I admit that last week I was not meeting my quota of a post on Monday and Thursday. But in my defense, I had a very good excuse: namely, finishing off reading George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.
I’ll tell you now: I didn’t originally anticipate writing an article on this series. In fact, it’s ironic because I never planned on reading the series in the first place. I know: that’s blasphemy and all that. So here I was at the turning point of finishing my Master’s Program, typing up and haphazardly organizing my notes on mythic world-building when my friend Noah messages me and asks me essentially where I’ve been for about a year now. I tell him I’ve been writing my paper for that time and more and as well going a little bit crazy.
So he tells me about A Song of Ice and Fire. Now, I only knew about it peripherally. I had friends who were–and are–still complaining that Martin is taking too long writing the books and they spend that time speculating about what happens next. You have to understand, I went through my epic fantasy reading phase where each book is a tome and a half long a while ago at this point. Not too long ago, I was reading and rereading books and articles for my Master’s Thesis. I’d also attempted to slog through all of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series and failed from lack of attention. In addition and I know this is really going to sound snobby, I sometimes have this inherent distrust for something that is that popular: though I’ve ignored that distrust multiple times in the past and this was no except.
But it was also more than that. I didn’t want to start reading something and investing myself into it. Because those kinds of books–if they are good ones which A Song of Ice and Fire is–they will do it to you and I was already becoming a master of procrastination. Moreover, I was afraid of letting more imaginary characters into my head space and investing in them if that makes any sense at all.
It turns out, though, it was exactly what I needed.
It was also very fitting. The irony that I had originally avoided reading a series of mythic world-building because of my mythic world-building project did not escape me and it was a problem that was rectified after letting myself table-top role-play again and hearing in tangent things about Westeros and that world in snippets. You know what I mean: your friends telling you little things about green men and fire priests and politics but not wanting to spoil anything for you because they believe that it is a crime that you of all people aren’t reading this story? Yeah, those kinds of snippets and previews that you read online as well.
So I will try not to go into any spoilers and just make a few writing observations about Martin’s ongoing masterpiece. The best way to start this is to talk about something that seemingly doesn’t relate to anything here but ultimately will.
I’m going to talk about Achilles’ shield.
When I was in Undergrad, I took a course called Interpretations of Homeric Epic where our professor told us about the shield of the Myrmidon hero Achilles in Homer’s Iliad. What is so special about this shield? Well, it is a shield that encapsulates the sun and moon, the world, the people farming it, warring in it, and serves as a microcosm of an entire world: the same world that Homer depicts in his narrative that he applies to our world when he writes or tells it. One possible literary term for the metaphor of the Shield, if you’d like to see it, is ekphrasis: which is essentially a method of describing and bring an experience to a reader or listener through the use of immense and multi-layered detail.
I will freely admit that I took some dilettante-like and potentially inaccurate liberties in defining ekphrasis as a literary device–which Achilles’ Shield represents–but I also think it really describes the intricate details inherent in A Song of Ice and Fire‘s narrative. The books themselves are a source of ekphrasis: along with the weirwood trees and other beings that find themselves becoming more immanent and saturated into their world.
Through a few perspectives, you will find yourself awash in a sea of beauty, sex, cruelty, filth, banality, mystery, hints, poetry, laughter, politicking, battle, subtle magic and death: lots and lots of death. And not just figurative character deaths, but brutal and literal character deaths. Through each chapter from a different person’s perspective, you will watch them interact with this finely woven world-tapestry of things right in front of them and inches away and either watch them change in the process … or wink out entirely. That is what A Song of Ice and Fire is: at least from my own understanding.
What amazes me, however, is not only how Martin can turn a phrase but also how he is able to keep so many details straight–large and small–and make his narrative more intricate, interlocking, and flexible than a Maester’s chain. I sometimes feel like I have to go to a Citadel of my own to get everything straight but his world stretches out so beautifully even with all the horror: and this is not counting the terrifying supernatural menace here either. It does make me despair of the humans in Westeros and that whole world sometimes: just as it sometimes intimidates me as a reader and especially as a writer. I wonder just how Martin is going to resolve all of this.
I could go on somewhat off-tangent to talk about the shamanic element in Daenerys Targaryen and Bran Stark’s journeys, but I might save that for another post. I will however say one thing. The real reason it took me so long to create another post on here was because I was reading George R.R. Martin’s Dunk and Egg novellas: stories that take place approximately a hundred years before his main saga.
I didn’t know if I would like them, but I did. A Song of Ice and Fire is full of intrigue, manipulation, treachery, and politicking–known fondly as “the game of thrones”–but the Dunk and Egg stories look at a hedge knight and his strange squire wandering Martin’s multi-layered world and bringing almost a … purity or simple wonderment to another otherwise dark yet beautiful place.
Now I think I will end this long post with a quote from one of the books. It encompasses everything I feel when I read good literature: especially from a genius like George R.R. Martin.
Martin states, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies … The man who never reads lives only once.” If you want to know the context of this quote or indeed of a lot of the things I just said, read the series. You will not be disappointed. I’ve already lived quite a few lives in various forms in the saga of Ice and Fire. I expect there will be more before this is all said and done.