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Monday, October 17, 2011

Image as Effective Cliff Hanger in A Game of Thrones: Includes Spoilers

After reading chapter after chapter of convoluted, complex, and largely compelling story telling, trading off point of view characters throughout the volumes, it is image that creates the most effective cliff hangers in A Storm of Swords, the third volume in the series starting with A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire), by George R. R. Martin. Toward the end of Volume 3, here’s a spoiler or two, if you’ve been reading the series: Jon Snow, voted Commander of the Night’s Watch, his direwolf, Ghost, by his side, and Mormont’s black raven on his shoulder, dressed in his blacks with his brown hair flowing. Lady Catelyn with the specter of her ravaged face and her long finger pointing.

There is so much happening in this series, from multiple, multiple points of view, usually major characters, but sometimes tertiary, the reader could get lost, if it were not for memorable image keeping the central characters and themes alive. Name after name is dropped and largely forgotten, but characters remain. You find yourself looking forward to certain ones and the continuation of their plights. One character for me I find particularly boring, and I like to skip past her, Daenerys, mother of dragons- but if I do, I always force myself to go back, and re-read any parts that I’ve missed. If I’m going to bother with this heavy tome, I’m in for the duration, no matter how tedious or exalting.

George R. R. Martin is a master story teller and world builder, but the series, so far, would benefit from judicious editing and a lighter hand when it comes to depravity. Sometimes, it seems to me as the reader, the author is enjoying too much his depiction of rape, incest, and torture, sensationalizing rather than chronicling what is necessary to the story he is telling. On the other hand, characters such as Jaime Lannister, or Sandor Clegane (Joffrey’s dog), who at first appear to be monsters, become fully dimensional and worthy of deliberation.

I’m getting tired, however, of the “chess effect,” though I suppose that’s the design from the beginning. I haven’t read any reviews that discuss the entire series, so not to be influenced, so I cannot be sure, whether my final assessment will be favorable or whether I will be disappointed. I don’t like it when favorite characters get killed off, or good characters go bad!

It is the children I hope for the most, and Martins’s children are both complex and vulnerable, as individual in their personalities, strengths and desires, as any adult character. With its extreme violence and graphic sexual situations, it cannot be said this series would be age appropriate for any teen; but the children and teens in this fantasy civilization are the hope of its survival.

Who do I like the most? Arya, of course, though I fear she has lost herself, and may never recover true strength. Sansa, if only she can find herself. Jon, always Jon. And Bran. And Rickon. And the girl and boy, Meera and Jojen, who travel with Bran. Davos Seaworthy is my favorite adult character. There are plenty of adult characters to hate, and a few young ones, too. I liked Tyrion, for a time, and Bronn has his appeal as a character, but not as a human being.

If you’ve read any part of the series, what are your thoughts?

If you read fantasy fiction, what are your reasons?

Who are your favorite fantasy authors?


  1. I have been offline a fair bit lately, but I had to chime in...

    I skipped the spoilers as I hold out on the possibility of reading that series. I watched ~Game of Thrones~ recently and was intrigued, although not completely satisfied...

    In the late '70s, I read Tolkien and was thoroughly immersed and hungry for more. I read a fair bit of fantasy over the next decade or so and then drifted away. I found myself less willing to spend the time trudging through the nomenclature and lore necessary to get into these stories. If on the first page I see an unfathomable quote from The Third Chronicle of the Seventh Book of Tal-Farfenougat, 17 incomprehensible proper nouns and you're not hooking me with something nice and tasty, I'm usually not interested.

    I recently re-read A Wizard of Earthsea, which seems to be the gold standard, in my opinion. Her world is rich in character and lore but she doesn't beat you over the head with it. The immersion is natural and complete. And of course, the story is what carries it all.

    My favorite "fantasy" author is Tim Powers. It is, however, a bit difficult to classify his work in that way. It's more historical literary fiction with a strong dose of the fantastic. If you haven't read ~The Anubis Gates~, you would be in for a treat.

  2. Hi John,

    It's good to hear from you. I should be "offline" now- it's 1:30am where I am, but here I am, and I'm glad you are, too.

    There is great description in the Game of Thrones series, and great characterization. There is also tedium and particularly in the first chapters of every book, some inelegant prose- it may be okay to skip around, and get what you want out of it.

    I never read Tolkien until I'd seen the movies. I thoroughly enjoy both the LOTR books and the movies; and find them to be different from each other, and complementary. Where they differ, the movies remain true to the spirit of the books.

    As much as I enjoy well written fantasy, I do not enjoy Science Fiction, or any speculative fiction that exhausts itself (and the reader) with insignificant detail, and meaningless jargon.

    I love the Wizard of Earthsea books, particularly the second one in the original trilogy. I didn't read them until I was twenty. I read the first for a course in Children's Literature, and immediately read them all.

    I'll look for Tim Powers and The Anubis Gates tomorrow. Thank you for the suggestion.

    Some of my favorite fantasy authors are women: Juliet Marillier, Patricia McKillip, Lois McMaster Bujold. I also enjoy Sheri Tepper's early fantasies set in "science fictional" worlds, but not her later books, or her pure science fiction.

  3. I'm looking forward to Netflixing the show-

  4. Hi Maggie,

    I've just finished Book 4, and it's largely awful! Presuming they continue the TV version through the end, hopefully they will do a better job of cutting extraneous narrative, and leaving out the sensationalized brutality!