Review: The Queen’s Gambit, series and book – I know that it has been a long time since the hubbub over the Netflix limited series The Queen’s Gambit died down, but I have never really bothered myself with being timely here. The truth is that, when I discovered the series was based on a novel, I wanted to read that novel before I wrote my review so I could compare the two versions. I got the Kindle version of the book for Christmas, and it was one of the first things I read in the new year. I then went back and watched the series again to refresh my memory and confirm some of the notes I had taken while reading the book. It took me a few more days to organize my copious notes before I could begin writing, and the writing process itself occupied a few weeks of taking a little time each evening to pound out the rough draft, followed by a number of rewrites and revisions. It all still feels like a bit of a hot mess with everything that I squeezed in here, but I think it’s finally time to release this beast into the wild.
I had originally imagined this entry as being perhaps as long as my two February entries put together (that is, between five and six thousand words), but it has ended up being twice as long as that. Believe it or not, but this entry is nearly the longest thing I have ever written here at Liminality, falling short of only my detailed review of the first Hobbit by about five hundred words. So be aware that you are in for a long read here. One other thing that you should know before reading—and this might be stating the obvious, but it can’t hurt to mention it—is that this entry will spoil pretty much everything about both the series and the book. If you haven’t seen The Queen’s Gambit yet and are planning on doing so at some point, I would recommend holding off on this entry and coming back to it once you have seen it. If you’ve already seen it, or if you have no intention of ever seeing it but for some reason are still interested, read on.
To start off, I want to very quickly talk about my relationship with chess. I played often with my father when I was young, and he would beat me every time. In retrospect, I think this experience taught me a valuable lesson, as it introduced me to what it was like to lose. Initially, I think I reacted to losing much the same way that Beth does. I’ve mellowed somewhat over the years, but I always have been and still am a competitive person, so it just burned me up every time I lost to my father. I did not give up, though. I kept at it, and then one magical day I finally beat him. We only played on rare occasion after that, although we did play a few games when I was in Texas two winters ago, which was a nice blast from the past. I played a few games in college with some of my friends, but we were much more into Sega and Nintendo than chess. Chess was not part of my life after I came to Korea, either, as I knew very few people who played it.
I started getting back into chess in 2017, when I randomly stumbled across some chess YouTubers. I still don’t play all that frequently—just casual games online with friends and family—but I enjoy the game. I am not very good at it, but I know enough about it to appreciate the beauty of the game when it is played by masters. So when I started hearing about The Queen’s Gambit, my curiosity was definitely piqued. When I found out that it was about a female chess prodigy, I initially thought that it was about Judit Polgár (more on her later), but then I learned that it was in fact a fictional tale. I found it on Netflix and convinced HJ to watch it with me. She was a little hesitant at first when she learned that it was about chess (she’s not a big fan of the game), but she agreed.
Before diving into the story itself, I will say a quick word about the title of the series/book. It has a double meaning, in that it is the name of a chess opening and it also describes the protagonist and her plan to rise to the top of the chess world and rule as its queen. But it is worth briefly mentioning what a gambit in chess is, because I think the concept is relevant. A gambit is an opening strategy in which a player sacrifices a pawn in order to gain an advantage in development or activity for his or her pieces. That is, you give up a small amount of material in hopes that the resulting position will compensate for the material loss. (The Queen’s Gambit in particular involves offering up the c pawn, and it is a gambit that is still widely played today, being declined more often than not.) Anyone who wants to reach the level of chess that Beth reaches in The Queen’s Gambit necessarily has to give up something along the way.
Of course, if you’ve seen the series, you know that it’s not necessarily about chess. More accurately, it may topically be about chess, but thematically it is about a lot of things that are not chess. To briefly recap, the story covers a decade (beginning in the 1950s) in the life of Beth Harmon, from when she is orphaned at age 9 to when she plays a tournament in Moscow with seven of the best players in the world, including four Soviet players, one of whom is the current world champion. Along the way there is a lot of chess, and we watch Beth as she begins her conquest of the chess world at the Kentucky State Championship, moves on to ever bigger tournaments, and eventually becomes US champion and earns an invitation to play in Moscow, the epicenter of the chess world at that time.
When I read the book, I was looking forward to seeing how some aspects of the story as shown in the series were portrayed in the original work. There were indeed many things that were drawn straight from the book, but I was surprised to find how much had been changed. The basic plot is the same, but the series ends up being a very different animal from the book; this is to be expected, and it is not necessarily a bad thing. We should probably get the most obvious differences out of the way first, namely the differences that can be mostly chalked up to the media of the two versions. Books rely solely on words to get their story across, while television dramas have access to auditory and visual elements as well. But the visual medium of television dramas also has some limitations, namely in conveying the authorial voice. The book uses a third-person limited narrator that has access to all of Beth’s thoughts and emotions as she deals with what life throws her way, including the many chess games she plays. There is a lot of important character information in these narrative passages that we as the readers/audience need to know. But how do you convey all of this information in a drama when you don’t have a narrator? One way that the series does this is by introducing narrators, at least for the chess games—we hear commentary from announcers who have insight into what Beth must be thinking and how she must be feeling. The visual medium is not always a disadvantage, though; we may read in the book that Beth stared piercingly across the board at her opponent (which is actually a pretty rare thing to do in the chess world—players mostly stare at the board), but that doesn’t have quite as much impact as actually seeing Anya Taylor-Joy stare at us through the camera lens with a gaze so intense it feels like she is piercing our souls.
But the series makes other decisions that are not necessitated by the change in medium. I believe that some of these changes make for a better story, while other changes are, to be blunt, baffling; I remember wondering why they had been made as I read the book. The answer, I suppose, is simple: the author of the book (Walter Tevis) and the writer of the series (Scott Frank) wanted to say different things in their stories. It’s hard to say which I liked better; there are places where I agree with the decisions made by the author of the book and there are places where I agree with the decisions made by the writer of the series. Reading the book gave me a better appreciation for what the series was able to achieve, but it also left me feeling a little disappointed with some aspects of the series.
