Wednesday, November 28, 2018

When Memory is a Traitor

We have heard it said how memory is unreliable: that our memories, as real as they are to us, are distorted to greater or lesser degrees. I do have some pretty vivid memories that I think are close to what actually occurred, but of course, I can't guarantee that.

Sue and I recently re-watched The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, and I was shocked about what a traitor my memory was. (That's a not-so-clever reference to one of the Lynley episodes (tv) or books: A Traitor to Memory.)

Elizabeth George began the Lynley series way back in 1988 with A Great Deliverance. I probably read it close to that time, so I've been reading Lynley for 30 years now. The most recent novel, her twentieth, The Punishment She Deserves, was published earlier this year.

Then, beginning in 2001 and continuing into 2008, BBC broadcast 20 tv episodes. The first few series were based on George's books, but for later episodes, new tv scripts were written.

At the time, I didn't love the tv series for a few reasons. For one thing, the characters weren't true enough to the books. They did try, but the main problem was miscasting. Neither Lynley, Havers, nor Helen Clyde fit my images (or Sue's), and Nkata, a later character, sure didn't either. For another thing, I thought the quality of the stories in the tv versions was quite poor. Finally, I thought ... well let's leave that for a moment.

Upon re-watching, I enjoyed the tv series quite a bit. I got over the casting choices and found that the series, in general, was better than I had thought. So, my memory wasn't too good on that score.

But my memory was horrible, just totally wrong with regards to Lynley's wife, Helen. She was played by two characters* as the original Helen left the show partway through and was later replaced by a new actor.

Well, many series have done that, so that wasn't my main problem. You see, I had thought that both Helens got shot, and they did. But in my memory, they had both been killed. I was wrong. They were both shot, but the first Helen wasn't killed, only wounded.

Then I thought that the second Helen had been shot and killed quite deliberately, actually assassinated, outside her doorstep. In fact, I had an almost crystal clear picture in my mind. Wrong. Very wrong. She was shot getting in the way of a bullet meant for someone else and in a totally different location.

I was shocked to realize that the vivid picture in my head had come from the books. It was so strong that I would have almost sworn that I had seen it just like that on video. I was not remotely close. (And by the way, just in passing, and this should have clued me in, the scene in my head also featured the image of Helen that I had constructed from the books.)

This astounds me. Not that my memory was off but that it was so off, so completely off.

I think this is a good example of just how unreliable our memories can be. As I have already written, I am astounded by how totally wrong my recollection was.

I am going to end it there and just leave a passing note about the danger of courts relying on eye-witness testimony, but that is another topic for another day, and not one likely to be picked up by me.

*In point of fact, there were three Helens in the series, but the first had only a fleeting part in the pilot episode.


Marie Smith said...

I read those books for the first twenty or so years too. All I remember is that I enjoyed them. At least you knew the characters.

Thickethouse.wordpress said...

My husband was the family historian for his family and I remember how surprised we were when we interviewed several different members about the same event (the family's decision to leave Hungary during the '56 Hungarian Revolution), one in which they had each been participants, and each one remembered it differently, even the most important part they recalled in different ways.

Marty Damon said...

I've often said that no one in their right mind would want me on the witness stand.
I came to the Lynley book series after having seen several TV episodes, and had your experience in reverse. I was surprised how different the characters in the books were from the ones I'd grown used to on TV.
By the way, I met Elizabeth George at a writers' conference about 4 years ago. She was the keynote speaker for the weekend and sat at our table for lunch one day. Nice lady, who gamely stayed for the whole weekend and participated in several workshops. I was amazed to learn that she's an American, considering how very English her books are.

Mage said...

I'm going to have to check this series out. I have no memory of reading any of them.
Memory...see my latest entry.

William Kendall said...

They do say eye witness testimony isn't worth much. I haven't read the books or seen the movie.

Anvilcloud said...

Now, here's a strange thing. I opened the comment for and then forgot about it. Now I don't know whom I am commenting to or about what. :)

Anvilcloud said...

And ... somehow I was commenting to myself. Too funny.

Jenn Jilks said...

I hear you.
We read the books, and bought the DVDs, too.
It's difficult to let the book go, as it must be difficult to screen a book. We have all of the Inspector Banks DVDs, too. Same deal. Also, Inspector Morse.