Film Treatment: Graceling
- Concept. Graceling is an exciting fantasy novel written by Kristin Cashore. The main character, Katsa, was born with a Grace: a special and extreme ability. People with Graces are marked by their eyes–each eye is a different color. Her Grace happens to be killing, so her malicious uncle, King Randa of the Middluns, uses her to do his dirty work, torturing people for information and often killing them. On a mission to rescue a kidnapped old man, she runs into a fighter from another land who intrigues her. She believes that he is also Graced with fighting, because he can hold his own against her. When they meet again, she learns that he is Prince Po of Lienid, one of their world’s seven kingdoms. They also learn that King Leck, leader of the kingdom of Monsea, orchestrated the kidnapping of the old man, who Katsa learns is Po’s grandfather. King Leck becomes the main antagonist of the story.
As their friendship grows, Katsa figures out the true nature of Po’s Grace—he is actually skilled in perception, making him essentially a mind-reader. He can fight well because he can anticipate Katsa’s moves before she makes them. Katsa feels violated, knowing that Po has been able to feel her thoughts and emotions the whole time, and mistrust briefly comes between them. Gradually Katsa and Po discover that, despite King Leck’s sterling reputation as a lover of animals and children, he is actually a sadist—he tortures the children and animals he takes in for pleasure, and a mysterious spell is hiding this horrifying secret from the entire country. The two realize that King Leck, who has worn an eye patch since childhood, must be Graced as well, and that he uses the eye patch to cover up his distinctive eyes. His Grace is persuasion, and he uses it to not only hide his sadistic activities, but to manipulate anyone who hears his words.
King Leck’s wife, Ashen, was under the spell of his Grace when she married him, but when his torturous eyes turn to their daughter, Bitterblue, Ashen’s fear and love for her daughter are strong enough to open her eyes. She escapes from Leck’s castle with Bitterblue, and they encounter Po and Katsa in the forest. Ashen is killed, but Po and Katsa rescue Bitterblue and hide her from Leck with the help of both of their Graces. Po is gravely injured in a battle with Leck and his forces during an attempt to assassinate the King, and so it is decided that Katsa and Bitterblue must leave him behind in their journey to safety. Prince Po has his own castle, and after a long and difficult journey that Katsa and Bitterblue barely survive, they arrive at the castle, only to find that King Leck has beaten them there.
Po is there when Katsa and Bitterblue are received, and Katsa is quickly taken up by Leck’s Grace; happy thoughts flood her mind, and she struggles to remember why she should distrust such a nice man. Only when Leck threatens to reveal Po’s Grace—which would put the Prince in insurmountable danger—does Katsa find the strength she needs to resist, and she kills King Leck. As the story comes to a close, Po confesses that the injury he sustained has left him blind; he can function normally, given his Grace of perception, but he is overwhelmed and sickened by his own helplessness and all the outside stimulation he now must take in. Although she loves Po, Katsa decides that they must separate, and she resolves to travel the country, teaching the land’s women how to defend themselves.
- Katsa is the main character. She has fair skin, black hair, one green eye and one blue eye. She is short and slight, but strong. At the beginning of the story, she is Graced with killing, and is used relentlessly by her uncle, King Randa, to do his dirty work. This abuse has turned her cold, calculating, and wary, reluctant to trust anyone. She has a handful of good friends, including her cousin, Prince Raffin, around whom she can relax and show her capacity for compassion and fun. But otherwise, she is guarded and obedient out of fear of her uncle; if she refused him, he could turn her out on the streets, and the world’s knowledge of her Grace would make her life very difficult. She has strong morals, however, so when her uncle tries to force her to be unnecessarily cruel, she refuses, showing mercy to a helpless lord whose family owes her uncle money.
We later discover, during a very difficult journey, that Katsa is actually Graced with survival. She is good at killing because of her ability to defend herself; her body can function on very little sleep, food, and water, she can tolerate extreme temperatures, and she has innate knowledge of things like starting fires, which plants are edible or medicinal, and possesses a perfect internal compass. She falls in love with Prince Po, who teaches her to feel, and helps her discover this new aspect of her Grace. She also grows emotionally due to Bitterblue, who she and Po rescue from King Leck; Katsa keeps her alive, awaking more compassion for a stranger than she thought possible. She ends up killing King Leck to save Po, and at the end of the book, she resolves to travel the country, teaching the world’s women to defend themselves. These trials have not hardened her further; they have made her more compassionate.
b. Prince Po is the youngest of the seven princes of Lienid. He has tan skin and dark hair, and one of his eyes is silver while the other is gold. He’s tall, broad-shouldered, and has a relatively thin build. When he first meets Katsa, he is an excellent fighter, and we believe that to be his Grace. He starts out cocky, even teasing Katsa as she fights him, and at the beginning of the book, their relationship is lightheartedly antagonistic. He reveals that his Grace is actually perception (or mind-reading), and though Katsa mistrusts him for this, they have already begun to fall in love. Po feels everything very deeply, and is completely in tune with the world around him.
c. Bitterblue is the daughter of King Leck, and while she is a child in the story, she is still an important character. She is the Princess of Monsea, and when Katsa and Po achieve their goal of killing him, she becomes the queen. She starts out as a frightened little girl who has just seen her mother die, and who has been resisting her father’s desire to torture her. She is initially timid and mistrustful, but comes into her own when Katsa teaches her to fight. Though she is physically very small and weak, she is quick and determined, and Katsa’s teachings help her to gain confidence. When she takes the throne of Monsea at the end, she is not entirely ready, but she is hardened and strengthened by her recent trials and rises to the occasion.
