Sunday, July 6, 2008

A Song of Ice and Fire

Okay, this is a critique about Someone Who Got it Mostly Right, a rare breed, and even more surprising to find it coming in the form of a white man (that doesn't make it better, only more surprising.) George R R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire.

Wow, I love these books. I used to like Robert Jordan (THERE'S a subject for critique, if I ever feel like pushing myself into depression) when I was in middle school, but as I have gone from annoying and immature to more confident in myself and a better thinker, so has my taste gone from immature to actual quality. This is epic fantasy as it should be done.

And the women! Oh, a fantasy wife that is neither unrealistically allowed to run the house nor without value in the house! Women, portrayed as real people! Oppression and misogyny that is not glossed over! Oh glory! A tomboy who is a real person! A girly girl who is a real person! With character arcs and everything!

Sudden thought: Why do I have to be grateful for that which should be ubiquitous? Shit, there goes my emotional high. My points of contention:

Cersei is a feminist. In fact, she is the only feminist character. She reminds me of Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing--"O, that I were a man!" She is also the least likable of the POV characters. Her portrayal is a little condescending--does she have to be quite so clueless about what's going on around her? I mean, can we cut this woman some slack? The book appears to frown on her sleeping with others, but I don't see what was so great for her about sex with Jaime. I mean, I do, but at the same time both times we saw them having sex it was Jaime sexually assaulting Cersei. No means no, Kingslayer. But my point is that portraying the only feminist as unlikable, cheating, clueless, vain, cruel, and so on--well, it's not very nice. And it's not very representative.

Two lesbian interactions. Dany and her handmaid...for Dany it was portrayed as happening because she needed a man but didn't have one. Lesbianism as temporary, not serious, to be replaced by heterosexual interactions. Cersei and Taena was all about Cersei wishing she were a man. Lesbianism again as poor substitute for someone who just really wants a penis, whether to possess it or to be penetrated by it. Not cool, my man.

Okay, I get that rape is a fact of life, and I get that refusing to name rape or talk about rape minimizes the problem. But at some point it just starts to get upsetting. You need a big fat trigger warning on your books or something, because dude, I was triggered. More than once. As in, need to put the book down, stare at nothing for half an hour, freak out, trying to escape from my memories, finding it necessary to tell myself over and over again that it didn't really happen in order to calm down. Please consider that many people may have such reactions to rape in your books.
Maybe you should think about whether so much rape is really necessary for your vision. It didn't at first, but now that it just keeps happening again and again and just won't stop it sort of reminds me of Terry Goodkind. Or even Robert Jordan and his penchant for getting his characters into BDSM situations. I'm leaning toward gratuitous. It's definitely really, really scary.

I'm worried about Brienne and how you're going to deal with her. Her thoughts seem to turn to Jaime a lot more often than his thoughts turn to her. Please don't let Jaime become her whole motivation. Let there be give and take in this budding relationship. Jaime has a much stronger sense of self and is far less romantic than Sansa; he should be able to see past Brienne's looks.

Melisandre. She wears red. She's beautiful. She's an evil witch and (given what Maester Aemon said) stupid too. She has too much power over her man. She's a very irresponsible character for you to have made. Very stereotypical, no sympathy at all. Really. "Hopefully this honest, simple, pulled-himself-up-by-the-bootstraps dude will be able to slay the beast!" Davos's character, though I like him, reeks of unexamined privilege. The beautiful women as evil temptresses is something I would expect from, say, Genesis, not you.

Lord Tywin's dead wife. She is portrayed as a nice, dutiful woman who literally lived and died only to give life to her children and lend Tywin some pathos. She reminds me all too forcefully of the Disney trope that the best mother is a dead mother. (Cinderella, anyone?) Knock it the hell off.

Thank you for your time.

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