Game of Thrones Book Club: Meet the Starks

Game of Thrones Book Club: Meet the StarksDaniel:

I have to admit, it’s a little hard to reread these chapters without considering what’s going to happen next. I just want to mention things that, right now, are all spoilers. The only thing to do, really, is to focus on the first impressions because that’s all we really have to talk about so far.

I remember first reading these chapters and thinking that this was just another trashy fantasy series that belonged on the rack at a gas station on the interstate highway. I guess that’s unavoidable in a fantasy series. Any fantasy or science fiction author has to introduce so much in a concise way that won’t push the reader away from the broader story to tell. It’s hard to do this at all, much less well.  I don’t think Martin’s first few chapters are terrible but they aren’t great either. Reading Dany’s and Eddard’s point of view I didn’t really have much of an interest in any of the characters. It wasn’t until the interaction between Jon Snow (who seems like the most cliche and boring character of the bunch we know so far) and Tyrion that I realized this series might be something different. This line got to me in particular (pg. 57 in paperback):

“Let me give you some counsel, bastard,” Lannister said. “Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.”

That suggested to me that this was a story about people set in a medieval world rather than a story about a medieval world with people in it. That line is what also sparked my interest in Tyrion, I like how he isn’t some kind of able-bodied-hero-in-waiting with a chip on his shoulder, he’s a foul mouthed dwarf. (yeah yeah, I’ve said it before).

What’d you think about the first few chapters? Like anyone in particular? Dislike anyone?

Erik:

I’m not going to add a ton to this first installation of the book club. I just noticed while reading the first few chapters how much younger all the characters are in the books than the show. I’m glad the show did this, actually. I’m not sure fourteen-year-old Jon Snow would work, or thirty-five-year-old Eddard.

That’s all from me for now. I’m excited to get back into the books. It’s been a long time.

Oh P.S. Unlike Daniel, I remember being utterly hooked after just the prologue. But after they found the dire wolves? I couldn’t set the damn thing down. For two days, which is how long it took me to finish the first book.

P.S. Let’s read the next eight chapters by next Thursday. I’m not sure what pace people want to take, but I assume everyone has their copies of the book by now. I’d give page numbers but who knows how those would line up with Kindles, Nooks, hardcovers, softcovers, trade paperbacks, etc. etc. etc.

UPDATE by Daniel 5/29/2011:

Man, I’m really loving the comments threads we’ve had so far and the story is only going to get more complex meaning (most likely) that the conversations will get even better! This comment from DonZeko stuck out to me:

I found two things fascinating about religion in Westeros. The first is that, despite Martin’s commitment to describing a realistic medieval society and all of the unpleasantness and injustice that entails, he makes a Westeros a remarkably tolerant religiously diverse society. We have plenty of examples of marriages, political alliances, friendships and what have you that cross the divide between the Seven and the Old Gods, most castles maintain both septs and Godswoods, and there’s no indication that this has led to any kind of violence or division in hundreds of years.

The second is that the Seven appear to be chumps. While Thoros and the Red Lady both obviously derive supernatural power from their god and the Old Gods presumably have something to do with Bran’s connection to Summer, Jojen’s Green Dreams, Coldhands, and so forth, the Seven never have any clear influence on temporal events. So I wonder: is this because that’s not how the Seven operate, or does it tell us something about the accuracy of different religious beliefs in Westeros? Or is it possible that none of these religions are actually producing miracles at all, and that the supernatural events we observe are the work of something other than the gods that appear to be responsible?

It’s already been noted –SPOILERS– that the apparent religious ceasefire ends as the story progresses.

Throughout the story I got the sense that the inclusion of Godswoods at most castles was part of the effort to make the northern kingdom really part of the Seven Kingdoms. Imagine how much more divided northerners would feel if they couldn’t pray to their gods in the south when they go to court. There’s already a very visible identity northerners carry that others like, say, easterners or westerners in the Seven Kingdoms, don’t.

