This morning, I’m thinking about Game of Thrones.
I haven’t watched it.
YEAH, THAT’S RIGHT, I HAVEN’T WATCHED IT. YOU GOT SOMETHING TO SAY ABOUT IT? COME SAY THAT TO MY FACE,WHY DON’T YOU?
Okay, that’s probably angrier than the situation warrants. But I know there are people who reacted to this with that level of shock that approaches anger, when the raised voice of surprise turns into a shout, a roar, of outrage. (Or at least there are people who would. I think all of my readers are calm, contemplative, rational types. But then, maybe those aren’t the descriptors for the average Game of Thrones fan.)
I have been surprised to see the response that this show has gotten, especially these last three weeks as the final season has slouched towards Bethlehem to be born, so to speak. And honestly, it has made me regret not watching the show; I mean, this is high fantasy, this is my kind of stuff: this is the thing that I should have been on board with right from the start, and I should be reveling in this rare moment when fantasy captures center stage, when the imaginations of millions are fired up, all at once, by swords and sorcery. It’s a beautiful thing. I wish I was part of it.
I blame George R. R. Martin.
That’s the problem, you see. Because I didn’t need to watch the first few seasons of this show: I read the books. I started reading The Song of Ice and Fire in 2003, when the third book had just come out in paperback. One of my favorite students from my first school — great guy, smart and funny as hell, the son of one of my fellow English teachers; he was repeating a class in summer school that he had had no business failing over the regular school year, but it worked out for me, because he had no problem doing anything I asked, and also made the class fun for everyone in it, made the discussions better, told fun stories, asked good questions, everything you want from a student — he recommended the books to me, and I took him up on it. And I was hooked: those are outstanding books, with a level of action and raw blood-curdling savagery that you don’t normally see in high fantasy, which tends much more towards Tolkien and his magical floating elves and roly-poly hobbits. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but can you imagine a sex scene in Tolkien? I really, really hope your answer was no.) I burned right straight through the first three books in the series, and gushed about them with Danny, the guy who got me to read them. I excitedly told him that the fourth book was slated to come out soon. And he warned me: Martin doesn’t make deadlines. The third book had apparently been delayed two or three times before being published, so I shouldn’t expect the fourth book to come out as scheduled.
Danny was right. The fourth book was delayed, and then delayed again; it was finally released in — I think it was 2005? (Wikipedia confirms.) I remember buying it in Portland, at Powell’s City of Books, because we moved to Oregon in 2004. But I bought it, in hardback, and read it excitedly, too; and it was great — but it was incomplete.
If you don’t know, the series goes through probably twenty different point of view characters, switching between them every chapter. Some of the story lines are wildly separated; part of the interest was in seeing how Martin was going to draw all these threads together into a single web. It was fascinating. But the fourth book, A Feast for Crows, was only half of the storylines. What gives? I thought, angrily, because several of my favorite characters hadn’t made an appearance at all (And I already got burned on this in The Wheel of Time, when a wall collapsed on Mat at the end of one book AND THEN HE WASN’T MENTIONED EVEN ONCE IN THE NEXT BOOK. If you’ve read the series, then you know my pain; if you haven’t, don’t worry about it.) and I wanted to know what was going to happen to them. But at the end of the book, there was an author’s note: Mr. Martin said, “I know, this is only half the story. But don’t worry! It was only because there was too much to put in one volume, so we split it into two books, both covering the same time span, but with different main characters. That other book is almost done; it’ll be out any day now.”
That’s what he said, in essence.
It took SIX YEARS.
2011 was when that book, Book Five, was published.
Know when Book Six was published?
Yeah: we all want to know that. Because it hasn’t been.
A Song of Ice and Fire was projected as a seven-book series. The book that was “almost done” took six years to finish, and the next book is going on eight years. The last book? Well: George R. R. Martin is 70 years old now. And not in the best of health.
Like I said, I got burned by The Wheel of Time. That was my favorite series: and though Robert Jordan, the brilliant author, was in no way at fault for this, he died before he could finish the series; he was diagnosed with a rare blood disease that killed him at just 59. I don’t mean to put too much weight on a set of fantasy books, but those books are a great gift, and it is a terrible loss that Mr. Jordan wasn’t given the time to finish them.
George R. R. Martin has had the time. He just hasn’t done it.
And in the meantime, he started making this TV show.
I’m bitter about it. Unreasonably so, I fully admit. I’m actually extremely glad that Game of Thrones has been so hugely successful; it’s nothing but a bright moment for fantasy, and something that can only help the genre, and would-be fantasy authors like me. I’m grateful to Mr. Martin for penning the series, and for getting it on TV, and for helping to make it so good that it has become a cultural phenomenon.
I’ll watch the show eventually. I’m curious, my wife is curious; I want to see it. I need to get over this grudge against Martin. I realize that. And the show isn’t only his, and I have nothing against the other excellent people who have done, it seems, an amazing job of storytelling.
But no matter how good it is, no matter how well the show has done, and no matter how unfair it is of me to berate an author for not writing fast enough (and worse, hypocritical, because my first novel was published in 2009, and was the first in a trilogy — but I haven’t written the second book yet), I still can’t help but be bitter about Martin taking so goddamn long, and letting himself get distracted by television when he should be first dedicated to writing the books, and finishing the story for his first fans, his readers.
Because Danny’s never going to get to read the end of the series.
Danny died of leukemia. He never even got to read Book Five.
It’s stupid to put these things together like this; Danny’s loss would have been tragic any time, and there are a million things he never got to do, and reading these books was not the top of that list, not the saddest nor the most important. But I talked to him, near the end, on the phone, and you know what we talked about? Books. Fantasy books. So yeah, I put them together. And I blame George R. R. Martin for not writing those books fast enough for my friend to get to read them all. And I blame the show for being the final distraction that now likely means the book series will never be finished. And I don’t give a shit if none of this is reasonable.
I hope you all enjoy the show, I really do. And I’ll watch them eventually.
But right now, I’m not watching Game of Thrones.