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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Alex Antonijevic
    January 10, 2015 @ 1:48 am

    Love the books. Love the show.


  2. ferret
    January 10, 2015 @ 1:53 am

    Haven't watched nor read, but that didn't stop me enjoying the Big Finish entries of Eruditorium, the Wonder Woman book and large swathes of Last War in Albion, nor (elsewhere) The Wife and Blake – so I'll certainly be checking it out regardless – who knows, it may get me watching and reading.


  3. Aylwin
    January 10, 2015 @ 1:55 am

    Not a lot, at this point. I keep getting prodded towards boxsetting the series (or reading the books, but given the height of my unread-books stack that won't happen any time soon), and will probably succumb at some point. Actually, wanting to keep/catch up with and not be comprehensively spoilerised by this blog might finally push me over the edge.

    Obviously since it started being on the telly I've happened across sundry mentions of this and that, but almost the only specific plot spoiler I know at this point is the fact that Sean Bean gets killed, which in the quantum mechanics of cultural experience must have its own mathematical symbol denoting the minimum possible size of a spoiler…

    Oh, and I know that Martin seems prone to that rather embarrassing fantasy-author habit of stridently slagging off Tolkien. Seriously folks, I understand how you must feel, but just don't. It never looks good.


  4. David Anderson
    January 10, 2015 @ 2:31 am

    On reading the first book back a long time ago, I remember thinking it was taking a long time to get going, and then the momentum picked up later on.
    Rereading it, I think the earlier chapters are a little faster, when one knows where it's going, but that the later chapters are exercises in drawing things out.


  5. David Anderson
    January 10, 2015 @ 2:33 am

    You can get away with slagging off Tolkien if you're Michael Moorcock. Just about.


  6. Daibhid C
    January 10, 2015 @ 2:56 am

    I started the first book. Then a new Discworld came out, or I got a Doctor Who novel or something, and I never got back to it.


  7. Commander Maxil
    January 10, 2015 @ 2:56 am

    Martin does occasionally refer to the shortcomings of Tolkien in comparison to his own story in terms of shades of grey of characters. In addition he bemoans the way in which the success of the LOTR led to numerous copycat books written by writers vastly inferior to Tolkien. However he regularly talks about how much of a fan he is of the Lord of The Rings and how it has inspired him through his life and inspired his writing so I wouldn't let that perception put you off.


  8. Chris
    January 10, 2015 @ 3:26 am

    I had stayed away from Tolkien for years because I had read some copycat fantasy novels which I despised, and I knew that Tolkien was the reason those had existed. Then when the first LOTR came out, I had really enjoyed it, so I decided to try out the books. Oh joy, oh wonder, they were good. And I realized what the key difference between Tolkien and the copycats was:

    Tolkien came up with an insane amount of backstory and worldbuilding detail, then wrote his story with that information in mind. Copycats decided they wanted to also have all that backstory, but instead of using it to inform their stories, they felt it was necessary to insert it right into the narrative: Character A is traveling, and meets Character B. STOP EVERYTHING. Let's talk about Character B's past, starting with his great-great grandfather, for about twenty pages. There, we've finished, now let's get back to Character A meeting Character B, assuming you remember that was happening.

    Tolkien was smart enough to not interrupt his story with unloading a lot of extra information on the reader. I guess the copycats felt that they didn't want to waste all the work they had done, so they threw it all in. Granted, LOTR does have an appendix section, but it is separate and doesn't interfere with the story at all.

    On a related note, any book that has a family tree in the first few pages is an automatic quit for me. (Caveat: I'm talking about fiction books. A family history book gets a pass. A cookbook would be amusing and also get a pass.)


  9. talestoenrage
    January 10, 2015 @ 3:26 am

    I've only read the first book and seen none of the TV series. The first one felt baldly manipulative to me, and in my opinion relied too much on characters being overwhelmingly stupid. So I don't have any interest in reading further or watching the show at this point.


  10. Chris
    January 10, 2015 @ 3:27 am

    Oh, I left out a word that might confuse people. Where I wrote "when the first LOTR came out" I meant "when the first LOTR film came out."


