mention that a married couple slept in the same bed.

As for modern elements, those are difficult to delineate.  The most modern element might be the story structure: it is essentially a story inside a story inside a story, all told in first person, largely through journal accounts.


The Good

Plot and Pacing. The Seance is a suspense novel that turns left when you expect it to turn right, managing to surprise even when you think you know exactly where it is headed.  Harwood does a skillful job deepening the mystery throughout the course of the novel, before springing a series of reveals at the very end.

Characterization. Harwood also excels at creating strong, interesting female characters.  Constance never stops yearning for a real family, yet still manages to be resilient and resourceful.  Eleanor has a unique gift that makes her an outcast in her own family, yet draws the unwavering attention of her future husband.  Her plans to escape him form the bulk of the novel.

Atmosphere. Finally, The Seance maintains a moody, tense atmosphere appropriate to the storyline.  Upon learning that Constance inherited Wraxford Hall, another character advises her to burn it down and salt the earth.  The Hall, built on the ruins of a monastery torn down by Henry VIII, is surrounded by a "monks wood" filled with their ghosts.  At one point, two of the characters are stranded at Wraxford Hall alone in the dark, and though you've seen this sort of thing before, you still hold your breath.  There are all sorts of fascinating objects at the Hall, from a suit of armor to a tomb to a hidden staircase.


The Less Good

Story Structure. The story-within-a-story aspect confused me when I first encountered it, when Constance starts reading accounts by Magnus Wraxford's lawyer, John Montague.  Because his account is first person as well, and his manner of speaking is similar to Constance's, for a while I was confused as to who was the narrator.  It also doesn't help that Montague's section is the slowest of the novel.  Fortunately, things pick back up again once Eleanor's first-person narrative begins, and keep going when the narrative switches back to Constance.

Visuals.  I'm not one to harp on someone's failure to provide enough description (it would be too hypocritical), but in this case, some more concrete details of Wraxford Hall's interior would have helped.  Or maybe it was just that I could not quite visualize the details that Harwood laid out.  During certain pivotal scenes, I had a really hard time understanding some of the action because I just could not see it.    

The Ending.  The final reveals come in a burst, and some are disappointingly pat.  But the resolution to Constance's story line feels like a punch in the gut.  All the poor girl ever wanted was to have a family that loved her, and she is cruelly denied.  While it's true that she seems about to find happiness in a different way, for heaven's sake, the girl needs a mother!  I felt so bad for her in the end, and the reason she is denied her closure, while understandable, seems petty.  It is an ending meant to be bittersweet, but the "bitter" is much stronger, and somewhat diminished my enjoyment of the novel as a whole.


Conclusion

Nonetheless, The Seance is well worth your time, being a good, moody, suspenseful ride that has you guessing until the end.  It is also satisfying as a neo-Victorian novel, with Harwood's writing very much in the style of the period without ever feeling like an imitation.  Since moody, well-paced books have always sold well, how The Seance became well received is the one thing that is not a mystery. 

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Friday, June 20, 2014

Game of Thrones: Book vs. Show

Needless to say, this post contains a few spoilers.

By now, Game of Thrones the HBO series has completed its portrayal of the third -- and arguably the best -- book of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Storm of Swords.  It even dipped into A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons story lines.

As both a reader and a viewer, I can now sit back and make a measured assessment of each medium's strength and weakness.  Whereas before, I did a post comparing the book characters to their show versions, here I will look at which medium does a better job portraying important story moments.


1.  Ned Stark's Death

Setting the Scene: Eddard "Ned" Stark, Hand of King Robert and primary POV of A Game of Thrones, has accused Queen Cersei of conceiving her children (including heir-to-the-throne Joffrey) through incest.  He is then locked up and informed that if he repents his claim, his only punishment will be banishment to the Wall.  Fearing for his daughters' safety at King's Landing, Ned lies and says that he made up his claim.  Unfortunately, the new King Joffrey decides to punish Ned by cutting off his head.