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27 thoughts on “Game of Thrones Book Club: Meet the Starks

  1. I loved the dire wolves, awesome, but I gotta agree with Daniel, I though John Snow was above and beyond the worst sort of hackneyed cliché. I took four books to warm to him and he’s still my least favorite Stark. Seriously, I just think the whole base borne child who rises above his station shtick is done to death.

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  2. I didn’t find Tyrion’s advice to be that un-cliche either. I was most interested in the threat of the prologue and (worldbuilding geek that I am) the theological differences between Eddard’s and Cat’s religions.

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      • I don’t know if “absent” is quite the right word as “subtle”. Religion and magic always seem to be in the background, but never quite in the fore front like Harry Potter for example. There’s some pretty obviously magically influenced events, but they tend to be more special than magic just flying all over the place. For religion, it seems like later in the fourth book that it starts to play a more significant role, but we’ll see what happens with the fifth.

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        • I found two things fascinating about religion in Westeros. The first is that, despite Martin’s commitment to describing a realistic medieval society and all of the unpleasantness and injustice that entails, he makes a Westeros a remarkably tolerant religiously diverse society. We have plenty of examples of marriages, political alliances, friendships and what have you that cross the divide between the Seven and the Old Gods, most castles maintain both septs and Godswoods, and there’s no indication that this has led to any kind of violence or division in hundreds of years.

          The second is that the Seven appear to be chumps. While Thoros and the Red Lady both obviously derive supernatural power from their god and the Old Gods presumably have something to do with Bran’s connection to Summer, Jojen’s Green Dreams, Coldhands, and so forth, the Seven never have any clear influence on temporal events. So I wonder: is this because that’s not how the Seven operate, or does it tell us something about the accuracy of different religious beliefs in Westeros? Or is it possible that none of these religions are actually producing miracles at all, and that the supernatural events we observe are the work of something other than the gods that appear to be responsible?

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          • Or perhaps the Seven (well really the one who the seven are all aspects of) is the divinity who steps in when magic ebbs in that world.

            Historically Martin alludes that the faith of the Seven was originally quite a militant and fierce one but that by dint of a great deal of imposition of secular governmental force they were reformed to a relatively peaceful faith. You’ll recall that *spoilers* those very reforms were rolled back by Cercei Lannister in the later books and the faith of the Seven appears to be undergoing a violent internal reformation that’s bringing it back to its’ dark roots. Winter is coming indeed.

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  3. Daniel,

    I suppose it’s something of an advantage for me that I don’t really read fantasy, unless you count Discworld. So while the Jon Snow character is somewhat familiar, it’s not really cliche. The one that really stuck out at me as excessively familiar is/was Tyrion. And of course Eddard. Tyrion is hard not to like, though. And Eddard is there the same way that a chair is there in my room. It seems to be a difficult character to avoid.

    Again, though, this is based on my limited exposure. Discworld, Lord of the Rings (movies), and some anime. Things that are chiched to others are going to be newer to me. And perhaps some things I think of as cliched are actually less usual than I would have figured.

    I remember when watching commentary to the original episode of The Shield, Michael Chiklas said that one of the things they were most seeking to avoid was Pilotitus, which is the need to give you the rundown all at once. I wonder the extent to which that is more difficult to do in a fantasy world (where you have so much more context to give) and in the written word instead of TV.

    Notably, that one quote has been ringing in my ears for days. I’ve had a few conversations lately about slurs and whatnot, and the degree to which we let descriptors which are meant to be derogatory get under our skin. The ones I am pondering are more subjective (“racist”, “redneck”) than factual (“bastard,” “dwarf”).

    Oh, and for the record I am listening to the audiobook. So I’m going to be misspelling names right and left, most likely, and probably writing some down wrong entirely.

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    • I think in the books “dwarf” and “imp” are both used in more subjective derogatory fashions.

      As for this sentence:

      So while the Jon Snow character is somewhat familiar, it’s not really cliche.

