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A Storm of (s)Words

Posted February 29th 2012 by Anthony DiPalma.

A Storm of (s)Words — Why George RR Martin is the King of Fantasy

From the earliest of times when Beowulf was but a tale sung by bards to the premiere of the latest Harry Potter film that packed local malls with screaming teenagers, fantasy literature has always been popular—and for good reason. No other genre allows audiences to live in a time and place where magic and adventure are as common as popcorn in a movie theater. Whether it is because high fantasy transports us to a world outside of our own or whether it is because Edward Cullen is just so damn dreamy, everyone has their own special reason for appreciating the genre. Recently, a whole new audience was caught in the exciting world of A Song of Ice & Fire, or as fans of the TV show will recognize it, Game of Thrones. As someone who has spent countless hours in Narnia, Middle-Earth, Hogwarts, and Skyrim, I can safely say that George R.R. Martin, creator of the A Song of Ice & Fire series, is the absolute best at his craft. While J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis are considered the fathers of modern fantasy literature, George R.R. Martin is redefining the genre and making it better.

For those who have not seen Game of Thrones or read the books on which the show is based, I am going to be a great guy and tell you ahead of time that it's better than The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, and even The Lord of the Rings. It is a series that focuses less on creating a magical world full of vampires and floating candles and more on in-depth characters that you will love, hate, and love to hate. There isn't a singular protagonist in A Song of Ice & Fire, but rather a whole cast of characters who must undergo rigorous trials and overcome incredible odds in their own stories. At first it sounds like your typical tale: the hero is given a task that must be completed and is tested through various trials; typically, at the lowest possible point he or she will have an epiphany and triumph. This is the cycle that every fantasy and mythological story has lived by, and as a reader, I can honestly say it gets boring.

Luckily, Martin breaks the cycle and lets the audience know that, just like in real life, the hero doesn't always win. In the Medieval times in which Martin's world is loosely based, men were butchered and women were raped. Only the richest lords who had the most land had real significance, and any who opposed them would be crushed. There are very few moments in these stories where the underdog comes out on top due to hard work and perseverance. Much like the world we live in here and now, those who have money are the ones who truly rule, and this is what makes A Song of Ice & Fire so unique. It is one of the only fantasy series I have read that truly reflects the way the real world is run, and that is why the series is so surprisingly gripping. Readers are so used to seeing their hero cut down armies and slay dragons because he or she is the hero. Whether it is due to some will of the Gods, the Force, a destiny, whatever, the hero always overcomes. In A Song of Ice & Fire, this is not so. There are no Almighty plans for our favorite characters; they are humans who make good and bad decisions based on their personalities. All the while, the reader is engrossed in a journey where, for once, no one is safe.

A Song of Ice & Fire is broken down into five books (so far), with A Game of Thrones being the first. A Game of Thrones essentially tells the tales of the Starks, a ruling family in the north of the kingdom who are asked by the king to join houses and rule in the capital city of King's Landing. Of the family, readers are introduced to Eddard, his wife Catelyn, and their children Arya, Bran, Rob, Rickon, and a bastard of Eddard named Jon Snow (since he is a bastard, he does not get to keep the name of Stark). The Starks are quickly in conflict with a rival family known as the Lannisters who possess wealth beyond imagination. Across the sea in a distant land is Daenerys Targaryen, an exiled princess whose family was slaughtered by the current king and is forced into marriage with the leader of an army of barbarians. While these characters are the focal point of the story, they each have different agendas. Eddard must rule for a king who puts the nation in debt, Jon signs up for the Night's Watch—a brotherhood sworn to defend the realm way up north—and Daenerys has to learn to rule like a true queen if she ever hopes to return to her rightful home.

Of course, there is so much more to the series, as new characters with new agendas set the stage for quite possibly the best tales ever written. This is not Lord of the Rings meets The Sopranos, nor is it TV LAND PRESENTS: SKYRIM! No, it is a story all its own that cannot be explained in a few sentences. To properly detail every nook and cranny of the world that Martin has created would take years.

Unlike the Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia series, A Song of Ice & Fire does more than just transport us into another world. If anything, one could say that Martin found this alternate universe and is doing his best to explain it like an archaeologist explains the history of ancient ruins. Like Tolkien's Middle-Earth, the continent of Westeros has thousands of years of history, and it is a world that will live on even after the reader turns the final page. This is a standard for what High Fantasy authors should try to meet. While it is indeed necessary to follow the cycle of Joseph Campbell's Monomyth, which states that epic journeys must come full circle, it is nice to see a writer break from the circle and keep readers in actual suspense. The line between good writers and excellent writers lies between the idea that a good writer knows the rules and uses them to create a strong narrative, whereas an excellent writer knows the rules and bends them to his or her will to create a truly unique experience.

Now that we know who George R.R. Martin is, look out for PART 2, in which I discuss how Martin, dubbed "The American Tolkien" is worthy of the title and how he is, in fact, better than the original.

Tags: game of thrones, a song of fire and ice, tolkien, harry potter, lord of the rings, books, tv, fantasy, george rr martin

Posted in: Features, Entertainment

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