I'd been warned, but his writing is so crisp and good, and his story so compelling I had to read on.
I'm near the end of the third in his series of A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE. Mr. Martin has the gift of making one love and care for the struggles of his noble protagonists and making one despise his villains. Yet repeatedly it is the villains who triumph and his heroes who get the axe--literally. His gift is in eliciting anger and grief when this occurs.
And I hate him for it.
Now, he is not the first to have done this in "modern" fantasy. My first exposure to this narrative device was Katheryn Kurtz's KING JAVAN'S YEAR (1993). There was a dark shadow of it as well in Tad Williams' trilogy MEMORY, SORROW, AND THORN. And it seems the newest crop of fantasists wallow in what I consider as S&M toward their heroes, in what is considered "gritty" fantasy, or the oxymoron "real" fantasy (aka suffering and subversion). Stephen Erikson's MALAZAN decalogy is often held up as a prime example and, one reason at present, that I have not yet deigned to read it.
I recall a similar sense of righteous indignation at the ending Thomas Tryon's HARVEST HOME when I was a freshman undergraduate--but this was a horror novel (ultimately).
Yet all the preceding have earned praise and critical acclaim and adoring fans (4-5 stars at Amazon.com) that I derisively (and I admit spitefully) attribute to their novelty--i.e. shock fantasy. But I'm the one outside the crowd here--the dodo, the mammoth in the tar pit.
Not that I require happy endings in my escapist literature; for example I felt only awe as a middle-schooler at the humbling end of Arthur C. Clarke's CHILDHOOD'S END and his Hugo-winning short story THE STAR.
But there is something anti-Campbellian, almost anti-human, in turning our Hero Archetypal tales and making them slaughter-fests where, as the Warlock in Larry Niven's 1969 Nebula award winning NOT LONG BEFORE THE END concludes, "The swordsmen, the damned stupid swordsmen, will win after all."
I'm still more inclined toward the archetype hero quest. Suffering? Yes. But also triumph--inclusive of self-discovery [e.g. I greatly enjoyed the recent film adaption of THOR]. To strive and suffer against terrible odds and then die before achievement/redemption is the stuff of life.
This is why, perhaps, "fantasy stories" were created, to provide hope, however illusory, and to provide respite from the too frequent common tragedies of everyday existence.
And as the drowned out voice in the crowd, I'll state this is what I believe is the obligation of the fantasy writer
Ok. Rant over.
Respectfully, Dr. Bob.
Note to self: Don't forget to download to Kindle the next two books in George RR Martin's A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE.
[This message has been edited by History (edited July 08, 2011).]
I would have to agree that when it comes to Steven Erikson's "Malazan Book of the Fallen" there really are very few good guys, those good guys usually end up dying, and everything always ends in tragedy with everyone losing. As breathtaking as the story is, it really is one of the most depressing things I've ever read or probably will ever read.
As for "A Song of Ice and Fire", I wouldn't exactly say that it's always the bad guys winning. You see some of the bad guys prove themselves to have some honor, you see good guys doing their best and struggling, and even when they fail they continue on as best they can.
I think the redeeming character of the series is definitely Jamie, though, and for exactly that reason. Honored for all the wrong reasons, and dishonored for all the wrong reasons as well, so that he's tainted by one of the few good acts he ever did.
When you said you hate George R. R. Martin I thought it would be for the six years between books thing. That's what's got ME peeved at him .
Dr. Bob you may have been a participant but I think we had a discussion about how some of the newer fantasy writers treat their Good Guys.
I don't recall reading any that do that but that is one reason I haven't read Martin. I know he's a good writer but if I think the story is one I don't appreciate I don't want to get hooked on his writing.
I told George Railroad Martin---well, I tell everybody, and maybe he's heard---that I'll read this series of his when it's complete, and not before. But I said the same thing about Harry Potter, and it sits in my library unread past the first volume...
In a way, it's a shame...I found his science fiction work in the seventies and eighties interesting, moving, and influential...
This really belongs in the Discussing Published Books and Hooks area, so I'm moving it there.