  11. curlyjimsam750
    January 10, 2015 @ 3:45 am

    I gave up on the first book after about a hundred pages – something I rarely do. It just seemed too slow and uneventful (and my favourite genre is Victorian novels, which are hardly known for being fast-paced). But maybe that's just fashionable nowadays – it seems to be how every SF TV show that isn't self-contained episodes gets made.

    I suppose it's possible they get better later on, but some things form are all or nothing – if an author can't grab you within a hundred pages, he's failed in his job regardless of how good he might get subsequently.


  12. Iain Coleman
    January 10, 2015 @ 3:59 am

    I avoided the books and the show for years, because all I'd heard about them was "a rapey version of Lord of the Rings" and I saw no need for that in my life. But last year I was persuaded to give the show a go and found that my earlier impression was wrong : it's much more "I Claudius with occasional dragons". I was hooked, and am now a big fan. Haven't read the books though : they are awfully long and every change I hear people complaining about the TV series making sounds like an improvement to me.


  13. Scurra
    January 10, 2015 @ 4:00 am

    The moment I fell in love with Tolkien is actually identifiable for me – it's when Aragorn sings about Beren & Luthien as though we (the readers) were intimately familiar with their story and could therefore be expected to draw the appropriate parallels (in the same sort of way that we can use Romeo & Juliet as a shorthand.)
    That's when I realised that Tolkien was trying really hard to take us to a wholly different world with a mythology/culture that underpinned it all and which he didn't feel the need to explain. (OK, so in that instance he then does, but it's marginally forgiveable!)


  14. Thomas Lawrence
    January 10, 2015 @ 4:08 am

    Once I'd heard that there was going to be a TV series, I finally gave in to the low level ambient pressure to read the books I'd been picking up in geek circles, because it is generally my preference to experience the non-adapted version of something first.

    I read them and then watched the TV series, and like both. I'm two-thirds of the way through reading them to my partner, also.


  15. David Anderson
    January 10, 2015 @ 5:07 am

    There are two main differences between Tolkien and imitators. The first is that the imitators are writing heroic fantasy, and Tolkien is writing a story about hobbits thrown into heroic fantasy. The second is that Tolkien is a late romantic, and is writing out his feelings about the modern world (more complicated than reactionary nostalgia: Tolkien's heros are not fighting to preserve anything, as their world is passing away even if they win) – whereas many of his imitators are writing exciting books about fighting orcs with magic.


  16. C.
    January 10, 2015 @ 5:50 am

    TV show is better than the books, imo—taking martin's strengths (plotting and characterization, at least in the first 3 books) and jettisoning some of his weaknesses (a gassy, clunky prose style, at time appalling—there's a line about "the sounds of revelry and rape" which made me nearly chuck the book out a window).

    I get the sense Martin is sorta up the creek with the books now. He's essentially writing rather long digressions in a seeming effort to prevent the story from ever ending. Characters move from place to place, nearly missing each other, occasionally meeting each other. Some portents, some backstory, etc. On it goes. I'd be okay with this if these digressions were entertaining, but they're increasingly dull.

    I'm almost certain the series will end before Book 7 is published (if indeed Book 7 is the end—I can easily see Martin pulling a Peter Jackson), with the TV series ironically "spoiling" the book readers, which would be nice payback.


  17. Matthew Celestis
    January 10, 2015 @ 6:11 am

    I've been reading them over a period of fifteen years. I read the first book when I was 18 in 1999. I would read it during lunchbreaks working at the supermarket. I was disappointed at the time by the lack of elves, dwarves and orcs.

    I have enjoyed the last few volumes, but dislike the level of violence.

    I gave up watching the TV series after the first episode of Season 3. I just felt sickened by all the violence and felt I didn't want to watch any more.


  18. jane
    January 10, 2015 @ 6:15 am

    I started watching the show when it first came out, and it wasn't until the end of the second season that I even realized it was based on a series of books. After Season Three, I sat down and read the entire line of five increasingly long books. So I was spoiled for the first three books, spoiled for Season Four regarding the TV show, and am presumably spoiled for Season Five as well.

