Little Quibbles With A Major Work

Having finished A Dance With Dragons, and having praised it in my last post, I can now move on from the series for a while. Before I go, however, I feel the need to share two quibbles I have with A Song of Ice and Fire. These quibbles have come up throughout the series, and are not confined to the most recent volume.

Quibble the first: BRAN IS BORING!

Once again, I applaud the scary decision Martin made to tell the tale from 147 (not an actual count) first person points of view. Doing so allows him to paint all the characters in shades of gray. However horrible the Lannister twins, they do love their children. Well, Cersei loves herself and then her children, and Jaime loves Cersei. They are horrible, but their first person POVs allow us to see them as human. They do not mean to be evil. They see themselves as protecting only what is rightfully theirs.

We can’t help rooting for little stick-em-with-the-pointy-end Arya Stark. She sees her father beheaded, flees, and against great odds, survives. But oh does she have blood on her hands. Every night, she prays, listing the names of those she wants to see dead. Now, some of them do need killing, to be sure, but I find her nightly prayer quite disturbing. In a good way, as intended by the author, I think.

I can go down the list of first-person narrators and be interested, to a greater or lesser degree in how they ‘splain themselves.

Until I come to Bran. Sure, I was horrified when Jaime pushed him out of the tower. Sure, I felt for him when everyone left Winterfell, leaving him in charge. Yes, I cheered his escape and his quest to find the 3-eyed raven. But the only reason to have a first person point of view is that the reader needs to experience that character’s thoughts, and I do not need to know what Bran is thinking. His thoughts do not surprise me (as do Arya’s, or Sansa’s, for instance). His are the thoughts any child would have under the circumstances. He is innocent. Too innocent to be interesting as a POV character. There is no inner conflict.

Even worse is when Bran is view-pointing the world through the eyes and senses of his dire wolf, Summer. I am not interested in any wolf/boy points of view here. Too simple, too pure. Boring.

Quibble the second: EXCESSIVE FONDLING OF MISSING BODY PARTS.

It is tough to get through life in Westeros and Essos with your parts intact. Too many swords and knives are flailing about, and fingers, hands, noses, ears, genitalia, mammary glands, toes, and tongues are all to be feared for. Once I got over my initial gag reflex, I could only reflect that this penchant for chopping off body parts is an integral part of this society, whether it happens in battle, or in the administration of justice, or, in the case of Ramsey Bolton, as the power-wielding of a sociopath. I admire as well the Davos-Stannis relationship, in which Davos’s fingertips have been cut of because he is an smuggler, and that he is grateful to Lord Stannis for dealing with him justly. I suppose I can understand, too, why Davos would keep his finger bones in a pouch around his neck like a good luck charm. Strange, but okay. I understand, this is more about his relationship in the society, and his need to better himself for the sake of his sons, than it is about his fingertips. Once he loses that pouch and the bones within, however, I think he maybe should lighten up on the fingertip obsession. Every thought in his head should not be accompanied by a reference to the missing fingertips or bones. Bring it in every fifth or tenth thought, but not every thought, which is what it seems like. It is time for him to let go of his fingertips, so to speak. It’s distracting me from the story.

Then there’s Tyrion’s missing nose. He, too, runs his hand over his nose-stump frequently–too frequently. In the book, Tyrion is depicted as having an ugly, grotesque face already anyway. This is in direct contrast to the TV show, by the way, in which Tyrion is played by Peter Dinklage, handsome, and still in possession of his nose at the end of season two. And you know what? I don’t think the character is weakened by having him be a good-looking dwarf with an intact nose. The character’s identity is completely tied up with his being a dwarf, and his sister’s and father’s hatred of him. Cutting off his nose is piling on. Having Tyrion constantly touching the nose-stub comes off as an annoying tick.

By contrast, when Jaime mentions his missing hand, I am not so bothered. First, he does not have quite the need to fondle the stumps as  do Davos and Tyrion. Secondly, that missing hand is totally tied up with his self-identification status as Kingslayer. Similarly, Theon Greyjoy obsession with flaying doesn’t bother me because of how recently his torture by Ramsey Bolton has occurred. He is clearly suffering from PTSD and a touch of Stockholm Syndrome. He’s entitled.

So there you have it, everything bad I have to say about A Song of Ice and Fire. These are, indeed, minor quibbles, almost joke-worthy. Nonetheless, they annoy me enough to momentary take me out of the story. According to Seth Anderson’s blog, here, http://www.b12partners.net/wp/2012/05/10/wordcount-of-a-song-of-ice-and-fire/. the first five volumes have brought us to somewhere around 1,770,000 words. I would say that if these are the worst complaints I can come up with, they aren’t really much.

Several friends have begun the TV series, have some desire to experience the books, but are intimidated by their sheer massiveness. I have said to them that to read the books will bring rewards and happiness. They do sprawl, but they are clearly and entertainingly written, and easy to get through. Consider buying the last volume in hardcover, for some good maps and extensive family trees to refer to.

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