Assessment: Whoa!  The main character never dies!  Both unspoiled readers and viewers were blown away by this break with formula.  It was pulled off incredibly well in both cases, but I give the show the edge for allowing us to see it from multiple points of view all at once.  With the book, the reader must deal with the awkwardness of seeing things from just Arya's perspective.

Winner: Show


2.  The House of the Undying

Setting the Scene: For reasons that are unclear (in the book), or to reclaim her stolen dragons (in the show) Daenerys Targaryen visits the House of the Undying in Qarth.  She then must navigate the mysterious fortress in order to find... something.

Assessment: Daenerys's storyline in A Clash of Kings is rather dull compared to A Game of Thrones, but her visit to the House of the Undying largely makes up for it.  It's like navigating a haunted house with visions that tell the future.  Dany is instructed to go through only the door on the right and always take the stairs up, which leads to a heart-pounding scenario where she sees only doors on the left and realizes at the last second that the last door on the left is the one on the right.  The visions she sees are still being discussed by fans.  Some include literal events in the future (the man with the wolf's head), while others are visions of the past with unknown implications (Raegar and baby Aegon).  It was bold and exciting and... entirely missing in the show version.

In the show, Dany walks into maybe two or three rooms, only one of which suggests something that could occur in the future (the charred remains of the Great Hall at King's Landing).  Then she's chained up and her dragons melt a guy's face and... it's over.  Just doesn't have quite the same impact.

Winner: Book


3.  Battle of the Blackwater

Setting the Scene: Stannis Baratheon has killed his brother Renly and is closing in on the ultimate prize: the Iron Throne.  He just has to conquer King's Landing to do it.  On the other side, Tyrion Lannister prepares for the onslaught with a few tricks up his sleeve.

Assessment: I was never as enamored of the Battle of the Blackwater as many, maybe because I didn't care for Stannis in A Clash of Kings, yet I did not want the Lannisters to win.  However, both book and show do an excellent job laying on the tension.  I recall the book spending more time on Tyrion's battle strategy, including the infamous scene where he prepares the wildfire, as well as a much edgier scene between Sansa and Sandor Clegane.  At the same time, the show had visual delights like the green flames of wildfire on the Blackwater.  Being unrestrained by specific POVs also allowed us to see Stannis's perspective, as well as Cersei's.     

Winner: Draw


4.  The Red Wedding

Setting the Scene: Robb Stark, King in the North, has been winning battles but losing the war.  His greatest misfires were to leave Winterfell relatively unguarded (so Theon Greyjoy could sack it) and to break a pledge to his allies, the Freys.  Robb was supposed to marry a Frey daughter, but instead (in the book) married Jeyne Westerling because he took her virginity or (in the show) married Talisa Maegyr out of love.  The Freys claim that Robb's party can make it right if his uncle, Edmure Tully, marries a Frey daughter instead.  And so Robb, Catelyn, and the Stark bannermen head to their wedding...

Assessment:  The show's depiction of the Red Wedding was pretty horrific, but there was just something about A Storm of Swords's depiction.  The Storm version began with a room filled with too many people, terrible food, and deafening noise.  Catelyn feels ill, but is trying to enjoy the post-wedding festivities.  Yet there are signs that something is off: Edmure's wife keeps sobbing, and is this the first time those musicians ever picked up instruments?!  Then, with a sickening twist, everything unravels.  The musicians are replacing their instruments with weapons.  Stark bannermen are getting shot and stabbed.  Suddenly Robb is shot by quarrels.  The scene is told from Catelyn's point of view, and you can feel her growing desperation and madness, right down to her final plea for Ned to rescue her.

While I'm just as glad the show never depicted Catelyn clawing the skin off of her face, I feel that it erred in going for sudden shock over growing tension.  Especially since the shock of Talisa getting stabbed, like, a thousand times in her pregnant belly had disturbing misogynistic overtones.        

Winner: Book


5.  The Purple Wedding

Setting the Scene: King Joffrey, the world's greatest monster, has just wed Margaery Tyrell and everyone is gathered for the wedding feast.  What could possibly go wrong?