    Some observations. First, regarding the fandom: those who read the books well in advance of the show's creation generally prefer the books, in my experience. Which is natural, I suppose — it's what they fell in love with in the first place, and so any deviation from that, necessarily for any adaptation, is probably going to rub the wrong way. The inverse tends to be true, too.

    Of course there are people who like both. People like me.

    So there's something I'm really hoping the blog will get into, aside from analysing the show on its own merits, which is the matter of adaptation, and the kinds of differences there are between the two media. In terms of "discourse" versus "story," for example, there are things the books can do that the TV show can't, by their very nature — the third-person-close perspective of the individual chapters gets into the characters' heads, for example. Likewise, the show can use televisual language in a way that the written word can't. In general, I find the "storytelling" of the TV show much more accomplished than Martin's prose.

    And then there's the matter of the story itself, and the kinds of choices made by the show in adapting Martin. For example, in Book Two we have two characters who could have crossed paths but don't; in Season Two, on the strength of the performers themselves, as well as for reasons of expediting the plot, they do cross paths and its glorious.

    Other times, disappointingly, the show seems to drop one of Martin's strengths with this story, which is how it strives to deconstruct and critique the tropes of the fantasy genre, especially when it comes to women. Martin's female characters tend to have more agency than the show's — Cat Stark in particular. Part of that is rooted in the third-person-close discourse. The books never make Robb Stark a focal character, while the show does, and this ends up working against Cat's characterization.

    Anyways, looking forward as always to some interesting conversations on GoT/ASoIaF.


  19. Pen Name Pending
    January 10, 2015 @ 7:07 am

    My cousins (both male) have loved them since they were…18 and 23 I think. They keep telling me to read it, but the prospect of trying to read very thick mass-market paperbacks is not very appealing to me at the moment. Also, I've strayed away from fantasy (at least the hardcore) in recent years and instead of buying larger paperbacks I'd rather read something else.

    I've read a couple of excerpts and honestly, I can see understand why Martin is not celebrated for his prose. It seems dreadfully cliche.


  20. Pen Name Pending
    January 10, 2015 @ 7:10 am

    I've loved Lord of the Rings for years but honestly I can't tell you why, except that it just feel slike a very familiar journey to wander at my own pace. (The movies definitely helped me enjoy the books more, although I'm frustrated with how most of The Two Towers ended up in ROTK, because it was the last half of the TT book where I began to really enjoy it). But I do really agree with Chris and David above: it never feels bogged down with mythological exposition and the character's struggles are my favorite aspect.


  21. BatmanAoD
    January 10, 2015 @ 7:29 am

    I have always felt that Tolkein does an astounding job of portraying characters who clearly feel the weight of their own history and mythology.


  22. You Know Who...
    January 10, 2015 @ 8:30 am

    Sigh. As someone who neither likes 'fantasy' in this sense (with the exception of LotR in any media) nor the half-season of the show I watched (rape! scheming! world building! ugh.), it'd be churlish of me to start whining about how I wish this blog were to cover something (anything!) else as it transitions out of Doctor Who. I'll stick around for a while, because I like our host's writing (and he's bound to do DW again, at least from time to time), but, well…Game of Thrones, the TV show that's like a novel, except for people who don't actually read novels. As I said, sigh.


  23. Eric Gimlin
    January 10, 2015 @ 9:19 am

    Have yet to read the books or see the show. As I said over on the Paetron discussion, I want to read the books before I see the show, and I've been holding off on the books until I'm sure we won't have another case of Jordan's Syndrome. However, the fact that you're going to be blogging about them means that next paycheck I'll drop the $20 and get the 5 books for my kindle. No idea how fast I'll get through them, but I'll have them.

    So, my major familiarity with Martin at this point comes from Wild Cards. I enjoyed it immensely when it started but have no idea how well it's aged since I haven't gone back to re-read the early books in decades. I did think the recent revival was better than the last few books of the original run, but I'm a couple of books behind on that as well.

    It will be interesting to see what you have to say about Wild Cards in the War; I'm sure it will need to get at least a mention or two.


