A few months ago I had a post up about Game of Thrones, where I argued that to a great extent the book and the world that George R. R. Martin created was racist because that’s true to how pre-modern worlds generally are constructed structurally. When fantasists create a ‘secondary world’ they are almost always using our own universe as a prototype, often shading or refashioning some aspect here and there to taste. A true fantasy which is totally counter-intuitive and lacks familiar coherency is without any anchor for a reader, and so lacks narrative power. Fantasy stripped away of injustice or oppression would be without dramatic tension. Utopia does not sell. Additionally, the speculative element in this literature is sharply bounded by precedent. Modern fantasy in its origins is simply an elaboration of the epic literature which is often at the root of contemporary civilizations. J. R. R. Tolkien attempted to create in his own works a simulacrum of a rich epic folk past for the Anglo-Saxon peoples analogous to what the Scandinavians had thanks to Snorri Sturluson’s efforts.
My post on Martin’s work was prompted by the ruminations of one Saladin Ahmed, whose piece in Salon manifested all the stale standard post-colonial inflected drivel which riddles much of popular literary criticism. Ahmed popped up in the thread of my post, but actually misunderstood the intent! The reason is pretty straightforward I think: our “paradigms” are so different that he had a hard time hearing me correctly initially. I responded to Ahmed, but weirdly enough though he hung around the comment thread he never really engaged with me after I made my own stance clearer to him. Whether it disturbed him, or did not interest him, I will never know.
George R. R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons has been out one day. There are now ~20 reviews (as of this writing) on the Amazon website. So we have some information in in terms of reader reaction. The sample size is small, so I don’t have a high confidence, but it does look like that Martin has outdone A Feast for Crows. It had been the nadir of this overall series, A Song of Ice and Fire, though some of this might be contrast effect. Book 3, A Storm of Swords seems to have been the fan favorite.
In any case, I’ll be posting an update in the future when the number of reviews goes north of 100, but here are some charts comparing the five books in the series. The first shows the absolute number of ratings. Since A Dance with Dragons has been out for only a day, the second one shows the proportions.
The Dothraki are dark, with long hair they wear in dreadlocks or in matted braids. They sport very little clothing, bedeck themselves in blue paint, and, as depicted in the premiere episode, their weddings are riotous affairs full of thumping drums, ululations, orgiastic public sex, passionate throat-slitting, and fly-ridden baskets full of delicious, bloody animal hearts. A man in a turban presents the new khaleesi with an inlaid box full of hissing snakes. After their nuptials, the immense Khal Drogo takes Daenerys to a seaside cliff at twilight and then, against her muted pleas, takes her doggie-style.
They are, in short, barbarians of the most stereotypical, un-PC sort. As I watched, I kept thinking, “Are they still allowed to do that?”
I wasn’t the only viewer who found the depiction of the Dothraki uncomfortable, to say the least. Time’s TV critic James Poniewozik, noting that the Dothraki seem to be made up of a “grabbag of exotic/dark/savage signifiers,” wondered if it was “possible to be racist toward a race that does not actually exist.”
First, the author immediately notes that for every swarthy barbarian there is a depiction of another trope, the Evil Blonde Guy. Nina Shen Ragosti’s read the books. She knows that though initially you encounter a story which is framed in black-white Manichean terms that is the norm in the more juvenile sectors of epic fantasy, the development of the characters, and your perception of the world which they inhabit, quickly slouches toward many shades of gray.
Apparently July 12th, 2011, is now a hard date for the publication of George R. R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons, the 5th book in his A Song of Ice and Fire series. Martin has confirmed the date on his website: “Barring tsunamis, general strikes, world wars, or asteroid strikes, you will have the novel in your hands on July 12. I hope you like it.” He even has a late-1990s style countdown going. For what it’s worth, the first book, A Game of Thrones, came out in the summer of 1996. That means that a 10 year old starting the series in 1996 would be 25 now. In all probability this is going to be ~10 books, so who knows how old that 10 year will be when it’s all done.
Personally, I found that the last book was kind of a let down. Amazon reviewers seem to agree, as books 1-3 got 4.5 stars, but book 4 only 3. If Martin can’t bounce back, I assume that this series going to go the way of The Wheel of Time (before it was resurrected after the death of the author by Brandon Sanderson). At least Patrick Rothfuss has his second book out. Now, where to find the time so that I can actually read this stuff some day….