If you like the movie

The post title refers to a line by critic Vincent Canby quoted by Roger Ebert: “Consistency only counts if you don’t like the movie.” Which makes perfect sense to me, except it’s understatement: Character, plot, historical accuracy only count if you don’t like the movie. Or the book.
This is another aspect of something I blogged about back in August (here too)——that some stories press buttons that just make us unable to accept them. Over and above specific points——character types or cliches we hate or themes that we love——some works just click. Or don’t click. And based on that we decide whether the characterization/historical accuracy/plot holes are fatal flaws or minor problems (romance novelist Susanna Fraser makes a similar point on her blog).
Case in point: Edgar Rice Burroughs. I love his books and I’ve read plenty of them, but he certainly had his faults: Huge reliance on coincidence (as I point out at the link, the odds of him winding up in the same cell as his son in Gods of Mars are well, nil), endless repetition in the later Tarzan books (lost city of crusaders, lost city of Romans, lost city of——well, you get the picture) and the sexism of his time (while it’s totally noncanonical, I can understand why Marvel’s John Carter, Warlord of Mars comic made Dejah Thoris a warrior in her own right [I think the current comic adaptation from Dynamite does the same). But I “like the movie” and that liking overrides the flaws, even now that I’m old enough and critical enough to be aware of them.
Conversely, Heinlein never works for me. It’s not that I can point to any critical flaw in his older ones (the ones written when he was in poor health in later life, such as Number of the Beast I think are horrible), they just lie flat and lifeless on the page for me. Chris Carter’s TV work ditto, despite the cult popularity of The X-Files (The Lone Gunmen being the exception). I sometimes think of works like these as dog whistles: They’re pitched at a frequency I just don’t pick up.
In a sense, any work that connects with a reader in spite of its faults falls into a “likes the movie” category. In some cases, it connects with enough people to become big——regardless of their flaws, the series has something that hooks readers by the droves and becomes a success (I suspect everyone reading this can probably think of one like that, whether they were charmed by it or not).
Now, if I could just figure out a magic formula for doing it …


Filed under Reading, Writing

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