Thursday, March 9, 2017
Title: Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire
Editor: James Lowder
Genre: non-fiction, literary criticism, Game of Thrones, fantasy
I've been addicted to Games of Thrones ever since Jamie pushed Bran out the window in Episode 1; that's when I knew this was a show that wasn't going to follow the rules. I started reading the books and soon found out that Martin doesn't follow the rules of writing either. His characters aren't strictly good or evil, the good guy (or gal) doesn't survive every encounter, and children or harmed or killed...
While I'm waiting for Game of Thrones to return on July 16, I discovered this book to help tide me over until the winds of winter come howling onto my TV screen (see what I did there?). Beyond the Wall is a literary, mostly non-stuffy critique on some of the recurring themes on the show and in the books: power, gender roles, violence, magic, identity, etc.
Gary Westfahl in "Back to the Egg" explores why fantasy authors write prequels or side stories to supplement their already grandiose epics. This is something that GRRM fans have a love/hate relationship with. We want more writing from GRRM but the writing that is being released is not the writing we want (Hint: It's called The Winds of Winter. How many more years will you keep us waiting, George?).
In "Art Imitates War" (one of my favorite chapters), Myke Cole praises GRRM for his authentic portrayal of PTSD within the world of Westeros: "He got an essential and often missed aspect of PTSD exactly right: sometimes traumatic experiences profoundly damage a character, but sometimes they enfranchise and strengthen the sufferer" (74). Case in point? Arya Stark and Theon Greyjoy. They both experience massive trauma due to events surrounding them; Arya uses her trauma to survive and to channel her rage into assassin skills. Theon succumbs mentally to his trauma and becomes a shell of a human being.
Susan Vaught examines the moral ambiguity in the show and series. Much like our world, Westeros is not completely black or white but full of murky and questionable gray areas. Behaviors that are abhorrent, sinful and taboo in our world are mildly scandalous in Westeros (incest). Succumbing to personal desires instead of behaving in a manner that benefits the group or community is one of the top sins in Westeros (Robb Stark learned this the hard way).
"A Different Kind of Other" examines the role of "outsider" status in Westeros. While most books and TV shows present freaks/outsiders as morally upright and virtuous, or as a poor male seeking to restore himself to a position of power, Martin give his "outsider" characters more depth. Bran is a typical rambunctious boy until he becomes disabled; Samwell Tarly is overweight and non-violent to the despair of his father; Brienne trains as a knight even though she is a woman (she is also an ugly woman which is offensive to some of the male characters in the series). "They're disappointments, even freaks, to their families and cultures" (159). Unfortunately, not all outsiders are kind in this world (Varys, Tyrion). "Outcasts pay keen attention to rules, precisely so they can manipulate them in order to give themselves a fighting chance. They also keep an eye on other outsiders as they can often be valuable allies" (162).
The only chapter that I didn't enjoy in this book was about book collecting and book collecting statistics. It was boring to me and seemed out of place with the rest of the semi-academic chapters.
Winter is Coming