Apparently, the Golden Globe awards were presented last night. I didn’t watch. Over the last 10 years, television and movies have mostly lost the battle for my time. There are other things I’d rather do like read, write, and spend time with the family. And besides, award shows were more fun when I lived in L.A.
That said, I noted with delight this morning that Peter Dinklage won for his role in HBOs Game of Thrones. I saw the first two episodes of Game of Thrones before I started racing through the books last year. I suspect that many people like me can picture no one but Peter Dinklage in the role of Tyrion Lannister and that he plays the character perfectly. (Of course, I watched the entire HBO season, despite getting far head in the books.) While the series is excellent (thanks to great writing and acting), Dinklage makes it worth watching, despite the calls on my time. That is why I suspect that when Season 2 comes out, Game of Thrones will be the only show that I am watching. (I’m not watching any shows at the moment and haven’t been since the series finale of Smallville last spring.)
So congratulations to Peter Dinklage, to George R. R. Martin, and to the entire cast and crew of Game of Thrones. Clearly it is still possible to make a show that breaks new ground and sest the bar, rather than the plethora of imitations and remakes that simply try (and usually fail) to reach it.
I finished reading Game of Thrones this morning and I thought a review of the book was in order, despite having mentioned it already on several occasions. Be warned there are spoilers present! So without further delay, here is how George R. R. Martin made me into a fan of epic fantasy:
- He altered my preconceived notions of what an epic fantasy is supposed to be. In my head, all epic fantasy was simply a retelling of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. It all contained elves and wizards and dragons. Magic played a big role. Ambitious quests were the order of the day. And it was almost always good versus evil. Game of Thrones broke all the rules in this respect. The “dwarf” was so through a birth defect. There were no wizards. While magic was hinted at, we see almost none in the book. There were no quests. Nor was there a clear good or evil. (Joffrey seems evil, but he’s really just a kid trying to be a man.) From the moment I started reading the book, it was not at all what I expected. And that was refreshing.
- His characters were among the most complex people I’ve come across in science fiction and fantasy (Connie Willis has equally complex characters in her novels.) These are not characters who necessarily behave the way their position dictates. A fighter isn’t always brave. A lady isn’t always meek. An old man isn’t always wise and a young boy isn’t always a child. The burdens of the leaders of men weigh heavily upon them and that comes through in the book. By the end of the book, I began to feel like I knew some of the characters so well that I could guess at their reactions to a situation and be pleased to find that I was usually right. They feel like friends to me, not caricatures.
My friend and fellow writer’s group member, Michael J. Sullivan, recently wrote a guest-post in which he defended fantasy fiction against some unwarranted attacks from reviewers. In particular, he used George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones on HBO as a specific example of a general problem. Now, I think I have made it well-known that I am not a fan of fantasy. But I love HBO’s series and because of that series I started reading Martin’s books and I discovered, to my horror, that I love his books, too.
Sullivan points to two reviews that irked him, one by Gina Bellefante in the New York Times, and the other by Troy Patterson in Slate. So this morning, I went off to read the reviews, wondering what the fuss could be all about. Bellafante’s review made me laugh. She starts out, you see, complaining about the financials:
With the amount of money apparently spent on “Game of Thrones,” the fantasy epic set in a quasi-medieval somewhereland beginning Sunday on HBO, a show like “Mad Men” might have the financing to continue into the second term of a Malia Obama presidency.
To me this sounds like sour grapes, like someone saying, instead of using their money to produce the shows they choose, HBO should make a donation to shows that I like, Mad Men for instance, so that they can continue, despite dwindling ratings. Okay, so you don’t like fantasy. Fine, me either, for the most part. But this statement seems kind of silly.
Nearly one third of the way through the book, here are some more thoughts I’ve had on Game of Thrones since I began reading it on Tuesday:
- I am so hooked on this book! Every free moment I can get I want to spend reading it and if I read 10 pages of Astounding (as much fun as that is) I then read 2 or 3 chapters of Thrones. In part this is just because I’m finding it to be such a good story, but I also think that after four straight months of reading nothing but short science fiction, my mind is welcoming the change of scenery.
- I’m really impressed with how closely the first three episode of the HBO series have stuck to the book. It is not just the events as they take place in the book, but even the viewpoint switches from one chapter to the next are followed closely in the series–something that had to have been a conscious decision I imagine. There are definitely details left out of the series, but it is almost like they took a full scene in the book and showed only the second half or two-thirds on the series. You don’t lose too much.
- Given all of the viewpoints from which the story is told, my favorites are Tyrion, Eddard (Ned), Jon, and Arya. Especially Tyrion. His image has been fixed in my mind as that of Peter Dinklage, who does a phenomenal job as this character and I wonder what I might have thought of him had I read the book before seeing the HBO series. I find Daenerys viewpoint interesting from time-to-time, as are Catelyn, Bran and Sansa, although I like Sansa the least.
- My favorite part of the book so far is the chapter from Bran’s point of view just before he wakes up from his coma. In the HBO series, he awakens as the direwolf, Lady is killed. In the book there is a preface to his waking up, a kind of dream that he is having that hints at much larger things to come and that scene is just a remarkable one.
- The book has been seriously reconsidering my position on high fantasy. I’ve tried reading Jordan and Brooks and Eddings in the past but never made it past the first chapter. Those reading this post who’ve read lots of high fantasy: what is it about Thrones that sets itself apart from these other books? I am still trying to figure out why I am so hooked on this one and couldn’t even scratch the surface on others.
- Part of the answer may be the HBO series. This has me reconsidering my position on adaptations. I’ve never been much of a fan of making books into movies or TV shows because the latter always seems to suffer. But the HBO series is remarkable and it is the first time that I can recall that I read a book because I was so fascinated by the show. (The closest I think I’ve come prior to this is Carl Sagan’s Contact, which I read after I found out the movie was coming out, but before I actually saw the movie. And I thought it too was one of those rare instances where the movie was nearly as good as the book, despite some changes.)
- I noticed that about 10% through the book is where the first episode of the series ended. About 20% is where the second ended and the third ends about 30% of the way through. That means the entire book could be covered in 10-12 episodes on HBO. Does this mean that season 2 will cover the second book? Does anyone know yet?
- I hope the book continues to maintain the standard it has set so far. And I hope that the other books in the series are just as good. I already see myself starting the next one as soon as I finish this one.
Stay tuned. I’m sure I will have more to say about this in the near future, particularly on how this book differed from my notions of what a high fantasy novel is alleged to be.
I’ve had a few people ask, knowing that I am not really a fan of fantasy, but also knowing that I think HBO does good series. My DVR is programmed to record the Game of Thrones (which I keep wanting to read as Crown of Thorns for some reason), but I cannot yet say whether I’ll watch it in realtime or not, especially since I start my new scheduled tomorrow. More than likely I will watch tonight’s episode when it airs, and watch the rest on DVR. I never read the books (although I met Martin once, briefly, when he was signing books at the now-extinct Dangerous Visions bookstore in Sherman Oaks, CA) so I will have to be careful to avoid spoilers.
You hear that people? NO SPOILERS!
ETA: Of course, the Yankees are the ESPN Sunday night game tonight at 8pm EDT so anything goes, I suppose.