I’ll start with an area in which I think the series mostly improved on the book: Beth’s relationships with the other characters in the story, and how those characters are developed. With only one minor exception, all of the characters of any significance at all in the book play greater roles in Beth’s life in the series. This begins with Beth’s parents. In the book, we get almost no information about them at all. All we know is that Beth is orphaned when her mother dies in a car crash, her father having presumably already been a “victim of a carefree life.” Beth might as well have dropped straight out of the heavens fully formed, and in fact her “origin story” does have the ring of mythology to it, which I don’t think is an accident. In the series, though, we get a number of flashbacks to Beth’s interactions with her mother. In these flashbacks, her mother is either telling her something important about life or showing her something important about life through her desperate (and possibly deranged) actions. These flashbacks have consequences far beyond simple character development, but to talk about that now would be to move away from our current topic—Beth’s relationships—so I will come back to those consequences later when discussing another choice made by the series.
The relationship that I think is most improved from the book is Beth’s relationship with her adoptive mother, Alma Wheatley. The odd thing is that, unlike some of the other main characters, it’s hard for me to put a finger on exactly how Mrs. Wheatley and her relationship with Beth are better developed in the series. One thing that I can think of off the top of my head is the fact that she plays piano in the series, whereas nothing of the sort is mentioned in the book. That may seem like a very minor character detail, but it is a thread that runs throughout the series. Playing the piano is a way for Mrs. Wheatley to escape the bleakness and despair of her life for a short while. She finds solace within the music, and the audience can’t help feeling her emotions, especially when she is playing beautifully melancholic pieces by Satie, like Gnossienne No. 1 or Gymnopédie No. 1.
I suspect there are many little things going on that contribute to the character of Mrs. Wheatley and make her relationship with Beth feel richer in the series, not least of which being the flawless performance by Marielle Heller. All of those little things add up to be much more than just the sum of their parts, so much so that Mrs. Wheatley’s death felt like a punch in the gut. I was surprised by my reaction to the same scene in the book, though. For one, there seemed to be a lot of foreshadowing before her death, although I cannot say with certainty that this wasn’t just me projecting my knowledge of what was going to happen onto the story. What I do know for sure is that when Beth discovers her adoptive mother dead in their hotel room, the scene is conveyed in a very clinical and efficient style. This may have been intended as a reflection of Beth’s inability to process what had happened, but it felt very sudden and very sterile, and robbed of much of the emotion I felt during the same scene in the series. This was turned out to be another area where the need for internal monologue to be made external worked in the series’ favor. Just before she discovers Alma dead, Beth loses her first game against Borgov. In the book, we have access to her thoughts while she is losing the game, which is certainly effective in its own right. In the series, though, Beth returns to the darkened hotel room and relates this same monologue to her mother before realizing that she is dead. This more immediate juxtaposition of her loss to Borgov and her loss of her mother intensifies the tragedy we feel as Beth’s world comes crashing down around her.
So I would have to say that overall I much prefer the series’ version of this scene. If I may be permitted a brief tangent, though, my one gripe about this scene in the series is what the hotel manager says to Beth. He begins by saying that the hotel will do everything they can to help with arrangements, which is roughly what he says in the book. But then he goes on to say something to the effect of, “No doubt the many margaritas your mother consumed had nothing to do with her death.” I was dumbstruck by this when I first watched the series. What kind of colossal monster do you have to be to say something like that to someone who just lost their mother? Never mind the fact that this is a guest of the hotel and an important customer. I suspect that the idea was to put a fine point on Mrs. Wheatley’s alcoholism and perhaps foreshadow the issues that Beth would find herself dealing with in days to come. I don’t think any such nudge was needed—viewers are smart enough to connect the dots here by themselves—but even if it was necessary to make the point this seemed like an incredibly ham-handed way of doing so, and it made me wince like a wrong note played on a piano.
Back to my main point, though. There are a number of other characters who get more screen time in the series and are thus allowed the opportunity to further develop their relationships with Beth. Harry Beltik, former Kentucky state champion, disappears from the story in the book after he trains Beth upon her return from Mexico. (Also, and this is something I paid close attention to when reading the book, it is not clear if he knew about Mrs. Wheatley’s death, because he never mentions it; in the series, though, he at least acknowledges how difficult it must have been for Beth to lose her mother, which makes him feel more human.) In the series, he continues to worry about Beth, showing up at her house to make sure she is OK and later showing up at the state championship to confront Beth about her alcoholism. And, of course, we see him at the very end of the series, when he gets together with the rest of Beth’s boy band to help her prepare for the remainder of her game with Borgov after the adjournment in Moscow. (I’ll come back to this last part later.)
Then there is Townes, who disappears from the book after Las Vegas—the scene where they play chess in his hotel room is the last time we see him. In the series, he almost magically shows up in Moscow just in time to provide Beth with the moral support she needs, and to act as liaison for the boy band. In addition to the extra screen time, though, his relationship with Beth is complicated in the series by the fact the he is gay. This is not the case in the book—or, at least, we get no hint of this. To be honest, this choice baffled me a bit, because I wasn’t sure what the story gained from Townes being gay. It is obvious from the way he acts toward Beth in his room that he is enchanted by her (later, in Moscow, he admits to being “very confused”), so perhaps the series writer felt something extra was needed to explain why they didn’t just—ahem—trade rooks right then and there. Nothing else is really done with his sexual orientation, though, and it felt a little bit like a “Dumbledore was gay!” moment (Harry Potter spoiler?). In the book, not only do we get no information about his sexual orientation, we never get any indication that Townes has any sort of romantic interest in Beth at all. We do know that Beth wants him badly, because we have access to her thoughts, but she never acts on that and Townes doesn’t ever seem to notice. He merely comments at one point that Beth has gotten “good-looking.”
Of course, we cannot forget Jolene, Beth’s rock. Their time spent together in the orphanage is depicted in the series much as it is portrayed in the book, but just seeing them interact on screen makes that relationship feel much more developed, probably because we spend all of our time in the book inside Beth’s head. Then, of course, we get their reunion later, before Beth goes to Moscow. This does happen in the book as well, although it happens a little differently; this difference is important for other reasons, so I’ll come back to it later. In the meantime, suffice it to say that the series shows more of their interactions than we get to see in the book, and we feel their closeness. Jolene is also a rare exception in that I think her character is improved by something that is left out from the book, namely a scene in which, one night at the orphanage, Jolene sexually assaults Beth. There is no physical violence, but there is definitely coercion, and Beth is too young to really understand what is going on. Jolene does stop, but it is still a shocking scene, and I still struggle to understand why the author wrote it. Neither Jolene nor Beth ever mention it again—nor does Beth ever even think about it again—and it doesn’t seem to have any influence on their relationship. It is baffling, and I think the series was 100% right to leave it out.