  24. BerserkRL
    January 10, 2015 @ 9:25 am

    A friend bought me the first season set. So I thought "I should read the books before I watch this." But I wasn't sure whether I wanted to commit myself to that. So I first read some of the comic book adaptations (both of the early chapters of Game of Thrones and of the related Dunk and Egg stories). I liked those, so I started reading the books, and I've finished those extant, though not yet the various tie-in novellas. Then I started watching the series, but being hellishly busy lately I haven't gotten very far — though I've seen lots of clips from later in the series (the scene where Daenerys assumes command of her army is one of my favourites) and so am the opposite of spoiler-free.

    So I like the books, but I do find them hard slogging at times. There are characters I care about, but also characters I'm sick to death of and/or can barely remember who the hell they are.


  25. Aylwin
    January 10, 2015 @ 9:26 am

    In fairness to the imitators, a lot of what makes the LOTR work how it does comes from the serendipity of Tolkien's having his own synthetic mythology that he had been working on for decades and took very seriously but was nowhere near publishing, intersecting with his publisher's appetite for a sequel to that popular children's story he had written, and leading to his decision to build the one on top of the other. Not to detract in any way from the perceptive creativity of that decision, his artistry in implementing it, or the fact that the ingredients being fused together came from his own existing work, but it arose out of a unique combination of circumstances that you just can't duplicate. The evidence of countless attempts suggests that it just doesn't work the same way if you try to make it happen on purpose.


  26. BerserkRL
    January 10, 2015 @ 9:32 am

    The political themes are interesting. Martin has Varys make the very La Boétiean point that political power depends on the acquiescence of the governed, but Martin also seems to be pushing the opposite Hobbesian idea that social order depends on a strong ruler and that overthrowing tyrants is a mistake; I'll be interested to see how that tension shakes out. The difficulties of Daenerys, the most clearly libertarian/liberatory character, seem to suggest the impossibility of successfully imposing freedom from above and may be intended as a comment on u.s. foreign policy (albeit giving the latter too much credit for good intentions).


  27. UrsulaL
    January 10, 2015 @ 9:44 am

    This reminds me of a conversation at a few years back, around Jo Walton's review of Lois McMaster Bujold's "Sharing Knife" series.

    Bujold commented after one of Walton's reviews of one of the earlier books in the series about how latter fantasy writing is always "Tussling with Tolkien" in one way or the other, because of the huge shadow that LOTR casts over the genre.


  28. Nyq Only
    January 10, 2015 @ 9:45 am

    I think Tolkein explores the romantic elements of Englishness in a fascinating way – although that brings out the uncomfortable aspects of LOTR, the racism and the anti-industrialism. However it is why LOTR is so unlike its copycats. The Hobbits are just little people but rather they are people who live in the pastoral arcadian myth of England's 19th century villages. They leave that myth and walk into the myth of the primal haunted forest, then into the pre-Roman barrows and so on. Myths of lost kings, myths of empire. Celtic like mythic people, Norse like dwarfish myths and so.


  29. Nyq Only
    January 10, 2015 @ 9:55 am

    I started reading the books after I read about Neil Gaiman defending Martin from his fans. I picked up a copy of Game of Thrones in a secondhand shop and then rapidly read my way through the available books. By which point I sympathized with the fans 🙂

    Haven't watched the show – the violence, the sex and the sexy-violence is one thing in print but I think it would be too exploitative on TV.

    I like the complex politics of the books. I like the creeping menace of the ice-zombie things but do wish they would creep a bit faster towards actually impacting on the rest of the storyline.

    The growing number of POV characters is frustrating – Martin gets a lot of stick for his willingness to kill character but the Westeros character-population growth rate is undiminished by the high mortality.

    The books do not seem to have turned the corner yet – still feels like an expanding plot that is gaining more thinks to resolve rather than less.


  30. elvwood
    January 10, 2015 @ 10:24 am

    Not read any of the books, not seen any of the show, not likely to bother (I've still got more than fifty unread DW books and a handful of unseen DW serials, and there's plenty of other things I could dip into that sound more like my thing).

