Tag Archives: George R.R. Martin

We Are Westeros

Robert Joustra and Alissa Wilkinson compare our world to the one in Game of Thrones and find many parallels. Secularists continue to redefine the world outside their little bubble, choosing to believe all religions are fruitless and merely the fading remnants of past generations.

The secular West in our own world has been stunned in the past several decades by the global resurgence of religion. . . . George R.R. Martin frames the problem of resurgent religion in theodicy, the age-old question of how a good God could let bad things happen.

In a July 2011 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Martin said:

And as for the gods, I’ve never been satisfied by any of the answers that are given. If there really is a benevolent loving god, why is the world full of rape and torture? Why do we even have pain? I was taught pain is to let us know when our body is breaking down. Well, why couldn’t we have a light? Like a dashboard light? If Chevrolet could come up with that, why couldn’t God? Why is agony a good way to handle things?

A one-time Catholic, Martin struggles painfully with theodicy in his stories, which are pregnant with a bitter lapse of hope. Every violation pierces the reader. How could such a thing be allowed to happen? What kind of world is it where this happens?

Martin wants us to hear this proclamation: this one. This world. That’s where these things happen.

The war over the Game

The controversy over Andrew Klavan’s praise for Game of Thrones rumbles on, and I follow it with the fascination of a reality show fan, except for wishing both sides well.

A few days back I linked to Klavan’s column at PJ Media, “Eyes Wide Shut: Christians Against Art.” In the course of an argument – with which I generally agree – that Christians need to produce art that seriously addresses the real world, rather than some PG world we’d like to believe in, he mentions his own fondness for the HBO series, “Game of Thrones,” seeing it, apparently, as the sort of thing we ought to be trying to produce ourselves (though I’m sure he wouldn’t insist on including all the skin). In my own response, I expressed my own deep disillusionment with “Game” author George R. R. Martin’s books, a disillusionment which has prevented me from watching a single episode.

On Monday Dave Swindle, another PJ Media writer, responded to Klavan’s article in a similar vein:

You’ve known me since not long after I started editing full time. I was 25 and was only a defense hawk and fiscal conservative but still “socially liberal.” Since then, for a variety of reasons (particularly my return to belief in God), I’ve come further in my ideological shift. I’m genuinely embarrassed by some of the socially conservative positions I find myself now arguing. Never in a million years did I foresee myself as the type that would ever side with those cautioning against pornography’s downsides and the “shocking” content in art. You’ve talked in the past about how you disagree with our mutual friend Ben Shapiro about his Orthodox Judaism-inspired approach to culture and sex. I used to also — and I still disagree with Ben from time to time on issues and tactics (particularly on gay marriage. This is a theological difference deriving from an interpretation of scripture. He and I will just have to keep arguing about it). But on the fundamental issue, the social conservatism he explicates from his traditional reading of the Torah is correct: sex is sacred. It’s impossible to have “casual sex” with someone — every sexual act is transformative. I came to this understanding differently than him, though, through first-hand experience and painful mistakes.

Continue reading The war over the Game

A Throne of Bones, by Vox Day

When I wrote my article on Christian Fantasy for the Intercollegiate Review, I made a disparaging comment about “wanabee George R. R. Martins.” I received a friendly e-mail shortly thereafter from none other than Vox Day of the Vox Popoli blog, wondering if I had had his novel Throne of Bones in mind. I hastened to tell him that I hadn’t. I’d seen the book on Amazon and thought about checking it out, but hadn’t done so yet.

The upshot was that I sent him a copy of Hailstone Mountain, and he sent me a copy of A Throne of Bones. It should be noted for the record that if our reviews of each other’s books are positive (I don’t know whether his will be, assuming he does one) that we have both received free books in the deal and may have been corrupted thereby.

Most anyone who starts reading Throne of Bones will realize that it’s very much the same sort of thing as George R. R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice books, and Vox makes no denial of this. But he’s trying to do the same sort of thing in a very different way, which for me makes all the difference.

