Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Game of Thrones/A Clash of Kings - George R.R. Martin

I recently read A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings. I know I’m a little late to the party on this one, but I wanted to read the books before I watched the TV show, and people keep telling me to watch the TV show. My only message to all-them is to read the books. They’re amazing.

George R.R. Martin wrote A Game of Thrones is 1996 where it was instantly showered with awards. It won the Locus Award, the World Fantasy Award, was nominated for the Nebula Award, and parts of it won the Hugo Award for best novella. Let me just say that my top 10 favorite books have all won the Hugo and Nebula, or have at least been nominated. It basically guarantees that the book is going to be fantastic. The reason I’m telling you about all of Martin’s awards is because I’m surprised his books were so removed from the public’s radar. Martin is finally getting the recognition he deserves, and I’m sure it has everything to do with the TV show. It’s good to know the old boob tube is good for something.

A lot of people compare Martin to Tolkien. I understand the desire; it is very high praise for Martin. But, to me it seems a lot like saying apples and oranges are similar because they’re fruit and round. The only thing similar about Martin and Tolkien is that they write fantastic fantasy. If there were more supremely talented fantasy writers than Tolkien and Martin wouldn’t seem so similar.

Aside from the fact that their style is very different, I always thought Tolkien was more of a storyteller and Martin more of a character developer. Tolkien’s books are all about the story; they’re about the universe he’s created, the past, the present, even the future. Martin takes character development to the extreme. The most obvious indicator is that the books are written from about nine different points of view at any one time. Additionally, each character is very different. He writes a 10-year-old noble girl as well as he writes a 50 year old ex smuggler with two sons. Somehow he manages to represent the soul of each character in a remarkably believable and subtle way. I’m not sure how he does it, I can’t think of another author who does it as well.

A big theme in A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings is the competing ides of honor, bravery and strength. The fact that the books are written from so many different points of view means that Martin is going to have a chance to represent the ideals of all those characters. In this universe (kind of like our medieval ages) honor is a very big deal. I’m very intrigued how each character represents their idea of what it means in be brave and honorable. For Arya strength means having the power to kill or elude people. She felt like a mouse when she was trapped as a servant, but once she was able to choose three people to kill she felt strong. Her sister Sansa, on the other hand, felt like honor and bravery meant remembering her courtesies even when times got tough. The castle was under siege, she was terrified, and still she was able to say something polite to the Hound, even though she feared and disliked him. Tyrion found his strength in being smarter than other people and controlling them through that knowledge. Cersei used sex to control people, and valued beauty, wealth and political power.

            Another big theme in the books was the duty required to family. Tyrion Lannister would cover up any crime and support any folly of his family for the simple reason that they were family and that’s what you did. Yet he let his contempt for his family be very pain, and didn’t feel the smallest bit of love for them (with the exception of Jaime). Bran Stark, on the other hand, took enormous pride in being a Stark and believed he was held to a higher standard of behavior because of his station. He loved his family and missed them greatly when he was parted from them. It’s all these different ideals that make A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings.

One of the most interesting things about George R.R. Martin’s books is the character he chooses to focus on. He writes from the point of view of character who seem like they should almost be supporting characters instead of main characters. For example, instead of writing from Jamie or Tywin’s point of view he chose Tyroin. Tyroin is by far the most interesting and awesome of the Lannisters, but he is not the obvious main character. Another example is choosing to write from Bran’s point of view instead of Rob the heir. Another example, to a lesser extent, is writing from Ned Stark instead of Robert Baratheon. Martin very cleverly tells the story from the point of view from people who are very interesting rather than the main characters. We actually get a better view of the events because they are being told by less biased characters. If the story was told from Jaime’s point of view, for example, we would think Cersei Lannister was pretty great (or at least really hot) instead of the wack-a-doodle that she is.

The take-a-way message from this long rambling post is that you should read the books. They’re awesome. 

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