    I will read the blog, though, anyway, just to appreciate Phil's thinking.


  31. elvwood
    January 10, 2015 @ 10:31 am

    Not part of the main topic but hey, it's Saturday Waffling:

    The Humble Bundle are doing an Image comics bundle at the moment. I'm tempted because it include The Wicked and the Divine volume One, which everyone here seemed to rave about. So my questions are, what else in there is good, and is it worth upping the price to $18 to get The Walking Dead Compendium One (#1-48), East of West: The World, and Saga Book One?


  32. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 10, 2015 @ 10:47 am

    Saga Book One alone is worth the price difference between the tier that gets you WicDiv and $18.


  33. FlexFantastic
    January 10, 2015 @ 10:49 am

    I watch the show (which I enjoy) and have listened to audiobooks of the, er, books. I listened during a ski season, which made for some really weird and uncomfortable chairlift rides. True story.


  34. elvwood
    January 10, 2015 @ 11:54 am

    Thanks – I hadn't spotted the gap had closed to less than $3! That's my spending money for January gone, then…


  35. Iain Coleman
    January 10, 2015 @ 4:35 pm

    Cool story, bro.


  36. reservoirdogs
    January 10, 2015 @ 6:59 pm

    Watch the show, have played the board game. It's a terrible representation of the series narrative (due to it being a Diplomacy/Risk knock off (with all the imperialist overtones intact) instead of one that highlights the soap opera nature of the series) but still highly addictive.


  37. BerserkRL
    January 10, 2015 @ 7:31 pm

    One of the biggest things that distinguishes LOTR from most of its imitators is that most fantasy quests are about trying to gain some magical power; LOTR's quest is about trying to throw it away. (Which fits with Tolkien's anarchist sympathies.)


  38. BerserkRL
    January 10, 2015 @ 7:35 pm

    The fifteenth book will be titled "The White Walkers Creep Southward Another Eight Yards, and Jon Snow Still Knows Nothing."


  39. BerserkRL
    January 10, 2015 @ 7:41 pm

    In one of Martin's books there's a line about how mistaken traditional sources are in thinking a dragon's underbelly is its weakest spot — which is presumably a playful jab at Tolkien, though also of course at the Sigurd/Siegfried legend.


  40. encyclops
    January 10, 2015 @ 8:04 pm

    I generally liked the LOTR films, but I think their biggest shortcoming is that they forgot that, along the lines of what David said above, the hobbits are supposed to be thrust into the heroic fantasy, not a natural part of it themselves. I would have liked 50% less "burden of the Ring" and 100% more "I wasn't even supposed to be here today."


  41. Pôl Jackson
    January 10, 2015 @ 8:30 pm

    I'm a pretty massive fan of the fantasy genre. As I get older, though, I find that I just don't have the patience to read big epic stories told over multiple books. The fantasy series that I do still read I've either been following for decades (Pratchett's "Discworld" books, Brust's "Vlad Taltos" books), or do something interesting in the genre I haven't seen before (Lynch's "Locke Lamora" books, Rothfuss's "Kingkiller Chronicles", Grossman's "Magicians" books). It's not just the Song of Ice and Fire series I've been avoiding, but also Butcher's "Codex Alera" (even though I adore his "Dresden Files" books), and Sanderson's "Mistborn" series (even though I enjoyed the first book). I don't know if it's that particular expression of the genre that I now find disinteresting, or if I just have more time constraints than I used to.

    I watch and enjoy the show, possibly because it's not as big of a time commitment. I'm persistently behind, though; I don't get library DVDs until about six months after the DVD release. I'm very sensitive to spoilers, which makes it difficult to enjoy the show sometimes. Phil, I hope you save your episode analysis until at least the DVDs are out, although I'm probably in the minority there.


