I think most authors have been inspired by the work of someone else. I’ve mentioned many times that Terry Brooks was the one who kickstarted my imagination and a desire to write fantasy novels. But there is someone else whose influence on my mind during those earlier years also deserves some credit, but not in the way you might think. You see, before George R.R. Martin wrote Game of Thrones and catapulted to superstardom as an author, I had become familiar with one of his earlier works.
It wasn’t a book, but a television series from the ‘80s called Beauty & the Beast on CBS. It was on Fridays nights and I used to watch it every weekend after work. The television series had a simple (albeit fantastical) plot – that there is a civilization of outcasts living beneath the streets of Manhattan. One of these outcasts is a half-man, half-beast named Vincent who rescued an injured woman named Catherine Chandler in Central Park and took her below to save her life. Catherine ends up working in the district attorney’s office and the two share an empathetic link that allows Vincent to experience her emotions and feelings and save her from danger when she gets in over her head. She’s also quite good at taking people down herself, having studied self-defense after recovery.
It’s a syrupy, melodramatic series to say the least, but it engaged my imagination and opened up a love of the classics that I continue to enjoy and it certainly influenced me and my writing. Let me name a few ways:
- In the pilot episode, as Catherine is trying to recuperate in the underground from her severe injuries, Vincent reads to her the Dicken’s novel Great Expectations. It was that episode that made me check out the book from the library and read it. I’ve read it multiple times, and recently listened to it again during my commute. I still have the last paragraph memorized, as quoted by Catherine in that episode, and it’s still my favorite Dicken’s novel. I’ve always thought the blacksmith Joe was a great Virtus character. He still is.
- The series is also full of wonderful classical music. There was an episode about a young boy who was a piano prodigy, who could play any song he heard by ear. Although the boy lives in a world of gangs and drug lords, he has a gift which sets him apart until something tragic happens. That episode introduced me to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. I taught myself how to play that song and it’s still one of my favorites to play as well as one I can play from memory today.
- In the underworld of Beauty & the Beast, there was a despicable villain named John Pater, a genius chemist who Vincent defeats multiple times but who continues to torment the community below as well as unleash drugs on the world above. He’s a deliciously evil man, a master of disguise and impersonation. He was known as Paracelsus, which readers of my Mirrowen series will recognize. The name ‘Paracelsus’ comes from a medieval alchemist in history.
- Music is a huge part of the Beauty & the Beast story. Vincent and Catherine often went to concerts together through the underground chambers where they could listen to New York orchestra’s perform above. My love of Antonio Vivaldi came from some of these scenes, especially The Four Seasons and its amazing violin movements. It turns out that Vivaldi and I share a birthday. The emotions that classical music can generate continue to inspire me.
- Finally, the series was wonderful at creating tension and angst. Like any good television show, they wanted you to come back the next week. It was especially good at cliffhanger endings. In fact, the last episode of the second season was probably the best cliffhanger ever. CBS cancelled the show after that, much to the outrage of fans. Eventually they relented and decided to film a 3rd season, which (in my opinion) was so awful that I still hold that the series truly ended after the second season, leaving us with a cliffhanger that still echoes in my mind with Catherine screaming Vincent’s name. So you can blame my tendency to do cliffhangers on Mr Martin.
When I first learned of Game of Thrones and discovered that the author had originally written screenplays for my favorite TV show in high school, I was quick to pick it up. Unfortunately, the world he created was dark, more violent, and not the kind of world that I would ever want to visit. And so I guess you could say he inspired me one more time, to write another world that had some of the magic and beauty I had experienced earlier. A world that many of my readers would love to visit if only it were real. I could almost hear Colvin saying these words at the end of Scourge of Muirwood:
I took her hand in mine, and we went out of the ruined place; and, as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the [abbey], so the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, I saw no shadow of another parting from her.
— Charles Dickens, Great Expectations