I’ve just finished reading the Judas Pair (again), and there’s something bugging me.
Every time I read something I try to map the locations onto places I’ve previously been. I’m not quite sure why. If it were, for example, a book about Bishop’s Castle (God help us), I’d try to dump my recollections of the place on top, which is fine. I’ve no trouble with the Malcom Pryce books, because Aber fits fairly neatly on top of ‘em, most of the time, and that sort of thing doesn’t really bother me – after all, if something is set in a real-life location, it’s only natural to think of it as set there.
What’s more weird is the way I take other places and bend them round fictional settings. Lovejoy’s cottage, for example, is firmly mapped onto the ground floor of the house my grandmother used to have in Pleck Road, Walsall, somewhere about as un-wattle-and-daub-Norfolk-y as it’s possible to get, but it’s been mapped onto that ever since I started reading the book, although it took me ages to realise that this was the case. But at least it’s the only place I map things onto.
My infants school, on the other hand, shows no such self-control; in it’s time it’s been made to fit – with astonishing neatness and no overlapping bits, in every case – Linbury Court, the place Billy Bunter lives, the floorplan of Hogwarts (which, despite its having been thrown up in the 60′s out of concrete and pebbledashing, it still manages to do far better than the full-blown film version) and, on those occasions when Ruth’s talked about her school, St. Elphin’s as well.
Now some of this makes sense. Using my infants school as the layout for Jennings books works because I started reading those when I was in year 5, at the junior school over the road, and painfully aware that the two styles of school couldn’t be reconciled. Thieving the floorplan of somewhere sufficiently distant for me to feel some level of nostalgia, therefore, made perfect sense. However, by the time I read Harry Potter (note lack of present tense, please), I’d got plenty of other places to work with, and yet I still used Hadley Infants. The “other places to work with” had doubled by the time Ruth was talking to me about her place, and I’d even seen photos of it, but, time and again, the old hall from Hadley raises itself up a couple of floors and does the office of a common room. It’s like my brain is too lazy to store more than one set of backdrops, and it’s hoping the stuff in the foreground will make up for it.
This might be something everyone does – I know my father used to think of Green Knowe as being his grandmother’s house in Kineton, and, obviously, I know I used to think of it as being (as it then was) my grandmother’s house in Newport, and that’s probably because it’s not a story you can map onto a place sorely lacking in a big evergreen tree, even if it isn’t a yew…
To an extent, it all makes some sense. But the flexibility of the places amazes me. Seriously, the infants school hall is a perfect match for the dorms in Jennings, or, indeed, what Ruth has told me about, and the hall at Hogwarts, although I tend to ignore the silly ceiling, and everything bends itself around whatever place I’m reading about, to make sure it all fits brilliantly, which is always does.
Except, if I’m doing all the work of bending things around so the fit so well, why don’t I just imagine things from scratch?
Because, I suspect, they’re never as good.
Moria, for example, is waaaay better in my head than it is in the films, and that’s great, and, by and large, a standard requirement for any film adaptation. But compared to the floorplan of – I’m using it because I think it counts as a more mainstream example than Jennings – of Hogwarts, even when that floorplan consists largely of walls painted in magnolia, lino floortiles and low ceilings with the occasional pot-plant on the windowsill – it sucks. Even though I have, somewhere along the way, gone to the effort of dreaming up neatly carved steps and things.
Which, I suppose, is why people like telly more than books; it tries to do all the hard work for you…