We had an interesting conversation Friday night. Two friends contended that they had both become disillusioned with A Song of Ice and Fire. My brother and I defended the books. I don’t think we were particularly successful.
I’ll try again.
Now before I begin I want to state that I think their objections are completely valid. The flaws they see do exist. My contention is that they don’t impact my enjoyment and may even somewhat enhance it.
For arguments sake let us call these friends Paul and Stef. I’ll conceal their real names to protect their privacy. Their original complaint was simple. They felt they cannot trust the author. In examining this objection I think they each had individual spins on it though.
Paul stopped reading because Martin, the author, systematically brutalized and killed all the characters he cared about in the story. Every time Paul would invest in a character they would be ruined.
True. Martin has certainly done this especially to characters with traditional heroic traits. Curiosity and boldness? Crippled. Honour and truth? Killed. Married for love? Killed. Familial devotion? Killed. Natural leader and focus? Probably dead. And those are just the Starks.
The ones still alive are slowly being worn down to lose those heroic ideals.
Now phrasing it as a matter of trust is imprecise. Martin laid out his plan to proceed in this manner early in the first book.
In fact, he goes farther. Those lacking in normal positive attributes have been most successful in the series to date. In most other stories Tyrion would be the villain. He satisfies all the tropes of evil genius.
As a reason to stop reading it is completely valid. But I have the opposite reaction. That evening I said that I liked the series despite this. I indicated that I stopped caring for the characters and focused on plot.
That isn’t true. I care intensely about the characters and I see it as a strength of the series. Martin’s ability to make me care about these characters even though I know they are likely doomed is something I value. His ability to show some humanity in his villains I find captivating.
I’m still shocked and surprised when the Stark’s are beaten every time. It upsets me. There isn’t a lot of lie treatise that engages me enough that I’m get upset.
Why I’d enjoy something that upsets me is a mystery I can’t explain, but it is true.
Which brings us to Stef’s objection. If the author shows the heroes failing and failing in a brutal fashion; if he show the villains succeeding despite their evil doesn’t that show something that can only be appreciated by a nihilist? If our actions and intentions don’t matter does anything?