Sunday, 25 May 2014

Game of Thrones

High Fantasy's Nemesis

I am supposed to tackle a very hard review with this one and try to evaluate Game of Thrones without stepping on the toes of so many fans and see myself tragically fail at that.

 For those, who are fans and are reading this review, please try to bear in mind it is the work which is being criticized and not you. All works are presented for the likes or dislikes of people who have got their absolute rights to admire or loathe it.

Now I cannot say that I loathe it but I am so not a fan.

Game of Thrones, A song of Ice and Fire was first published back in 1996 under the category of High Fantasy which in my opinion was a mistake for it doesn’t have anything to do with High Fantasy at all. But more on that later…

However it met its glory and fame in 2011 with HBO’s decision to make it into a tv series. Now we have come to learn HBO’s habits by now, after so many series they aired, we are sure of two things: There will be brutality and there will be a lot of boobs. B&B of another kind if you will…

I cannot deny for a second, that the show is a very expensive production with talented actors and directors. Except for Lena Headey…I mean I watched this woman in The Remains of the Day, Century, The Jungle Book, 300 and now in Game of Thrones and she thinks smoldering and frowning a lot is acting. Somebody please get this woman an acting coach, she has got but one expression for all emotions… Although I dislike, like many others but for different reasons, the cardboard, irrevocably evil characterization of Joffrey, I heartily hail Jack Gleeson for doing such an amazing job with the role at such a young age. The kid’s got talent that’s for sure.

The misé en scene of the show immediately drags you in. When it comes to settings, the books or the show stand second to none, in its own category.

As soon as you begin watching the show or reading the books you will be engrossed in a variety of characters…initially…after a while you will learn to establish emotional barriers between you and the characters you watch or read about.

And that is where the books and the show fail for me. Again…more on that later.

Now lets begin with the length of the story. We cannot for sure tell how long it will take Mr. Martin to finally get to his point and bring this world to a sound conclusion; but we can say that if he has been writing the books since 1991 (that’s right) and in 23 years winter couldn’t even show up, then we have got an enormous problem in that I fear he will pass on before he can finish what he began. As a matter of fact I often wondered if he suffers from ADHD (genuine concern, not mocking) because the stories he creates started very much to resemble a messy child’s room who instead of doing some tidying up messes up even more by dumping more junk in the middle and then goes ahead dealing with something else, his attention never in one place. I think much like the child in this scenario, Mr. Martin is bored and too hyperactive to do his chores.

I have but one question on this matter…Whatever happened to “Less is More”? The best things in life are the things that end, like life itself. And like in gourmet dining, the author should always leave the reader wanting more. I know it means less money but to me quality is more important than quantity. I know I am angering a lot of fans at this point, but I am speaking out of experience and popular mechanics: Stretch something too far and it will come loose or break.

I can certainly see the appeal though. The intrigues, the murders, the battles, the feudal rivalry, mother of dragons who is wandering in the middle of nowhere still, the wall, snow zombies, bastards, prostitutes, blood, gore, nudity, violence and incest. Game of Thrones certainly has got it all.

What it doesn’t have for me, is a hero with whom I can share a special reader-protagonist bond without having to worry that he/she will die in vain. Please note that I am not saying just “die”, I am saying “die in vain”. Writers kill their characters off for various reasons. Most fiction main heroes die in order to inspire enlightenment in other characters and in readers or viewers. A hero’s death is something that affects us all as a whole. Now it is important to know when, who and how often to kill in a book and I understand that Game of Thrones is highly liked by a lot of people because of the fact that anyone can die. I was also quite impressed by that fact until it started to get a little old. As a matter of fact as the body count started to climb up I started to feel as if I was watching “24” in a fantasy setting.

When it happens once, you get sad, twice you get mad, three times you find yourself constantly on guard in order not to empathize with a character too much. You create emotional barriers which will prevent you from rooting for someone. And if you let your guard down, you are running the risk of ending up like this:

So what happens when you have to stay on guard?  Your escapism is ruined. You find yourself in a more realistic, almost historical world. As an author, treating your characters as ruthless and objective as a historian can be good or bad. For me it is not to the advantage of a work allegedly claimed to be fantasy but then again what is fantasy?
Is it elegant maps, swords, elves, dragons, magic and alternative worlds? Black smokes coming out of lady bits??

Or is it something more?

