A Slog of Ice and Fire
George R.R. Martin Doesn’t Have to Finish The Game Of Thrones Books. What Would be the Point?
I did a lot of dumb things as a kid, but one of the dumbest was buying and reading the novelization of The Empire Strikes Back by Donald F. Glut–yes, that is his real name–about a month before the movie came out. This was before the internet, when Starlog magazine was the only place to go for spoilers, and even they didn’t know how the last 20 minutes of that movie was going to go down. But I did, and I felt stupid for ruining arguably the greatest plot twist in movie history. Watching the movie, I remember hoping that somehow it would be different from the book. But that’s not how Movie Tie-Ins work.
We come now to the end of the first Game of Thrones TV show. (I say “the first” because there will be a prequel, although you can spoil that too.) It’s safe to say that many if not most fans of the TV shows have read the books. The books themselves have been the subject of much discussion since the show started. When the pilot aired, author George R.R. Martin was still writing the series, or telling people he was. He’s yet to publish Book 6, and he’s said that there will be seven books in the written series.
Meanwhile, the show caught up to him, and then passed him, and will be done this weekend. So fans of the books who watch the show have basically done the reverse of what I did with Empire. Still, many, many fans of the books and the series want Martin to finish the books. I have read all of the books, some twice, enjoyed most of the first three, and I am not one of these people.
A Feast For Editors
The central concept drew most people to the books. Fantasy novels are without a doubt the absolute worst when it comes to tropes. There’s one basic story, and it started with Tolkien: Uninteresting But Good-Hearted Person (usually a young male) discovers he Has Been Chosen To Rid The Land Of A Great Evil, meets up with some People Who Are Good With Swords And/Or Magic, Embarks With His New Fellowship On A Quest, Fights Big Bad, Wins. Martin took this idea and made The Good-Hearted Person into a bunch of Somewhat-To-Mostly Shitty People. That is a great idea for a short story, or a novel, or maybe a trilogy in the hands of a disciplined writer, or at least one with editors who can rein back his worst impulses.
This is not Martin. Amazon says the current paperback version of the series is 4,272 pages long. Assuming Martin stays true to form, when he’s finally done, the series will likely top out at around 6,000 pages. That, my friends, is a slog worthy of–well, pick any of the slogs through which every character in one of the Game of Thrones books goes. You have quite a few slogs from which to choose. Bran, Hodor and the two weird forest kids’ whose names escape me’s two-book long trek to the North? Sure, that works. You could have also just said “Arya’s whole deal”. Or Sansa’s. Or Brienne’s. Or…anyway, my suspicion is that because the books were already popular before the TV show hit, and became even more so after, Martin’s publisher let him take the wheel.
And so we got A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons, which were originally supposed to be one book, but Martin split them into two, much to the relief of UPS delivery guys and Barnes and Noble shelf-stockers. The first was a meandering mess, thanks in no small part to the detour into the sort of cool but completely irrelevant kingdom of Dorne. The second was more of the same, and one could say that it sets up the final battle for Westeros so we might as well keep reading the books. But who the hell knows what to think? The show’s writers changed a lot of stuff.
Watch What Happens
The biggest reason to not read the books is simple: because of the show, there’s no point. We know what’s going to happen, it’ll only take about an hour to find out who ends up on the Iron Throne, and we won’t have to read about what the characters ate between all of the killings and the rape and the torture. (Probably pies, either pigeon or eel.)
Will Martin ever finish? Who knows. My theory–and it wouldn’t be a proper Game of Thrones piece without a theory!–is that if he really wanted to, he’d have been done by now. This is not a jab at him. Writing is work. If someone basically did all of the fun stuff, coming up with characters and scenes and and plot twists, and all that there was for you to was type and you didn’t need the money, would you? Not me, man. I’d be chilling out on the equivalent of a King’s Landing veranda, sipping some Dornish Gold. If the fans REALLY wanted it, I’d hire someone to churn out a 200-page TV tie-in. Donald F. Glut’s available, I hear.