By Vasilis Athanasopoulos

 song of ice and fire

It is pretty difficult not to have heard of the above title, and if that happens, it indicates that you have been either leaving under a rock or you are a hard core fan of HBOS Game of Thrones, who does not really like reading books. Either way, the purpose of this article is to inform you about this high fantasy masterpiece and explain why there is all this fuss about it.

First of all, it would be wise to explain some things about high fantasy. High fantasy (also referred to as epic fantasy) is a sub-genre of fantasy fiction, defined either by its setting in an imaginary world or by the epic stature of its characters, themes and plot. High fantasy is defined as fantasy fiction set in an alternative, entirely fictional («secondary») world, rather than the real, or «primary» world. The secondary world is usually internally consistent but its rules differ in some way(s) from those of the primary world. By contrast, low fantasy is characterized by being set in the primary, or «real» world, or a rational and familiar fictional world, with the inclusion of magical elements. Well let us say that Game of Thrones stands somewhere in-between. That happens because, although our story takes place in a fantastic place, everything is pretty rational. Some would argue that the existence of inhuman creatures like dragons makes it high fantasy. The problem is that half of the characters consider magic as something real and others see it as a huge lie. In the end, the reader is the one who decides. Here I would like to add that those who turned the books into a series support the existence of the supernatural element.

At the beginning of this article I promised to justify the things that make this piece of writing so special. Well, the first thing is its innovative plot. The story of A Song of Ice and Fire takes place on the fictional continents Westeros and Essos, with a history of thousands of years. The point of view of each chapter in the story is a limited perspective of an assortment of characters that grows from nine, in the first, to thirty-one by the fifth novel. Three predominant stories interweave: a dynastic war among several families for control of Westeros; the rising threat of the dormant cold supernatural Others dwelling beyond an immense wall of ice on Westeros” northern border; and the ambition of Daenerys Targaryen, the exiled daughter of a king murdered in a civil war shortly before her birth, to return to Westeros with her fire-breathing dragons and claim her rightful throne. While the first novel contains hardly any magic at all, the prominence of magic grows in the later volumes. The assortment of disparate, subjective, and not always accurate points of view confronts the reader with a variety of perspectives on each of the other characters from one chapter to the next. GRR Martin initiailly planned that it would be a trilogy, but after realising that his first book was over 3000 pages, he decided to split it into 7 novels. Many of you will probably wonder why I said it is innovative as a backdrop of incest and fratricide, alchemy and murder exists in every fantasy novel. The answer is pretty simple. If you have read Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings you will have probably seen that the good ones and the uncorrupted prevail. That rule does not apply here. Victory may only go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel…and the coldest hearts. Moreover, in every other fantasy novel we see that the main characters are safe: a safety that is rarely compromised. Well, let us say that this does not apply here, for the main theme of the books is ‘’Valar Morgulis’’ (all men must die).

Another great thing about those books is the way Martin delivers landscapes, cities, battle scenes and sexual scenes. It is true that there has been great fuss about the latter and the fact that over 10% of every book is filled with such content. The fantasy genre rarely focuses on sex and sexuality as much as the Ice and Fire books do, often, in Martin’s eyes, treating sexuality in a juvenile way or neglecting it completely. Martin, however, considers sexuality an important driving force in human life that should not be excluded from the narrative. Providing sensory detail for an immersive experience is more important than plot advancement for Martin, who aims to let the readers experience the novels” sex scenes, «whether it’s a great transcendent, exciting, mind blowing sex, or whether it’s disturbing, twisted, dark sex, or disappointing perfunctory sex. Now concerning the battle scenes, I have to admit that they are very graphical, gory and sometimes you have to have a strong stomach. When he was asked about this fact, the author said that you can only know a man when you put sword in his hand, implying that those parts of the books are of paramount importance. Speaking about the way Martin fleshes out his characters, we should emphasize on the fact that he provides a variety of female characters to explore some of the ramifications of the novels being set in a patriarchal society. Writing all characters as human beings with the same basic needs, dreams and influences, his female characters cover the same wide spectrum of human traits as the males. Martin can identify with all point-of-view characters in the writing process despite significant differences to him, be it gender or age. He does not presume to make feminist statements in either way, although the HBO television adaptation sparked a heated critical response about the series” alleged misogyny, the portrayal of women, and the gender distribution of the readership and viewership.

Speaking of HBO, I have to admit that the book adaptation is outstanding. The set is filled with many talented actors and producers. Till now there are three series that have been produced, each one covering a different book. The production is pretty lavish and has cost 1000000s.  It is considered as the most expensive series that has been ever made. Remarkable is also the fact that the Westerosi characters of Game of Thrones speak British English, often (but not consistently) with the accent of the region in England whose geographic location corresponds to that of the character’s home region in Westeros. For instance, Eddard Stark, as Warden of the North, speaks in actor Sean Bean’s native Northern English, while the southern lord Tywin Lannister is heard speaking with a southern accent. Characters foreign to Westeros are often (although not always) played with a foreign-sounding accent. While English is used to convey the common language of Westeros, the producers charged linguist David J. Peterson with developing the Dothraki and Valyrian languages as constructed languages, based on the few words used in Martin’s novels. Dothraki or Valyrian dialogue is subtitled in English. The BBC estimated that, through the series, these fictional languages are heard by more people than the Welsh, Irish and Scots Gaelic languages combined. Lastly it should be noted that the series is appropriate for older audiences (15+) because there are many scenes filled with gore and nudity that may be sometimes explicit.

To conclude, A Song of Ice and Fire is a piece of writing worth reading. I personally believe that audiences of every age can relate and will most definitely find it very engaging. They are novels that explore human nature, they are novels that don’t just surface revisionism, they are bringing the full weight of richness of literary fiction to genre entertainment.