Thursday, April 19, 2012

Uncollected Thoughts on A Game of Thrones

Yep, you talked me into A Game of Thrones....and I'm glad you did. What took me so long to read it? Same hesitancy as everyone else who hasn't yet read it — I'm not normally a fan of fantasy novels. But while these novels are undeniably geeky — they include the swords and dragons and mysticism and people saying things like "on the morrow, I'll break my fast" — it's easy to see why it's crossed the nearly uncrossable barrier from the parents' basement to the mainstream. It's a really engrossing story, and really well written.

Here are few uncollected thoughts about the first novel (and I do plan, at some point, to continue the series). They contain a spoiler or two, so you may want to skip this if you haven't read them (or seen the HBO series, which I just started watching, too). 

Too obvious symbol/foreshadowing — The one thing that drove me most nuts about the novel is the scene right at the beginning where Eddard and his family find the dead mother direwolf and its six pups. The mother has been killed by with the antler of a stag (the sigil of house Baratheon). And GRR Martin even has a guy say "It is a sign." Duh.

Arya is awesome! — Of course, she (and Robb, too, I guess) is the one character we're supposed to unreservedly root for. And we do! She was my favorite character, as her burgeoning rivalry with her sister adds intrigue to some of the "down" parts of the story — like the trip from Winterfell to King's Landing, etc. I want to read the next novel just to find out what happens with Arya.

Check your cultural absolutism at the gate — Yep, there's a lot of incest — some of it intentionally sinister and a fulcrum for the story (Cersei and Jaime), other times it's just mentioned in passing. There is also a lot of young girls doing things young girls in our culture wouldn't (Daenerys). And my gods, is it a violent novel — you get your head chopped off just for breaking a silly oath! As with any literature, though, understand these are all facets of the fictional world we're in, and so holding these details up to modern standards is ridiculous. This should go without saying.

Apparently, there is no evolution in the Seven Kingdoms — I thought it was funny how the culture and technology seems not to have changed in the Seven Kingdoms in several thousand years. They're still guarding the Wall with dudes with swords, they're still doin' it with their sisters, and they're still hoofing it around on horses. C'mon, it's been several thousand years! Somebody have a new idea, already! Maybe the characters exaggerate when they say "for thousands of years, it has been thus" or whatever, but c'mon, can't these folks evolve a little?!

The communications ravens are the one thing that doesn't fit — Telepathy? Okay. Underground "transporting" tunnels. Sure, I'd even buy that. But using messenger ravens to communicate over long distances seemed like a stretch — like kind of a sloppy solution to a plotting problem. You're in a fantasy novel, but the "fantasy" still has to have its own rules. And this one seemed like a stretch to me. Or am I nit-picking?

Steep freakin' price to cross a bridge — Close to the end, Robb Stark and his army are trying to cross the bridge at The Twins to outmaneuver the Lannister army. And his mother Catelyn has to negotiate the price to be allowed to cross. And the price is that Robb has to marry one of the keeper's daughters and Arya has to marry one of his sons. Just to cross a freakin' bridge?! My gods, man.

You could tell when GRR Martin was hungry — One thing I really enjoyed about the novel is the detail — of the clothing, the terrain, and most notably (and kind of humorously), the food. A lot of people told me, in their recommendation to read the book, that it's "literature under the guise of fantasy," or that "it's more historical fiction than fantasy," and it's these details that really make that accurate.

So, there you go — and now I'm off to have flagon of ale.


  1. There's a whole recipe website devoted to the food of the series -

  2. Glad you enjoyed it! A couple of points, if you will...

    Communications Ravens- This sort of thing has been done with pigeons for years. Why not ravens?

    Bridge crossing - It's not just a mere bridge crossing, it's tantamount to choosing sides. The Fryes, when they allow the Army of the North to cross, are risking retribution from the Lannisters.

    Of course, as you'll find out if you read further, both of these things will be explained. The bridge crossing, in particular, is important for later books.

    1. Messenger pigeons didn't fly hundreds of miles, though, did they? I still think there could've been a more elegant, more Seven Kingdoms-ey solution to the communications problem.

      I suppose that's a fair point about "choosing sides" - but even then, still a steep price, isn't it? But what I'm hearing about how much that'll matter later is that it was another plot device to set the cornerstone for future events. Fair enough.