In addition to these main characters, there were also some very minor characters in the book who are given much larger roles in the series. Probably the most prominent of these are Matt and Mike, the twins from Beth’s very first tournament, when she becomes Kentucky state champion. They do appear in the book, but they are not named and they never appear again. In the series, of course, they show up frequently throughout the series as Beth’s (for lack of a better term) groupies. Also, when the two chess masters, Wexler and Leverton, come to visit Benny and Beth in New York, they bring along a girl. If you watched the series, you may remember her as Cleo, the glamorous Parisian model; in the book, though, her name is Jenny, and we neither learn much about her nor ever see her again. Cleo obviously plays a much more important role in the series, especially when she shows up later in Paris, but I’ll come back to that later. Finally, there is Annette Packer, Beth’s first ever tournament opponent. In the book, she is simply Beth’s first opponent and is quickly dispensed with. In the series, though, even though she loses to Beth, she then appears in the restroom later in the tournament when Beth suddenly has her first period. Here she offers Beth not only sanitary pads in a display of feminine solidarity, but also some encouragement. Annette also appears later in the series, when Beth shows up to defend her Kentucky state champion title (before Beth encounters Harry outside). There she thanks Beth for what she’s done, succeeding as a woman in the man’s world of chess.
(Yet another brief tangent here: When Annette sees Beth at the state championship, she says: “I always tell people that I was there for two of your firsts.” I didn’t really think about this line on my first viewing of the series, but the second time around I stopped to think about it. Two of her firsts? Well, Annette was there for Beth’s first tournament victory, but what other first was she—wait... is she talking about Beth’s first period? Who would go around saying something like that to people? Even if she didn’t say what the second first was and remained cryptic, it’s still a pretty weird thing to do. I appreciate how the series made better use of Annette as a character, but this was another cringey, off-key note.)
So, for the most part, the series made much better use of the characters from the book, and I think the series was better for it. In the book, with the exception of a few central characters, it often felt like the other characters were there just to fulfill specific roles and then fade into the background once their part was done. This is another way in which the book felt mythical: The hero meets people along the way who might aid her, but the focus is entirely on the hero herself. I think I prefer the way the series chose to handle these characters in most cases, and when I was reading the book I found myself missing them (especially Matt and Mike).
There was, however, one character that didn’t feel quite as developed as he did in the book: Benny Watts. That may come as a surprise if you’ve only seen the series, because Benny gets a considerable amount of screen time, and his relationship with Beth is explored pretty thoroughly. Nonetheless, he still plays a more important part in the book. More time is spent on his relationship with Beth, and they seem to be even closer in the book than they are in the series. One significant difference between the book and the series is that Benny says in the book that he wants to accompany Beth to Moscow. In the series, he only says that the “Jesus people” (the Christian Crusade) would even pay for him to go, although they would of course have to stay in separate rooms, but he never comes out and says that he actually wants and intends to go with her. As a result, his anger at Beth in the book when she spurns the Jesus people is a lot hotter than it is in the series, and Beth is more devastated when he cuts her out of his life. I’m not sure why Benny got this treatment when pretty much every other character was more developed; my best guess is that the writer of the series felt that Benny was developed enough as it was, and some of that development was sacrificed to develop other characters. I can’t really argue with that, I guess, although I do wish the series had him saying that he wanted to go to Moscow with her—it did feel like that was important. Something that was not important but which I still found amusing was the handling of Benny’s appearance. In the book, Beth thinks he looks like a pirate (although her description of him sounds more like a simple longshoreman), whereas in the series he is portrayed as looking like a cowboy. But both have outsider/rebel images, right? I just thought that was an interesting shift.
Aside from the characters, there were other things that I thought the series did well. Some of them are too minor to elaborate on, but one thing that did stick out to me was Beth’s Russian language ability. She does take night classes in Russian at the local college in the book, but this seems to be more of a plot device to set her up with the college students who then introduce her to alcohol. The book specifically says that Beth never mastered Russian, and she is shown taking some time to decipher Cyrillic when she is in Moscow. In the series, though, her language ability improves much more quickly, to the extent that she is able to understand the Soviets talking about her when she overhears them in the elevator in Mexico. To be honest, the book’s depiction of her language abilities is probably more realistic, but that moment in the series still made for a good story beat and paid off an earlier investment. Besides, television and film usually treat language learning far too simplistically anyway, so it doesn’t feel jarring in the moment.
So there were quite a few areas where I really appreciate what the series did, and ways that I think it even improved on the book. In addition to all that, they did a great job capturing the feel of the 50s and 60s in terms of the locations (the majority of which were actually in Germany, with the rest being in Canada), décor, costumes, etc. The acting was also top notch; I don’t think any of the actors struck a false note. Overall it was just really well done and really enjoyable to watch (both times!). That being said, there were some things in the series that didn’t completely work for me. Some of these niggled at me the first time I watched the series, and those niggles became even more prominent and were joined by other niggles after I read the book.
There are three things that I want to focus on in this second (and longer) part of today’s entry: why Beth is who she is, chess and Beth’s relationship to it, and Beth’s addictions. I will deal with these three issues in this order, but they are so entangled and intertwined with each other that it may not be possible to deal with them entirely discretely; I may have to jump back and forth a bit. But I’ll try to arrange my thoughts as logically as possible.
I’ll start off with the question of why Beth is who she is. The book and the series have very different attitudes to this question: The book doesn’t seem to care at all while the series seems to care very much. I mentioned a couple of times above that Beth’s story in the book felt mythological, and I mean this in the strict folkloric sense of the term, in that mythological heroes simply are who they are by virtue of being the hero. There is no need to explain why they have certain abilities or act in certain ways—that’s just what mythical heroes are! I don’t want to take this comparison too far, because mythological heroes don’t have character arcs, per se, whereas Beth most definitely develops as a character throughout the book. Still, the book seems far more interested in the what of who Beth is than the why.
The series, on the other hand, takes pains to provide enough background for viewers to figure out why Beth became who she is. I’m not opposed to this on the face of it; I think it’s a decent idea to delve more deeply into why Beth is the way she is, as it makes her a more compelling protagonist. I do not, however, like the actual substance of what the show did to achieve this. This substance can be summed up in one idea: that genius is often accompanied by madness. This is an idea brought up pretty much word for word by the writer for LIFE magazine who interviews Beth after she wins the Kentucky State Championship. This only happens in the series; in the book, the writer never once mentions madness. Other characters in the series make reference to this idea as well. For example, Harry talks about famous chess players who went mad (particularly Paul Morphy, known as “the pride and sorrow of chess”), implying that Beth is in danger of following the same path. A later flashback to Mr. Shaibel has the janitor telling Beth that it will be difficult for her, that there are two sides to the coin: her gift, and what it will cost her. He goes on to tell her that she will struggle because there is so much anger in her.