That said, I completely agree about fantasies that kill off or torture hopelessly the good guys. I don't have time to read all the books I want to read, and I will say right now that I am not going to be spending it on such books.
So, you're not alone in your frustration about this, Dr. Bob.
It's one of the reasons I read genre fiction and not literary fiction, too. It feels like literary fiction is full of "It sucked, then he died..." Life is too short for that baloney. I'd rather read upbeat fiction, stuff that at least ends on a hopeful note.
For that reason, I regularly read full reviews of books I'm thinking about reading, including spoilers, because I hate falling in love with a character only to have either them die at the end or their life station to be so much worse at the end that they would be better off dead. Drives me bananas. Another reason why I read mostly middle-grade fantasy (when I read fantasy - I prefer scifi but there's not enough of it.) It's almost always upbeat on the ending. YA sometimes, too, but often YA is pushing the same envelopes that literary fiction is and there can be some awful stuff.
But anyway, I hear ya! I haven't read the series and don't plan to, nothing I've heard makes it sound like the kind of series I'd want to read! But we're doing audio books of the Alchemyst (there are maybe four published at the moment) by Michael Scott and I highly recommend them. Felt like the first book was pushing it a bit but the second is very fun, exciting, interesting. We've enjoyed the Septimus Heap series tremendously. I absolutely adore with a burning firey passion the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander, starting with The Book of Three (there are 5 books.) Very very good classic fantasy.
If you manage to rip yourself away. I've abandoned books/authors before for reasons like this...
Maybe you shouldn't look at characters as good or evil but human. There is morality but since when is morality a good thing today? Who today believes in honour anyway? If I say "I won't lie because it wouldn't be honorable." I would be laughed at.
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Well, you can look at it as a matter of cost versus benefit, and if the cost of "associating" with characters whom I wouldn't want to meet in real life versus the benefit of "enjoying?" a downer story doesn't make the experience worth it to me, why should I bother?
As for morality and honor, I still believe in such things, and I think that most of the people here on this forum do, as well. But that isn't the question here, nor is it a discussion topic relevant to this forum (do I make myself clear?).
The question is whether or not readers, whoever they may be, want to invest time in reading stories that make them hate the author. I just didn't want to keep reading after the first book in the series, even though I found one of the Lannisters (the dwarf--is that Tyrion?) an interesting character.
What I really hated was the idea that those who were trying to be honorable (ex: the first Stark in the story to be killed off) were shown to be stupid because they were trying to honorable. Too nihilistic for me, thank you very much.
Martin my wife has said pretty much that in real life. And I have head people applauded for doing the Honorable thing even though it led to their deaths.
In made up worlds, morality can be stretched a bit as in real life. I have read stories about people who are basically good but still have a flaw or two or who have a dark nature they continually have to control but it gets out now and then. I have even at times routed for the criminal who still has a set of values they obey therefore end up helping the good guy even while they steal or kill with no remorse. But I still know who the Good guy is even if he does have dark urges he has to control. He tries to help; who is willing to face overwhelming odds to save one child or to try his hardest to save the world.
I don't want any of the good guys to lose in the end. Yeah, some may die or get so beaten up they are out of the picture but they still win in the end. That is why I reject certain books. It might be great writing but I'm not just in for good writing I want the story to be good and the ending to be worth it.
I was being a bit facetious in the thread title when I used the word "hate."
I don't actually hate George RR, and I love the story. It just hurts when bad things, unjust things, happen to people you care for. That's life.
And while I don't enjoy experiencing such pain in books I read for a momentary escape from life, I can accept them--in small doses.
My problem is being emotionally bludgeoned again and again with horrible things happening to the protagonists of a fantasy tale who (after hundreds or thousands of pages of my personal investment in their lives) then die by betrayal. This is nihilist fiction.
A hero should have the opportunity to achieve some goal, even if they die. There need always be hope. There must always be belief (however illusory in our real lives) that people can make a difference for good. Or we will merely let despair take us, live for self-gratification alone, and never believe we can be more than decaying flesh and wanton desires.
Scripture instructs "Justice, justice you shall pursue" and in the Mishnah (ancient scripture commentary) we are instructed to live mipnei tikkun ha’olam – "for the sake of the repair/perfection of the world."
