bookshelves: favorites, to-read-in-2013, classics, re-read
Read from April 18 to June 14, 2013 — I own a copy, read count: 2
Largely due to the failure of his forth novel, The Armageddon Rag, George R.R. Martin took a ten-year writing hiatus, starting in 1986.
But in 1991, he was inspired by a sudden, all too vivid image which sparked his imagination, and eventually marked his triumphant return.
“I started with a vision of a scene where some wolf pups are discovered being born with a dead mother in the snow. It just came to me very vividly, and I wrote it. I didn’t know what story it was part of or what world it was part of. I didn’t know anything. But by the time I finished writing that chapter, I knew the second chapter. And once I was 50-60 pages into it, I decided I had a novel – or maybe more than a novel – so I thought I’d better draw a map and think about who these people were …”
He was also inspired by the real-life edifice Hadrian’s Wall (serving as a blueprint of sorts, for his seven hundred foot creation, which he aptly titled the Wall.)
“Well, some of it will be revealed later so I won’t talk about that aspect of it, but certainly the Wall comes from Hadrian’s Wall, which I saw while visiting Scotland. I stood on Hadrian’s Wall and tried to imagine what it would be like to be a Roman soldier sent here from Italy or Antioch. To stand here, to gaze off into the distance, not knowing what might emerge from the forest. Of course fantasy is the stuff of bright colors and being larger than real life, so my Wall is bigger and considerably longer and more magical. And, of course, what lies beyond it has to be more than just Scots.”
Amongst others, he’s cited the novels The Wars of the Roses, Ivanhoe, and the frequently compared, The Lord of the Rings.
Martin’s themes tend to be rather vague, ranging from idealism, melancholy, and tragic herocism. Courtesy of reviewer T. M. Wagner, “Let it never be said Martin doesn’t share Shakespeare’s fondness for the senselessly tragic.”
Throughout A Game of Thrones (and this epic fantasy series, entitled A Song of Ice and Fire,) there are healthy doses of the historical and religious, which I believe play significant roles.
In the introduction to the 1955 classic, The Iron King (another source of inspiration,) GRRM writes:
“Over the years, more than one reviewer has described my fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, as historical fiction about history that never happened, flavoured with a dash of sorcery and spiced with dragons. I take that as a compliment. I have always regarded historical fiction and fantasy as sisters under the skin, two genres separated at birth.”
Seen throughout the series are a number of ficticious religions, many based on actual faiths. The Seven gods, for example, came from from the Christian Holy Trinity; while the Mother, Maiden, and Crone derive from Paganism. Or in Greek mythology, it’s the Fates who embody this aspect, while the Father, Smith and Warrior come from “abrahamic” masculine elements. Additionally, the Lord of Light, R’hllor, was loosely based on Zoroastrianism and the Cathars (who were destroyed in the Albigensian Crusade.)
When asked about religion, and its significance in the series: “I suppose I’m a lapsed Catholic. You would consider me an atheist or agnostic. I find religion and spirituality fascinating. I would like to believe this isn’t the end and there’s something more, but I can’t convince the rational part of me that makes any sense whatsoever. That’s what Tolkien left out — there’s no priesthood, there’s no temples; nobody is worshiping anything in the Rings.”
World-building is easily one of the strongest tools in his impressive repertoire. Laying the foundation throughout Thrones prologue, we see snapshots of the enigmatic and aforementioned Wall, coupled with smigdeons of folklore (also a recurring theme,) surrounding this architectural behemoth which signifies “the end of the world,” and protects its inhabitants from the horrific creatures such as the wildlings.
From there, GRRM expertly explores Winterfell (home of the Starks, the Kings of the North,) Riverrun, and takes the reader to locales like the Eerie, Dothraki sea, and seemingly everywhere in between.
Populating the Seven Kingdoms are an abundance of colorful, well rounded individuals, whom I won’t forget for a very, very long time. From all walks of life, the shady Lannisters, honor-bound Starks, Targaryen’s, not to mention many other Houses, they’re all vying for the coveted Iron Throne.
Martin’s exquisite writing, character-driven plot made for fun, utterly compulsive reading. It wouldn’t be complete without a wide variety of twists and turns; political intrigue; romance, adventure; and backstabbing betrayal. Nothing is quite as it appears. No one can be trusted (least of all GRRM,) whom takes the age old adage, “Kill your darlings,” and makes it all his own. Some may even say that he sometimes takes it to the extreme, and I concede.. to an extent. Yet, I can’t fathom the books lacking such shocking moments, and I don’t want it to be any other way.
So go on, George, keep doing what you do best!
“…when my characters are in danger, I want you to be afraid to turn the page, (so) you need to show right from the beginning that you’re playing for keeps.”
A Game of Thrones has been criticized as starting off slow, with very little action considering its immense bulk. Some might say this view is warranted. After all, there is only one major battle scene, and it doesn’t take place until the last couple hundred pages. However, I think it’s important to recognize that the author’s setting the stage for what’s to follow.
And unless you prefer cardboard flat characters, it’s essential that we become acclimated to his brilliantly rendered characters. No one’s wholly good or evil. The protagonists and antagonists aren’t defined. Hence, I tend to root for them all. Except for those that I truly despise.
Immediately after embarking on this re-read, it was like I’d returned after many years of exile, while at the same time feeling as though I’d never left. Westeros, and the Seven Kingdoms are very much like home to me.
Indeed, I have come home!
“When you play the game of thrones, either you win or die.”