  42. encyclops
    January 10, 2015 @ 8:32 pm

    A friend loaned me the first book a while back. I really had to work to get through it, but by the end I was at least mildly curious where it was going to go, just unwilling to slog through another 1000 pages to find out. I think it was watching the first season of the show that made me warm to it and started me on the cycle of reading each book just before its corresponding season. I'm caught up now on both and generally enjoying it; both books and show have their strengths and weaknesses but I like them about equally. My allegiances are pretty typical: mainly a fan of Arya and Dany's storylines, and would probably be bored of Jon's but Kit Harington's puppydog eyes are shallowly keeping him on the list. Pretty much everything happening with the Greyjoys depresses me, and everything happening with the Tyrells worries me because I love them.

    This is the level on which I generally enjoy this story, which makes me think I'm probably not your target audience for the blogging you plan to do about it. This isn't a show I seek out analysis of, and I have trouble coming up with any deeper plumbing of it I could imagine looking forward to.

    I'm not sure why that is. I mean, TARDIS Eruditorum: often fabulous, sometimes frustrating, but always fascinating; Last War: really enjoying it, I would say more than I expected to, particularly now that we're into stuff I've read and have more context for. So Doctor Who, V for Vendetta, The Invisibles: sure, open up the patient, let's see what makes him tick. But Game of Thrones…I think I'm a little scared it might not survive the operation for me.

    Maybe part of it is that thing where "boobs, rape, and killing off the good characters" is to GoT as "wobbly sets and rubber monsters" is to Doctor Who. All those things happen, and if they're someone's reasons for not watching the show or reading the books, that's fine for them, but I think they're pretty weak reasons. And I would argue (though I hope I don't have to) that all but one (whose prevalence is exaggerated) are driven by the circumstances of production. This is not a blog (or a comments section) characterized by shallow analysis, and yet when this series has come up I've seen a lot of that sort of received understanding of what the show is about, and, let's admit it, it's the kind of thing that rightly or wrongly tends to take over the conversation.

    So I'm torn between being curious as to what angle this blog will take and kinda wanting to sit this one out and let you guys have fun with it. It's not the show I would have wanted to succeed the Eruditorum, but my reasons for that are entirely personal and idiosyncratic, and really they hardly matter.


  43. Prole Hole
    January 11, 2015 @ 1:20 am

    Watch the show (just), not read the books. For me the show is one of the biggest slides in quality I've seen over the course of four seasons. The first season is a slow-burning, genuinely compelling piece of world-building. The second season is a step down but decent, the third season is just "Dynasty with Dwagons" and the fourth season… well it's so good I don't know if I'll be back for the fifth. The thing for me with GoT in its TV adaptation is that it's so easy to get caught up in what is probably the single best-produced show in television (seriously, the production values are genuinely stunning) that it's very easy to lose sight of the fact that it's largely degraded to just a very, very well produced soap opera. A largely (but not entirely) talented cast also help to elevate a lot of the material but even they can't make something like the hilarious idiocy of something like the Red Wedding work (to take but one of many examples).

    For me, especially in latter seasons, the show also tips over into being genuinely unpleasant which is why I think I find it increasingly difficult to want to watch these days. You can use rape or incest or whatever as a plot device, if you must, but there's a difference between using it as a maybe-realistic event in a fantasy/medieval setting and using it for more prurient reasons, and more and more often it seems to get used for the latter rather than the former, tipping it over into exploitation. It can be genuinely uncomfortable, and not in a good making-the-audience-think sort of way. It's not that it happens every episode (it doesn't) and it can be over-emphasised but that doesn't make it any less galling when it does occur.

    Eh, I'm probably not the right audience for this. But Philip is such a great writer (and inspiration) that I'll probably read along anyway, a lurker in the background.


  44. timber-munki
    January 11, 2015 @ 3:58 am

    Read the first two books, found them to be very slow and overly descriptive. There's maps of Westeros out there online that are covered with coats of arms for the hundreds of different families and I can't help but feel that it's Martins goal to include every single last one of them in the story and quite frankly I don't need several thousand pages to tell me bad things happen to good people.

    I've watched the show, although season 4 was a bit of a slog, can't help but feel the show is reeling from the events of episode 9 of season 3 whilst not actually doing anything – the Ayra, Bran & Brienne arcs in particular. Now that the Harry Potter films have finished it has become the new 'wasn't they from that thing' show to the extent that whenever Ben Crompton's character appears on screen I have to chime in with 'I'm on probation'


  45. You Know Who...
    January 11, 2015 @ 4:52 am

    Pointless comment, dude.