I’ll be honest, this line completely passed me by on my first viewing of the series, maybe because it seemed so obvious. The young Beth that we see in the orphanage does indeed appear to be an angry young girl. However, after watching the rest of the series, reading the book, and then watching the series again, this line jumped out at me. Why? Because if there is one emotion that Beth is defined by, at least after she leaves the orphanage, it certainly isn’t anger. If I had to pick a defining emotion, it would be fear. This manifests in many different ways, such as in the fear of abandonment. She is also extremely driven and competitive, and she absolutely hates losing, all of which stems more from fear than anger—fear that she won’t be able to realize her potential, or fear that she’s not good enough and never will be good enough. Beth never really shows anger in the series; her frustration when she loses is just a product of her competitiveness, and she doesn’t react with the angry outbursts you sometimes see in male chess players.
I think I know why Mr. Shaibel says “anger” rather than “fear,” though. This is where the flashbacks to Beth’s parents (usually her mother) come in. In all but one of the flashbacks, Beth is merely a silent observer as her mother Alice passes on some piece of wisdom gained through bitter experience. That bitter experience—and Alice’s anger at her lot in life—so tinges this wisdom that it is nearly all about how miserable life is for a woman. The only time Beth talks in one of these flashbacks is after Alice visits Beth’s father to beg that he help her with the child (he is apparently married and has a family, although it isn’t clear whether he started this family after leaving Alice or if Alice and Beth were something that just happened on the side). After they are turned away Beth asks who the man was. “A mistake,” her mother answers. It cannot be a coincidence that what happened between Beth’s birth parents seems to happen between her adoptive parents later on, no doubt reinforcing in Beth’s mind the idea that life is nothing more than a vicious cycle. Beth loses her adoptive mother just as she lost her birth mother, while both her birth father and her adoptive father want nothing to do with her. There is one extremely significant difference in the way the two tragedies unfold, though. In the series, Alice so despairs of taking care of Beth that she tells her daughter to close her eyes and then drives directly into the path of an oncoming truck, presumably intending to kill both herself and Beth. Beth, however, survives, and is unsurprisingly scarred for life (although her mother’s anger is one thing she does not seem to inherit). This is entirely an invention of the series; in the book, Alice dies in a car crash, but Beth is at home when it happens, and there is no indication that the crash was a suicide.
I suppose it’s not such a bad idea to plant some seeds in Beth’s past that might conceivably later blossom into the problems she is forced to deal with. What I dislike about the series is how it repeatedly attempts to hammer home the idea that Beth’s genius must mean that she contains within herself the seeds of her own destruction. I’m not saying that the idea itself is entirely without merit, but it feels a little ham-handed, and from a narrative point-of-view it robs Beth of some of her agency—that is, her descent into addiction becomes an inevitability, a result of factors that are beyond her control. In the real world, of course, many of the problems we face are indeed influenced by things that are beyond our control. I certainly understand this, it’s just that I find it more satisfying in my fantasy narratives if the protagonists have some measure of agency and free will.
I’ll come back to this idea again when discussing Beth’s substance addiction problems, but there is one more aspect of these attempts to explain Beth in the series that rubs me the wrong way. It stems from another flashback, and it is just a single quick moment that is never mentioned again. In this flashback, a despairing Alice is burning all of her books, and one of the books she throws on the pile is her doctoral dissertation in mathematics from Cornell University. One of the implications of this scene is that Alice was a genius, and that this genius may have in part driven her mad. We might also read into this the idea that Beth somehow inherited her chess skills from her mathematically inclined mother, despite the fact that mathematical ability is not a predictor of chess skill, and Beth is an intuitive player anyway (which means she doesn’t like to calculate a lot). When I first saw this scene, it struck me as a bit lazy, as if this one fact were supposed to explain things. I can tell you from personal experience, though, that a PhD degree has absolutely zero correlation with genius.
That being said, upon my second viewing of the series, I realized that there was another possible reading in this scene that might make more sense in terms of connecting Alice’s experiences with Beth’s later experiences. Mathematics is a notoriously male-dominated world, and in another flashback Alice bitterly tells Beth that men will constantly feel the need to explain things to her. No doubt Alice’s experiences as a woman in a man’s world did not help her mental state. Chess has also long been a male-dominated world, and Beth experiences some pushback as a woman in that world, at least initially. So here I would like to move on to talking about chess and Beth’s relationship to it, including the idea of what it means to be a woman in the man’s world of chess.
We do get a lot of conflict initially as Beth struggles in this man’s world. When the LIFE magazine article about her is published, Beth notes that it is mostly about her being a girl. She also has a difficult time fitting in with the other girls at her high school, who make fun of her for her dowdy clothes and her apparent lack of interest in boys. After the LIFE magazine article is published, the Apple Pi Club, a girl’s club at school, invites her to one of their meetings, where she is taken aback by how shallow they all are. Of course, Beth does not remain in the stereotypical role of dowdy nerd girl; in addition to her chess genius, she goes on to enjoy both clothes and boys. The series focuses in particular on the fashion aspect of her development, and it is interesting in that it challenges the idea that women can’t be both smart and beautiful or glamorous at the same time. But I am straying from my point, and that is that Beth does initially struggle as a girl in the male-dominated world of chess. However, in both the book and the series, the resistance she faces is relatively short-lived, and she quickly wins the respect (or fear) of her male opponents. Some female chess players have noted that the series doesn’t really do a good job of depicting the rampant sexism in the chess world.
If this were simply a matter of the world of The Queen’s Gambit being a fantasy that is a lot more supportive of women than the real world (a point made in the article I linked to in the previous paragraph), that would be one thing. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to have fantasy worlds that are not subject to all of the problems of the real world. The problem is that the series does not simply gloss over real-world sexism. There is a brief moment during the final tournament in Moscow where an announcer—in the usual role of stand-in for the authorial voice of the book—mentions that a Georgian player named Nona Gaprindashvili is in the audience, and he says something to the effect of, “She is the women’s world champion, but she has never faced men.” Here’s the thing, though: Gaprindashvili is a real chess player who not only was the women’s world champion at the time (she was champion from 1962 to 1978), she had also “faced men” many, many times. In fact, she was the only woman to enter the field of 48 at the 1977 Lone Pine tournament—a field that included Pal Benko and Samuel Reshevsky, among others—and she finished in a tie for first place. Her performance in this tournament was so strong that she became the first woman to be awarded the Grandmaster title the following year.