Assessment:  I'm a little sorry that the show could not portray the 70-odd courses that were present at the book feast, but otherwise, the show did a nice job recreating the tension in A Storm of Swords.  (Not surprising: George RR Martin wrote this episode.)  Joffrey was appropriately vile and insulting.  His death scene was fast, and Jack Gleeson did an effective job portraying the scared little boy Joffrey truly was.  Oh, and pigeon pie!

Winner: Draw


6.  Lysa Arryn's Death

Setting the Scene: Sansa has finally fled King's Landing under the protection of Peter Baelish ("Littlefinger").  Baelish marries Sansa's aunt, Lysa Arryn, and they move to the Eyrie.  Lysa is so in love with Baelish that it drives her insane when she sees him kiss Sansa one morning.  So Lysa decides to solve the problem by tossing Sansa out the Moon Door, where 600 feet of nothing lies between her and the ground.  Baelish manages to talk Lysa out of it, before surprising her with the revelation that he has always loved Catelyn instead... and shoving her out the Moon Door.   


Assessment: Everything about this scene, and the lead up, works better in the book.  The scene lasts longer and is more intense.  Baelish must work harder to rescue Sansa from Lysa's clutches.  Lysa's madness means more because we understand the history behind it -- how she lost her virginity to Baelish and supported him at King's Landing all those years.  (It also gives more meaning to other scenes where Lysa's father is dying and he keeps apologizing for "Tansy.")  This is also where the reader first learns that Lysa poisoned Jon Arryn at Baelish's behest, then lied about it to the Starks, paving the way for the events in A Game of Thrones.

By contrast, the show's portrayal of this scene feels rushed.  And why on earth would Baelish talk her down from way across the hall like that?  That said, the show has done everything beyond Lysa's death better.  I thought it was clever the way Martin had Baelish set up Lysa's singer as the murderer, but in the show, it was even better that the lack of a clear alibi led to Sansa revealing her true identity to the Vale lords.  Sansa post-Lysa seems empowered and possibly dangerous to Baelish, whereas book Sansa is learning, but still seems timid and afraid to act.    

Winner: Book

Winner of the Aftermath: Show (for now)


7.  Oberyn Martell's Fight With the Mountain

Setting the Scene: Tyrion's trial for the murder of Joffrey isn't going so well, until an unlikely person steps in to serve as his champion in a trial by combat: Oberyn Martell.  Oberyn wants revenge against the man (Gregor Clegane) who raped and killed his sister, as well as the man (Tywin Lannister) who urged him on.  And so the fight between man and Mountain begins...

Assessment: There are some aspects of the book version that I wish the show had included, such as Tyrion's horror at Oberyn using just a spear to fight the Mountain.  The book version of the fight scene also seems to last longer, with Oberyn dancing along, jabbing at the Mountain repeatedly.  And there's something about a stable boy getting killed...

The show scene is shorter, but more acrobatic (love those mid-air spins, Oberyn).  It also has the benefit of two things: a deeper characterization of Oberyn, so that we care about what happens to him in addition to what happens to Tyrion, and a subversion of tropes.  The scene begins in a broadly comical manner that so many of these David and Goliath scenes begin with: "Oh my God, are you crazy?  You are so dead!"  Then, usually, the David bests the Goliath, everyone cheers, and David and his love interest share a kiss.  In this case, Oberyn's gruesome death is sadly true to the book.  

Winner: Draw


8.  The Battle of Castle Black

Setting the Scene: The wildlings have banded together in a massive army led by Mance Rayder.  Their goal is to get beyond the Wall and infiltrate the Seven Kingdoms.  Only the badly undermanned Night's Watch can stop them, led by Jon Snow.  And so the fight begins.

