So, audiobooks and A Game of Thrones.
I am, of course, a huge fan of the HBO program Game of Thrones, based on George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Fire and Ice.
As I explained to Paul when we started watching, “It’s like medieval history, only with magic and zombies and dragons.” The first season was incredible–I had not read the books–and I remember thinking, in the season finale, as Dany walked out of the smoking ashes of Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre with baby dragons perched on her, my god, this entire season was simply set-up, before we get to the main story.
Little did I know what we were in for–although I liked, with the execution of Ned Stark, whom it seemed was the main character, the reality that anyone can die at any time–which of course increases the dramatic tension; if any character can die at any time, the stakes are much higher–and Paul and I have thrilled to the ups and downs and highs and lows. The show has done a wonderful job of weaving his story as well as forcing us, as viewers, to understand that, ultimately, life isn’t fair and good doesn’t always win over evil in the end.
I had been resistant to reading the books, primarily because they aren’t all written and published; I despise having to wait for the next book in a series, particularly when it’s very possible that by the time that book has come out you’ve lost the thread of the story and forgotten who is who with the characters (I’m looking at you, Stephen King and The Dark Tower); this epic series, though, is a bit different precisely because there’s a television show, which would make the remembering easier. But still…I hate waiting for another book. I did order a paperback set of the series books currently available, but when I saw how long they were and realized the time commitment that would be involved, I just didn’t think I could do it.
Flash forward to week before last, and my decision to give listening to Audiobooks a try on long car trips. As I may have mentioned before, the concept of Audiobooks wasn’t something I was terribly keen on; I’ve always hated being read to, and I also had no idea how long audiobooks were and how long it would take to listen. But I did think, “I bet A Game of Thrones would be long enough to last the entire drive” and I set about looking for an audio book I could download. Nothing from the Public Library, and so finally, after trying out some other options, I finally went with the thirty-day free membership to Audible and downloaded A Game of Thrones…only to see that the recording lasted just over thirty-three hours. I also knew that if I really got into the story, I wouldn’t want to wait three days to finish listening, so I decided to go ahead and take my physical copy of the book with me, so I could finish reading it.
Which I did, in a lot less than the over twenty-one hours that was left on the Audiobook.
“We should start back,” Garen urged as the woods began to grow dark around them. “The wildlings are dead.”
“Do the dead frighteb you?” Ser Waymar Royce asked with just the hint of a smile.
Garen did not rise to the bait. He was an old man, past fifty, and he had seen the lordlings come and go. “Dead is dead,” he said. “We have no business with the dead.”
“Are they dead?” Royce asked softly. “What proof have we?”
“Will saw them,” Gared said. “If he says they are dead, that’s proof enough for me.”
Will had known they would drag him into the quarrel sooner or later. He wished it had been later rather than sooner. “My mother told me that dead men sing no songs,” he put in.
If you can remember back that far, the very first episode of the TV series opened with this exact scene; members of the Night’s Watch, in a frozen cold forest north of the wall, investigating…only to encounter the horror that is coming. The story then switches to the epic power struggle in the seven kingdoms of Westeros, primarily the set-up of the bad blood between two of the major houses: Stark and Lannister. The Starks are of course set up as the good guys; the Lannisters, with their deceit and money and incest, the bad. As I listened–and later, read–I found myself getting very caught up in the story, even though I knew most of it already; the book is more layered and obviously has more backstory and information than the television series. Also, as I read along, I was reminded of my original comment to Paul: its medieval history with magic and zombies and dragons.
I’ve always loved history; I’ve read a lot of historical fiction and I’ve read a lot of history. I mentioned before Maurice Druon’s The Accursed Kings series, recently reissued and marketed as the “inspiration for Game of Thrones!” , with introductions by Martin himself. (I took my new copy of The Iron King with me on the trip, and started reading it after I finished the Bibliomysteries Volume 2 and A Game of Thrones.) I’ve always wanted to write my own history, with countries and lords and ladies and so forth all invented in my fevered brain; primarily because I wanted to change the way some histories ended. (What if the Babington Plot succeeded and Elizabeth I was assassinated?, for one example) This is kind of what A Song of Fire and Ice is; and I am of course the perfect audience for this.
I’ve not read much fantasy fiction. I’ve read The Lord of the Rings, of course (who hasn’t, really?), and I read the first few books of the The Shannara Chronicles many years ago; I’ve also read a few volumes of David Eddings’ The Belgariad, and of course McCaffrey’s The Dragonriders of Pern (hello, Showtime? This series would be perfect for a television show). One of the common themes of all of these series, along with Martin’s, is a lesson we never heed: those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. In each of these series, there was an enormous and great threat from the past that everyone has forgotten or dismisses as “legends”; but the threat is very real, the stories are true, and in the present day, the threat is reemerging and everyone has to remember how to fight it.
Another theme of A Song of Fire and Ice is also history, and politically, related: people will always put short term gain ahead of long term success; instant gratification, apparently, being far far more satisfying that careful and strategic planning; selfishness often leads to doom.
I am really looking forward to reading more of A Song of Fire and Ice.