I’d like to draw your attention, if I may, to a delightful new TV series, ‘A Game Of Thrones’, starring (among others) Sean Bean and Lena Headey. If you haven’t heard of it, I urge you with all my heart to watch at least the first episode. It’s based on the first book of ‘A Song Of Ice & Fire’, a truly epic fantasy saga penned by the inimitable author, George R. R. Martin. How can one describe it in a soundbyte? It follows the fortunes of various noble families in the fictional land of Westeros, which bears a strong resemblance to Europe in the 15th century. It is a tale of war, love, adventure, intrigue, magic and horror. I read the first book a long time ago, when I was a fresh-faced youth of eighteen. I never looked back. Here’s what my copy looked like:
Since then, the author has penned four other books in the series, each as gripping and suspenseful as the other. At some point (I hope it’s sooner, rather than later), he’ll release the next instalment, ‘A Dance With Dragons’. Now, I’ve read a fair few fantasy novels in my time, but these are my favourite works of fiction; even ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ comes a poor second. It’s extremely well-written and the world Martin has created seems so real, so believable, but there is another aspect to it that makes these books stand head and shoulders above all others of their ilk. There’s an old saying among jazz musicians: ‘it’s not what you put in, but what you leave out, that counts.’ ASOIAF does not contain the usual fantasy staples: elves, dwarves, orcs, goblins and a wizard on every street corner. I, for one, am glad that this is so. Why should they be necessary? There is enough diversity within the human race, more than enough for a good writer to work with, that he should not have to dress characters up in latex suits to make them interesting. The most evil monsters in the real world have worn the faces of men. Josef Stalin was no demon prince, yet he killed as one spawned from the very bowels of Hell. Robin Hood was not an elf any more than Isambard Kingdom Brunel was a dwarf. George R. R. Martin recognises this and so does not clutter up his storyline with unnecessary ‘high fantasy’ motifs, instead concentrating on characterisation and plot. The result is that the supernatural aspects in the story are rendered all the more impressive.
ASOIAF is not for the faint of heart, I hasten to add. If you are one of those bed-wetting milksops who blanche at the merest hint of violence in a book, then I suggest you stick to your Mills & Boon novels over a cup of weak tea. To the rest of you, I say this: give ‘A Game Of Thrones’ a try. There are those who insist that reading a book after watching its TV adaptation is nothing short of literary sacrilege. I am not one of those people. If you have the time, then by all means read the whole series, for you will not be disappointed. Some characters will make you laugh, others are tragic indeed and some are so loathsome that you will want to track them down and kill them yourself. If time is not on your side, however, watch the show instead. As adaptations go, I cannot fault it. Special mention goes to Peter Dinklage, who plays the much-maligned but (in my opinion) fascinating character, Tyrion Lannister. Who would have thought such a diminutive actor could be the owner of such a deep and manly voice? His English accent isn’t half-bad, either.
If you’ve already read the books (they have millions of devoted fans, myself included), what do you make of the TV show? Are you happy with the casting? Given the complexity and length of the storyline, do you think it will run for another series and beyond? Who are your favourite characters and what do you like about them? Answers on a postcard, kids – winter is coming.