Show and Tell

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.

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“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.

We Got a Love Thang

Vacation, all I ever wanted…vacation have to get away!

But in fairness, I dread being in the car for nearly twenty-four hours over the course of five days.

Shudder.

And there’s so much to do before I leave.

I fixed our front door last night. Paul’s key got stuck in the front door lock and wouldn’t come out. I just shrugged and said I’ll just take the deadbolt apart, fetched a screwdriver, and did precisely that. I not only got the key out of the lock but I also reassembled the deadbolt, fixing what had gone wrong with its mechanism. Once I was finished, I was a little amused; I certainly never would have dreamed I’d ever be that handy. I wish I were handier; I wish I knew how to change the oil in my car and how to rewire things. I am, in fact, very uneducated about how my current car works, and I’ve had it for almost two years. I really do need to read the manual.

I am thinking about working on Bury Me in Satin today, after I run my errands and before the LSU game this evening. I also think the last two chapters have been incredibly difficult because I am having to make it up as I go. I have this amorphous idea of a story, but am not entirely sure I know how I am going to tell it; hence the problems I’ve had with the last two chapters. What I need to do is some planning; some brainstorming on the characters and who they are and what they want, and perhaps even some plotting and outlining. I also wonder if I am simply, in reaction to having such a hard time writing the last two chapters, coming up with excuses for not actually doing any writing (“well, there’s really no point in even trying to write anything since I don’t know this and this and this”) which could in reality be some kind of self-sabotage crossed with Imposter Syndrome with perhaps just a pinch of my tendency to procrastination and shameless laziness.

And, just for fun, there’s the distinct possibility that all of it is true.

This is why writers drink.

I slept incredibly deeply and well. I stayed up later than I’d wanted to because I chose to wash the bed linens last night, rather than today, and the dryer struggled with the blankets–it does this sometimes, with no rhyme or reason to it–and finally rolled into bed just past twelve last night. I got up at nine this morning; it really makes a significant difference to wake up organically, rather than be untimely ripped from the arms of sleep by the brutality of an alarm.

I started watching a series on Netflix called Knightfall last night–well, I’d started it one night in the last week when Paul was late getting home, and it’s interesting. I don’t care about the historical inaccuracies; whenever I watch historical fiction I generally do unless it’s so glaring it cannot be ignored. It’s about the last of the Knights Templar, and borrows somewhat from The DaVinci Code, which of course borrowed heavily from Holy Grail Holy Blood, which was a rather lengthy non-fiction tome built around a conspiracy theory (the authors went on to write two more books, following the same theme; their primary source was later revealed to be a liar). I read Holy Grail Holy Blood back in the 1980’s, when it was newly in paperback; I read it again in the 1990’s, primarily because I was interested in the sections on the Cathar heresy in the south of France and the Albigensian Crusade that wiped them out. Thus, the ‘big reveal’ in The DaVinci Code  wasn’t really a big reveal to me; as soon as it became clear that the plot had to do with the Knights Templar and Priory of Sion, I knew what it was.

Anyway, I digress.

Knightfall is about the Knights Templar, and is set in France during the reign of Philip IV, the Fair (which meant handsome and had nothing to do with justice). Now, I know Philip IV, conniving with Pope Clement, eradicated and wiped out the Templars; but Clement’s predecessor Boniface is in this–and he is working with the Templars. The basic plot of the story (thus far) is that the Templars once had possession of the Holy Grail in the Levantine city of Acre; but as they escaped the city before the armies of the Arabs, the ship it was on sank. Fast forward a few years, and something is going on within and without the Templar order; we found out last night that the actual Grail isn’t at the bottom of the harbor at Acre but somehow made it to France.

This is actually a deeply fascinating period in French history; Philip IV, who is not particularly well known (we as Americans are not particularly knowledgeable about French history; which is to be expected as former colonies of the British, and French histories/biographies written in English by either British or American historians are few and far between–unless they are about Louis XIV, the French Revolution, or Napoleon), reigned over a particularly turbulent era in French history. The eradication of the Templars–to whom he owed an obscene amount of money–was part of a carefully laid plan he executed with the assistance of Pope Clement, who was basically a tool of the French throne. Philip had come into conflict with Pope Boniface, had taken him prisoner, and basically forced Clement down the throat of the cardinals. The Papal court was then moved from Rome to Avignon in the south of France (the Papal period known as the Babylonian Captivity), and Clement appointed enough French cardinals to outnumber the rest, ensuring the popes would continue to be French and would stay in Avignon. (This eventually led to the great schism, with two different popes–at times, there were more than two–competing for power and the obedience of kings and their subjects, excommunicating anyone who followed a different pope, and degrading the Catholic Church–which eventually led to the Protestant reformation….so yes, Philip the Fair was actually the father of the reformation), and the Templars were rounded up, convicted of heresy in trumped up trials, and burned at the stake. The last Grand Master, Jacques de Moray, was convicted of heresy and burned. The King, the Pope, and the King’s great minister were present when the Grand Master issued a curse from the flames, calling them all to account for their crimes before God within a year. (Whether this actually happened or not is up for debate.) But within a year, all three men were dead. Philip’s three sons all died without sons, following each other on the throne successively; when the last one died, his daugher’s son, Edward III of England, claimed the French throne through his mother as the closest male heir to Philip IV and his sons; the nobility gave the crown to a cousin who became Philip VI, and thus the Hundred Years War began.

The fourteenth century is fascinating. An excellent history of it is Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror. French novelist Maurice Druon wrote an entire series of fictional books about the dying out of the main line of the French royal house, the destruction of the Templars, and all the scandals that plagued the children of Philip IV, beginning with The Iron King; new editions have been published in English due to the popularity of Game of Thrones, and the books have introductions by George R. R. Martin–because he read them and they helped inspire Game of Thrones. I read this series of books–The Iron King, The Strangled Queen, The Poisoned Crown, The Royal SuccessionThe She-Wolf of France, The Lily and the Lion, and The King Without a Kingdom–collectively known as The Accursed Kings, when I was a teen. Druon opens the series with the breaking up of the Knights Templar and Moray’s curse…and then proceeds to show how the curse worked on France and its royalty for decades.

Anyway, I am enjoying Knightfall. It’s a truly fun romp, and the main character is played by the very handsomely bearded Tom Cullen. It’s apparently a History Channel show, and has been renewed for a second season.

I also found a French show, Maximilian and Marie de Bourgogne, which looks very promising; about the marriage between Maximilian of Austria and Mary of Burgundy in the late fifteen century; a marriage that was, frankly, the root cause of every major European war from 1476 to 1914. It is in French, which means subtitles, but I am slowly but surely getting over my aversion to subtitles as my hearing gets worse–I tend to turn on the subtitles on even English language movies and television shows because I can’t understand what they’re saying; particularly if it’s British made. It might be something interesting to watch and explore while I am in Kentucky next week.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, everyone.

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