Westeros Revisited

As most readers of this blog know, I’m not exactly enchanted with George R.R. Martin’s Fire and Ice saga, although I have said repeatedly that he is a good writer. I just don’t like what he’s writing in that saga, but, based on something I heard in New York City, I may, just may, have to rethink at least part of my comments about this massive work.

One evening two weeks ago, at dinner with our son and his wife, our son made the observation, almost out of the blue, that “everyone on Wall Street reads Martin’s Game of Thrones. They’re obsessed with it.” He’s not a Wall Streeter, but he is the U.S. manager of a fashion outlet that caters to very upscale men, and a significant percentage of his clientele comes from the financial district. Then he mentioned that the same group really liked the movie, The Wolf of Wall Street. Both Game of Thrones and The Wolf of Wall Street share several attributes, most of all the fact that they’re about characters with few, if any, real redeeming characteristics who are out for wealth and power without any concern whatsoever about how they get it.

Then I considered another literary brouhaha between two writers, one of whom insists that writers who write works where the readers can identify with the characters are not writing “literature” and another who feels that the quality of writing is what counts in determining literary worth [with which I’m inclined to agree], with the subtext that almost all writing that gets published has an audience that identifies with a particular work… or author.

Combining our son’s observations with the reports of the literary kerfuffle, I couldn’t help but wonder if George is actually writing satirically about today in the guise of fantasy, if Westeros is really the western hemisphere in disguise, so to speak, where all those with power have few in any redeeming qualities, and where all those who succeed essentially have none… and all those finance types really love both Game of Thronesand The Wolf of Wall Street because they do in fact identify with the characters.

Could it just be that George R.R. Martin is actually this century’s Jonathon Swift… and I’ve missed it entirely? Even if that’s not what George had in mind, it’s what he’s effectively portrayed, and that segment of his audience certainly confirms that effectiveness.

9 thoughts on “Westeros Revisited”

  1. Sam says:

    I’ve listened to a couple of interviews with Mr Martin about his Song of Ice and Fire series and one of my takeaways from them is that he is writing the world/human nature as he sees it. Or at least one facet of it.

    He has said that he has based Westeros on medieval England. One interviewer pointed out that there’s not much justice in the Song of Ice and Fire series. George’s response was that in his view there wasn’t much justice in medieval England and that setting aside the fantasy elements in his work he is trying to be authentic to the culture/time period his work is based on.

    I believe that instead of trying to write about idealised characters who make the world a better place George is writing about how he thinks the world actually works when it comes to wealth/politics/power particularly in certain cultures and at certain points in time.

    Westeros is going through a period of civil war with more than two factions fighting for control. Such periods are chaotic and breeding grounds for atrocities and massive injustices.

    I was thinking about some of the reporting I’ve heard about the civil war in Syria and felt there were some parallels to Martin’s civil war in Westeros. No clear heroes/good guys who we want to win and set everything to rights. Mass civilian casualties. War crimes. Injustice.

    When I read works like a Song of Ice and Fire what I take away from them is how fortunate I am not be caught up in such a time/place where hard choices have to be made and nobody’s hands are entirely clean.

    1. Kathryn (@Loerwyn) says:

      It’s been stated, or at least has been heavily implied, that A Song of Ice and Fire is based on The War of the Roses (for those that don’t know, it was a war in the UK between… um… two major houses)

      1. Brian K says:

        The name “War of the Roses” refers to the contest for the English throne by the Houses York and Lancaster. Heraldic badges associated with the two royal houses, the White Rose of York and the Red Rose of Lancaster gave the war its name. Houses with a similar sound as the Starks and the Lannisters…Martin seems to have added an extra claiment or two, though….The Map of Westoros also appears to be the island of Great Britain ‘stretched’…

  2. Tim says:

    @Sam. You worry me. I live in deep rural Suffolk, England and the village church was built in the 10th century and is still active. I wonder about the lives of the people who attended it then. Maybe not the country idyll we would like to believe.

  3. Ron says:

    For those who lived there and then, eleventh century Suffolk was probably far from idyllic.

  4. Kathryn (@Loerwyn) says:

    It’s easy to not like things in A Song of Ice and Fire – it’s long-winded, it’s arguably over-complex (especially now), it’s violent and at first glance the women are there either for sex, hysterics or to be raped (hint: that’s not true for the main characters once you look deeper).

    But I think your summation is somewhat correct, Mr Modesitt. Whereas you write about (in Recluce, at least) the morality, ethics and behaviour of man, Martin spends a lot of time writing about the face and ‘rear’ of feudal politics, and I think that can be applied to a lot of business, too. There’s people who will do anything for power, those who suck up to try and get somewhere, those who don’t want power but have it, and people in charge who should NOT be in charge (largely because they’re useless). It’s about the insidious power struggles, those pulling the strings behind the scenes, those trying to hammer through every change, those going their own way whilst rejecting advice and logic.

    Martin has become popular for a reason (not that he wasn’t popular before A Song of Ice and Fire, he’s had a very long, successful career).

  5. The following is from Ryan (inadvertently put in the wrong place).

    As much as we like to believe that America is the land of opportunity etc., right now, we’re really closer to an economic feudalism. We’re at the point where the people with money have enough money to make the laws, and they don’t shy away from doing so.

  6. Brian K says:

    I’ve read all five of Martin’s novels. I’ve seen the HBO Series. I don’t find either to be terribly complex. The various plots and characters etc are not hard to follow. For that I have the “Malazan Books of the Fallen” by Steven Erikson and the “Malazan Empire” books by Ian C. Esslemont to thank. The level of complexity of these far exceeds anything I’ve ever read and will probably read in my lifetime. The ‘Malazan’ books are a challenge. A challenge I have just recently returned to reread the entire series.

    The characters in “A Song of Ice and Fire” act ruthlessly it is true. But the context within which they are acting give them little choice. It is either keep or increase your power/position or lose your head. Literally. Such is the nature of Civil War in any age.

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