A few weeks ago I sort of acted like it was kind of a revelation that watching the movie The Princess and the Goblin led to reading books by George MacDonald, that reversal of the usual “read the book, watch the movie thing.” It’s definitely not an isolated case, because after watching HBO’s Game of Thrones this summer I went out and bought the first three books in George R. R. Martin’s series: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords.
It was a really weird experience. Watching the series as a television show, I was seriously shocked and intrigued by the way the plot unfolded. I hadn’t heard that much about Martin’s series except for when I worked at a secondhand bookstore and I’d sell a couple of used copies every once in a while. It’s very rare with books, TV, and movies that I go into them completely blank slate, without having seen a trailer or read a synopsis or a least having looked at a few photos released ahead of time. But with Game of Thrones, the only thing I really knew going in was that it was a fantasy series on HBO. And that was definitely enough.
Game of Thrones is a work of high fantasy by George R.R. Martin that takes place largely in Westeros, a sprawling kingdom separated by boundaries, borders, and rulers. Lord Eddard (Ned) Stark lives at Winterfell in the North, and he leaves for the south when he is summoned by the King, this sort of old friend that he can’t say no to (and he’s the king. There isn’t really something like the answer of “no”). North of Winterfell is the Wall, which is really just that: a wall that separates the wild and fantastical north from the rest of the kingdom and is guarded by a motley collection of men who have “taken the black” to protect the kingdom. The books largely center around Ned’s family as they find themselves going their separate ways and having their own adventures, much like how in Lord of the Rings the Fellowship starts out all together but then splinters and leads to several small factions traveling in different directions.
When I started reading the book after the series ended, I was kind of like, “Hmmm, is this just going to be a reiteration of everything that I just saw on television.” Well, to a certain extent it was, which says a lot about how faithful the book to movie adaptation was. Almost all of the dialogue in the book makes a straight leap into the script for the television show. And even though I knew what was coming up this time when reading the book, I sort of felt like reading it fleshed out a lot of what I missed or didn’t get or skipped over in the TV show. For one thing, it’s a lot easier for me to keep track of characters, particularly characters in high fantasy with names and titles and lineages, when I read a name instead of just hear it. I felt like I had something like one of those police identifications, where some poor witness has to stand in front of a glass wall and say, “That one! It was that man right there!” or “Her! She’s the one! I’d recognize that nose anywhere!” I’d get a new piece of information from the book about a character and I’d have the actor/actress do a quick materialization in my head like, “That one! This information goes right there! That makes so much sense, wow, I mean, I really wish I had picked up on that while watching this on TV.”
I was really hooked after finishing Game of Thrones. Most of the impetus was to get to the next one, A Clash of Kings, where all of the new material was. And I really loved that one. I’m halfway through A Storm of Swords now and I really love the way perspectives change from chapter to chapter. When you’re dealing with thousand page books, it’s awesome to switch back and forth between characters so that everything still seems new. I love multi-protagonist books as it is, but Martin really uses perspective to his advantage. He lets his characters have pretty good coverage of the world he has created to hold the story, which means that he is always actively world building through the perspective of several different characters. It’s very effective and you get a sense of geography, character, and plot filtered through various ways of looking at the world.
I’m not alone in having gone out to the store to pick up the series after HBO aired the first season. There are a lot of reports that purchases of Martin’s books are giving the publishing industry a small boost right now and really, on the bus or subway it’s all George R.R. Martin paperbacks all over the place being read. Which is impressive. They are not small books. They are quite hefty.