Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Re-Reading George RR Martin

Game of Thrones... Three words which are enough to erupt fervour in any fan of the series. From binge-watchers to cos-players, Game Of Thrones has spawned a legion of followers who know and either love or hate every detail about it. Hell, the show even won at the Emmys while I was writing this blog!

I first came across Game Of Thrones years ago. I was living in L.A. at the time, working at a Best Buy in Porter Ranch, when I wondered into the break-room to see my colleague Micah reading a book. I had a lot or respect for Micah because he was an extremely smart and charismatic scholar, so seeing him so absorbed in this huge tome which he was reading could only spark my interest.
"What are you reading, man?" I asked.
"Why don't you take a look?" Micah offered me the book.
I then did what I usually do when appraising a potential read, and that is to open it on a random page and start reading it from there - spare me the cover, the summary, the endorsements and the intro; I like to jump straight into the middle of a book and let its style and substance persuade me on their own. And it did.
I started reading where Micah had left off, and it was that brutal scene where Tyrion falls in love with a country girl only to learn that she was a whore who had been paid for by his older brother Jamie ( If you have not read the books, then you probably don't know what I am referring to - sorry). I was so riveted by the prose that Micah had to interrupt me a few times and literally pull the book away from my hands. I purchased myself a copy that same day. Three days later, I had finished reading it and I was out to purchase the next book in the series. I was literally falling asleep with the book in my hands only to wake up and continue reading. So enthusing was the discovery of George RR Martin.

The impact this work had on my life cannot be understated. First of all, having grown complacent and cynical after years of watching predictable big budget movies and reading cheesy over-emotional fantasy novels, discovering this gritty and utterly volatile epic was like being born again as a spectator. The descriptions were so lavish, the character so human and the plot so counter-intuitive, that it was impossible to predict what would happen as much as it was impossible to stop reading to find out.
Secondly, this book found me at a time when I was giving up on music. At the time, things were not working out for me and so I had decided on a life change. Reading Georg RR Martin, I remembered my own naive efforts at writing when I was nine, efforts which I revisited and then abandoned once and again along the course of my adolescence and adulthood. It gave me hope that 'good stories' were possible, and so it spurred me to - once again - revisit my naive efforts at writing, but this time with a vengeance.
I began to write even as I continued to read. I remember I got into the habit of underlining every word that Martin wrote which I did not know or did not understand. Then I would sit down with a dictionary, pen and paper, and search for the definition of each, writing these down as I went. I can still remember sitting at a café in North Hollywood, where the waiter, seeing me with the dictionary, came up to me and said, "I am sorry, but I have to ask, are you reading a freaking dictionary?!"
I only laughed.
He did not know about Game Of Thrones then.
I bet he knows about it now.
Part of me misses the days to follow when - while travelling through Scotland - I would run into a fellow traveller with a copy of Game Of Thrones in his hand. We would then engage in an exciting and passionate conversation to which only a few were privy.

Seeing the expansive growth of Game of Thrones fans after the début of the HBO series has left me with mixed feelings. In a way, I suppose that I suffer from the Black Album syndrome as suffered by the fans of Metallica when - upon the release of their Black Album in 1991 - everyone and their sister was singing along to the lyrics of Enter Sandman.
And please don't misunderstand me, the production executed by HBO is unbelievable. Not in my wildest dreams could I have hoped for such a truthful adaptation, and I believe most fans of the books feel the same way.
And - by the way - this 'truthfulness' to the source material in this production has everything to do with Martin having worked in network TV before. He was fully aware of all the artist traps which producers and studios lay out before unsuspecting writers. He bid his time, turning down one offer after the other, until the producers David Benioff and D.B. Davis convinced him to meet for lunch... A lunch which lasted long enough for the diner crowd to begin to flock into the restaurant.
But back to the fandom. Practically everyone who has had a chance to watch at least one episode of the HBO series is now a fan. And that is saying something. They go round saying things like, "Winter is Coming," or "Khaleesi," at which part of me wishes they had a chance to know more about the characters and their back stories. The books are so full of them. So I ask them, "Have you read the books?"
"You should."
Now, I do not want to be that bitter Metallica fan who accuses the band of selling out. I rather chose to approach it as George RR Martin himself approaches it in his interviews, that is, "The books and the show are two completely independent animals."
With that perspective in mind, it is easy to accept the differences between one epic and the other, as well as accepting fans from one media to the other. I think that HBO fans are extremely lucky to live in a time when HBO Game Of Thrones exists. I am happy for them. That being said, I whole-heartedly encourage them to take the time to read the books. They are awesome.

I have already re-read the first book in The Song Of Ice And Fire series - Game Of Thrones. Only last year did I read the latest instalment - A Dance With Dragons - and currently I am re-reading the second instalment - A Clash Of Kings.
From a writer's point of view, the craft of Georg RR Martin is nothing short of exquisite. His choice of words, his sentence and paragraph structure, his weaving of plot and flashbacks, are all carefully laid out like a flawless tapestry. For as much as his readers complain about him taking too long to publish his books - and I am one of them - it must be said that once his work is published it is nothing short from perfection.
Secondly, from an HBO fan point of view, there are dozens of sub-plots and details which the TV series had to inevitably leave out, just because of the sheer time-constraints of video production. There is so much richness to the world which Georg RR Martin created that, if a fan loves the TV series, reading the book will be nothing short from orgasmic.
Thirdly, even as an original reader, then TV fan and then re-reader, it is fascinating to peruse the epic with knowing eyes. There are so many clues, so many insinuations and so many back-stories and motivations which eluded one's attention upon the first read, and yet they are so obvious upon a second read when knowing of things which are still to pass.
For example, the opening of A Clash Of Kings tells us how Maester Cressen tried to poison Melissandrae with the Tears of Lys... The very poison used to kill King Joffrey at the Purple Wedding. Also, while sitting at court with Bran in Winterfell, we are exposed to the entire back-story of the Bastard Of Bolton, long before his appearance and prominence as Theon's torturer and his eventual occupation of Winterfell castle. Upon a first read, this back-story blends with the many back-stories narrated for characters as they stepped into the plot, and easily forgotten. But, upon a second reading, we can see how meticulous George RR Martin was to plant each of these seeds in place so that they would germinate and flourish later.

In conclusion, the craft of George RR Martin is something that goes beyond the simple telling of a story. It is art in its purest form, and as such, it can be appreciated over and over again, with more understanding each time, and with more admiration each time.
If you have not had the chance to read the books, do yourself a favour and purchase/download a copy today. It will change your world. I know, because it changed mine.


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