From the Salt Mines: A Game Of Thrones

From the Salt Mines: A new occasional series in which I will talk about the things that stick under my craw for various reasons. Future plans include other TV series, several books, and at least one video game. I have a lot of feelings, and not all of them are pleasant ones.

I first heard about A Game of Thrones about 10 years ago. I was working in a used bookstore at the time, and we couldn’t keep copies of those books on the shelves. We would literally be able to sell copies that had pages falling out about thirty minutes after they came in. Naturally, I was curious about the hype. Which is sometimes a good thing, like when I resisted reading any of the Harry Potters until the 5th book was released, and my natural inclination to resist the flow of popularity had been doing me a disservice.

And sometimes I end up reading A Game of Thrones.

game of thronesThere are things that could have led to me being less salty about this book, probably. Maybe if the books hadn’t been so hyped by literally everyone alive. Maybe if my coworker hadn’t gone on and on about how they’d literally changed her life. Maybe if, by the time I finally did read it, the first season of the tv adaptation hadn’t already aired on HBO to rave reviews and a Beatles-hysteria level of hype. Maybe if Time Magazine hadn’t called George R.R. Martin “the American Tolkien.” This comparison still makes me weep with how inaccurate it is.

An aside about the Tolkien comparison: listen, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote about beauty, hope, and love. Frodo’s story is a hero’s journey with the most unlikely hero imaginable, to save the entire world, and in the end he is only (spoilers for a 60-year-old book) successful because his best friend loves him.

Granted, I haven’t read to the end of Martin’s story yet, mostly because I don’t want to and never will and also because it hasn’t actually been written. How’s that publication time frame working for you, friends? Sure he’s not your bitch, but he’s cagey with details and may or may not be publishing Winds of Winter, the next book in the series, next year, or maybe Fire and Blood, a fake history of the Targaryen kings. Maybe both? It’s been six years since the last book came out, and it was six years in between the last two books, and this guy isn’t getting any younger, and now he’s spending precious writing time working on histories.

What I can tell from having read the first novel and the Wikipedia plot summaries for the other four published novels is that Martin’s story seems mostly to be reveling in the dirt, the grime, and the pain of life. Also killing every single character that anyone gives a flip about. Maybe calling him “the American Tolkien” is a statement from Time Magazine about the State of America in 2005. Maybe Lev Grossman was just trying to say that Martin also writes epic fantasy. Maybe I don’t particularly care. Maybe I will just be salty for life that Grossman put Tolkien’s name in the same context of George R.R. Martin. How dare you sully Tolkien’s honor in that manner, sir. (End aside.)

But anyway, Amazon was doing a special bundle with the first four books, and I’d recently gotten a kindle so I said, “Why not?” and bought them. In the end, this means I paid $30 to read one book, but that’s salt for a lifetime, so who actually won? Spoilers: it’s still Martin’s bank account.

According to my Goodreads account, I finished reading the first one on September 3, 2011. I can remember the exact moment reading the book that I realized this book wasn’t for me, and that’s (pause for a spoiler warning for a 20-year-old book that has a hit TV show based on it because I am about to ruin everything) the moment when Jaime Lannister throws 7-year-old Bran Stark out of a tower window to hide the fact that he was having sexual relations with his own twin sister. It didn’t really get any better from there, to be honest. An innocent direwolf is killed to satisfy the honor of the petulant boy prince. The only character I ended up giving a damn about by the end of the book is beheaded in the final pages, giving me no reason to go on at all.

Also according to my Goodreads account, of the 25 friends I have on there who have given this book a rating at all, 13 have given it a five star rating, and I’m just left to consider why we’re even friends. (Just kidding, if I stopped being friends with people because of the media they consume, I wouldn’t have friends at all.)

So yes, I am still amazingly salty about this six years later, and I will tell you why. Because the popularity and raciness of that book prompted HBO to option it for the most popular TV show on the planet (seemingly) and every Sunday night, my twitter stream and Facebook feed are filled with OH MY GOD and DID YOU SEE THAT and I CANNOT EVEN. Or things like this:

No, Whitney, I just have to read a frillion tweets from people who do watch it. Because my roommate has loud reactions in the next room while yet another person is gruesomely murdered, and I can HEAR that show from every corner of my condo. Because you can stand in front of a room of any gathering of people, say “Hodor,” and roughly ¾ of them will start crying, and I just don’t CARE. Because when I was looking up George R.R. Martin’s wiki page to find out how old he is (and thus, the likelihood of him finishing the series before he kicks it), a (different) coworker looked over my shoulder and spent the next ten minutes telling me about all her favorite characters in the most recent season, even though I told her multiple times that I really hate everything about it.


Are any of you crying yet?

I’m just not into it. More than that, I’m tired of having to explain to people why I’m not into it. I hate violence for violence’s sake. I’ve never understood the point of reveling in the rapes, deaths, humiliations, and brutal beatings for the shred of story underneath that strings every terrible thing together. Maybe it’s just that I like a little more escape in my escapism.

Maybe that means I’m missing out on the best thing to happen in the fantasy world in the last 30 years but honestly? I doubt it.

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  • ntaft01 August 15, 2017 at 8:48 am

    I feel you on the character killing, and I never trust critic’s comparisons (or anyone’s comparisons, really – I’m salty at Martin after the whole Dinosaur Lords debacle. That book was NOT “Game of Thrones meets Jurassic Park.” Not by a long shot.), but I do think the TV show is waaaaay more rapey than the books are for sure, and that’s what actually bothers me the most. Otherwise I’m fairly cool with everything. I don’t think it’s the best thing since sliced bread like a lot of other people, but I can accept it for what it is. While respecting other folk’s right to be salty about the whole thing. 😉

    • Shara White August 15, 2017 at 9:28 am

      Wait, Martin himself said The Dinosaur Lords was GoT Meets Jurassic Park?

    • Merrin August 15, 2017 at 9:29 am

      I think I’ve heard that, that the show is rapier. Either way, the story isn’t for me in either format. But if you get something out of it, I’m happy for you!

  • kendrame August 15, 2017 at 11:05 pm


  • Kelly McCarty August 17, 2017 at 1:46 am

    It’s interesting that you compare J.R.R. Tolkien to George R.R. Martin because I am trying to read The Lord of the Rings for my Speculative Chic New Year’s Resolution and I’m hating it. Everyone I know who likes fantasy loves them and I even enjoyed The Hobbit, but I read about 80 pages of the first book back in January and I was bored to death. I tell myself, “You read the entire Bible. You forced yourself through Anna Karenina. You can do this,” but every time I think about how I need to pick it back up, I find an excuse to read something else. I’ve read all the main books in the Game of Thrones universe and I never put any of them down because I was bored.

    • Shara White August 17, 2017 at 10:34 am

      I don’t think I could’ve gotten through LOTR if I hadn’t internalized the movie adaptation (I’d seen Fellowship of the Ring five times in theaters and the other movies hadn’t come out yet). It allowed me to see the actors as the characters, see New Zealand as Middle Earth, and therefore I skimmed a lot.

      And let me tell you, I freaking HATE Tom Bombadil. I’ve gotten into many a sparring match with book purists over THAT character.

      So I feel your pain. I’m wondering if watching the movie and then reading that part of the book right after might help?

      • Merrin September 8, 2017 at 11:56 am

        Re: Tom Bombadil how dare you

    • Merrin September 8, 2017 at 11:56 am

      I only compared them because Time Magazine did, normally I would never, they’re very different books. I understand the criticisms of Tolkien, first and foremost that it takes them about 100 pages to even leave the Shire, but can’t help it, I’ve loved those books for almost half of my life.


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