While it does set the ambiance for you, fantasy is and has always been more than just a setting. It is not an absolute obligation that literal other worlds, maps, magic or dragons are included for a work to be a fantasy fiction. Such is the case with Scissor Hands which features none of the above and yet it is still fantasy.

So what is it?

It is the sensation that you find yourself in a world which is different than ours; as opposed to finding our world’s realities in a fantasy setting. Better read a history book in this case and learn something useful along the way.

It is the emotional complacency that at the very end somehow the good shall thrive or escape the evil. Like it or not, unfortunately this is the bottom line of fantasy fiction. NOT fearing that if you root for someone too much you might find yourself, repeatedly subjected to emotional abuse by the writer.

Tolkien, Salvatore, Weiss, Hickmann, Greenwood are some of the masters of High Fantasy.

And yet Mr. Martin is being called the “American Tolkien” by some with a work which is not even High Fantasy. A High Fantasy Fiction has got strict patterns which exclusively dwells on one hero’s rite of passage with a good vs evil motif, where evil is finally undone by the good. For more info on High Fantasy please check this link:

The science of genre or quality (characteristic) does not tolerate exceptions and is merciless. Pluto lost its planetary status because; of the three criteria it did not meet one.

Mr. Martin’s work is a historical fiction in a fantasy setting. A “realistic fantasy” if you will. It has also been called Medieval Fantasy but anyone who has read Pillars of the Earth will know exactly why it is not Medieval Fantasy either.

In short, apart from the unfortunate resemblance in initials I do not see common ground at all with J.R.R Tolkien. Apples and Oranges, Oxford and Clarke…From a son who will say “For as long as I have got breath in me, no one touches Silmarillion”, to a writer who seems to feel compelled to write because he has hit a goldmine.

Borrowing someone else’s fame is not an indicator of originality and it is not a praise either. If you value him and his work you should let them stand on their own feet, not on someone else’s accomplishment. I should think he wouldn’t appreciate being referred to as a nationality and someone else’s surname either.

Now in the name of being fair the early works of G.R.R. Martin were worthy of praise and he did accomplish a lot. He has been in the world of fantasy long enough, even before I was born, so he must know what he is doing. Which leaves me with one assumption: He sold out to the sweet taste of green banknotes and decided to go for sensationalism.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think he has done amazingly well with his first few books of this saga; there is absolutely no doubt there.  

Maybe I am being way too rigid with him. Maybe we are watching the birth of a new sub-genre. It may take some time to understand its outlines and criteria. But it will take even more time to see if it will endure the sands of time, because the best critic is the time itself. Of course we are going to have to wait for him to finally finish it so that we can discuss the series’ worth in a better informed fashion. A good conclusion can always turn things round so I haven’t lost all hope for Game of Thrones yet…just my patience.

However, as it is now I think I can sum up the formula of GoT as follows:

Characterization: A variation of historical figures: Feudal or Byzantine.

Plot: Arbitrary, too many complications that go on eternally with few resolutions following the suspension and climax. Written to shock and provoke. Blatant sensationalism.

Format:   Soap-Opera. Now don’t be in a hurry to take this as an insult. Soap opera format has been the basis of many series we watch today. It is a very clever structure, aimed to keep the people interested for a long span of time. There is a main story which will not find its conclusion because of endless complications till the very end of the series itself but, there are another 10-15 stories surrounding the main one which begin, develop and end, in order to provide the viewer some sense of closure and respite every now and then. A whole lot of series of our times were inspired by the lowly soap format but they did a great job with it.

Length: Blatant commercialism.

Setting: Fantasy

Now I am aware that I might have been too harsh in my criticism at times so I would like to point out the fact that it was never my purpose to offend anyone. I hope you will excuse my occasional subjectivity along with my objectivity and try to understand that a work this famous will receive both praise and criticism. After all, these days you can’t even swing a dead cat without hitting Game of Thrones.

Either way, if by this review I offended you, I do apologize in advance.

But I think I treat everyone fair by writing this:

If you like reading about a protagonist you can freely come to cherish, rite of passage, good versus evil and triumphs, a story that doesn’t keep going for 20 years and meets a timely end, Game of Thrones is not for you.

If you like reading about feudal conflicts, palace intrigues, politics met with great violence in a fantasy setting that will never disappoint you by coming to a timely end, Game of Thrones is for you.

Now I should take my advice and conclude at last…