Have a question about something fantasy-related? Ask the Oracle! (Be sure to include your first name and the city, state, and/or country you are writing from.)
Q: If Merlin, which is now airing on NBC, aired last fall as a series on BBC in Britain, why can’t I buy all thirteen episodes on DVD? Shouldn’t it be out by now? — Nina, Richmond, VA
A: Yes, and it is — but, alas, not in the United States.
The Oracle forewarns you: this answer is a little wonky. But in order to control when and where digital content is released, entertainment corporations have divided the world up into eight different “regions” (including one, region 8, that is “international space,” such as cruiseships, airplanes, and, presumably, outer space).
Why do this? It’s all about the money. For example, it allows the movie studios to charge more for content sold in rich countries where people can afford to pay more. They’ve even gone so far as to try, with mixed success, to code their content so that it’s not playable in DVD players that are in a different region than where the content was purchased.
Regarding Merlin, this is another example of the beauty of the DVD region codes (at least from the point-of-view of entertainment corporations): the show did play last fall in what they call Region 2 (which includes Europe and the U.K.), and people there are now enjoying access to the show on DVD. But here in Region 1 (which is the U.S. and Canada), the show has not yet been released on DVD, enabling NBC, which partnered with the BBC in producing the show, to maximize their profit: first they can air it on television, generating television revenue, then they can release it on DVD.
You could try to order Merlin from Amazon.uk.com, but the Oracle warns you that it might not play on your DVD player.
Q: I have a framed map of Narnia, and also one of Middle Earth. Does a poster-sized map of Earthsea exist? How about Thomas Covenant’s The Land? — Chereeeee, St. Paul, MN
A: The Oracle can reveal that Ursula le Guin herself draw a map of Earthsea that is available for download on her website. One size is large, which should be suitable for framing.
Maps also exist of The Land (at least as it exists in the First Chronicles of Thomas Convenant; the land has changed considerably by the time of the Second Chronicles).
Incidentally, that map of Narnia you have? If it’s Pauline Barnes’ original 1971 map (and not the ugly Rose Publishing knock-off), it’s something of a collectors’ item.
Q: Do you think the TV failure of Kings, the (relative) failure (so far) of Merlin, and the so-so ratings for Legend of the Seeker will affect the chances for A Game of Thrones actually making it on air? — Brant, Saratoga Springs NY
A: The Oracles thinks no … and yes.
Since HBO has announced that this fall they’ll be filming a pilot for the series, the odds of the show actually airing have increased exponentially; HBO, unlike the broadcast networks, doesn’t film a lot of pilots that don’t end up airing, especially for expensive, effects-laden shows like this one. And keep in mind that this is HBO; since they’re subscriber-based, they don’t need to drawn the huge viewing numbers of the commercial-based networks. Instead, they need to attract viewers passionate (and hungry) enough to shell out extra money to subscribe to the network.
In short, A Game of Thrones seems exactly the kind of show that would work perfectly for the network — just like True Blood, another fantasy show, which is currently a huge hit for them. Likewise, Starz, a premium channel looking to draw attention to itself, seems like a great place for the Lucy Lawless’ new, graphically violent fantasy show, Spartacus: Blood and Sand, coming in January.
That said, we’d be fools not to acknowledge that the (relative) failure of all these recent, high-profile fantasy shows (True Blood aside) does put some extra pressure, and suspicion, on future, non-vampire-related fantasy programming. They probably don’t have quite the grace period that they might have had two years ago.
It also makes the Oracle wonder: fantasy television programming, at least of the “high fantasy” sort, may not have the innate widespread appeal that the broadcast networks require; even Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena: Warrior Princess, fantasy’s two most recent break-out shows, never drew massive numbers.
While the viewers of such shows (including the Oracle) are passionate about them, fantasy television programming really might be better suited to subscription and niche cable networks.