I picked up A Game of Thrones years ago on the advice of a co-worker, and with a good deal of skepticism. The type of fantasy novels popular at the time were giant doorstops, each one a part of some seemingly endless and increasingly self-referential series, often written by men of questionable politics recycling the same stale “Chosen One and/or Rag-tag Band of Heroes Must Defeat Dark Guy Who Wants to Make Fantasy Land Suck Because He’s Evil” storyline. (Let’s not even talk about cover art.) I had sampled a few, and found that they were usually not for me. A Game of Thrones, my co-worker insisted, was different.
The book did not look promising. It was a paperback brick, the cover depicting a sword-wielding barbarian-like man riding through the snow. A raven flew beside him and a castle loomed in the distance. The title was printed in raised red foil lettering. I bought it anyway.
And I was damn glad I did. It was different. It was a novel of rivalries and ambitions where people lied, screwed, and murdered on a level appropriate to its feudal medieval setting. Magic was only one of innumerable wildcards that could take the plot in startling new directions. In this novel death was not trivialized, not dealt out to a slew of minor characters as the protagonists sail through the book unscathed. I quickly learned the number of pages a character appears on has little relationship to their odds of survival in A Game of Thrones.
I admit to having lost track of much of the saga in these years between A Feast for Crows and the forthcoming A Dance with Dragons. I don’t resent Mr. Martin in the slightest for taking his time, because I don’t recall ever hiring him to be my personal bard. The books kept me happily entertained for literally thousands of pages, which is more than I can say for most stories.
I’m happy to see the current HBO series is a fantastically good time as well, and has a massive viewership far beyond the Stargate Firefly Babylon S-G 1.5 Atlantis SyFy crowd—a giant middle-finger to the T.V. critics who were, let’s face it, pretty much totally bitchy assholes about it. Even the decent early reviews had to make sniffing references to Renaissance Fairs or Dungeons & Dragons, saying the show had merit despite the fantasy elements—as if all fiction is not essentially speculative, and as if certain kinds of imaginative story are inherently more or less valuable than others. The New York Times and Slate sadly displayed the hegemony of taste. These pathetic attempts to flaunt cultural capital and ghettoize anything that threatens the intellectual aesthetic of privileged tastemakers now look especially foolish halfway through Season 1. Yes, even women watch it! No, it isn’t confounding and confusing to all but an elect group of social rejects LARPing in the food court! Yes, people who have never read a book with a dragon in it really look forward to the next episode!
Additionally, it’s a great adaptation of the source material. Not slavishly devoted, but changed in ways to make it more appropriate to the medium without sacrificing what’s best about the story (everything that The Walking Dead adaptation is not). I’m looking forward to a Sunday show again, for the first time in awhile. Now, should I re-read the whole series and just get A Dance with Dragons in paperback, or soldier into the new hardcover with Wiki as my guide… either way, it’s a great way to pass an evening, and Winter is Coming.