In general, I’m not very tuned in to cultural trends. I don’t watch television—in fact, don’t even own a TV. The music I like best was considered “classic” three decades ago. I buy clothing mostly based on function, rather than fashion. Plus, as I’ve discussed in a previous blog post, I’m a non-conformist by nature and education, deeply suspicious of anything that “everyone” likes. Popularity is something of a negative value for me (except of course, when it comes to the popularity of my own books!)
Hence, it’s a bit embarrassing to realize that I’ve become addicted to a wildly successful popular phenomenon—the Game of Throne series.
Not the TV show. As I said, television plays no role in my life. I’m talking about the fat, juicy, deliciously detailed books by George R.R. Martin, on which the HBO series was based.
I picked up the first book (A Game of Thrones) back in April, when I was preparing for an overseas trip that involved a sixteen hour flight. Experience has taught me that the best way to endure that sort of ordeal is to lose myself in a book—preferably something long, so I don’t run out of material, with enough action and emotion to keep me interested, but without too much philosophical or intellectual complexity. (My head gets kind of fuzzy after eight hours in the air!) I’d heard about the Song of Ice and Fire series, and it sound like just the right thing. I was delighted to discover that even though the initial volume was 800+ pages, the book didn’t weigh much.
It took no more than a chapter or two to get me hooked. I read all through the flight, except when I was sleeping, and had enough story left over to carry me halfway back home. I was so sorry when the book ended! And I knew I’d have to go buy the next installment before too long.
I resisted the impulse for about a month. Then another trip gave me an excuse to pick up A Clash of Kings. This flight was shorter (only nine hours), and mostly at night, so I was still only halfway through when I returned a couple of days ago.
And now, I can’t get the book off my mind. I have lots of other reading on my TBR stack, including beta reads for friends and books for promised reviews. Instead of distributing my reading time, as I normally do, I find myself returning to the world of the Seven Kingdoms, night after night. I’m embarrassed at how excited I get about the prospect of plunging back into Martin’s complicated society.
Why do I find these books so addictive? One major reason is the characters. Martin has made me care about the people he’s created: Arya Stark, the tomboy princess fighting for her life; Tyrion Lannister, the selfish, hideous dwarf with a brilliant mind and a surprising streak of humanity; Jon Stone, bitter bastard and reluctant hero; Catelyn Stark, a voice of wisdom and honor in a vicious, power-mad world; Daenerys the Dragonmother, enduring anything to reclaim the throne of her ancestors. Even the minor players are vivid and engaging. Although the characters lie at various positions along the dimension of goodness, each has strengths and weaknesses. Each chapter presents the point of view of a different character, and we come to feel some sympathy even for the more villainous of Martin’s creations.
The author has no compunction about killing people off. Heroes are not guaranteed to survive or thrive in this saga. That lends a sense of terrible urgency to the story, since I realize that even the people I love the most may well die.
Then there’s the magic. I admire the author’s delicate hand in imbuing his world with supernatural elements. So many fantasy series go overboard, losing their sense of reality. In Martin’s world, magic hovers at the fringes of the story rather than taking over center stage. The wonder is more potent because of its rarity.
I sometimes lose track of who’s fighting whom. I can’t necessarily keep all the family relationships straight. That doesn’t matter. There’s something about these books that keep pulling me back.
I’ve still got a good three hundred pages to go in A Clash of Kings. After that, I suspect I’ll be haunting the local used bookstore, looking for the next volume.