Stories that teach men are self-serving, unjust, and cruel, and that life is pain and torture are not sharing anything new. And they are negligent in not sharing that this need not be, if we apply ourselves for justice, for nobler purposes, for a better life and world. More importantly, they do not inspire their audience. I believe we should.
We will not end suffering or injustice, but that is not our purpose. We can perhaps diminish it a fraction, or merely lessen its sting. I prefer stories that acknowledge this.
Respectfully, Dr. Bob
[This message has been edited by History (edited July 09, 2011).]
Reading Game of Thrones was very refreshing to me because I've grown tired of how being cartoonishly good helps characters to survive what other characters would not. No matter what, the circumstances will always favour the good guys in the end.
For instance, I love the Stargate series but sometimes I hate it because I know the main characters will always survive, usually even without suffering any real injury since they have to show up in the next episode. When I see those characters walking in a dark cave/lab along with some characters who I've never seen before, I know all the others will be killed while all the regulars will be spared. There is no suspense if I know they will survive no matter what.
What I hate even more about such shows is that when they finally decide to kill off a certain character (like in Lost) they will most likely create a hysteria on the internet first, making it a much bigger deal than it is. So a character dies. It happens. Live with it or stop watching/reading.
Basically, being moral or immoral is a person's own choice of lifestyle, pretty much like sex orientation. When I think of this, I like to think of a dialogue in the movie Kingdom of Heaven where the older knight says to the young one something along the lines: "Holiness is in right action and what you decide to do every day, you will be a good man - or not."
We like to talk about karma, of how every good or bad deed will eventually come back to us. That may or may not be true. The fact is being righteous or moral is a person's own choice. If we wish to create realistic characters, we have to give those characters that choice. George RR Martin has done that. None of his major characters are truly evil, least of all the Lannisters. I have a number of characters in mind whom I would declare evil but that's another discussion.
I generally prefer characters who don't act like "scum of the earth"---at least in major roles. I mean, didn't they have parents? Didn't they instill any decent values in them?
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Two examples come to mind that illustrate this debate:
One is the Harry Potter series. I don't mind a good guy getting killed off once in awhile, but I sometimes think Rawling over does it in HP. I haven't read much recent YA/middle grade fiction, but I've never seen so many good people get killed in a series as this one. Every book (or movie) makes me wonder who is going to die next. In some ways I think Rawling could've killed off a few less, but she is writing about a war... a magical war, but still a war. People get killed in wars. It's a fact of life, but it still bothered me.
The other is the Transformer movies. Now I may have missed something, but the main plot of these movies seems to me that you have robots termed good and robots termed bad and they fight each other just because of this and nothing else. The reason they are fighting is blurred beyond recognition. At least it seems that way to me. And it's just a fluke that Earth ended up being their battlefield. Why are the two factions so intent on polishing each other off? Maybe I missed it, but there doesn't seem to be any clear cut reason.
I read fiction for enjoyment. Even when I'm reading in the genre I write (which is at least partly "homework"), I still want to enjoy the story.
Heroes should have flaws to make them human. Maybe the MC is stubborn to a fault. Of course, like the trick job interview question, that's a fault that can also be a strength. Maybe stubbornness is just what he needs to prevail. But, to make the story and the character rounded, he should also be stubborn sometimes when it doesn't pay off, when it hurts instead of helping him. But I still want a protagonist that I can like and care about.
And that character can be tortured in the course of the story. Look at THE CURSE OF CHALION by Lois McMaster Bujold. Caz starts out a broken man. Just when he's starting to get his feet under him, he gets thrown into an impossible situation. He's tortured--and he really is, mentally and physically--because of the choice he makes to try to help. There are at least two places where the reader could easily believe for a few pages that Caz is dead. Caz thinks he's dead, or soon will be. And I love that story.
GRRM lost me when the kid fell off the wall and was paralyzed. I don't mind the protagonists being tortured, but that was too much for me. Sorry. I might have kept reading if the kid had been hurt, even crippled, but not paralyzed. Nope, not for me.
