All About the Tuning

How does this make you feel? :)

Time for rambling on an extended metaphor.

George MacDonald once wrote: “If there be music in my reader, I would gladly wake it.”

He has stirred my soul to music many times, yet I know, for some, he only strikes a discord. Does this mean they have no music in them?

I think not. It is all about the tuning.

I came to this metaphor while driving one night and I have been turning it over in my mind ever since. The existence of the phrase “strike a chord” tells me that I’m only now catching on to a very old idea. I wonder if the thought occurred to the first human ever to play an instrument.

Literature, music, art, and people are often associated with melody and discord in the soul, but I think every experience plays on us. Places, smells, colors, and noises in nature and the world around us create “sound” in this way.

Unlike instruments, however, humans are not passive in this process. It is here that the metaphor breaks down, though not completely.

It would be senseless to argue that I can only react a certain way to something because of my predisposition. I don’t simply mean changing my mind, as that can be subconscious, a change in circumstances which changes my tuning (and my tuning changes ceaselessly).  I am speaking of awareness of my reactions. The music or discord retains its instinctual nature, but it does not have to rule me.

Why does the scent of reindeer lichen stir my soul to depths of joy? Why does the sight of corrugated steel make me a little ill? The reasons, or even understanding that there are reasons, give me power to explore my own feelings and avoid being judgmental when the feelings of others contradict my own. This also allows me to hold an opinion that is not based on my feelings. This kind of understanding seems to be missing from many political arenas and social conversations. I am not a relativist, but I do believe that attempting to understand the “other” point of view is vital for civilized discourse.

How this ties into storytelling:

What resonates with people in a story has an instinctual quality. The persistence of cliches, archetypes and tropes is a symptom of this. Tropes would not exist if they did not play certain chords on a segment of people and this makes them handy tools in storytelling, but tools that require careful use. But that is a post for another time. :)

Details, description, and theme are also powerful influences on a reader. My personal philosophy of writing, at present, demands that I balance effect on the audience with my own preferences, while the integrity of the story itself trumps both. I have very little control over  what chords I strike in an individual, as authors I read have little control over my reactions to their work. That is something that every writer should accept for the sake of sanity. No matter how good a job we do in writing, some people are not going to like what we create.

In speaking with the inspiring blogger BeKindRewrite, I realized that the musical metaphor has some bearing on my reaction to beloved books turned into films. I have discovered that the key, for me, is tone. One cannot expect a film and a book to strike exactly the same chords in a person. However, differing details between the works may be acceptable if the tone of the film is similar to that of the book.


“Lord of the Rings” trilogy: Peter Jackson’s film interpretation of the story differs from the books in many respects. He changes characters, plot devices, and lines, sometimes to good effect and sometime to bad. So why do I like the films as an interpretation of the novels? I resonate in much the same way when I read one of Tolkien’s sweeping scenes and when Jackson pans in on Meadowseld with the strings-heavy Rohan theme playing. The same is true of the new “Tintin” movie, the “Princess Bride,” and the 1995 film “Persuasion.”

Then there are the films that strike a very different chord in me from the books on which they are based. It does not follow that they are bad films or that I dislike them (though some I dislike very much). Examples of this include the new “Sherlock Holmes” films, the 2005 “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” the 2005 “Pride and Prejudice,” and horror of horrors, the 1978 “Watership Down.”

I have rambled all over the place with this idea, and could ramble still more, but I think I should draw to a close. I have come to a two-fold conclusion in this exploration:

1. An awareness of the music and discord within us all can make me more tolerant of the opinions of others. I may still have views regarding the quality of an artistic work, but I can easily accept and respect the fact that what makes music in one person, may make dissonance in another without the need to devalue the opinion of one.

2. To anyone who transfers a work from one art form into another: Heed the tone. If you can get that right, you are more than halfway to your goal.


About jubilare

Just another tree in the proverbial forest. Look! I have leaves! View all posts by jubilare

12 responses to “All About the Tuning

  • Colleen

    How is this related to the discussion with Austin a week ago? I am trying to remember if it was tangential or essentially the same.

