Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen


I'm in the middle of two fiction series I'm gobbling down with great huge spoilers for the plots. On DVD I'm watching the seventh season of The West Wing, and in print I'm reading Reginald Hill's Dalziel/Pascoe series.

The major spoiler for The West Wing came from the IMDB. I went to see what my favorite actors from it are doing now, to see if they had other projects that I should add to my list of things to try. Richard Schiff, who played Toby, is filming a new series, so that's good, and I'm amused at the prospect of Allison Janney (C.J.) doing voice acting for a kids' cartoon, and...John Spencer (Leo) had a death date listed. John Spencer had a death date listed that was before the end of the series. I don't keep track of actors mostly. I didn't know. But I did know that there was no way they could write Leo out of the series while keeping the character alive. So I've got this sort of hanging over me, this major spoiler that the character's death not only happens but goes hand in hand with the actor's sudden and unexpected death.

I also know who wins the Presidential election in that series, which is not the whole of the season's plot but is a major chunk of the middle of it.

And it turns out that those things are not making me less eager to see the rest of this season. Rather, they're making me more eager. (Granted, in the matter of Leo's death it's more of an "I know this is ahead of me and would like to get it over with" sort of eager.) Clearly they know it can work that way sometimes, that knowing how things will go will make people interested in how they got there--it's a trick as old as epics, starting in the middle, and Season 7 exploits it a bit in the first episode by showing a few minutes of the dedication of the Presidential library a few years later. (I am simply glad, for their sake, that they didn't have to re-frame that season beginning as a dream or a wish: John Spencer wasn't in that part.) Showing C.J. with Danny, making reference to their baby, having Toby there and thanking Jed for the invitation: these things would be spoilers if they came from outside the show, but they're there as hooks, and they work as hooks.

And in a lot of ways I think we don't have any business, as creators in the 21st century, in the internet culture we've got, assuming that our readers or viewers or listeners will be able to be tabula rasa when they come to our works. I don't think we've got any business assuming that their friends won't say, "You HAVE to read this book, it is SO GOOD, particularly the part where the MAJOR PLOT POINT HAPPENS," or that they won't stumbled upon a blog post that was cut-tagged for spoilers but linked without the cut, or something like that. I think it's better, if we can possibly manage it, to tell stories that are robust enough that people still want them even if they know how they end.

Which seems to be what Reginald Hill is doing with the Dalziel/Pascoe mysteries, whether he meant to or not. Unlike pretty much every other mystery series I've read lately, I've been reading these in nearly random order. It is pure luck I didn't get Death's Jest Book before Dialogues of the Dead, or something else that wouldn't have worked as well. But if I'd waited for the first one, I'd still be waiting. wshaffer said it was all right to read them out of order, and I believed her, and she was right. And I think part of that comes in the nature of my reaction to these particular characters. The thing is, I like them. I don't just like to read about them, I like them. And when you make friends with somebody, you don't make them back up and tell you all their good preschool anecdotes first and stop them from telling you whether or not they are a grandparent until you hear how their college romance(s) worked out.

So I met Wield, for example, as an out and happily partnered gay man. And recently I read the one where he meets his partner, and I didn't think, "Oh, dammit, I know how this comes out already," I thought, "Oh, this is the one where they meet!" I met the Pascoes as a couple who had survived some personal crises together. I met Dalziel as someone who has a romantic relationship, or at least a sexual one, and that was misleading, because the course of etc. never did etc. etc. But getting there is more than half the fun. It's the overwhelming majority of the fun.

I have the feeling that at some point I'll want to go back through and reread these in order, just to see how it unfolds. I know that Ellie's Odysseus thing will read differently when I have much more experience of Dalziel. I know that the appearance of Shirley Novello will look different when I've gone through books and books of the women police officers being referred to as WPCs and treated like jumped-up chaperones, useful mostly for patting down and calming down women suspects than it did the first time, when I had "Ivor" for one of the characters right away. It'll be different--but I don't think it's wrong this way. Some series would be. But not this one.

I think I'm doing all right with this on the Carter Hall stories, because people have shown an interest in the first story, the story that goes with the Tam Lin ballad, even though it's pretty clear Janet does save Tam or he wouldn't be in the others. And I wonder if series survive heavy spoilers better if they rely a lot on voice. The West Wing is not interesting because there's a US President and his staff trying to avert a war in Kazakhstan in it, it's interesting because of how they act towards each other and what they say while doing so. The same with the Dalziel/Pascoe mysteries: yes, people get murdered, and often those cases even get solved, but in the meantime they do things and talk to each other, and that matters. The texture of the detail matters. So that's part of what I'm trying to do there myself.
Tags: bookses precious, carter hall, small screen

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