  46. Jarl
    January 11, 2015 @ 7:15 am


  47. Nyq Only
    January 11, 2015 @ 7:21 am



  48. Daru
    January 11, 2015 @ 8:37 am

    I'm one of those folk who enjoy both the books and TV show for different reasons, strengths and weaknesses in each as you say. Yes the third person narrative does work very well in the books and takes apart the tropes of fantasy very well, with Cat being a great example. Look forwards to discussions on this too!


  49. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 11, 2015 @ 8:46 am

    I agree that seasons two and three are not as good as the first. I thought Season Four was an absolute revelation, though. I thought it was thunderously good, and very possibly better than S1 (which I've not watched start to finish since 2013, to be fair).

    The books are absolutely pathological. It's a fascinating pathology to me, and while I mock him in the post, Martin is usually a capably breezy prosesmith that makes their massive length somewhat more tolerable, although it certainly is easier when I can skim six pages because I recall what happens.

    For what it's worth, Brienne is a bit of a problem character period – Martin gives her a plot, but there's not a ton for her to do, and the cliffhanger her plot is theoretically building to is not currently possible within the scope of the show, requiring a character who does not currently exist and who cannot easily be replaced. So yes, I share your concern there. Bran they've actually accelerated – he's out of new material from the books. The S3 scene with Sam is his last in book three. You can just imagine what a slog it is when it takes till book five to even get to his destination. So there I feel vague mercy that they've found anything to do with him.

    I agree Arya got no plot in S4, but equally, I think they had one of the best television double acts of the last five years with her and the Hound, and I absolutely understand their decision to just luxuriate in it for ten episodes. It made strong television, to my mind.


  50. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 11, 2015 @ 8:48 am

    There's an entire argument that I intend to make about Martin's place in the history of the genre that will ultimately conclude that Martin is firmly a New Wave writer in the Moorcock tradition.

    But I suspect that's for the book I'll do when Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire are both wrapped.


  51. Daru
    January 11, 2015 @ 8:51 am

    As I said up above on Jane's comment, I love the books and the TV show for different reasons – both have problems and strengths. I know that Martin's prose often is over-bloated with unnecessary details and description but I have felt very absorbed by the books and the story and the world, as I am a sucker for long rambling books and enjoy getting lost in them. The TV show does greatly improve upon the storytelling generally, though some occasional characters do suffer, but that can't be helped as third person narrative is hard for a TV show.

    Anyway, love both and looking forwards to the angle that you might take on this Phil, and to the discussions here.


  52. Elizabeth Sandifer
    January 11, 2015 @ 8:52 am

    I'm intrigued by Cat, as I'm not sure she was entirely well-served by the books either, but she was at least differently poorly served.

    For me, the example of a character who works better in the books is Arya, whose transition from plucky children's literature heroine to serial killer is charmingly subtle thus far. But that's more than counterbalanced by the show's Sansa, who is a triumph where the books' is not.

    Although the real triumphs are all the characters who aren't POV characters in the books. Margery, Jorah, Varys, Oberyn, and Littlefinger are all wildly, wildly better on screen simply by virtue of getting to see them on their own terms.

    But book/show differences are something I intend to focus on a fair amount, with a real eye towards exactly this – explaining the differences and what they contribute to storytelling.


  53. tom jones
    January 11, 2015 @ 9:44 am

    I come at the show and the books from a different angle. I think the only fantasy I've read is Tolkien (if you don't count Dune … ), although I played D&D a lot in the 80s, and seen a fair amount of fantasy movies.

    I have however read a lot of medieval history, mostly English, so for me the books were a breeze; I just sped through them. I frequently spot where Martin is getting his ideas from. The show tells the overall story better (Sansa's terrible in the first book), although I find it weaker when they deviate: IMO, the Red Wedding works better in the book.