I don't mind when certain characters get tortured or killed off. In one series David Weber killed off around six minor characters in one scene. One of those was fairly important for a minor character. Maybe I should say fairly important Supporting actor instead of minor. I kept reading even though I didn't like that because the MC was okay and still going on. She was emotionally tortured because one of them gave his life for hers.
In the first book in a series K. E. Mills tortures her MC worse than one can imagine, for days. Yet it's that torture that takes the story forward. He ends up doing something and later has to undo it which all makes him who he is. But he survives as does all of the major characters. In book three she kills off a Main Character even though she replaces her with an alternate universe double.
Mike Shepherd kills off one of two MCs. There is the Main MC and her best friend- side kick. It is the friend who gets killed but I should say that by then he was no longer the second MC. It's hard to explain but Mike seems to have changed his mind about a couple of things in-between books in the series. This friend being the sidekick seemed to be one of those things.
I am not opposed to certain characters being killed off or tortured even though I may feel like screaming bloody murder over it. It's the stories where that is what happens to all of the good guys and that they end up failing that I would refuse to read.
As someone said people get killed in war--whatever type of war it is but the MCs should survive and win in the end even if changed in some negative way or it wasn't a total victory.
As someone else said though I went through a period where I was tired of the Good guys always winning. But at the same time I didn't want to see them get killed and lose either. I felt like I was in a pickle because you couldn't have both happen but eventually my emotions worked everything out, maybe because I read some books where some of the good guys got killed and the MC was changed by it all. So it wasn't a total happy ever after ending.
[This message has been edited by LDWriter2 (edited July 10, 2011).]
I totally agree with you, Martin V, that everyone chooses what kind of people they will be. I believe that every little choice we make is not only indicative of our characters but also helps mold our characters.
And the same should very definitely go for the characters we create in our fiction. We show the reader what kind of person each character is by the character's actions and decisions and thoughts. And then, if a character is going to make a choice that goes against who that character is, there needs to be clear set-up and motivation for that choice.
I don't think that is all that relevant to this topic, however. George RR Martin's characters do what they do because of the choices they have made, and if he has them do something against who they are, he makes it very clear why.
That, as I understand it, is not the reason specified above for hating his books, and it isn't the reason I said I stopped reading them.
I should never have used the word "hate"--even when I immediately calrified "for the moment" (see my original post). "Momentarily peeved," like one can be with a family member, was what I was trying to convey.
I can't really "hate" his A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE books when I am gobbling them up as fast as I can read them.
I am with MartinV here. GRRM's world requires that the characters make tough choices. Moreover, I think they are all gray. Look at Jaime. I used to hate him, but once he got his POV chapters I finally understood the guy. Jora Mormont presents the other side of the blend. I admired him until Qarth... The grittiness in contemporary fantasy seems like a natural transition after a plethora of Eddings-esque fantasy. It's by no means a new trope though (Covenant, Conan). That being said, the market is large enough to cater to a large array of tastes.
@History I wouldn't call it anti-campbellian since we still need a resolution for multiple plotlines. Martin sets up multiple heroes' journeys. Hope you enjoy the rest of the series!
[This message has been edited by Foste (edited July 12, 2011).]
All I ask is that an ending be satisfying and logical.
Now I've been accused of being "literary" myself, so I use this criticism advisedly, but I thought the ending of Pullman's "Dark Materials" stories was contrived to serve "literary" pretensions. Its not that I object to an ending in which the two main characters are separated -- such a poignant ending is often the most satisfying. I don't think that Pullman worked hard enough to establish the logical necessity of the characters choosing the way they did.
Often a "sad" ending is satisfying because there's something else going on besides the ostensible story. As an example, let me use a movie I don't like very much: James Cameron's *Titanic*. While I was not sufficiently impressed by the movie to get into it, it does illustrate my point nicely.
In the movie Jack (the love interest played by DiCaprio) dies so that impetuous Rose (played by Kate Winslet) can live. Downer, right? Well, not really. Her romance with Jack is her discovering her power through sexual rebellion. After Jack dies, she uses his name to take on a new identity, and when we return to the modern day frame story we see elderly Rose making pottery on a potter's wheel.