Assessment: Until this point, the Night's Watch chapters in the book were among my least favorite.  Once Castle Black prepared for battle, everything seemed to kick into a higher gear and I found myself turning the pages eagerly.  The same cannot be said for the show version.  Whereas the book battle seems to build steadily throughout A Storm of Swords, the show loses the thread by having Jon and the Night's Watch make a side trip to Craster's Keep for... reasons.  So instead of spending more time preparing for what is to come, Jon and the Night's Watch seem to remember the big, overwhelming forces approaching them at the last minute.  The show also made the mistake of isolating the Battle of Castle Black in a single episode the way it did the Battle of the Blackwater.  Even though Castle Black is arguably more important in the grand scheme, it does not make for nearly as compelling a viewing experience.     

Winner: Book


9.  Tyrion's Escape

Setting the Scene: Jamie frees Tyrion from his cell before he is to be killed.  Before they part (in the book) Jaime confesses that Tysha, Tyrion's wife from long ago, was not really a whore after his money, but someone who truly loved him.  This devastates Tyrion because he believed Tywin's claims that Tysha was a whore and let her be gang raped by Lannister soldiers.  Tyrion parts ways with Jaime bitterly, telling him that Cersei was fucking around while Jaime was gone and "yes, I killed your vile son."  Tyrion then makes his way through the underground King's Landing passageways until he finds the one leading to the Tower of the Hand.  There, he discovers Shae in Tywin's bed and, after strangling her to death, goes to find Tywin...

Assessment: There is nothing wrong with the show's portrayal of events, except that they are surprisingly rushed.  So many Tyrion scenes were allowed to linger in Season Four (including a speech about beetles), yet this was the sequence that really needed breathing room.  Instead, Tyrion quickly finds and kills Shae, with minimal struggle, before going after Tywin in the privy.  (That never made sense to me in the book or show: it's not like Tyrion is six feet tall and weighs 200 pounds.  Would Shae really be so powerless to overcome him?)  The final dialogue between show Tyrion and Tywin lacks the power that it had in the book.  Not to mention Tyrion's dry observation that Tywin Lannister did not really shit gold.

While I don't mind the Tysha scene's removal, I was really bothered by the Shae scene because of the show's earlier characterization of her.  In the book, she is always just a dumb, greedy whore.  During the trial, she reveals herself to be a dumb, greedy whore who was always playing Tyrion.  In the last scene, we learn that she is a dumb, greedy whore who was, and may have always been, Tywin's paramour.

Whereas in the show, Shae is painted as being more complex.  She sincerely cares about Tyrion and Sansa.  On more than one occasion, she urges Tyrion to run away with her to Essos.  So what are we supposed to make of her betrayal at the trial and subsequent move to Tywin's bed?  Was it really because she thought Tyrion stopped loving her when he called her a "whore" (trying to make her leave so she would be safe)?  Was it because the Lannisters captured her before she could escape, and Tywin thereafter made her his bed companion?  An explanation would have been helpful.  No actually, what would have helped was a story change to suit the new Shae: such as Tyrion finding her already dead because she tried to kill Tywin.                   

Winner: Book


10.  Brienne's Search for Sansa (and Arya)

Setting the Scene: Brienne swears an oath to Catelyn Stark to bring her daughters back to her.  To that end, Brienne is tasked with bringing Jaime Lannister to King's Landing as an exchange.  Unfortunately, by the time Brienne arrives at King's Landing (in the book) the Purple Wedding has happened and Sansa already fled, and/or (in the show) Brienne learns that Catelyn and Robb were killed.  And everyone thinks that Arya has been dead, like, forever.  So Jaime gives Brienne Oathkeeper and has her go out in search of Sansa (and only Sansa, in the book).

Assessment: I like that the show denizens of King's Landing still remember Arya, unlike their book counterparts.  That leads to many more interesting possibilities than what the book has in place.  In A Feast for Crows, Brienne wanders through the Crownlands, constantly asking random people if they have seen "a young maid of three-and-ten" with Sansa's description.  The rest of the time is spent feeling angsty about her boyish upbringing.  By contrast, show Brienne's trajectory feels much sharper: she actually heads in a direction where the Stark girls might be, meets someone who knew Arya, and finally meets up with Arya herself, with awesome results.  Next season might find her continuing on to the Vale and meeting with Sansa (as Alayne).  That said, show Brienne's search could receive a downgrade if she doesn't meet a very important character that appears in the books (you book people know who I'm talking about).     

