It’s not all fun and games, here at Tea Time, what with reading about Chinese history or Japanese POW camps. Sometimes middlerage knuckles down to some escapist fiction. Like, say, a giant fantasy series. Tough work, but somebody’s gotta do it.
Thus it is that I’ve jumped on the bandwagon for George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, better known as the Game of Thrones books. I’m really enjoying it and have (so far) devoured two and half books of the five book series. I had never even heard about the series, until it started creeping into headline news by virtue of being made into a current HBO miniseries. So I put it onto my to-read list (see previous post) and headed off to the library to check it out. The library is an awesome resource, and I’ve been able to enjoy so many books, CDs, and DVDs for free. However it is not the place for a super-super popular book. I got placed on the waitlist at position 50. Ughh! Being a denizen of the 21st century, I have instant gratitude issues. There is a famous study where psychologists offered young children a marshmallow now, or two marshmallows in an hour (or some X amount of time). Longitudinally tracking the kids showed that the ones who held out for the reward of 2 marshmallows, did better in life. Alas, I think I’m a marshmallow NOW bloke, and so I hauled myself down to the local Barnes and Noble. I reckon it’s about time I gave the book industry a bit of cash, considering all the free books I borrow (ignore the property tax man behind the curtain).
So I plunked down $17 plus tax for book one of the series. It would’ve been only $9 for a paperback, but middlerage is definitely in middle age and my eyes and arms much prefer the larger size of trade paperbacks. Sure, Amazon would’ve had it cheaper, but see above point about marshmallows.
I like the series because it has an intense realism to it. The story is rife with good old fashioned medieval brutality, and state intrigue. I don’t think I would like it half so much, if I wasn’t already acquainted with English history or the historical fiction of Bernard Cornwell (famous for the Sharpes Rifles series, but he’s also written lots about brutal Dark Ages Britain). No plucky hobbits fighting evil in a black and white world, here.
If the bookshelves at Barnes & Noble are any indication, Fantasy is a huge genre, and I confess I know very little about it. I have good friends who could probably write white papers on the genre, and explain gobs about it to me. Being a non-expert, I measure everything against Lord of the Rings, and LOTR is a classic. The classic. One I revisit every two or three years. As I said above, I am thoroughly enjoying Game of Thrones, but I might – might – read it once more in my lifetime. This isn’t a criticism, but an honest pondering of what makes a classic. My jest about plucky hobbits was actually not in earnest. There is just something so elegant and elevated about LOTR that makes one want to be a better person. And it also isn’t very “real” ( I know – an oxymoron when discussing fantasy) allowing for yummy escapism, whereas The Game of Thrones strength is, in fact, its searing realism. I recently ran across an interweb dustup over Martin’s use of rape. I recommended and then retracted my recommendation to a friend after I realized it was too violent for her taste. A good friend of mine (Bill H.) calls it the War of the Roses with magic. He also admitted to coming into work a zombie after many a night not being able to put down the books. Having recently read some Tudor history (Henry VIII’s bff Thomas More burns several heretics at the stake, before later getting himself beheaded) has made me quite receptive to Martin’s violence. Stormbringer informed me that, in the world of fantasy, there were two competing series: The Song of Ice and Fire versus the Wheel of Time series. I guess, fans of each stepped off against the other, and apparently spittle flew and costumes were ripped. Then the author of the Wheel of Time series up and died without completing it. George Martin, author of Game of Thrones, has only recently released book five after a 6 year wait, and he looks…errrr…old. So I hope I’m not setting myself up for an incomplete story. I am, after all, paying money for this – egads!
[A quick side trip to Wikipedia confirms the death of the Wheel of Time author, Robert Jordan, but also says the series is being finished based on notes the author left. Additionally, Wikipedia says the Song of Fire and Ice is planned to be seven books in length. Here’s hoping the author leaves copious notes.]
As a final thought, I have to say that when the Mozart of your field is J. R. R. Tolkien, and your name is George R. R. Martin, drop the middle initials. Have some respect. But that is just a peccadillo. Like I say, I am really enjoying the read.