I’m about to pick up A World of Ice and Fire from the library, and I’ve been rethinking GoT again…
- I’m more convinced then ever that GRRM is doing something with elemental forces and the relationship between magic and science. That relationship is one that others have explored (Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law, for instance), and it’s a conversation that I’m sure Martin is comfortable with based on his earlier work. This means that the WWs are simply (or not so simply) intense cold embodied, much as dragons are intense heat embodied as fire.
- One of the many tweaks that I think that GRRM likes to make to the genre comes in readerly identification. My guess is that he is arguing with Tolkien’s idea of the fantasy story as one of recovery, consolation, and escape, beautiful possibilities, especially for one who was as devoted a Catholic as was Tolkien. Martin is far more curious about the machine-fostered intersections of spirit and material world, as evidenced by his science fiction. In ASOIAF, as in most fantasy, magic replaces technology as a primary means of human manipulation of the physical world, but GRRM doesn’t see that as a means of consolation, especially not in a Tolkienian sense. Instead, magic is another form of knowledge, one that enables the same sorts of marvels that technology does, and has similar costs. The fact that blood magic is such a key component of the magical world of ASOIAF demonstrates the costs, methinks.
- I skipped right past Rowling in that last bullet point, but I’m interested in the ways that blood magic works in HP as well…Voldemort even uses his own blood…
- Forms of knowledge, then, compete in ways that our linear narrative of technological development does not discuss. In ASOIAF this competition seems to be set up between the Maesters and the forces of ice and fire (clear, fundamental, elemental building blocks of the universe). I’ve blogged a bit about this connection before, especially in the location of the text in European history (medieval, before the Enlightenment) and in its upsetting of the typical fantasy dividing line between the forces of nature (elvish, holistic) and those of technology (orcish, mechanical) and those who inhabit the middle ground (humans).
- Readerly identification is also a force that GRRM won’t let us get comfortable in, at all. His narrators are both reliable and unreliable, prophecy is Greek (a force that no one should take for granted) rather than a mantra to guide our lives by, good characters die or do bad things, bad characters learn and grow and are sort of redeemed, stock characters are created and then shown to be unreliable. If we read fantasy to recover, escape, and console ourselves, then GRRM has failed us. His popularity seems to say otherwise.
- Stock mythological characters are also a favorite of GRRM’s. He borrows and tweaks Celtic, Norse, and all kinds of other mythologies in ways that fascinate me. I think in particular that he tries to reimagine these characters from the perspective of their functions, and thus his use of archetypes like Summer King and Winter King and wood witch and such breaks with generic expectations and constraints. It also helps keeps readers unsettled, since we never know for sure how he is using the archetype in question.