Making the transition from a Krevolin-style adaptation to a Cornellian visualization of Mr. Penumbra is perhaps the easiest when it comes to visibility, for obvious reasons. However, my adaptation will combine the strong visual of the bookshelf with a more abstract representation of Clay’s achievement. When I think of how far he’s come from the opening scene of the book, when Penumbra is encouraging him to climb higher and higher on the store ladder, I think of the ascending bookshelves as representing his growth and success.
Since he is the main character, my blox visuals will focus mainly on him and his journey, but I would like to incorporate motifs of the other minor characters, such as the BAM! t-shirt and the dolphin and anchor, into my blox as well. This is because Clay would not be able to succeed without the help of his friends. All of their contributions are necessary if he is to succeed in his quest.
As far as relating the visuals of the novel to Krevolin’s guidelines for adaptation, I see the bookstore visualization as a symbol for the challenge Clay must overcome. Throughout the novel, he struggles with his confidence in his abilities, but his model of the bookstore his first strong attempt at problem solving. He creates the model entirely on his own, and his skills are what helps him meet Kat, the Googler, who helps him take the next step and get access to the book scanner.
The bookstore model symbolizes Clay’s ability to overcome obstacles with the power of his mind. Instead of trying to solve the founder’s puzzle the old fashioned way, he applies his technical skills and creative thinking to solve a problem in a new, interesting, unconventional way, thereby leading us to the second act of the story.
This novel has a great many images which are essential to the development of the story. Probably the most important is Clay’s digital model of the bookstore, which helps him solve the mystery of the founder’s puzzle. Using his knowledge of computer programming, Clay creates an interactive model of the books in the store and the patterns in which the patrons check them out. He discovers that the order of the books reveals a pattern shaped like the face of Aldus Manutius, the founder of the Unbroken Spine. Once he solves the puzzle, he is able to delve much deeper into the mysteries of the bookstore.
This visual image was obviously so important to the story that the American cover artist decided to replicate it on the front of the book. If you pick up a copy of the American edition, the little yellow books glow in the dark, just like Clay’s model.
In addition to the major image of the glowing shelves, lesser images such as Kat’s red t-shirt with “BAM!” written on it and Manutius’s dolphin and anchor symbol serve as leitmotifs which hold the story together. Overall, visuals are very important to this novel.
As with my posts on exactitude, I found it difficult to relate my experience of Mr. Penumbra to Calvino’s quality of quickness. However, I first listened to this novel as an audiobook, which actually helped me crystallize my thoughts about quickness in this work. The novel is written in a conversational style, as if the reader just sat down with the main character and listened to him tell his story. As I listened to the audiobook, I found myself eagerly anticipating what would happen next. The story moved along quickly, with twists and turns, but it also had that personal touch, like the main character’s witty asides and brief moments of reflection, so common to auditory storytelling. For me, the auditory aspect of the novel relates most closely to quickness because reading the book was like having a conversation with an old friend.
The quality of multiplicity lends itself well to Cornell’s aesthetic. After all, what were his boxes but collections of loosely associated artifacts? Going off of that, the novel itself is a compilation of visual images, created by text, which combine to create a story.
As I mentioned in my adaptation post, I would like to make the abstract aspects of the novel, such as the characters’ interdisciplinary approach to problem solving and the multiple ways of organizing and understanding information, concrete through the use of images in my blox. I plan to combine little snippets of text, fragments of LEGO bricks, and lines of computer code to create my blox and mimic the scavenger hunt-esque aesthetic of Cornell’s boxes.
I think my images of LEGOS and letters will guide my visual adaptation of the multiple aspect of the novel. The two units are similar in many ways; they complement each other the way natural language complements code. Both are geared towards some type of constructive problem solving, which reflects the characters’ cooperation.
Again, since there is such a clear relationship between multiplicity and the visual in the novel, I don’t think it will be too difficult to adapt this experience as a blox. I will continue with my practice of making an abstract aspect of the novel concrete through use of a visual motif within the novel.
As with visibility, it’s easy to see how Mr. Penumbra exhibits Calvino’s quality of multiplicity. For one thing, Clay has to tackle the mystery from multiple angles, both high and low tech. He enlists the help of Oliver Groan, archaeology student, to sift through Penumbra’s ancient files and computer system; Grumble, a mysterious hacker who provides him with a makeshift book scanner on short notice; Kat, who has access to Google’s virtually unlimited resources; Neel, who finances most of the crew’s operations; and Penumbra, who is Clay’s window into the world of the Unbroken Spine and the Festina Lente Company.
In addition to the multiple ways to solve a problem, the novel does an excellent job of illustrating the many different methods of acquiring and storing knowledge. It begins with Manutius and his incunabula and ends with Kat and the Google Knowledge Graph. Mr. Penumbra resembles Calvino’s encyclopedic novel in that it explores the way information and language, and the way we process those, change over time and adapt to new technologies and environments. Like the LEGOS I mentioned in my earlier posts, a finite number of letters combines to create a multitude of words and meanings. Mr. Penumbra celebrates this multiplicity of language in its many forms, both print and electronic.
Lightness is a somewhat difficult quality to adapt visually. Instead of trying to capture lightness in an image, I will instead aim for the aesthetic of my adaptation to convey a sense of lightness. Clay experiences lightness when he reads about the magical world of singing dragons, scholarly dwarves, and wise wizards. For my adaptation, I hope to combine the visuals of The Dragon Song Chronicles with transparent layers and luminescent colors in order to convey a sense of lightness.
My own experience of lightness in the book comes from reading about Clay and Neel’s experience reading The Dragon Song Chronicles in sixth grade. When Clay first arrives at the bookstore, he explains his love of books to Penumbra:
” ‘Tell me,’ Penumbra said, ‘about a book you love.’ I knew my answer immediately. No competition. I told him, ‘Mr. Penumbra, it’s not one book, but a series. It’s not the best writing and it’s probably too long and the ending is terrible, but I’ve read it three times, and I met my best friend because we were both obsessed with it back in sixth grade.’ I took a breath. ‘I love The Dragon Song Chronicles.'”
This scene captures the essence of Calvino’s lightness. Furthermore, Clay’s knowledge of The Dragon Song Chronicles allows him to approach problem-solving in a creative way by imagining problems as scenarios from the book.