d. King Leck, king of the country of Monsea, is the story’s main villain, and rightfully so. His Grace allows him to manipulate anyone who hears his voice, and he can not only alter their perceptions, but their memories of their perceptions. He uses his ability to convince everyone that he is a lover of children and animals, when in reality, he takes them in in order to sadistically torture them. He got his wife to marry him with is Grace, and they had a child, who eventually becomes the object of his torturous fantasies.
e. King Randa is Katsa’s uncle, and king of the Middluns. He is the preliminary antagonist; simply a one-dimensional, power-hungry king who uses Katsa as a political tool.
f. Prince Raffin and Bann are Katsa’s friends in Randa’s court. Raffin is her cousin, a relatively happy and stable character, who is somewhat of a scientist. Bann is his assistant and friend, and together they are constantly experimenting.
g. Other minor characters include: Giddon, a lord in Randa’s court, Oll, a spy and friend of Katsa’s, Helda, Katsa’s maid, Ashen, King Leck’s wife and Po’s aunt, and Tealiff, Po’s kidnapped grandfather.
- Themes. A central theme of the novel is identity. Katsa starts out as a relatively static character, but she learns more and more about herself as the story unfolds. She realizes that one of the most central aspects of her identity, her Grace, has been misinterpreted her entire life. She is not a killer—she is a survivor. Po also struggles with his identity; his Grace makes him such an attractive political tool that he hides it from almost everyone. He denies a central aspect of his identity, and revealing it to Katsa (eventually) allows them to connect even more deeply.
Another central theme of Graceling is the theme of power, and the different forms it takes. Katsa is arguably the most physically powerful character in the book; she can kill anyone who comes up against her. But others have emotional power over her. Her friends keep her compassionate and merciful, and remind her that there are good people in the world. Her uncle also holds emotional power over her; his threat to turn her out on the street is dangerous because she would lose her only friends, and with her reputation, it is doubtful that she would be able to make new ones. The threat of emotional isolation scares Katsa into being obedient. King Leck is also an example of a different kind of power—his Grace enables him to bend anyone to his will. His power is psychological, which makes him incredibly dangerous. Even Po’s power is dangerous; he has emotional power in that he can know in an instant how someone feels, how they are going to react to something, or how they will choose to act in any situation. All of these characters wield tremendous power, although in different forms, and are influenced by the power that each of the others possess.
- Location. The setting of the book changes often; crucial action takes place in castles, in forests, in mountains, and even on the deck of a traveling ship. Katsa, Po and Bitterblue travel between at least three fictional countries—the Middluns, Monsea, and the island of Lienid. The sequences indoors and on the merchant ship could be shot in a studio, but most of the other scenes should be shot on location. Lienid is a glorious island kingdom, so I’d suggest a rocky but tropical Mediterranean location, possibly off the coast of Greece. Monsea’s snowy mountains could be shot anywhere with mountains, with the Rockies likely being the easiest. The scenes of travel through forests and countryside could be shot in the northern US or Canada, and some should ideally be shot in grassy clearings between trees.
- Action Scene.
Katsa moves to pass Po as he blocks her path to her chambers. He moves in front of her once more, and she strikes out at his face. It’s a feint, one that he ducks away from easily, but she then jams at his stomach with her knee. He twists out of the way so the blow misses him, and lands a punch to her stomach. She jumps and kicks at his chest. He falls to the ground, and she throws herself on top of him, striking him in the face several times, and jabs her knee into his side before he throws her off. She leaps on him again, but as she tries to pin his arms, he flips her onto her back and pins her with the weight of his body. She curls her legs up and tosses him away, and then both are on their feet again, circling, crouching, striking out at each other with hands and feet. She kicks at his stomach, barrels into his chest, and they topple to the ground again. A few more blows are landed before Katsa hears Po’s laughter. She laughs as well.
- Dialogue Scene.
Katsa [to Raffin]: “Where is he?”
Po [coming into view]: “There’s something I need to tell you, Katsa.”
K [to Po]: “You’re a mind reader. You’re a mind reader, and you lied to me.”
P [quietly]: “I am not a mind reader.”
K: [yelling] “And I am not a fool, so stop lying to me! Tell me, what have you learned? What thoughts of mine have you stolen?”
P: “I am not a mind reader. I sense people.”
K: “And what’s that supposed to mean? It’s people’s thoughts that you sense!”
P [earnestly]: “No, Katsa. Listen. I sense people. Think of it as my night vision, Katsa, or the eyes in the back of my head you’ve accused me of having. I sense people when they’re near me, thinking and feeling and moving around, their bodies, their physical energy. It is only… [swallows] It is only when they’re thinking about me that I also sense their thoughts.”
K [screaming]: “And that’s not mind reading?!”
P: “All right. It does involve some mind reading. But I can’t do what you think I can do.”
K: “You lied to me. I trusted you.”
- Graceling is, at its roots, a coming-of-age novel. The young protagonists face unimaginable challenges in their elaborate and unique fantasy world, but the foundations of the novel show them on a journey of self-discovery. They grow and mature as they learn about themselves, their abilities, and their capacities for greatness. This world is captivating, its action is fast-paced and gruesome, but its characters are completely relatable, especially to a teenage and young adult audience. The text begs to be filmed; words on a page can only convey so much of these characters’ emotions. Truly seeing what they feel through the eyes of talented actors will elevate this text to new heights. This will not be a film about travel; much of the book’s travel sequences will be shortened or cut. It will be a film about an impossible quest against insurmountable evil, and the power of connection against all odds.