Game Of Thrones And The Problem With Fantasy Sagas
I’ve been watching the Game of Thrones TV series and reading the latest book, A Dance with Dragons, recently and originally was going to post some thoughts I’d be having about it all on Google+ but then decided to write it up as a blog post instead as a more in-depth article. Aside from being the perfect setting for a politically motivated MMORPG (hopefully one day), Game of Thrones is the type of gritty, dark fantasy that I really enjoy, a welcome change from the happy-clappy hobbit and elven filled crap that usually plagues the genre. Suffice to say the first few books were hugely enjoyable and the TV show is rather excellent. However the latest book isn’t stimulating me in nearly the same way as the first three did (I found A Feast For Crows rather lackluster too) and, the more I read it, the more I not only grow weary of the whole setting but the more I worry about the future of the TV show too. Unfortunately the entire saga is starting to suffer from something I like to refer to as ‘Robert Jordan Syndrome’.
I have two fundamental problems with fantasy sagas: one, they tend to never end and two, the authors tend to so wrapped up their own little worlds that they keep introducing new characters and story threads, ultimately serving no purpose whatsoever, that it becomes impossible to actually follow what the heck is going on. The latter also contributes to the former and neither are helped by the slow pace that most authors write at (there’s something to be said for Stephen King’s prolific writing style). The saga of A Song of Ice and Fire is a perfect example of this as, after releasing three consecutive books at two years apart each (a perfectly valid time frame), the fourth book followed after a five year gap and the fifth, the latest, after a tremendous six years. I have no clue what the heck is going on any more.
Even after reading a fabulous recap shared by Longasc about seven times, I’m still quite bewildered about who most people in the books are and find myself referring back to it constantly. Not only is this due to the fact that it’s been many years since I read the previous novel but also because George R. R. Martin made a rather large blunder (in my opinion) of focusing on only half the characters in it, effectively meaning it’s been something like 11 years since I last read about the characters in A Dance With Dragons. Honestly I was tempted to re-read the entire saga from the beginning before getting the latest book, as I’m doing with A Wheel of Time, and maybe I should’ve bit the bullet and done it. I suppose though, deep down, I resent the need to do it.
Maybe I’m just a vacuous reader or growing more impatient as I get older but I like my books to have a decent pace and strong, identifiable characters. Contrary to the first three of Martin’s books, I found both A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons (so far) to be rather slow and dull and becoming convoluted with its characters. Indeed watching the TV series has made me appreciate how excellent the first book is not only due to its subject material, plot and grit but how well paced it is and how iconic and noticeable the characters are. Unfortunately though as they keep getting killed off and more people pop up to replace them, the whole story becomes less and less focused and more and more tangled.
Maybe I’m not appreciating the complexity of George R. R. Martin’s grand plan here and maybe I’m underestimating him but I can’t help but shake the feeling he’s as lost as we are, caught up in a world he’s created with no idea of an overarching story. It was exactly the same thing that happened to Robert Jordan and the Wheel of Time books would have been a lot better had he simply been able to reign things in a little and keep everything moving forward rather than going around in pointless, plotless circles.
So how does this fit into the TV series? Well, it makes me worry because the first series was so damn good mainly because the first book was reasonably concise and focused. I guess I just worry how the TV writers will be able to re-interpret Martin’s later books and then how on Earth the audience is going to be able to follow the comings and goings of so many characters. I suppose I like my fantasy dark and gritty but succinct and to the point.
Not that I’m trying to put anyone off the series. I really do like the books, the first three tremendously so, and they’re certainly worth reading. I just felt like sharing my thoughts on the subject.