    2. The bridge crossing was also a way to gain an alliance(i.e.more man power)and marriage in a medieval time was considered the best way to do that. Robb at least had the option of refusal,whereas his sisters weren't allowed such freedom of choice.

      Arya's one of my favorite characters as well(right along side Dany and Tyrion)and if you keep up with the rest of the series,her journey has only just begun. Not going to say anything more,I swear,on that matter!

      Oh,and as for evolution-don't expect that here. Most of the fantasy kingdom novels that I've read are not about that. The steampunk genre would satisfy that yen for you much more. This is more sword and sorcery,with a more realistic edge to it.

  3. I am so thankful I read this book before I started watching the series! It's super-confusing for someone to watch the show if they're not familiar with the books. The food is definitely interesting and there is even a blog which has been devoted to developing recipes that are based on the GRRM books; they've now got a book deal from Random House! (

    I'm now onto the 3rd in the series and loving every page of it. I loved Arya, but man! Tyrion ended up being my fave.

  4. I'm with you on Martin's chainsaw subtlety with foreshadowing and symbolism. It's part of his excesses, which in my opinion include those lengthy descriptions of food, clothing, etc. (which were a plus for you, I'm interested to find)

    For me it's all about the characters, and as the series goes on, Martin continues introducing nuanced human beings for you to invest in. But remember-- he giveth, and he also taketh away.

  5. Yes! So glad you read - and mostly enjoyed! - this. I'm the same way with Arya; she is a total badass, and absolutely reminds me of my own little sister. But if that makes me Sansa... maybe I should keep that to myself.

    Also, excellent point about checking modern culture at the gate. It should go without saying, but too often the books are held up against current moral standards, and it's frustrating to see them dismissed based on those counts.

  6. Love Arya, love Tyrion more. The thing that I love most about this series is that he is not afraid to kill off major characters-though I am sometimes very annoyed with who it is that kicks the bucket!

  7. My reason for not reading the novels yet is that I don't want to have to wait seven years for the next book and try to remember everything that happened since the first novel.

    Though some people are patient enough to read things as the books come out (or in the case of comics, on a monthly basis), I'm not, and would much rather be patient enough for all the books to come out and just do it all in one big sitting.

    So in 2020 or so, I expect to be able to read this series.

  8. Wow. I never thought I'd read something that would actually make me want to read the series. I mean, just looking at them makes me want to read them, but I started and couldn't get the author's face out of my mind. So I gave up, because for some reason it totally wrecked the writing for me. Yikes!

    But this post is not only entertaining and funny, it's also made the book attractive. Shit.

    Still, I'm with James. I don't like to read a series till it's finished. And the fact that it takes so long seems to me to confirm the one thing customers keep saying to me: he's long-winded and takes a long time to get things out. Did you find that he could have cut stuff out and tightened things up more?

    1. Normally, I'm with you (and James) - I had reading series until all the books are finished, because I hate waiting for books! But in this case, it doesn't seem to bother me - probably because I have four more 1,000-page novels to read, which, frankly, even though I liked this one, I'm in no real hurry to plow through. So by the time the next book is out in 2015 or whatever, I'll be ready for it! ;)

      Whether he could've tightened things up a bit, sure, of course. He's definitely a bit verbose and not exactly a master of the craft. But it didn't bug me too much. Just stay in the story, is my advice. ;)

  9. Interesting comments! My thoughts...
    1. Ravens.... I love it! They are black sinster and given you a feeling that this news may or may not be trustworthy. I think the Author uses our general knowledge of these animals as to force a preconceived warrior approach. What does one think wolves, especially alpha wolves? Hunt in packs with defined heirarchy. Stags, pure #s is their defense.
    2. Bridge.... You may not know the value of a bridge, so this civil engineer takes much offense! Prior to a bridge and the lock system at the Falls of the Ohio, located near the great city of Louisville, Ky, Anyone traveling on the Ohio River would have to get out, walk up/down shore, and reimbark on another ship. Louisville quickly became one of the largest cities in the US, due to this geographical "road block". Secondly, Have you driven on an Illinois tollway? $5.00 if you do not have a IPASS. Gesh! Plus we have pay high state taxes. What are they funding the Transporation budget? Tollway money?? So forcing a few kids to marry some other kids, doesn't seem to severe.