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On reading George R. R. Martin

Posted by B. Daniel Blatt at 6:36 pm - April 24, 2011.
Filed under: Literature & Ideas

I believe I first heard about George R. R. Martin’s fantasy saga in response to a posts I had written on fantasy fiction.  I had begun the first book earlier this month and today am well into the second, A Clash of Kings, likely certain to finish before the week is out.

More than any other writer of fantasy I have read since I was a child, reading and re-reading and re-re-reading Tolkien, loving Terry Brooks and devouring Stephen Donaldson, Martin has crafted a series which avoids the pitfalls* of much fantasy fiction.  And he’s a really good writer to boot, with some sentences as well crafted as those in literary fiction.  While the prose of most fantasy writers is serviceable, relating the facts of the tale and details of the imagined realm, in language that is clear enough for our understanding, Martin writes in a flowing — and sometimes even musical — manner.

Yes, he does occasionally include a clunky sentence of two, but these stand out because they are so rare.

And we believe his characters.  He has transported individuals that we see in contemporary life to this realm of his imagination, clearly crafted after serious study of castles and chivalry in the late Middle Ages.  Had our readers — and the books’ other fans — told me Martin’s Song was less a story of a quest and more a kind of War of the Roses set in a fantastic landscape, I likely wouldn’t have read it.

But pick it up I did.  And I can hardly put it down.  This is not the type of fantasy fiction I typically enjoy, more Ivanhoe in medieval England than Aragorn in Middle Earth.  And I was longing for a quest against a Dark Lord with delusions of grandeur and a desire for omnipotence.  This series, at least so far, gives us something entirely different.  And to its credit, it lacks the overdependence on magic which seems to drive, if not define, all too much fantasy fiction.

Much as I enjoy this new series, I disagree with our reader who lamented that this series “probably outdoes even” Tolkien.  And while, to be sure, both are works of fantasy fiction set in a a medieval landscape, as far as narrative structure goes, you can’t really compare the two.  In Martin’s opus, there are a number of plot lines, instead of one overarching quest.

Martin’s books read more like historical fiction set in a fantastic landscape while Tolkien’s are more akin to myth.   (more…)

Of Donald Trump & Barack Obama

Perhaps the most amusing thing about the whole spectacle of Donald Trump’s media tour is not the businessman’s pretensions for the presidency but the manner in which he has manipulated the mainstream media. Just look at how he stands up to former Bill Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos:

Which one dominates the discussion?   How many other political candidates — or potential ones — stand up to such journalists, challenging their interrogators’ bsessions. Or their bias.

That said, much as I admire Trump for his defiance of the media, I am concerned that his current turn on the public stage is more about showmanship than leadership.  He has garnered a lot of attention, but he hasn’t even begun to the move the debate on the critical issues facing our country and its leaders.

That said, for daring to stand up to the media — or perhaps for asking questions about the president they would ask if said politician had an (R) after his name, he has earned their skepticism and their scorn.  Looking up from the elliptical trainer on Friday, I chanced upon yet another episode of CNN’s Continuing Investigation into Donald Trump.

And I began to wonder:  had that network, nigh on four years ago,  initiated such inquiries into the presidential aspirations of a certain junior Senator from Illinois as they have this month launched into a self-promoting, media savvy real estate mogul with larger ambitions?

Reagan, Obama & youthful enthusiasm

Even before Time magazine ran a cover story comparing the incumbent Democratic president to the greatest Republican president of the last century, pundits have rushed to compared Barack Obama to Ronald Reagan.  Both men won their first elections by comfortable margins.  Both were regarded as silver-tongued orators with a charismatic presence.

And both seemed to capture the imagination of the youth of their particular political era.

But, here’s a difference — or is it just in my imagination?  My generation warmed to the Gipper not as much when he was a candidate as when he was president.  We loved him more in 1984 than we did in 1980.  Once in office, he gave us hope that we would find jobs and have a better future.   Obama, by contrast, gave us hope that his administration would be different from that of his predecessor, but once in office, the enthusiasm of his young followers began to wane.

The elder won us over by his leadership in the office.  The other rallied this generation to his cause by his charisma and promise of change.  Reagan appealed to us through his deeds, Obama with his words.