25 August 2011


OK, it's been almost a week since I finished A Dance with Dragons, and as expected, I am feeling rather bereft. Not to the point where I'm dressing up my cats in tiny embroidered doublets...actually, that's a good idea...JULIE CAN BE THE STARKS AND BRAINS CAN BE THE LANNISTERS OMG

I really, really loved these books. I loved the intrigue and the magicks and the politics, the thousands of years of history and the dozen or so cultures & religions and the Russian-novel-multitude of characters. And the geography: first book ever where I kept consulting the map on the frontispiece because I wanted to know exactly where everything was. And all the descriptions of food. And the shifting points of view that give the narrative its scope. And the pervading shades of gray--with the exception of brutal Gregor Clegane and the chilling Ramsay Bolton (who I seriously brainstormed ways to TRANSPORT MYSELF INTO THE BOOK AND KILL), there's not an entirely evil person in the bunch.

I can keep raving, but yeah, you get it. So instead I'd like to address two criticisms I've heard of the series.

1. The writing's not very good.
Huh, you really think so? I mean, sure, no crazy Pynchon/Lethem/Harkaway-style verbal pyrotechnics--and I speak as a devotee of such--but I think it's a few levels above competent, myself. Certainly clear and effective, and I found the descriptions of place particularly evocative. But de gustibus non est disputandum, of course. There have definitely been books whose writing I found intolerable that were fĂȘted by folks with taste...like last summer's vamp brick The Passage, the prose of which I found "overwrought but flat," and the could-not-be-more-overrated-if-you-ask-me-but-nobody-did The Magicians, which I thought was actually poorly written. Twitter was all jazzed about the release of the sequel earlier this month, and all I could think was "Really? You want more of that?" I FELT LIKE I WAS TAKING CRAZY PILLS.
On this point I will not attempt to convince you, simply say that this was not my experience, and if you haven't read the books it may not be yours either. (Nor do I feel I put my Lit Cred in jeopardy by giving ups to GRRM's prose.)

2. The women characters are not sufficiently empowered.
This, on the other hand, is just wrong. I'm mostly reacting to this Tumblr post (whose author is reacting to another article on female characters in sci-fi/fantasy and problems thereof), in which she claims "i don’t think any of [the women] ever talk to each other (except to be REALLY FREAKING NASTY), or have an identity independent from which dude they are sleeping with/mother to. sad story." In regards to the first charge: I cannot quote chapter and verse from the first book (the only she's read), but a) I do not believe this is true, and b) it is definitely not true throughout the series. It gets all Bechdel-test up in there, let me tell you.
As for the second, well, since I'm quoting here, Keryn (who is a stranger to me) pointed out: "it’s not just his women who are defined by their relation to others, it’s just about everyone in the book. The whole series is soaked in concerns about lineage and legitimacy, and I’d argue that the representations about sex and gender need to be read in that context too." I would further argue that the overarching dynamic of Song of Ice and Fire is redefinition: of culture, of society, and of individuals. Everyone is re-learning what it means to be a Stark or a Lannister or a Targaryen, a knight or a king, a man or a woman.
Even if your only criteria for Strong Female Character is Violent and Lots-of-Sex-Having (which, snoozers), hang out with Ygritte or Asha Greyjoy or the Sand Snakes for a while. Then we'll talk.

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