I will admit that I was not familiar with Gaprindashvili’s story when I first saw the series, but the line about her having “never faced men” struck me as odd, so I did some research and learned more about her. I did know that women play men in chess all the time, and that they beat them, too. In 2002, the Hungarian player Judit Polgár, the number one female player in the world, faced off against former world champion (and consultant for The Queen’s Gambit) Garry Kasparov. Kasparov was previously very well known for making disparaging comments about women in chess, but on that day Polgár became the first woman to beat him; in recent years, Kasparov has changed his tune about “women’s chess.” Now, is it true that there are more high-rated men than there are high-rated women? Yes. Men still dominate chess today. But this is not due to any inherent weaknesses in women that make them inferior to men in chess. You may be wondering why, then, there are separate women’s tournaments and a separate women’s world champion. After all, if women are just as capable as men of becoming chess greats, shouldn’t the playing field be perfectly level? Well, that’s the problem—the playing field isn’t level. Due to a culture that tells women they can’t play chess and belittles them if they do, there are far more men in chess, and from amateur to grandmaster the deck is stacked (if I can be permitted to mix metaphors) against women. I don’t want to get into exactly why there seems to be a gender gap in chess—which is fine, because someone has already done that. Go read that article if you are interested in a more detailed statistical analysis.
This may seem like a really long tangent, but it is actually central to how I feel about The Queen’s Gambit. The point I want to make here is that I heard a lot of people talking about how refreshing it was to see a chess story feature a woman as a hero who rises up through the ranks and comes out on top in a male-dominated world. But I think it is important to remember that Beth is a fictional character. I’m not saying that fictional characters can’t be inspirational, but when you start erasing the accomplishments of actual women like Gaprindashvili in order to make your protagonist look better, something has gone incredibly wrong. When I finally got to read the book, this was one passage I was very eager to check. I found it hard to believe that the author, who had taken such pains to get his chess right, would write something so blatantly false. When I finally did get to that passage toward the end of the book, this is what I read: “There was Nona Gaprindashvili, not up to the level of this tournament, but a player who had met these Russian grandmasters many times before.” I was flabbergasted. The author had not written something blatantly false, which means that the series writer deliberately changed this, deciding that it was worth distorting the truth and insulting a legendary chess player to pump up the fictional protagonist.
And now for an actual tangent. The issue of the representation of women in chess reminds me of the hubbub around Marvel’s Black Panther when it first came out, as it was the first mainstream comic book film to feature a Black superhero. There was a lot of talk about “representation,” with many people rejoicing that Black people finally had a superhero they could identify with. But I also remember hearing comments from uncharitable observers who noted that Blacks were idolizing a completely fictional character. The thing is, we all do this; I hate to break it to you, but Iron Man and Captain America are not real people, either. You may have never personally idolized either of these characters (I know I never did), but the fact remains that the superheroes we see in our films are predominantly White. Even if Black Panther is fictional, it can still be empowering to see a Black character filling that role.
The fact that superheroes are necessarily fictional, though, does mean that superhero films are not really a good analogy for what is going on in The Queen’s Gambit, as they have no real-world equivalents. Perhaps a better comparison would be to a character like Indiana Jones, who is superhero-like but is still a normal human being with a normal human occupation: archaeologist/professor. You might think that the Indiana Jones films are guilty of erasure as well, because they present a completely unrealistic depiction of what it means to be an archaeologist or a professor. The thing with the Indiana Jones world, though, is that it is fantasy. Sure, it is mostly based in reality, but the supernatural elements place it firmly outside the realm of our lived reality. One could argue that the same thing happens in The Queen’s Gambit, as Beth inhabits a chess world in which sexism is subdued if present at all, as opposed to the real chess world where it is rampant. That is certainly true, but this may not be immediately obvious to many viewers. More importantly, though, the Indiana Jones films do not denigrate actual archaeologists in order to make Indy look better by comparison. But that is exactly what is going on in the series. It may be a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, but I still find it inexcusable.
It is not just women who get erased in The Queen’s Gambit, though. I remember when I first watched the series I was annoyed by how they kept using “Russian” and “Soviet” as synonyms when talking about chess players from the USSR. I’m old enough to very clearly remember the Soviet Union, although I suppose to anyone under the age of thirty it’s just something you read about in history books. But when characters in the series talk about “Russian players,” they are erasing all of the brilliant non-Russian players that played for the Soviet Union at that time. In fairness, I will grant that they do sometimes use the word “Soviet,” but again they use “Soviet” and “Russian” as if they were identical, and they’re not. There is an exciting scene in the book—well, exciting for a chess nerd—that has an impact the series doesn’t quite have. When Borgov calls for the adjournment in Moscow and Beth goes up to her hotel room, she hears voices coming from the room at the end of the hall. She surreptitiously peers in to find Borgov and the other Soviet grandmasters in the tournament going over the position. This reinforces the idea that the Soviets work together as a team. In the book, though, the grandmasters that Borgov is consulting with are none other than Tigran Petrosian and Mikhail Tal. If you’re not a chess nerd, these names will mean nothing to you, but I genuinely felt a thrill of excitement when I read those names in the book. Oh my god, Borgov has Petrosian and Tal helping him?! What is relevant to my point here, though, is that neither of these players were Russian. Petrosian, world champion from 1963 to 1969 and known as “Iron Tigran” due to his seemingly impenetrable defenses, was Armenian; Tal, world champion from 1960 to 1961 and nicknamed “the magician from Riga” thanks to his devastating attacks, was (as you might guess) Latvian. Basically, Borgov had the best solid defensive player and the best flashy attacking player helping him, meaning that he got the best of both worlds. I don’t blame the series for not having Petrosian and Tal there, because how would anyone know? But I do kind of wish that the non-Russian Soviet players had gotten their due. It would have been nice, for example, if one of the four Soviet grandmasters in the tournament had been Georgian or Latvian or Armenian. But this is just a chess nerd thing, and it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as how the series did Gaprindashvili dirty.