  54. jsd
    January 11, 2015 @ 10:25 am

    When s4 was airing I posted something to social media along the lines of "I would totally watch The Arya & Hound Show" where they just walk around meeting people, getting into scrapes, and solving problems with sudden sickening violence."


  55. You Know Who...
    January 11, 2015 @ 10:47 am

    I came at it from a different angle than you. As an English lit. person, In the (admittedly brief) time I watched the show, I kept seeing characters and dynamics Martin 'stole' from Shakespeare(), and that rather irritated me. I mean, yes, put, I dunno, Macbeth and Prospero in a love triangle with Desdemona and you've got a healthy plot thread for a season or two, but that's the difference between Art and Soap Opera(), to my mind. Create a big enough galaxy of characters, and they can bounce off of each other endlessly — it still doesn't convince me that they story is about anything().

    () Yes, yes, Greek tragedy, stealing from previous versions, etc., etc.
    () Yes, yes, Post Modernism, etc…
    ) Yes, yes, in season XVII the theme of power becomes…


  56. You Know Who...
    January 11, 2015 @ 10:49 am

    Mmm…minor typos…


  57. David Anderson
    January 11, 2015 @ 12:15 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  58. David Anderson
    January 11, 2015 @ 12:16 pm

    I think there's room to go back through Moorcock's tradition behind Moorcock. Elric is notoriously a subversion of Howard's Conan. And the Law and Chaos pairing is lifted from Poul Anderson. I'd be surprised if Moorcock doesn't have at least a grudging respect for Clark Ashton Smith, as well as Eddison.
    Vance is another major name that comes out of that tradition. And then so is Gene Wolfe.

    The only writer later than Gawain and the Green Knight that I feel sure Tolkien must have read is William Morris.


  59. Iain Coleman
    January 11, 2015 @ 4:16 pm

    Significant parts of Tolkien are direct reactions to Shakespeare.


  60. Alex Antonijevic
    January 11, 2015 @ 8:36 pm

    "But I suspect that's for the book I'll do when Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire are both wrapped."


  61. SpaceSquid
    January 12, 2015 @ 12:14 am

    I think the board game is a tremendously accurate representation of the series, if only because the only time I played it I started with the weakest house, spent six hours manoeuvring to the point where I was winning the game until the very last action of the very last turn, whereby I was stabbed in the back by someone I'd barely interacted with so a third player the second player had spent all game warring with could win instead.

    What could be more Martin than that?

    (The answer is tits, of course, but that's not how I roll on board-game night.)


  62. Katherine Sas
    January 12, 2015 @ 6:55 am

    Actually, a lot of Martin's comments about Tolkien are often taken out of context. He does critique him, and is certainly trying to do something very different, but overall he holds him in high regard.


  63. Katherine Sas
    January 12, 2015 @ 6:57 am

    I read the first book in college and quite liked it, but due to their length and, you know, being in college as an English major I didn't continue with them right away. When they made the show, I thought I should stay ahead, so I steadily read 1 book a year, keeping one year ahead of the given season of the show. I'm now caught up with the books. I like the books a lot, but don't know if I'll ever re-read them (maybe a long time after the show has ended). The show I absolutely love, and in some ways prefer to the books, although that's not to dismiss the books at all. Looking forward to your commentary!


  64. Daru
    January 12, 2015 @ 8:43 am

    Great Phil, I look forwards to your exploration of the differences between the books and the show, and discussing this in terms of the storytelling will be very interesting.

    Good point about Arya, who's story I find very compelling – and Sansa, brilliant in the show yes.


  65. Daru
    January 12, 2015 @ 8:45 am

    Arya & the Hound = brilliant


  66. encyclops
    January 12, 2015 @ 10:23 am

    There's an entire argument that I intend to make about Martin's place in the history of the genre that will ultimately conclude that Martin is firmly a New Wave writer in the Moorcock tradition.

    That DOES sound interesting. I was really hoping you wouldn't hook me, but between this and what you say below about the non-POV characters…arrrrgggghhh. Damn it, Sandifer! I may have to read this after all.


  67. Daru
    January 12, 2015 @ 10:28 am

    Aye sounds good, am hooked too.


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