So the real story isn't the romance with Jack. It's about how Rose frees herself from a life which is controlled by men like her fiance and father, and builds a satisfying life by fulfilling her own impulses (like expressing herself through pottery). Jack dying isn't really a downer, because it's all about Rose; she keeps the memory of her rebellious affair with Jack without having to live out the tedious compromise of living with him. I wouldn't be surprised if she had her offspring by parthenogenesis.
Now I have to admire the sheer brilliance of this story construction. That is the key with which this movie unlocked the hearts of so many fans. Personally, I was repulsed by the moral narcissism of the story, right down to scene elderly Rose throwing the fabulously diamond necklace into the sea. She didn't announce to the world, "I've had the fabulously valuable Heart of the Ocean diamond all along, but now I'm donating it to a hospital for crippled children." No indeed. This is all about *her*; it is *her* feelings, wishes and memories that matter. But even while I despise the juvenile self-centeredness of this story, I can admire the cynical brilliance with which it is constructed.
[This message has been edited by MattLeo (edited July 22, 2011).]
speaking of not liking how a story ends. Years ago I read two books in a trilogy but decided not to go with the third one because of how I thought it might end.
I can't recall the title of any of the three books or the writer.
The first book had a nice little story of a type I've read before and since. !2 year old girl gets transporter to a another dimension where she has to help a poor king stop some people out to kill him. She does meeting interesting people along the way. but in this trilogy she is predicted to go to that land three times. So the second book which I barely kept reading had her go something like ten years later. In-between her personal life is totally messed up, she's shaking up with a guy who I think is abusive. Somehow they both end up in other world. Boyfriend joins the bad guys and she is rescued by a someone she met the first time around. First thing she does is seduce him even though he isn't the king who she loved the first time around. But later she meets the king and if I recall correctly they get married even though she is pregnant with that other guy's child. She beats up the bad guys again has the baby and is sent back home along with the boy friend. The first thing they do is once both are m=back in the right world is get married. At the beginning of the book she was leaving him or was going to kill herself but then marries the dude who tried to kill her in the other world. In the last book it was predicted that she would work for the bad guys the third and last time she went to other world.
In the other world both her and her boy friend were enhanced. Mentally and somewhat physically. By the way she acted obviously not emotionally or with self control. But back on earth she at least seemed to loose some of her smarts.
After what happened in the second book and the way it ended I didn't want to go through seeing her work for the other side.
I didn't think much of the Jack / Rose story in "Titanic"...I thought it was contrived largely to put somebody in the story everywhere where something was happening on the Titanic as it went down...but I might be more familiar with the details of it all than most moviegoers, the sinking of the Titanic being something I've been interested in since early childhood...
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Robert -- Cameron's <em>Titanic</em> isn't really a Titanic movie in the way that <em>A Night to Remember</em> is. It's all about Rose. But I'm not surprised that the movie didn't ring your bell. You weren't in the target demographic; nor was I.
I do think it's important to separate our personal emotional response to a work from our analysis of how it works for the people who <em>do</em> respond positively toward it. In fact, I think it's often possible to learn more than from a story we love, because we can look at the mechanics more dispassionately.
Cameron's version of the Titanic story is an extreme example in which a superficially "sad" ending leads to a growth in the stature of the protagonist -- at least in the eyes of the intended audience.
Now here's an interesting question: is that true of all effective endings? Even where the hero ends up dead, that does not preclude him achieving certain ends or a certain kind of stature through his death. So is an ending where the hero loses and doesn't obtain anything in return workable?
In response to Matt's question, I believe that in an effective ending, the hero always obtains something even if it's not what (s)he wanted the most. In Titanic, Jack helps Rose survive to choose the direction her life will take--one of his goals. Just because he doesn't live, doesn't mean he doesn't win.
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It's interesting to finally see someone come to the same conclusion about Titanic. Most people I talked to see it as a simple romantic story but when I started to talk about how it is about Rose being the only person who actually gained something by being on that ship, I was the weird cat of the group. Now I see it's simply the writer's way of thinking.
Finished book five A DANCE WITH DRAGONS. Over 1000 pages long, and little forward movement in the tale.