Misrepresentations of the chess world aside, the actual chess as depicted in the series was very good, and that is no surprise, given that American chess coach Bruce Pandolfini and (as I mentioned above) Garry Kasparov were consultants on the show. (Pandolfini also consulted on the original book as well.) You do get a lot more chess in the book, because it is easier to describe the progression of a chess game in words than it is to show it unfold in real time. Oh, that’s another thing—the way the games are depicted in the series makes it look as if they are being played in rapid or even blitz time controls, but in reality the players would have spent a lot more time between moves. However, I can understand why the series sped things up, as watching a classical chess game in real time is only for die-hard chess fans with a lot of time on their hands (I have never watched a classical chess game live from start to finish). It was still nice to see familiar openings play out on the boards and watch neat tactics unfold, although we didn’t always get quite as clear a look at the board as I would have liked. Again, though, I understand that the majority of viewers probably do not share that opinion. That’s fine. I think the series did the best possible job with the chess in order to keep it interesting and exciting for the general viewer.
Probably the single most iconic visual element from the series is related to how chess is portrayed—or, more accurately, how Beth visualizes chess. When she first learns chess at the orphanage, she develops the ability to see the chessboard upside down on the ceiling, as if she were looking down at it from a great height, and she is able to whisk through line after line at lightning speed. I always took this to be metaphorical, but the series really leans into this element, so much so that when she looks up at the ceiling during her final game with Borgov, everyone else looks up to see what she is staring at. In the book, the very first time she lies down in her bed at the orphanage and thinks about chess, the scene is described as follows: “She blinked and looked at the dark ceiling overhead and forced herself to see the chessboard with its green and white squares. Then she put the pieces on their home squares: rook, knight, bishop, queen, king, and the row of pawns in front of them.” However, the book also makes it clear that she is seeing all of this in her mind: “[The knight] stood there clearly in her mind on the green-and-white board on the ceiling of the ward” (emphasis mine). It is meant as a metaphor, and the image of a chessboard on the ceiling is never used again in the book. The series, though, takes this, runs with it, and turns it into an iconic and unforgettable image. Although it did at times feel a little gimmicky, I have to admit that it was a very effective gimmick.
This is a good point at which to segue into the last main thing I want to talk about, namely Beth’s substance abuse problems. Prior to seeing the chessboard on the ceiling of the orphanage ward, Beth takes the tranquilizer pill that she had saved from earlier that day, and it is presumably this pill that allows her to visualize the board in the way that she does. This becomes a theme throughout the series; whenever Beth needs to calm down and focus on chess, she takes the pills. She takes some pills prior to her simultaneous exhibition at the local high school, when she goes to the bathroom in the middle of her state championship game with Beltik, before heading down from her hotel room to face Borgov in Paris, etc. She does not take the pills prior to the continuation of her game with Borgov in Moscow, although she does tell Townes that she feels like she needs her head to be cloudy in order to visualize the board.
I remember that when I first watched the series I found this statement rather odd. Why would her head being cloudy help her visualize positions? With not inconsiderable effort, I can visualize and play through positions in my head—certainly not at the level that Beth does, of course—but if I am even a little bit tired or not completely sharp, I will start to lose the picture after only a few moves and have to keep backtracking. I’m willing to accept that Beth is a genius and that such things might be significantly easier for her, but the type of mental activity required to visualize and play through chess positions in your head means that you want to be as sharp as possible, no matter who you are. So I was particularly interested to see how this was handled in the book. I was surprised—and, then again, not surprised—to discover that the pills play a completely different role in the book: Beth only uses them when she can’t get to sleep, and she deliberately avoids them when she needs to concentrate. I was surprised because of how much of a departure from this the series is, and not surprised because of course she wouldn’t take tranquilizers when she needed to concentrate! I still don’t understand why the writer of the series decided to do this, because it makes no sense at all. My best guess is that he wanted to play up Beth’s addiction problems—to make them more of an obstacle that needed to be overcome.
If that is true, though, it makes the way the series handles Beth’s alcoholism all the more inexplicable. Although Beth’s first real introduction to alcohol comes when she attends the party thrown by the college kids, she doesn’t dive headfirst into alcoholism until after she returns from Paris. Before we get to that, though, we should mention the Cleo incident. As I noted above, Jenny appears only briefly in the book and then we never see her again. Cleo, though, calls Beth in her hotel room in Paris the night before her game with Borgov, asking her to come down to the hotel bar for a drink. Beth initially declines, saying that she needs to study, but then she changes her mind and goes down to find Cleo there, and she opens her heart to her (again, allowing the viewer access to Beth’s thoughts). She says that she is only going to have one drink, but that obviously doesn’t happen. The next time we see Beth it is late the next morning, when she wakes to the sound of a tournament official pounding on her door and telling her that she is late for the game. Beth leaves Cleo sleeping in her bed, pops a couple of tranquilizers, and heads down to face Borgov. She starts out composed, but she is clearly hungover (we know this because she continuously asks for more water, not necessarily because she looks like someone who is hungover normally looks—she’s still as flawlessly beautiful as ever; more on this below), and Borgov beats her handily.
I didn’t really question this scene in the series when I first saw it. It seemed to perfectly encapsulate Beth’s struggles with addiction and impulse control—so much so that the series’ first episode opens with her waking up to the pounding on the door and ending up in a chair across from Borgov. The scene with Beth as a newly-minted orphan is the logical starting point from a chronological standpoint, but the hotel scene in Paris sets the stage for everything that will follow. The only problem is that, as I was quite surprised to discover when reading the book, it is a complete fabrication. There is no Cleo in the book, which means that Beth does not go down to the hotel bar for drinks and end up late for her game with Borgov. No, she goes to bed early (and gets a good night’s sleep thanks to some tranquilizers—remember, that’s what they are for) and wakes up “refreshed at eight, feeling confident, smart and ready.” This confidence does not last, though, and as the game develops she realizes that Borgov is simply outplaying her. As the book puts it: “She was playing her best chess, and he was beating her.”
