Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Song of Fire and Ice: Dark Wings, Dark News

 George R. R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series (now an HBO series called Game of Thrones) has been read by some as a deconstruction of the high fantasy genre.  Some of these deconstructions are long overdue — knights, kings, politics, etc. — but some of them are all-the-more surprising to happen today rather than a half-century ago.

The one I’m thinking of today is simply the pace of communication.  We’ve reached an era where communication is almost instantaneous.  I have friends who are never without their smart phones, who are never lost in a city of millions of people, who are never unaware of who is eating what for dinner.  Our society is glutted with information — which is its own problem, sure — and so the idea of living in a world where the fastest news flies by raven is. just. unimaginable.

The later books in the Song of Fire and Ice series really capitalize on all the misdirection and difficulties that might ensue in a world where things happen, and people only hear of them weeks later—assuming the raven didn’t get shot down for good.  Certain characters can die several chapters before other characters respond to the news—certain characters can start making schemes in order to take back castles that are already burned to the ground.  It’s probably the most conspicuous form of dramatic irony (the reader knowing more than the characters) I’ve seen in a book in a long time.

What’s interesting is that Martin’s first book doesn’t really capitalize on this: I feel like most of the characters know most of the goings-on in the first book.  They’re working, more or less, in a unified sphere of knowing what others know.  The second and third books blow this apart: no one knows everything that is going on with everybody.  The second and third novels were written just as our society began to integrate the Internet and the cell phone into our social way of being. 

Coincidence?  Maybe.  But this trait of the books is only as striking as it is because it jars so readily with other high fantasy novels — and so readily with our own experience.

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