Summer Reading: Game of Thrones and Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin – Art or Craft?

3063422216657658220I know that I am (once again) incredibly late to get on the GoT bandwagon reading-wise. My dad had told me about GoT for some time and I did watch the show from the very beginning of Season 1, I adored Season 2 and found Season 3 amazing. But for some reason, I couldn’t get myself to read the books. I made several false starts with the first one, Game of Thrones and finally bit the bullet and read it this summer. It took me a while to get in to the rhythm of the story and I was constantly comparing the literary source with my visual memory of how the people and events were depicted on the show. But once I got about 200 or 300 pages into the story (finally), I found myself enthralled and thoroughly enjoying the book and performing less comparisons in my head. I finished it in about two weeks of reading and attacked the second book, A Clash of Kings right after and couldn’t put it down for the two weeks it took me to plow through it. I know that the TV show runs through half of the next volume, a Storm of Swords so I am starting on that now.

a-clash-of-kingsWhat is the draw? While I revel in the end of Clash of Kings and prepare to start Storm of Swords, I was contemplating on the vast universe that Martin created in Westeros and across the Narrow Sea. The literally 1000s of characters and 1000s of years of history which seem to be bulletproof from a consistency point of view is striking. The clash of religions and the ingenuity of the Seven in particular (the old gods are pretty similar to aboriginal or pre-Christian pagan religions, the god of light bit seems too much like a perverted Christianity with Stannis as a violent, vengeful Jesus but the Septon, the Grand Sept of Baelor, the seven-sided churches, the heart-trees – THAT is brilliant!).  But I continue to ask myself, is this LITERATURE or just the fantasy variant of pulp fiction. Is this art or craft? It is certainly craft – the complexity of the plots and the vastness of the characters proves that hands-down. But is it art? Perhaps it is, but if we compare it to the ULTIMATE in this genre, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien, does it stand on its own? I am afraid that I would have to say no. Although the narrative technique in GoT of seeing the events through each character’s eyes is interesting (we only experience the Battle of Blackwater from Tyrion’s eyes before he passes out after Cersei’s assassination attempt on him and from the experiences of Sansa and Cersei in the Keep and in the reports read and overheard by Jon and Arya), we don’t actually get into their heads. I felt that I was really in Bilbo’s head (and later Frodo’s) when I read Tolkien’s work. The descriptions seemed more literary and poetic in a way. I found that the closest Martin comes to Tolkien is when he is in the “green” dreams of Jon and Bran and when we are with Tyrion hearing his hilarious cut-downs and asides. I suppose I also have to give him high credit for the sympathy that we develop for Arya, Jon – and dare I say the Hound and even Jaime? and the hate that we have for Joff and the Mountain and the pity we feel for Theon. There is some art hidden in there I suppose. I suppose I have to read the next three volumes and wait for the 6th next year to see how he develops the whole Fire vs Ice theme that he has been building too. But perhaps that is the one flaw that keeps this one on a slightly lower plane than Tolkien: the Hobbit and Ring Trilogy were relatively tight stories that despite having loads of characters and a long backstory (and admitedly less complicated than that of GoT), it concentrates on just a few themes (the epic journey where the character grows in maturity and understanding, truth combatting evil and greed, addiction, obsession and the will to power, etc) and the story line is easy to follow and remember. GoT is vast and complex and it is so hard to remember ALL the 3rd, 4th, and 5th tier characters that float around and re-appear. I understand that perhaps he was breaking new ground by not having one but 7-15 protagonists and no one single focal point, but it is tiring to the reader and sometimes takes away from the fun. I’d be very interested to read what my readers felt about GoT the series, GoT the books and how they stack up against the myriad of other fantasy epics.

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About mfinocchiaro

IT Architecture Guru for large PLM software company but dabbling in Web 2.0 and other stuff.
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8 Responses to Summer Reading: Game of Thrones and Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin – Art or Craft?

  1. Ed McBride says:

    My attempt at reading GoT failed to stick after 100 or so pages and I think that it’s because I tend to read several books at the same time and the complex ones become a burden to my overloaded brain. I need to break that habit. Anyway, my kid is reading it now so it’s not gathering dust..

  2. tulesais says:

    Bonjour,
    Je me suis également lancé la dedans il y a quelques mois, sans avoir vu la série.
    Par prudence, je n’ai acheté que le premier tome en poche soit les 500 premières pages.
    Il m’a semblé que tout cela était prévisible, que les personnages manquaient d’originalité ; même si certains sont plus intéressants que d’autres.
    Le format de grande fresque bâti autour de beaucoup de personnages est, pour moi difficile à suivre (je manque de mémoire pour les personnages multiples)

    En ce sens, la comparaison que tu fais entre art et artisanat est pertinente encore qu’elle me gêne un peu. J’aurais tendance à réfléchir en termes de plus ou moins grands auteurs ou romans.
    Et puis ce faux moyen age de la fantasy avec une terre, des territoires inventés qui ont des caractéristiques bien spécifiques finit par me sembler tellement banal.

    Il faut vraiment que tu lises Jack Vance, Philip José Farmer, Robert Silverberg.
    Sam

  3. Terwilli says:

    I will not spoil the next three books for you but I am very interested in your opinion when finish The Dance with Dragons (book 5). I like the tie in and uncertainty about the Song of Ice & Fire so, IMHO, the book The Game of Thrones is the best as is the first season (I SO miss Sean Bean).

  4. ka says:

    Oh, it’s fine pulp, good and juicy. Art? of course, that low and venal art that splashes the page with red and black and gold. Terribly Romantic.

    If you’re looking for quieter pieces, the classical, the pursuit of an idea over all else, I can recommend some science fiction.

  5. Pingback: Book Reviews: A Feast for Crows | Fino's Weblog

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