And that is the trade-off that the fabricated scene in the series makes. In exchange for the opportunity to illustrate Beth’s problems with alcohol and impulse control, it gives up this earth-shattering realization. She doesn’t lose because she made some poor decisions the night before, she loses because, even at the best she’s ever been, she’s still nowhere good enough to beat Borgov. For someone like Beth, who is as addicted to winning as she later becomes to her booze, this is soul-crushing. It’s one thing to lose because you’re not at the top of your game physically or mentally; it’s quite another thing to lose because you’re just not good enough, and for all you know you might never be. That fear is one of the triggers that sends Beth into the downward spiral of alcoholism on her return from Paris. Was the trade-off that the series made worth it? Was it worth it to see Beth make some more poor choices that lead to a negative outcome, to see her be once again unable to control her impulses? In my opinion it was not. Not even a little bit.
There are other triggers that push Beth toward alcoholism, such as having to give up most of her hard-earned money to buy the house she lives in from her complete bastard of an adoptive father, but it is Beth’s failure in Paris even when she is at the absolute top of her game that is key. She is supposed to return to New York to continue studying with Benny, but she despairs. What more can she learn from American chess? She’s already learned everything she possibly can from the American masters (or at least she thinks she has). The gap between American and Russian chess is one she will have to bridge alone—and it is this feeling of being utterly alone and isolated, beyond the help of anyone she knows, that is what I think finally tips her over the edge. Once she decides to return to Kentucky rather than rejoining Benny in New York what happens next is almost inevitable.
It begins innocuously enough. She goes to a restaurant in her hometown intending to eat lunch, but when the waiter asks her if she wants to start with a cocktail, she orders a Gibson, Mrs. Wheatley’s signature drink. Her “lunch” ends up being six stalks of asparagus and four Gibsons, and after leaving the restaurant she crosses the street and walks straight into a wine shop to stock up on booze. It is at this point in the book that we read an iconic line I remembered from the series: “She had flirted with alcohol for years. It was time to consummate the relationship.” (In the series, this line is spoken by Mrs. Wheatley, when she and Beth are at one of her tournaments and Beth suggests that her mother might want to stop drinking so much. The thing is, this line makes no sense for Mrs. Wheatley because she has already been an alcoholic for years by this point. I can understand why the writer wanted to work the line in somewhere, because it is a great line, but it just doesn’t work here.)
The series departs significantly from the book in its depiction of this consummation of Beth’s relationship with alcohol. We do get a montage of Beth drinking, including a scene where she is carrying a bag of empty bottles out to the trash and stumbles on the way, spilling the bottles and then angrily shouting “What!?” at a neighbor who stares on. It’s a fairly direct and effective way of showing how much Beth has been drinking, but we don’t really get any indication of what all this drinking has done to her. Probably the most iconic scene from this episode is Beth dancing to Shocking Blue’s “Venus” in her underwear. She then decides to mimic the thick, dark eyeliner of the lead singer, and I guess this is supposed to be a sign that she has lost control. Given the significance of cosmetics and rock and roll at the time, though, her actions here say “rebellion” more than they do “losing control.”
More could be said about how women were treated at that time, and how much of a problem alcoholism might have been among women, but I don’t want to get off track. The bottom line is that in the book I saw Beth hitting rock bottom, and it was scary. The series, though, shied away from that horror and seemed far more interested in making things sexy. I think part of the problem might be the fact that Anya Taylor-Joy is beautiful in an almost ethereal, otherworldly way. We know from the book that Beth is attractive, and that in itself is not a problem—as I mentioned above, I can appreciate the idea that a woman can be both beautiful and smart. Where it becomes a problem, though, is when the series seems reluctant to make Anya Taylor-Joy anything but beautiful as Beth, even when she is supposedly lost in the dark depths of constant binge drinking. Let’s be real: People do not look like Anya Taylor-Joy did in that episode when they are drinking as much as Beth did. The “Venus” scene bothered me the first time I saw it because it seemed voyeuristic, watching a woman who has lost all control dance around her house in her underwear. After reading the book, though, I realized that there was more—the scene also romanticizes Beth’s substance abuse problem, making it seem less serious than it actually is.
The book is not nearly as preoccupied with Beth’s beauty, no doubt in part because books are not a visual medium like television, but I think it goes deeper than that. The depiction of Beth’s drinking binge in the book is ugly and harrowing, and I remember feeling genuinely scared for her as she slowly destroyed herself—even though I knew that she was going to be fine in the end. The book does not pull any punches when showing the dark side of this time in Beth’s life. To make things worse, Beth is all alone. Having left Benny waiting for her in New York while she returned to Kentucky, she is afraid to reach out to him. There is no Harry, either, unlike in the series, when he shows up at her door and again later at the state championship tournament. In fact, this tournament also plays out completely differently in the book. In the series, Harry confronts her outside the high school and Beth storms off frustrated, never even bothering to play in the tournament. In the book, though, there is no Harry or Annette. Beth simply goes to the high school and decides to play in the tournament as a sort of test to prove to herself that she’s fine. She’s not fine, though, and in her very first match against an 1800-rated player (who would crush me, but whom Beth should be able to beat in her sleep) she loses and then drops out of the tournament.
This may be where the series writer got the idea to have Beth lose against Borgov in Paris while hungover, but if so I think it was a horrible decision. Losing to the world champion after a late night of drinking isn’t a tragedy—it’s to be expected. In the state championship, though, Beth lost to a player who should have been little more than a speed bump. It is this experience that proves to be the turning point for her. It still takes her several days to come to her senses, as she vacillates between determining to pull herself out of this hole and seeking solace in the very thing that is destroying her. But she does eventually realize that she needs help, that she can’t climb out of this hole by herself. This is where Jolene comes in.
Here again, the series departs from the book. In the series, Beth comes to no such realization and makes no such decision to start turning things around. Jolene just shows up at her door one day to tell her that Mr. Shaibel has died and ask her if she wants to go the funeral. In the book, though, no one comes for her—not Harry, not Benny, not even Jolene. Instead, Beth reaches out to Jolene, getting her contact information from the orphanage (she has to beg the headmistress to give her Jolene’s number, as it is illegal for them to give out such information). Jolene helps Beth by getting her back into good physical shape, but she is also there for emotional support. They do go to Mr. Shaibel’s funeral together, but this does not happen until well after Beth first reaches out to Jolene. These changes in the series may seem like minor matters of timing, but I believe they are quite drastic. In the book, it is Beth who finally determines that she needs help and puts that determination into action. In the series, though, Jolene shows up by a stroke of luck and essentially performs an intervention. Had Mr. Shaibel not died, Beth presumably would have continued drinking and been in no shape to eventually go to Moscow. I’m not going to say that the book is perfect—for one, once Beth makes the decision to stop drinking and get back into shape, she pretty much stops cold turkey and never has any relapses or even any real close calls, which seems unrealistic for someone with substance abuse issues. Then again, this does fit in with the overall mythological tone of the book.