Winner: Show (for now)

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Through an Introvert's Lens: Wicked

For my first look at introverts in the media, I decided to go with the popular stage musical, Wicked.

Wicked is, of course, the retelling of The Wizard of Oz from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West, with the intent of making her sympathetic.  It began as a novel called Wicked: the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire, published in 1995.  Eight years later, Wicked premiered as a musical in San Francisco, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.  While the musical made several changes, the basic elements remained the same: the story was about Elphaba, a misunderstood misfit born with green skin.

The Plot

There be spoilers ahead!

Elphaba's mother was the wife of the Munchkins' governor.  After the governor went away, her mother had an affair with a mysterious man, and out of that affair came Elphaba.  Scarred by her daughter's appearance, Elphaba's mother ate milk-flowers so that her second child would be normal.  Instead, the flowers weakened her mother, so that she died during childbirth and Elphaba's sister, Nessarose, was born crippled.  Elphaba's "father," the governor, blamed Elphaba for the tragedy, and steadfastly ignored her all her life, while doting on Nessarose.  Elphaba takes on the burden of caring for her sister, right up until they both leave for Shiz University.

There, Elphaba learns that she will be roommates with the blonde, perky, spoiled Galinda (later Glinda).  They hate each other on sight, and Galinda and her many friends constantly mock Elphaba to her face and behind her back.  Galinda even gives Elphaba her famous black pointed hat as a way of punishing her; Galinda's grandmother gave her the hat and she hates it.  However, both girls have a change of heart after each does something unexpectedly nice for the other.  Before long, Galinda has declared Elphaba her new friend and "project": she's going to make her popular!  At the very least, Elphaba gets the attention of the hot new guy in town, Fiyero.  He quickly shares her concern about the animals in Oz, which are mysteriously losing their ability to speak.

Elphaba finally gets to share her concerns with the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz, only to learn that he is the one behind the animal abuse.  When Elphaba refuses to do his bidding, the Wizard blames the animal abuse and disfigurement on her, and Elphaba decides to embrace her new identity as the Wicked Witch of the West.  Galinda, meanwhile, remains loyal to the Wizard, despite knowing the terrible things that he has done.      

There is more, but that is the set-up.  The rest will be discussed in the analysis.


Is Elphaba an Introvert?

Elphaba is an outcast from beginning to end, no question.  But as I said in my Introduction, outcasts and introverts are not necessarily one and the same.  So before she embraces her supremely confident alter-ego, the Wicked Witch, what is she like?

She is shy, awkward, and reclusive.  She is not fond of small talk and is uncomfortable at large social gatherings (see, for example, her dance scene).  She relates to Fiyero by discussing causes dear to her heart, helping animals who have lost their powers.  She is studious and deeply talented.  

It is difficult to say how much of Elphaba's personality is innate, and how much was shaped by her being ostracized.  But all in all, Elphaba has several character traits that are associated with introverts.


Is Wicked Overall Pro-Introvert or Anti-Introvert?

You could argue that the very fact that Wicked exists makes it a pro-introvert narrative.  Otherwise, all we would know about Elphaba was that she was evil and perished when Dorothy threw water on her.  Wicked "sets the record straight" by explaining Elphaba's true good intentions, and lets us see that she had a happily ever after of sorts after all.  

On the other hand, the fact that this revised history is necessary suggests that Elphaba got, well, screwed over.  And even within the revised narrative, the message appears to be: society doesn't appreciate you and treats you like shit, but at least you get the guy at the end.  Yay?

