05 April 2016

To Be Titled

Being a summary of my thoughts on The Lord of the RingsA Song of Ice and Fire, and The Magicians trilogy, as relates to their themes, similarities, and divergences.
Updated 2016.6.13 with Part II: "Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things."
Updated 2016.11.13 with a few thoughts from A Clash of Kings
Updated 2017.2.5 with even fewer comments on A Storm of Swords

[Published 2016.4.5]
I. In defence of Tolkien
A few years back, a friend mentioned that he thought Tolkien was a "racist bastard," which I countered with the generic Product-of-his-time argument; namely, that most WASPs of the mid-20th-century were racist bastards, but that was somehow Okay because they were blind to their racism (and bastardy?). But the accusation kept nagging at me until I finally went back and listened to LotR on audiobook. For the sake of transparency, I had only ever read the books prior to this, but now I think I'm going to go to audiobook as my format of choice for this comparison project.
My thoughts, at this point, as relates to the topic at hand, are that Tolkien was quite racist. Characters from the South are unerringly referred to as "dark," "swarthy," and often depicted as being shorter than the Men of Gondor or Rohan. Moreover, the phrase "slant-eyed" is used repeatedly to describe villainous characters, beginning with Bill Ferny of Bree, and I believe also of the men serving Saruman, who are hinted to be half-breeds, something of an intermediate species between Orcs and Uruk-Hai. On the other hand, Men of Gondor or Rohan are invariably "fair," and usually "tall." Regardless of the value connotations of these words per se, the division between Bad and Good characters along racial lines is undeniable. Frankly, I don't think this can be dismissed with a simple "It's Good vs. Evil typology," or "He's using Biblical language to allude to light versus darkness," largely because when the Bible describes the stain of sin, it compares sin to blood, using terms like "scarlet" and "menstrual cloths" (which opens up the can of worms that is misogyny).
As far as his own work is concerned, Tolkien clearly believed in the ultimate triumph of Good though it fights "the long defeat," and loved using eucatastrophes large and small to deliver his characters.
That's all I have time for tonight. Now to start A Song of Ice and Fire on audiobook tomorrow! ...I probably will not be finished for six months. Which, combined with reading The Expanse, may just help me weather spoilers from Game of Thrones.

[Published 2016.6.13]
II. "Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things": thoughts on A Game of Thrones
Well, I finished this audiobook in just under two months (when I started LotR, I was on Spring Break and had a road trip), and have had about two weeks to reflect on it before I finally type out my thoughts. That being said, there's not a lot that I've got to say about this first installment of A Song of Ice and Fire which I've not already said elsewhere (either in-person to friends, or online...so I guess I should blog here to get all my thoughts in one place). The moral lines are grey, the characters are not archetypes, and the writing is devilishly  good at making us love a character who's going to get the axe (or the Valyrian steel claymore). I remember that when I first read the book, the use of dreams as portents struck me, and it did so again as I listened to the audiobook. The sex and violence were nearly as shocking this second time through the material, though GRRM's fixation on describing Daenerys' body was not something I remembered from my first reading. The theme of characters' true nature being hidden by their appearance is great: the Hound is adamantly not a knight, though he is quite chivalrous (aside for the butcher's boy), but his brother Ser Gregor is a knight only in name - another chevalier mal fet, as it were - who rapes and murders [on] a whim. Similarly, Varys is shunned because he's a eunuch, but he is a noble man; Petyr is nominally a nobleman who has clawed his way as far as he can, and though he's acting above his station in the eyes of Catelyn, he is a power to be reckoned with, and a dirtbag. Man, I despise Baelish. Viserys is a beggar who thinks he's a king, where Daenerys is a princess who thinks she's a beggar. I could go on and on with characters here, but I think I've made my point.
Overall, I love Martin's story-telling and the plot he's just set in motion.
Oh, and dang was Jon Snow mopey at the end there! Seriously!

[Published  2016.11.13]
I finished A Clash of Kings sometime in September, and am now about a third of the way into A Storm of Swords. No new revelations, though it was good to finally go back to Dany's vision in the House of the Undying (when she's in the room with the Undying), because I'd meant to do that ever since I first read it, and now hermeneutics being what it is, I appreciate what I noticed there all the more:
Daenerys sees a winter rose blooming in a chink in a wall of ice. A couple chapters later, Jon captures Ygritte, who tells him the tale of Bael the Bard, who stole the "rose" of Winterfell (fathering a baby on her) when the Stark in Winterfell thought he'd wanted a winter rose as compensation.
We know Lyana's favourite flower was the winter rose, and Jon is in the Night's Watch, so I see this as such an obvious clue GRRM had planted that I was astounded I'd missed it on my first read.
GRRM's focus on appearance versus reality and upsetting expectations continues to delight.
 Minor observation: there seems to be some interesting symmetry in the courts & claims of Balon Greyjoy & Stannis Barratheon, in that their islands are located on almost directly opposite sides of Westeros, they each have a person in their court who was drowned and returned a different man (Aeron Damphair and Patchface, respectively; later, Davos for Stannis), and they represent diametrically opposed deities, the Drowned God and R'hllor.
It also appears that the amethyst-coloured poison with which the old Maester on Dragonstone attempted to assassinate Melisandre in the prologue to ACoK is the same one Olenna Tyrell and Petyr Baelish will use in the Purple Wedding.

[Published 2017.2.5]
Well, I've decided that I need to get my own copies of the books so I can annotate them. I've noted a couple high-level literary devices G.R.R.M. uses, and I want to make the case that the core of ASoS is the crux of the series, as demonstrated by the high concentration of those devices that are used from about the chapter where Daenerys frees the Unsullied onward to the book's denouement.  Sadly, since I haven't been taking notes and don't yet have a copy, I have very little that I can recall to post as evidence. So, hopefully next time, I'll have something substantial.

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