Some questions about John Jakes' "North & South" (Spoilers!)

Okay, this week I watched the television miniseries adaptations of the trilogy, which I must say rocked my socks all the way off.

I was a bit disappointed with Heaven & Hell, not so much because the overall quality of it was not quite as good as the first two parts, but because it was inconsistent, plotwise, with the first two series.

I’m hoping that some folks who’ve read the novels can help me out a bit.

First, who the blazes is Cooper Main? How important was he in the first two books? Are any of his parts picked up by other characters in the TV versions? It was a little weird to have another Maine brother that everyone seemed familiar with. How did he end up holding the mortgage to Mont Royal over Madeline’s head?

Second, the first few minutes of Heaven & Hell seemed like an obvious patch. I can’t quite believe that Orry was killed in the first few pages of the book – please tell me I’m wrong, and that there’s some other scenario that was changed. And Bent – jaysus, Bent. I mean, really, it just felt like “The scene opens on stately Mont Royal. Wham! Here’s Bent, very casually not blown to itty-bitty pieces. And there’s Orry, very casually run through the gut and dead of his wounds in seconds without so much as an ‘I am slain!’ Now, on with the story.”

It didn’t make sense dramatically, and given the long hiatus between the second and third parts, I got the feeling that the producers initially approached it with the idea that the third would never be made, fiddled with the ending, and had to do a quick-fix to be able to tell the story of the third. How did the the novel of Love & War end? Orry dead and Bent alive? Both of them alive? Or just like the miniseries?

Third, did the books elaborate on what happened with Tom the Drummer Boy? He seemed to be so important to Billy, and the last we saw of the boy, Billy was promising to come back for him when he was well enough to travel. Then just a tiny comment “He’s with some good people.” Okay.

I really enjoyed the hell out it, anyway. Sure, it was pretty melodramatic, and I think the United States would have to be about the size of Grover’s Corners, the way the principal characters kept crossing each others paths unexpectedly. (When Charlie found the three rocks his son was playing with on the freaking plains, I just about peed myself.) But it’s easily the best American Civil War drama I’ve ever seen, and as corny as parts of it were, it really got me.

The only thing I had a real problem with was Terri Garber as Ashton. I wanted to hate her character, not her. Sure, sweetie, it’s the 1860s, but you don’t have to telegraph everything. Yeesh. The only thing that woman ought to be cast in is the sea. She’s like a subject of the Roman empire after the tax collector comes through town – no talent. What the hell was she doing in a production with all those fine actors? Seriously, it would have been less distracting if they cast Burgess Meredith in the role with a wig and a bit of rouge.

wipes spit off chin

Anyway… some light would be appreciated. I kind of feel like I care about these characters and would like to know what the heck happened to 'em – but probably not enough to slog through the books meself – unless they come very highly recommended from y’all.

Naturally this post contains plot spoilers.

Well, in the first two books, Cooper Main actually had quite a role: how he meets his wife, his children, and other trauma that befall. Cooper had an abolitionist bent, at first. Educated in the north, he thought the south’s dependence on slavery was doomed, and clashed with his father for it. He changes for the worst throughout the books, although by the end of Love and War you think he’ll redeem himself. Alas, he becomes a tyrant in Heaven and Hell.

I really did like *North and South * – you learn a lot about West Point, the US military prior to the Civil War, and I think he does a good job portraying the slave holding vs abolitionist view point. And also I got to learn about the war with Mexico.

I also liked the second book in the series: Love and War. This is where the TV series really departed from the books: (obvious spoiler): Orry dies about 2/3 through the book. Cooper, of course, being the remaining male (and actually the oldest brother) actually has the deed to Mont Royal. And Madeline never does have a child (I don’t remember if she did in the TV series or not, but I would swear they showed her pregnant.) It was Charles and his struggle that made that book for me. So sad.

As for Heaven and Hell, I only read it once and I found the whole plot to be so utterly preposterous I couldn’t read it again. Technically, I skimmed through most of it just to see what happened to Charles and his son, but damned if I remember any details.

So Larry, I guess all that is trying to say: if you liked the series you’ll love the books, but Heaven and Hell was a disappointment to me.

My problem: Bent and Asthon. I never liked the Ashton character much anyway, to me she wasn’t even a good villian. Bent on the other hand, simply escaped too many dire situations too many times. I mean. . .really. And he kills George’s wife. And then George and Madeline get together? Ack. I’ve read better romance novels than that.