Let's look at the story from the beginning.  From the moment Elphaba arrives at Shiz University, she is mocked for her green skin color.  While the other students might have mocked Elphaba regardless of her personality, in all likelihood, they did so because they saw that she was different in other ways -- she wore glasses, unflattering clothing, and preferred to avoid gossip and other small talk.

The mockery continues right up until the popular and extroverted Galinda decides that it is no longer okay.  Until then, Galinda was too happy to partake, gossiping with friends about how horrible it was to room with Elphaba, reveling in their murmurs of sympathy.  Galinda stopped her behavior after Elphaba did something genuinely nice for her in return for something fake-nice that Galinda did for Nessarose.

Though the mockery stops, Galinda decides that her new "friend" cannot remain in her current uncool state.  So she decides to give her a makeover.


I don't think the viewer is meant to side with Galinda, or find her antics anything more than amusing.  But it is a bit presumptuous of her to give Elphaba a makeover after she's already declined her offer.

After a makeover that consists of little more than "not-so-ugly girl takes off her glasses and wears her hair down," Elphaba attracts Fiyero's attention.  In a refreshing change of pace, he merely notes that Elphaba has been "Galinda'd."  Still, would he have talked to her in the first place if she dressed the same as before?

He becomes better friends with Elphaba after their shared experience freeing a lion cub from a cage.  However, he remains an anomaly; Elphaba's peers by and large remain cool to her, until the Wizard turns against her -- then they're only too happy to buy his claims that she is evil and the cause of every known harm.  Elphaba remains so reviled for the rest of the story.  Never do the public learn the truth about who she really is.  If not for her eventual reunion with Fiyero, she would have had to spend her exile alone.

Elphaba begins the story hopeful, singing: "Unlimited!  My future is unlimited!"  She ends it with: "I'm limited.  Just look at me."  It's a sad note that would have been sadder if not for Galinda's vow to carry on Elphaba's work to free abused animals.  An enormous amount of Elphaba's happiness hinges upon whether Galinda ever "gets" it.

Meanwhile, Galinda's storyline in Wicked is fairly charmed.  She is adored by her peers, gets an important social position after sucking up to the Wizard, and in the end, gets to be even more powerful after Elphaba gives her a book of spells, the Grimmerie.

Of course, you could also view Galinda's story in a different light: she learns that her values are shallow compared to Elphaba's.  She learns that she can't have everything she wants when Fiyero shows a clear preference for Elphaba despite being "perfect together" with Galinda.  This leads her to mature, take control of Oz from the corrupt Wizard, and carry out Elphaba's vision.

Yes, you could view the story as Galinda's redemption.  Except that she is not really challenged, apart from not getting the guy.  And not getting the guy is arguably a small price to pay for getting to wield power and never really losing your agency.  Would Elphaba give up Fiyero if it meant being able to fulfill her vision out in the open, without being shunned and mocked?  Possibly.

Some of Elphaba's troubles could be associated with any insurgent character, introvert or no.  A person trying to stop high-level corruption will almost inevitably face a powerful backlash.  But it's questionable whether Elphaba would be waging such a lonely war (with only Galinda and Fiyero as allies) if she were not introverted.  Her introversion gave people an initial reason to scorn her, and they saw no reason to change their minds after she became the Wicked Witch.  Conversely, Galinda's extroverted nature attracted people, and she built upon that attraction, becoming a person of power and influence.

Basically Wicked's bottom line seems to be: we know you deserve much better, Elphaba.  Unfortunately, we're going to wait until it's too late to clear your name.  Damn society.  Sorry.

Then again, there is only so much you can do to revise a narrative that ends with the main character melting after being doused with water.


Conclusion

So to sum up, here is how Wicked fares with its treatment of introverts:

Number of Introverts: One

Is the Introvert Prominent?: Yes

Is the Introvert Active?: Yes

How Do Other Characters Treat the Introvert?: Like a pariah, except for a handful of people.

What Is the Introvert's Reward/Punishment Compared to Others?: She gets shunned and her reputation destroyed, while the main extroverted character gets to assume a position of power.  

Silver lining: she gets the guy.



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