And, again, if you find a character you like, who is noble, who is not ruled by hatreds and petty self-interests,and who does what is right--expect them to be murdered. As much as the Red Wedding shocked me for this reason, it now comes off as trite as I find I am inured to it. I expect it.
Nothing resolved, many new characters introduced, and the story plods on. Whereas my writing has been off critiqued as too heavy with description, GRRM puts me to shame with pages and pages of clothing and heraldry and food--mounds and mounds of food. And repetition; for example, after the third or fifth "as useless as nipples on a breastplate" I began to cringe.
Yet...the story is engaging and the writing (even when I skipped pages of description] flows well, flowing and flowing. I could not easily stop (except for exhaustion) as I was frustrated to find out "what happens" as each chapter came to an end and another began with another character and a continent away.
Unfortunately, not much "happens." And, if the past is any guide, it will be another six years until the cycle begins yet again.
@History -- I'd say that if an author has got you to buy book 5 of a series, and that book 5 is over a thousand pages long, he's got you hooked. So the normal build-the-fire-of-interest-stick-by-stick rule is out the window.
I'd venture that you're most likely to buy the first book in a series because the idea sounds interesting, but you're most likely to by the second and subsequent book because you are interested in the characters, and the world of the story is of course a character.
I have a theory about plot. Plot taps into the characteristic survival mechanism of the human species: to evaluate a situation and to project its likely outcomes. As such it is a powerful motivator of interest, but it's not the only one. Once we have accepted that a place is important to us (or the characters we identify with), we're more prepared to give attention to the surroundings. That's why world building details and character background are best used sparingly if at all in the opening pages of a story, but as the story progresses they can be woven in more liberally.
Once a reader has devoted several thousand pages of interest in a giant story, perhaps an author can get away with more. And since he knows the characters and setting so well he can write convincing vignettes with them that such dedicated readers will find at least somewhat interesting.
I read and slogged through half of Robert Jordan's WHEEL OF TIME, Terry Goodkind's WIZARD's FIRST RULE, and John Norman's GOR series despite the overbloated and writing and extraneous digression and dilution of story. And though I have not read the remaining novels of these multi-ologies...I collected and own all of them.
This has nothing to do with being "hooked" by these later books or the quality, or lack thereof, of their writings.
Respectfully, Dr. Bob
P.S. I do have some standards, however. I have not bought any Terry Brooks' SHANNARA novels after his first couple trilogies.
I've read every word of this GRRM series (more than once), but I feel conflicted about it. In some ways, its junk food: tasty, but not good for you. I knew by the end of the first novel that it was perfect for the HBO network because it had so much sex and violence. I don't have a TV of my own, I watch very little HBO so forgive and correct me if I'm speaking out of turn. My experience with HBO is from my previous vessel: me and two crew mates would watch two episodes of True Blood after work every day, but sometimes we'd have to wait for another fellow to finish his daily episode of The Tudors. I found True Blood to be uncompelling, cheesy and trite, but I couldn't tear myself away from it because it was fulfilling my sex and violence jones. Now GRRM's characters are compelling and I don't have the same I-wanna-gag reaction to his books, but I do worry about the way he treats his reader's trust. (I've not seen the GoT HBO series.)
On another thread, someone posted a link to an article called '10 creativity tips from Donald Miller.' One of the tips in particular caught my attention. He says "Resist the urge to create out of anger... you mustn't feed consumers anger." He doesn't say why we mustn't feed readers anger, but I've been thinking about it. If people are living in the worlds we create while they are reading what we write, those worlds are going to affect them, just as the food they eat is going to affect them. Perhaps its the responsibility of fantasy authors to offer nutritious meals. Jung proposed that our subconscious communicates with our waking mind with symbols; and it seems likely that we also absorb symbols from our waking mind which affect our subconscious. If we want to be healthy and happy, and if we want the people who live on this planet with us to be healthy and happy, perhaps it is our duty to create morally strong, healthy stories. What do you guys think? Am I reaching here, or is my logic sound?
quote:If people are living in the worlds we create while they are reading what we write, those worlds are going to affect them, just as the food they eat is going to affect them. Perhaps its the responsibility of fantasy authors to offer nutritious meals. Jung proposed that our subconscious communicates with our waking mind with symbols; and it seems likely that we also absorb symbols from our waking mind which affect our subconscious. If we want to be healthy and happy, and if we want the people who live on this planet with us to be healthy and happy, perhaps it is our duty to create morally strong, healthy stories. What do you guys think? Am I reaching here, or is my logic sound?
