Many people don't know that George R.R. Martin was a pretty reputable (and award-winning) science fiction writer before he began writing the A Song of Ice and Fire books (the series of which A Game of Thrones is the first novel). He's a pro and certainly no fresh-faced youngster breaking through with an accidental literary phenomenon. But...I like his sci-fi better than his fantasy.
A friend of mine stopped reading the series because he found it ugly. He quickly got sick of the preponderance of sexual content and the ruthlessness of some of the characters. He stopped after the first book. I went through the second, but bailed out after that.
The story started to mushroom out into directions that, instead of making it feel complex, made it, to me, feel diluted. I still question whether Martin can (or will even attempt to) draw his various lines to any kind of conclusion. There is always the argument that good literature doesn't seek out neat endings "because life just isn't like that"...that not every novel has to wrap up as neatly as a Dickens book...but, as in music, my mental ear needs to feel as if melodies are going somewhere...anywhere. I just didn't feel any sense of direction from the first two novels.
I get the feeling Martin decided to see how long he could keep readers with him -- how much money he could rake in with this series. And I don't fault him for that at all, if it is true. One needs to be quite a craftsman to pull that off and he is a pro, as I said. He gave the popular reading world something they have never seen. In his work, no one is perfect. There are no wholesome hobbits. Even the forthright Ned Stark in the first book had a spotted past of infidelity.
|Siblings should love each other, but...|
I get that too; Martin put us all on edge. We knew early on that no one was safe. A bold play in a fantasy novel. (Let's face it -- did anyone ever really think Frodo was going to die in The Lord of the Rings?) Martin takes Twain's darling-killing to a whole different level. It was an effective move.
Maybe these books are all about tolerance-level. How much can we take? My friend, mentioned above, only lasted through one book. I made it through two and through part of the third season of the show.
Then, last night, my wife and I were watching (on Netflix DVD), and I saw three babies in formaldehyde, one little girl with a disease that turns her skin into stone, two young boys stabbed to death by an old man, one beheading and a dismemberment and I had to say, at the end of the episode: "Well, I am officially done with Game of Thrones.
On top of it all is the political side of the work. If I want politics, I will watch the news. I don't want to be bogged down, when reading (or watching) fantasy, with the chess match of diplomacy, politics and social maneuvering. A little bit of it is okay and might even be necessary (think of Rohan's reluctance to join the fight with Gondor in LotR) but a little bit is about all I can stand.
And characters? Martin commits the soap opera writer's sin (at least I see it that way -- as a writerly sin) of trying to shift characters from evil to sympathetic by virtue of an uncovered unknown. On soap operas, the writers will decide to change a character from evil to good. What happens is that, no matter what the character has done in the past, he or she (probably as a result of demographic feedback) turns out to be okay. The evil of the past is completely forgotten.
Forgiveness is great...but take Jamie Lannister -- "The Kingslayer." Here is a guy who has sex with his own sister [That's still not okay, right? I know we live in an increasingly tolerant world, but...that's still really wrong, correct?] and who pushed a child out of a tower window, not to mention having committed lots of other meanesses. Then, he delivers a monologue explaining why he killed the king (stabbed him in the back); that he did it to save a city of innocents that was in danger of being completely wiped out. And...I'm supposed to see him differently, now? Yeah, I know -- if anyone had bothered to listen to him as to why he killed the king, things would have turned out differently. He would have lived a different life in which he doesn't make love to relatives and in which he doesn't push children out of windows...
Um, no. Sorry. I'm not that forgiving. I don't think being misunderstood causes people to do those things...or that it excuses them. Therefore, why continue with an interest in these characters? I just reached the end of my tolerance, probably during that very speech.
In short, there might be magic in Martin's series, but...it just doesn't feel fantastic enough to me. Too much ugliness; too much sex; too much randomness in the events. This may all be seen as praise for the work; as an indication that Martin writes realistically. But I think of it the way some people see painting: It is cool when an artist can paint photographically, but, after one recognizes that, and praises it, why not just look at photographs? I want to see a writer give me the perfect balance of believability and wonder.
Most of all, I want to care and, in the case of Martin's work, I just ran out of caring.