      You’ve got to help me out here. Snow strikes me as one of the most boring characters in fiction or storytelling at large. He’s kind, good, able, well rounded in his world but has some kind of chip on his shoulder. If this were Star Wars he’d be Luke Skywalker. If this was a Tom Clancy novel he’d be Jack Ryan. He just really seems to be a product of his environment and nothing else.

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      • I figured as much for “imp”, but less so for “dwarf.” But yeah, they do seem to focus on the more derogatory “imp” tag.

        As for Snow, we may be defining character differently. In terms of personality (and capability), he is pretty nondescript. But I find his story and the differing attitudes surrounding him to compensate. And to some extent, I consider the nondescript personality a product of his sort of walking on eggshells and not quite knowing where he fits in to everything. I don’t get that sort of tension from the Luke Skywalker character.

        I’m half way through the first book and no further. He hasn’t even played that much of a role yet. My views are subject to change.

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  4. Erik, it seems to be really common for book-to-TV transitions. Owing in part to child labor laws and owing in part to the fact that a 12 year old doing grown up things in the written word just doesn’t seem as silly as actually seeing it happen. If you are so inclined, you can just imagine them older. This may be less of an issue for this series than for a bona fide children’s series.

    According to Orson Scott Card, one of the big holdups on Ender’s Game as a movie is that the studios all want Ender to be older and he doesn’t want to budge on that. Well, I’m kind of with the movie studios on that one. I could never envision the character as being as young as he ostensibly is.

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    • I can’t help but imagine them older now – but I’m not complaining at all. I like them older, and I imagine if Martin could go back in time and write them older he would.

      And I didn’t know that about Card. He should budge. That’s a ridiculous reason to hold up a movie.

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      • I think the younger ages fit with what I see as Martin’s vision – a desire to portray a fantasy world with authentically medieval elements. Fourteen might be a child by modern standards but in much of medieval Europe it was the age a boy became a man. It makes sense that Jon Snow is that age.

        But I agree it wouldn’t work for TV, for one thing you simply couldn’t screen Danaerys’s wedding night if the actress looked thirteen.

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      • I seem to recall (I think it was on GRRM’s website, but I don’t have time to dig it up), that GRRM was originally planning on having a time skip of 3 years or so at some point in the series, making everyone a good deal older by the end than they will be the way things are going now, and that if he had it to do over, he would make the characters ages similar to those on the HBO serise.

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  5. I’m not a fantasy fan except for the subcatagory of English children’s literature. My excursions into fantasy have left me with the impression that it is a genre’ where character develpment is unimportant, the bad guys exist for no reason except to be bad, the plots are predictable and the faux-Medieval settings shallow and fail to be either historically accurate or well-developed places of the imagination.

    So I never would have read Game of Thrones if the Balloon Juicers weren’t so into it.

    I’m about halfway through the first book. I like it. I do not find it absorbing but I do find it entertaining. Compared to other fantasy books I’ve tried, it is definately superior both in characters, setting, and plot.

    On the other hand if I want to read about people acting within the context of Medieval culture with motives ad relatioships difficult to understand from a modern perspective and lots of convoluted plotting and drama I can always reread Allison Weir’s book about Richard the Third. Or any of a number of of histories, really.

    Which is probably why I am lukewarm to the Game of Thrones: history has the same mxture or characters shaped by events and events shaped by character in the context of a culture that is both similar to and profoundly different than modern life. I guess I prefer history.

    I do think that I will enjoy the TV series, though. Watching is a different experience from reading and I think I will enjoying seeing the story.

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  6. people in the book are much larger and stronger at an earlier age than in reality, so having younger characters makes more sense. also, people seem to age quicker, perhaps bc a “year” means something different in the book than it does in reality. as a matter of fact, my complaint about the series is that they didn’t pick actors with the physicality to portray the various characters as depicted in the book. i thought erik from true blood would have been a great jaime lannister for example.

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