An adventure of ice and fire

Now, one thing you may have noticed if you are such a glutton for boredom that you’ve still been checking my “currently reading” or “read in 2013” lists is that I tackled the ginormous (truly) epic George R.R. Martin series A Song of Ice and Fire. I have a friend to blame or thank for this, in addition to my own enjoyment of HBO’s Game of Thrones adaptation. I never really intended to go past the first volume, but spent several months ensconced in all five of the current books.

I don’t really know if I come across here as a genre snob; it’s certainly possible. Folks in the know know I do like my mysteries, though (not to mention my Wodehouse). But fantasy—high, low, epic, whatever you want to call it—has been a stranger since childhood, though Tolkien re-reads are known to continue from time to time. So before explaining what actually spurred me to continue through many thousands of pages of this stuff, I’ll complain about what I didn’t like, which I expect are largely generic conventions unfamiliar to me, and thus somewhat unforgiven by me.

As I noted in my BookRiot post comparing A Game of Thrones to Ivanhoe, the world of the books is actually not all that different from our own—at least not at the beginning. To be as spoiler-free as possible, I will simply say that the structure of the series seems to be one of renewing a once-magical place turned mundane into something of its former self—not unlike, come to think of it, The Lord of the Rings. Anyway, point being: at the outset, at least, nothing much is going on that would be terribly unfamiliar to fans of the medieval.

But since this is fantasy, it seems we need to differentiate, in ways I found…well, infuriating is too strong a word, but let’s say there were some family-unfriendly hand motions involved in my descriptions to the consumption partner. My “favorite” example is that knights, who are in all relevant respects identical to the knights we know from history and literature, are called “Ser” instead of “Sir,” as if the inaudible change in one letter…does anything but make me roll my eyes. Women get “moon blood,” and drink “moon tea” to make sure their moon blood comes again if they weren’t particularly careful that month. People are named Eddard instead of Edward, but they’re still called Ned for short. Martin insists on writing “amongst” instead of “among,” despite being American. I understand there’s an important element of ambiance here, but for me these things grated again and again despite my otherwise almost complete enjoyment of the novels.

Of course, I know there are equally silly and quasi-formulaic things done to differentiate the worlds of my mysteries and noir from the real world, even from accurate historical ones. My working assumption is that, for whatever reason, those genres are familiar and compelling to me in a way that makes me accept these trifles—in fact, they are at least to some extent what I like. But what appear to be the common trappings and patterns of fantasy, for whatever reason, grate rather than comfort. I can easily see it as an acquired taste. At the same time, though, I wonder if I would ever actually acquire it.

More later this week on stepping outside of my generic comfort zones with these books, and why it was most definitely worth doing. And that has nothing to do with “sers.”

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