Crane, you should start a topic on this in the Open Discussions about Writing area. I, for one think you have a point, but it would be good to discuss this more.
I'm a big fan of GRRM (I've been a fan since the second book came out in this series) and love it so far. It's a breath of fresh air to have characters who are all so much more "human" that the cardboard "good guy" "bad guy" cutouts we read in so many other books.
Also, knowing that Martin isn't afraid to lay waste to any character in the story creates a lot more tension than in say, LoTR where you just KNEW that everybody was going to live through the ordeal.
The characters mentioned were far from "main" characters. I'd be quite surprised if you thought Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Merry or Pippin was going to die in LoTR.
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Well, Boromir and Theoden have just as much claim to being a major character as Merry, Pippin, Gimli and most especially Legolas (who is _much_ less significant in the books than the movies).
There aren't many named characters who die in LotR, period. Don't forget, when Tolkien wrote about war, he _knew_ what he was talking about. Of the nine walkers, one dies; that's an 11% mortality rate. The mortality rate in WW1, which Tolkien fought in, was 5.5 million dead out of 43 million combatants on the allied side, which works out to about 13% mortality. 11% is about as close as you can get with nine; 2/9 would be 22% mortality.
What's really important about death in a story isn't the body count or the importance of the characters who die per se; it's whether what happens makes narrative sense.
Authors usually choose to make things happen that serve a particular vision or agenda. They always have their thumb on the scales of fate. Characters live or die to suit the writer. I suppose Tolkien could have rolled dice to see who made it out of Moria. That would have the virtue that the result would be unpredictable. Suppose all the hobbits perished. What a blow, to have all the hobbits removed from the story, after we've invested five hundred pages or so in them! But would that make it a better story? Well, it _might_. We'll never know, I guess, but I don't think most of us expect writers to plot this way, and if you took that kind of "realism" to an extreme we might as well read novelizations of peoples' Dungeons and Dragons campaigns.
Killing off a significant character is not necessarily some kind of seal of authorial integrity. Nor is it necessarily a breach of trust with the reader. It's just a plot device. It builds suspense because the reader is then unsure which of the other characters he's invested in will survive. Like any other technique some authors are more fond of it, some less, some never use it at all. And like any other device, it can be overused, or used as a crutch.
There's nothing wrong with a ticking time bomb plot device, but there are certain TV shows that when I see a countdown timer I know the writers had a lousy plot and needed a quick fix to move the plot forward. It's a crutch.
I'd say the problem with kill-a-character-the-readers-care-about is that if you use it too often, the readers might decline to care about any of your characters.
The "happy ending" vs. "sad ending" debate really depends, for me, on the length of the work. OSC said something to the effect of: people get less angry about a MC's death/sad ending in short stories than novels, because with novels the reader has spent more time with the character. This might explain why most of my short stories end in a bittersweet way.
And Tolkien, in "On Fairy-Stories," said fantasy stories should have a euphoric ending, or "eucatastrophe."
Having said that, I have yet to start Song of Ice and Fire, even though I just bought the first book. Martin's story Sandkings is probably my favorite short story of all time, though, so I'll get to the series eventually.
Well, I'm a bit late to the party here, but I'm definitely of the opposite ilk as that of the theme of this thread.
It is Martin's fearlessness that set the hook for me in the series. I'd reached the point where I couldn't hardly stomach another multi-book series where you essentially know from the outset that after a couple thousand pages or more the primary cast of characters are going to prevail irrespective of what they come up against, or at worst survive until the end of the last book. With Martin I never know where the story is going or what to expect and that keeps me reading. His POV choices can be unsettling for sure, but as a reader that shakeup was good for me.
And his craftsmanship with prose is immense.
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