When I told Mick that I was reading the fifth book in the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin he offered to save me the trouble of wading through the 1000 pages to find out what happens, “everybody dies.” Mick is like a number of people I’ve met who started reading these books early. Years ago. They are interested in the series, and invested in the story. You have to be invested after 5000 pages of text about a very rich and interesting world and set of characters.
But there have been some significant delays in getting the story out of Martin’s head, onto paper and into the hands of readers. The first three books came out in pretty short order. Three books in about four years. Then it was five years before the fourth book. And five more years for the fifth, A Dance with Dragons. Martin has publicly committed to writing a sixth book, The Winds of Winter, but with no date attached to it. And there have been rumors of a seventh and even an eighth volume. When a fan started to become restless about the interval between the fourth and fifth books, Neil Gaiman came to Martin’s defense on his blog, upbraiding the reader directly:
George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.
Mick’s complaint is that the story doesn’t have an ending. It’s not that Martin doesn’t know how to end it. It’s that Martin has created something that is essentially lacks the capacity to be ended– and certainly not ended in a satisfying narrative way. Or I should say, not a way that is satisfying to Mick. I haven’t had a particular problem with the story abruptly breaking off at the end of the various volumes. I enjoy the telling of it. I’m less interested in the final destination, at this point. I have faith that Martin will resolve some of the large story items, as he has done in the past. Battles will be fought. Primary characters that have been with us for some time get a spotlight– and often as not, as Mick addressed, a death scene. That’s okay with me. I like it. I enjoy it.
So when Whirl finally gave up waiting for the paperback edition of A Dance with Dragons to come out and acquired the hardback edition, I picked it up, nearly dropped it, and began lugging it around. I joked that the volume was doubling as some strength training exercises for swimming. It’s a very big book. The other day after Sunday swim practice, I stopped by Eppel’s for a delicious breakfast. I had the book with me. I was planning on reading some of it while I sipped my coffee and ate. My waitress saw it and immediately started talking to me about it. She has been a fan of the series since the first volume was published back in 1996. She said she was one of the fans who would rush to get the next volume on the first day it was published. So she was acutely aware of the five-year breaks that have occurred with the last couple installments.
I’ve kept up with the HBO television adaptation. And more recently have played the second edition of a wonderful board game based on the series with Hurricane, Steamboat and Whirl a couple of times. The first game, a 4-player game, I played House Stark, came close to winning, and lost to Greyjoy. The second game, a 6-player game, I played House Martell, came close to winning despite the repeated treachery of my child bride as House Tyrell, and lost to Greyjoy again. There may just be something to that family’s penchant for sociopathic ferocity. It’s a beautiful, brilliant game. If you are a fan of the book or television series and of board games, I highly recommend it.
But for now I must settle down and finish this volume, so that I can wait with my fellow fans for the next one. Someday.