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Monday, May 25, 2015

My Take On An Open Letter From GRRM

A friend sent me a certain link, thinking it might amuse me. It did, sort of.

Here it is, so you can read it too. 

It seems people have been noticing how many characters you like get killed in Game Of Thrones. Some must have been complaining about it, because his response is rather grumpy. But I did chuckle when he pointed out that, among other things, Ned Stark is an idiot who warned his enemy - and then that they had cast Sean Bean in the role, what did people expect? Because, of course, he does  tend to play roles in which he is killed off. I can think of two off the top of my head - Boromir in LOTR and a man who got on the wrong side of Henry VIII in the miniseries with Ray Winstone(I forget the character's name, but he was real, and Mr Bean got to use his Yorkshire accent). Though he also played Odysseus in Troy and Odysseus survived, didn't he, and came home to a faithful wife and a loyal son, unlike the other Greek heroes. 

Then he went on to call William Shakespeare a psycho and argue that there are piles of bodies on the stage in Shakespeare tragedies. Well, yes. That's how tragedies ended in those days. It was standard practice to have a pile of bodies at the end of those plays. At least Hamlet's best friend is still alive at the end, because Hamlet doesn't let him kill himself. And it's a gorgeous play and you care about the characters.  

Though one play Mr Martin describes with gruesome relish is Titus Andronicus, which was probably Shakespeare's first play, certainly early in his career. I must admit, that's one I can't watch. I had to read it at university and haven't read it since then and I didn't go to see the movie(what were they thinking, choosing that one?). It's too awful. There's even a scene where this man is standing making a beautiful, lyrical speech about his niece when she has just been raped and mutilated! But the thing is, it wasn't the only one of its kind. It was part of a very popular genre, the revenge tragedy. I guess he and his company must have decided to cash in on the craze. 

And Shakespeare, like a certain American spec fic writer complaining about him in this open letter, was a commercial writer. If he was alive today he would probably be writing sensationalist shows for TV. He wouldn't be getting invited to writers' festivals to talk about the deep and meaningful symbolism in his work. The fact that he wrote stuff that makes you laugh and cry and says for you things that you can't express yourself and has something to say about everything  is beside the point. He would probably be shocked to find people running courses in his work. I had a very faint taste of that once, when I found an online review of a short story I had forgotten I'd written, reading into it all sorts of things that had never occurred to me when I wrote it. 

Shakespeare was the sort of guy you could have a beer with at the pub. And he wrote plays that are still performed, not because they're great literature(though they are)but because they still have things to say to us. 

Then Mr Martin goes on about that dreadful, violent book, the Bible. Well, I can't deny that. I have always liked the Bible for that very reason, all the sex and violence ...;-) 

I read The Game Of Thrones when it first came out. I liked it for the believable mediaeval stink and discomfort and for the fascinating weather conditions on whichever planet it is, oh, and for all the eating that goes on. Some fans wrote a wonderful cookbook, which I have at home. I have since read more, though I'm not sure I'll finish the series, not because of the violence and killing off your favourite characters, but because, IMO, it has turned into a soap opera. I'm not a fan of the soaps.  I'm also not a fan, in general, of fat fantasy series, however good they might be - and this series is good. Terry Pratchett was another matter. His books weren't thick and it mostly didn't matter if you hadn't read the earlier ones, though you'd probably rush off to find them anyway.

To be honest, there are other books of GRRM that I prefer. Tuf Voyaging, the space-based story of a man and his cats and their adventures in a seed ship. Fevre Dream, the story of vampires in the Old South and a vampire who is sick of killing people and wants to find another way of getting his nutrition, is my favourite. That was about to come out when he was in Melbourne for a very small convention at a tiny hotel in St Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne - the population is small here, so even US minicons would be huge compared to our conventions. (We couldn't afford him now!) I remember him saying that he chose that setting because it was a time and place where slaves could disappear and nobody would ask questions. He was working on the TV series Beauty And The Beast at the time. And I enjoyed his work. Fortunately, the early ones are still in print, no doubt because of the success of his later ones. Read them if you can. 


Terry Morris said...

Thanks Sue. My kids haven't read GoT, but they've heard enough about it to be able to warn me, when they saw me reading it, that any favourite characters would die. They were right. With the characters you care about dead, it's hard to find a reason to keep reading.

My reason to keep reading is to find out where this world is in which the seasons are so unpredictable that no one knows when winter will come; just that it will. It's like reading a mystery, except that, despite the cast of thousands, there aren't many characters left that I care about.

Shakespeare did indeed kill off a lot characters. Somehow it was OK when he did it.

The other GRRM books you mention sound far more interesting. So I wonder why it's GoT that's getting all the fuss and attention.


Sue Bursztynski said...

Yes, the weather is intriguing. It's why I thought for a while that there might be some science fiction about it, but in a science fiction universe there has to be some predictability, no matter what the planet's orbit is. I'm thinking of Jennifer Fallon's Second Son novels, which read like fantasy but had SF elements, so that a bunch of priests had been conning the population about "the age of shadows" when the planet's second sun is hidden - and hunting down the mathematical genius who can give them away by calculating when the next one is due.

I'm guessing that GoT became REALLY popular when the first season of the TV series was made. It would always have been popular with fans, but there are now a lot of people who don't read spec fic, but are hooked on the show. I hear that they're considering a film of Fevre Dream, fingers crossed! There was a film of one of his earlier stories, a novella whose title I forget but it had Michael Praed in the movie version. It was a horror story set in space.

Well, Shakespeare had dead bodies in some of his plays - not all of them! - at a time that's what people paid to see. If it had "tragedy" in the title and you went to see it you would EXPECT to see dead bodies! And as they were based on existing stories, he had less control over them than Mr Martin has over his. So yes, it's okay! :-) Commercial writer, remember? Both of them!