This is a theme throughout the series, though—the idea that Beth is not alone but has people around her who care about her and help her. She is not without allies in the book, of course, but the series gives Beth more allies more often. Another good example is in the final episode of the series, when Townes shows up in Moscow for emotional support and then later puts through a call from Benny, Harry, Wexler, Leverton, Mike, and Matt (the group I referred to earlier as Beth’s “boy band”). This scene does not come out of thin air; there is a similar scene in the book. In the book, though, Townes does not show up out of the blue in Moscow, and when the call comes through from the States it is only Benny, Wexler, and Leverton. It actually makes no sense for all those men to have gotten together at Benny’s place in New York. It makes sense that Townes, Harry, Mike, and Matt would all know each other, because they were all fixtures in Kentucky chess. But we never saw any connection between the Kentucky contingent and Benny’s New York crowd. In the emotion of the moment during my first viewing of the series I didn’t really notice it, to be honest, and it is indeed fulfilling to see so many important characters brought together for the finale, but once I read the book I realized how little sense it made. Again, though, it is very much in keeping with the theme of Beth having a host of allies in the series. It’s also worth noting that, in the book, the lines that Benny, Wexler, and Leverton lay out for Beth are helpful, but in the continuation of the game she is out of book (that is, the game has departed from those prepared lines) within about a half-dozen moves, so ultimately Beth still has to go it on her own. Because we don’t have access to Beth’s thoughts in the series, we don’t know this, and we might be more inclined to think that Beth’s victory was very much a group effort.
This discussion of allies ties in tangentially with something I read recently. A friend of mine (and fellow chess enthusiast and TQG fan—hi, Mark!) shared the news that there is now a musical version of the story in the works. I won’t comment on the idea of The Queen’s Gambit as a musical, as it is beyond the scope of this entry, but there was a sentence in the statement released by the company producing the show that struck me: “Told through a brave and fresh point of view, audiences are already sharing in the friendship and fortitude of the story’s inspiring women who energize and sustain Beth Harmon’s journey and ultimate triumph.” My first thought upon reading this was, “That’s not quite how I remember it.” (Actually, my very first thought was, “Uh, that’s a dangling modifier.” The whole sentence is kind of awful and awkward, in my opinion, but we’ll ignore that for now.) Not that there aren’t inspiring women in the story, especially if you go by the series. But, really, the only woman who fits this description in my mind is Jolene. Annette is encouraging, but she shows up only briefly in two episodes. Cleo is another minor female character, but her presence actively hinders Beth on her journey. Mrs. Wheatley is a tough one. She is certainly supportive of Beth, and I definitely felt a lot of sympathy and affection for her, but I’m not sure I would classify her as inspiring. She is a woman who made the best of a bad situation but ultimately drank herself to death. Alice, Beth’s birth mother, is also deserving of a certain measure of sympathy, but she was embittered and worn down by the struggles of being an exceptional woman in a man’s world, and in the end she not only killed herself but also tried to take her daughter with her. Definitely not what I would call inspiring. That leaves us with Jolene, who is indeed inspiring as a Black orphan who grows into a strong and independent woman. Judging by the above quote, I imagine that the makers of the musical intend to focus on her relationship with Beth, and to possibly create some new relationships. I do wonder how they are going to handle the many men who become Beth’s allies, though, as they play just as important a part in the story, especially in the series. Perhaps the musical will cast a harsher light on the sexism in the chess world and give Beth more female allies. That would lead to yet another version of the story.
I will mention one more thing here before wrapping up, not because it is necessarily thematically related to what I have been talking about in this last part, but because it is related to the end of the series/book and I have not been able to figure out a good place to put it. It goes back to the disadvantage that the series has in not having direct access to Beth’s thoughts. Like I’ve said more than once above, the series does get around this a lot of the time either by having Beth share her thoughts with other characters or by having announcers speculate on how Beth must be feeling at a particular moment, or what she must be thinking. But there is one area where we don’t get Beth’s thoughts on the matter at hand and it significantly changed how I perceived Beth’s experience: how she views her Russian opponents in Moscow. Put simply, we never really hear what she thinks about the Russians. There is one moment earlier in the series where (I think) she tells Mrs. Wheatley that the only player she fears is Borgov, or something along those lines. Anya Taylor-Joy does a great job of delivering the line, and we believe her when she says it, but that is nothing compared to how terrified Beth is of the Russians in the book. Her game against Luchenko is particularly striking in that regard. In the series, we only ever see Luchenko as, well, Luchenko. That is, his image never changes, because we are seeing him through the more objective lens of the camera. In the book, though, Beth is terrified of him, and when they start their match she sees this immaculately dressed titan of chess towering over her. It is only after the adjournment that the glamor wears off and she sees him as a tired old man (he’s only 57, but Beth is 19, so I guess that’s old). Borgov is a little more imposing visually speaking, but we still never really feel how terrified Beth is of him, and how much of a relief it is when she realizes that she’s beaten him. I do think that this is something the book is much more suited to conveying than the series, but I wonder if there wasn’t some way to use lighting, angles, etc. to convey some of that terror on screen.
With that I think I have exhausted everything I wanted to talk about. There are a number of things in my notes that I haven’t gotten to, but they are relatively minor things and don’t have a significant impact on the points I wanted to make, or at least don’t contribute significantly to those points beyond what I’ve already discussed. So I will bring this incredibly long entry to a close here. I’ve said too much to wrap things up with a neat little bow, so I will just say again that I enjoyed both the series and the book. I know that the latter part of this entry in particular may make it seem like I disliked the series, but that’s not true. I disagreed—sometimes vehemently—with some of the decisions made in the series, especially after reading the book for comparison, but I think the series does some things very well, just as the book does some things very well. Likewise, both the book and the series have their weak points. So I don’t think that one was necessarily better than the other; rather, I think that each inform and supplement the other, and that they exist in a complicated relationship. I don’t think I would be able to choose one over the other. Instead, I am glad that I have both, and that I can take the best from both worlds while still having an understanding of where each falls short. My perfect version of The Queen’s Gambit may not exist out there in the world... but in my mind there is now a third version, a kind of synthesis of the original two, that may in fact end up outlasting them both.