(Photo: Henry Söderlund)
Before I begin, this being a Wordsmith Wednesday post, I’ll strictly be talking about A Song of Ice and Fire and George R. R. Martin. No doubt at some stage I’ll post a Small Screen Sunday on HBO’s Game of Thrones, but this one is about the series of books.
George R. R. Martin quickly establishes Westeros as a place of moral uncertainty, where there are no clear-cut heroes and villains. This is one of its greatest appeals within the fantasy genre, where there is sometimes a lack of depth to the traditional Good vs Evil conflict. It generates a fan base where people are able to pick and choose sides, and debate and discuss their reasons for doing so.
The sheer length of the story is also something that is both admirable and effective. A Song of Ice and Fire spans such a large length of time that characters are able to slowly win us over with redemption arcs (Jaime Lannister), or earn our contempt after being unchallenged heroes (Daenerys Targaryen). Family houses dwindle and die, only to be replaced with new contenders. All the while, Martin persistently describes everything in incredible detail and makes sure every character is given a personality, each with their own manners and motives.
For me, this descriptive detail is what makes A Song of Ice and Fire what it is, which is a world that a reader can slip into with absolute ease. Martin’s descriptions of feasts and banquets leave fans salivating and craving the food in question, while descriptions of battle and violence have our hands shaking in anticipation. The infamous duel between the Mountain and the Red Viper is the most tense piece of prose I have ever read; I could physically feel my eyes trying to skim over words to find out the outcome, and it took a lot of effort to restrain myself so I could experience the scene in all its brutal elegance.
“You raped her.” Prince Oberyn parried a savage cut with his spearhead. “You murdered her.” He sent the spear point at Clegane’s eyes, so fast the huge man flinched back. “You killed her children.” The spear flickered sideways and down, scraping against the Mountains breastplate. “You raped her. You murdered her. You killed her children.” The spear was two feet longer than Ser Gregor’s sword, more than enough to keep him at an awkward distance. He hacked at the shaft whenever Oberyn lunged at him, trying to lop off the spearhead, but he might as well have been trying to hack the wings off a fly. “You raped her. You murdered her. You killed her children.” Gregor tried to bull rush, but Oberyn skipped aside and circled round his back. “You raped her. You murdered her. You killed her children.”
– A Storm of Swords pt II, George R. R. Martin
While I do take part in the dark and memetic joke of George R. R. Martin’s waning lifespan and his continually delayed publishing dates, I will admit that I find this one of the best aspects of the storytelling experience. Fan theories fly around internet forums and it’s great that no matter how outlandish the theory – given the nature of A Song of Ice and Fire, where anything goes – it can’t be discounted. I really love reading these and thinking about the source material, and how tiny details could have huge consequences for the outcome of the game of thrones.
Of course, none of these theories matter because Stannis Baratheon is obviously the one true king of Westeros.