Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Song of Ice and Fire Reread; A Game of Thrones Prologue

A Game of Thrones: 1/Prologue
"We should start back."
This is the opening line of the book, and of the series. In a sense it functions as the announcing of a major theme that will echo and be returned to: that things have gotten beyond our control. That we are in danger, and that despite what we thought, we have no safe haven. No place we can return.
It applies immediately to the characters Royce, Gared and Will, but in a larger sense it applies to the situation of the world of the Seven Kingdoms: there has been an uprising and revolution, the king, the ruling dynasty, the house that has governed the island for almost three hundred years, has been destroyed. The island is leaderless and may descend into chaos.
Prior to the Targaryen dynasty there were seven separate kingdoms, each with its own houses and rulers. Now they are all noble families and rule large areas of the island.
The people have grown used to the rule of one house, and of one king on a throne. That king was determined not just by blood, but by the physical appearance of the members of the targaryens: violet eyes, silverish hair. The ruling house can be said to have much in common with faerie.
So the land itself, after three hundred years of being ruled by a single house, which in its previous history was never a problem, now is faced with what to do. There sits a king on the throne, Robert Baraethen, the man who defeated the crown prince Rhaegar in individual combat.
The whole country seems to be giving sidelong glances at each other, and wondering just what is going to happen next. If a people rise up, or more properly, the ruling classes rise up and overthrow a monarch, who, as in all monarchies is supposedly the divinely appointed ruler, then has the nation as a whole opened the door for nothing being sacred.
And a note on method as well. To compare the opening with other series, and this is not a comparison of better or worse, simply a contrast in methods, notice how Robert Jordan opens the The Wheel of Time. He uses the third person omniscient voice to describe the wind and the wheel, almost like a voice over in a movie. You are alerted that what follows will be epic, sweeping, and constructed by forces that might perhaps be beyond human control.
But by announcing the theme in the voice of a character, Martin signals to the reader that the situation they are encountering is a human one(despite the presence of Zombies and other supernatural forces). Humans began this enterprise, and it is not the voice of a god or the commands of an impersonal creator or dark lord who bring the problems. It is human nature itself that launches the problems which follow. Men overthrew a king. It could be justified, and it can be argued against, but it is a specifically human problem.
Which, when you think about it, is a very unique way to start a fantasy epic series.
Men may have seen the need for the change of rulers or dynasty, but now human limitations exert themselves and the problem becomes what now. How do we fix the problems that killing the king have created?
Another major theme is announced in the story in this opening section: the conflict between nobility and peasant. Waymar, Gared and Will are at odds about the proper course of action. They are in the Night's Watch where traditional roles of Lord and Peasant are abandoned in the face of the brotherhood. But that is really not the case.
Gared, in internal monologue states he had "seen lordlings come and go." There exists a type of Vietnam Cherry situation where if they last the first six months maybe they will become trusted and friends with the other member's of the Night's Watch. But many of the Lordings die off in the first year because they are unusued to the harshness of the life of the Wall.
But the situation is not as easily graspable as that. Royce insists he needs to see the bodies for himself. Though Gared has 40 years on the Wall and Will 4, in this situation, Royce is right. "It became a point of honor," and though both Will and Gared have done good service, and their actions may be considered cowardly.
The roles are continually in conflict, and the hierarchy is not really clear. Again, this will be the dominant theme of the series, but it is very subtley reflected here.
Aside from the cool introduction of the zombie like others there is one telling detail that sticks out during the following battle: when Royce cries "For Robert!" before he plunges into battle, the others laugh.
It could be argued they are laughing at the puny ineffectual humans, but I think they are laughing at the invocation of Robert as rightful king. Again, the cosmoligical order has been knocked off its axis. The usurpation of the rightful king has placed the realm itself in danger from supernatural forces.
Thus ends my first entry. More later on the specific writer techniques that he is using here. I don’t want to put too much content in the entries and make them long winded and time consuming. I'd rather post numerous times on each passage.
Bear with me gentle reader, its going to be a long ride.