The story takes place in an alternate world called Selenoth (it has two moons). The general situation seems to be something like that of the Roman Empire in the late Republican period (as best I can figure out), though there are differences. The time period seems more medieval than Roman, and the Amorran Empire (spell Amorr backwards) has believed in a religion which seems pretty much the same as Christianity for four centuries. The two most powerful houses in Amorr are the Valerians and the Severans, conservative and liberal respectively. The Valerians want to preserve the old form of the empire, while the Severans want to expand citizenship to the provincials. But General Corvus of the Valerians sets off a break within his own family through a necessary act of military discipline.

Meanwhile the Sanctiff of the Amorran church dies, and the conclave convened to elect his replacement is massacred by some kind of demonic attacker, something that’s not supposed to happen in Amorr, where magic is strictly prohibited.

Far to the north, the Viking-like Dalarans are being driven from their home islands by the Ulven, a race of wolf-men. They agree to submit to the king of Savondir (a heathen land where magic is legal) if he will give them refuge and help them reconquer their homeland. But strange shape-shifters have appeared among the Ulven, and pose a threat to Savondir as well.

And Corvus’ soldier son Marcus survives an army coup, managing to wrest control from the mutineers and finding himself, though woefully inexperienced as a commander, the general of an entire army, facing not only orcs and goblins but rebel Amorrans.

And there are dragons. And dwarves. And elves.

Pretty much all you could ask.

I enjoyed it immensely. Vox Day isn’t the prose stylist George R. R. Martin is, but he’s not bad. On the plus side we have a complicated, complex story with interesting and sympathetic, fully rounded characters. There are few out-and-out villains – everybody is doing what they think right. And unlike Martin’s stories, the fact that someone is virtuous and noble does not guarantee them a painful and ignominious death. In terms of pure story, Vox Day’s book is much more rewarding. And Christianity is treated not only with respect, but as a true part of the cosmos.

Much recommended.

A Feast For Crows, by George R. R. Martin

One line review of A Feast For Crows by George R.R. Martin: “I give up.”

I say that with great regret. In my view there’s only one contemporary fantasy author who bears comparison with J.R.R. Tolkien in any meaningful way, and that’s Martin. No other author in the field today comes close to him in combining fully realized worldbuilding with skillful prose and insightful character development. There’s no other contender in that weight category.

Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series is loosely based on (or perhaps “suggested by” would be a better combination) the English Wars of the Roses. But Martin’s wars are bigger affairs. Britain has become Westeros, a full-fledged continent, home to a dozen kingdoms, as culturally diverse as the European Scandinavia-to-the-Mediterranean range. All are under the overlordship of the Iron Throne, but the death of the king in the first volume set off a rash of dynastic wars. The wars are big. The passions are big. The treachery would put the Borgias to shame. The crimes are appalling, the heroism…

Well, no. There isn’t any real heroism in these books, which is a major part of my problem with them. People who aspire to chivalry in these books generally get cut off pretty promptly, and those who survive mostly do so by lies, murder and betrayal. The only fighters Martin seems to admire much are the female ones, of which I counted about four (it’s hard to remember) in this book.

“It’s hard to remember” is something you’ll hear a lot from Martin’s readers. His method is not to put a few sympathetic characters on stage and follow them over time and geography, in Tolkien’s manner. Martin sets out dozens of characters (all of them admirably fleshed out) in hundreds of locations, and leaves it to the reader to keep them straight (with the help of character indexes in back, without which reading these books would be impossible for anyone not blessed with a photographic memory).

And that’s only the half of it. Martin explains in a note at the end of this volume that he’s left out half the characters and action in this section of the plot, and that he’ll provide those in the next volume. Just be patient. And keep your notes at hand.

And that’s the other part of my problem with Martin. He seems to have allowed his grand scheme to run away with him. His desire to populate his books with a cast of thousands is admirable in its way, but it’s taxing for the reader. I could probably hang on to the end (whenever that comes—Martin is coy on the projected length of the series) if I thought the payoff would be one I’d appreciate.

But Martin doesn’t appear to be preparing us for any Tolkienesque “eucatastrophe.” His message, judging from what we’ve seen so far, would seem to be the old, tired (and false) one that goes, “War never solves anything.” To drive that message home, he employs the device of regularly killing off characters we’ve started to root for, and in the most unpleasant ways he can think of.

So sorry, George. I’m not going to invest the effort you demand of me just so I can watch you kill off the rest of your viewpoint characters and hear you sing, “Give peace a chance.”

It’s been a good effort. But I have other things to do with my life.