  • palecorbie

    You’re supporting Temel’s theory that Half-Note made the noisy people, you know…

    [twitch] Watership Down…it’s odd how people can’t tell liberalisim from relativisim nowadays, and slightly alarming. I have been looking for new songs of late (in many senses) in the hopes that a change of diet will make my muse do something, or anything. [can’t feel Reason at present and is mildly distressed at this] Do you have any reccommendations?

    Also, what is burning down in the picture? Not that it’s not yay regardless…

    • jubilare


      Isms in general seem to be getting confused… like… REALLY confused. It is rather disturbing to me.

      I have some Scottish songs relating to the exploits of Prince Charlie… would that do? We recently digitized them from an old cassette tape we had when I was growing up.

      *chuckles* world burning…
      Nothing, I fear, though it is still a yay. It’s a geyser in Yellowstone National Park. It is in a flat area covered in sinks, steam-vents, geysers and hot springs… all very volcanic, dramatic, and likely to eventually explode.

      • palecorbie

        Face it, you’re a kind of bear.

        American politics in general disturb me, but yeah…I suspect the ignorant are throwing around some words and others are going “oh, that’s a bad thing now?” and making up new words.

        [growls at Bonnie Prince Charlie] Stupid Stuart bastard…ah, who’s singing them?


        • jubilare

          I only vaguely recall that conversation, I fear.

          American politics are very, very scary to me right now. Unfortunately, the not-so-ignorant are turning words into hot-buttons for convenience sake, and the ill-informed are picking them up and running with them.

          *amused* they’re pretty songs, though as one might expect many are sad and grim. It’s a group singing and playing, and I like the voices of both the male and female lead vocals. Who they are, though, I do not know. It was a radio program on National Public Radio when I was a young child.

          Very yikes, but awesome in the full meaning of the word.

          • palecorbie

            Their entire philosophy is closely related to song and resonance, hence the trickster-god playing all the sharps, as it were…you were telling kitten off for proclaiming to humans that any evoloutionary faults were due to Kuvi’s variable attention span as he “re-sang” humans into being from a base of an upright sort of bear (in imitation of Kerre’s re-singing a kind of tundra cat into elves to give her brother a decent wife and basically to cause trouble) – which is why Nerriméans refer to the young of humans as “cubs”.

            Trust me, the rest of the world is more scared…ugh.

            They would probably help, then. Folktales seem to be helping a bit.

            I’ve seen a geyser at mid-distance in NZ…

          • jubilare

            I’ll move this bunny trail (or Temel-trail, I guess) to e-mail and begin sending you songs.


            Will send.

            It’s best not to get too nigh them, but in Yellowstone one can get very close to dangerous things even if you aren’t trying to win a Darwin Award.

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  • Stephanie

    Good one to repost – this is one of your articles that has really stuck with me since I first read it, though I disagree with you on some of the examples. I felt Lion, Witch & Wardrobe struck the right chord for the most part. There were a few sour notes (and certainly the other two movies nose-dived).

    Forgive me if I’ve told you this before (we’ve now been friends long enough to accidentally repeat conversations XD), but my favorite part was when concerned Peter and Susan go to the professor about Lucy lying. And they say “She thinks she’s found a magical land…” (at which the professor chuckles) “…in the upstairs wardrobe.” (at which the professor immediately goes serious). There were details like that throughout the movie that I loved.

    But that also goes back to your comment about opinions and predisposition (and I agree about corrugated metal – yich). And about the beam of light in the garden shed. :-)

    • jubilare

      I need to see it again. I watched it with a friend who was, I think, very hard on it because she loved the book so very much. Her expectations were very high.

      But yes! It’s hard to know what, in each of us, resonates with a work. We may like the same book, but for two very different reasons, and so we may easily be divided on the tone of an adaptation if it veers more closely to capturing what one loved about the book but not so much what the other loved.

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