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Friday, May 04, 2018

A bureaucratic approach to literature

One of the central challenges George R. R. Martin always faced as a writer is that he approaches some significant philosophical questions with the mind of a bureaucrat. This Rolling Stone interview with Martin from 2014 is rather enlightening in that regard:
It's a shockingly brutal story that you tell. The first major jolt comes when the knight Jaime Lannister pushes a child, Bran Stark, through a window because the child witnessed Jaime and Jaime's sister, Cersei – the wife of Westeros' King Robert – having sex. That moment grabs you by the throat. 

I've had a million people tell me that was the moment that hooked them, where they said, "Well, this is just not the same story I read a million times before." Bran is the first viewpoint character. In the back of their heads, people are thinking Bran is the hero of the story. He's young King Arthur. We're going to follow this young boy – and then, boom: You don't expect something like that to happen to him. So that was successful [laughs].

Both Jaime and Cersei are clearly despicable in those moments. Later, though, we see a more humane side of Jaime when he rescues a woman, who had been an enemy, from rape. All of a sudden we don't know what to feel about Jaime. 

One of the things I wanted to explore with Jaime, and with so many of the characters, is the whole issue of redemption. When can we be redeemed? Is redemption even possible? I don't have an answer. But when do we forgive people? You see it all around in our society, in constant debates. Should we forgive Michael Vick? I have friends who are dog-lovers who will never forgive Michael Vick. Michael Vick has served years in prison; he's apologized. Has he apologized sufficiently? Woody Allen: Is Woody Allen someone that we should laud, or someone that we should despise? Or Roman Polanski, Paula Deen. Our society is full of people who have fallen in one way or another, and what do we do with these people? How many good acts make up for a bad act? If you're a Nazi war criminal and then spend the next 40 years doing good deeds and feeding the hungry, does that make up for being a concentration-camp guard? I don't know the answer, but these are questions worth thinking about. I want there to be a possibility of redemption for us, because we all do terrible things. We should be able to be forgiven. Because if there is no possibility of redemption, what's the answer then? [Martin pauses for a moment.] You've read the books?

Yes. 

Who kills Joffrey? In the books – and I make no promises, because I have two more books to write, and I may have more surprises to reveal – the conclusion that the careful reader draws is that Joffrey was killed by the Queen of Thorns, using poison from Sansa's hairnet, so that if anyone did think it was poison, then Sansa would be blamed for it. Sansa had certainly good reason for it.

The reason I bring this up is because that's an interesting question of redemption. That's more like killing Hitler. Does the Queen of Thorns need redemption? Did the Queen of Thorns kill Hitler, or did she murder a 13-year-old boy? Or both? She had good reasons to remove Joffrey. Is it a case where the end justifies the means? I don't know.
The problem, of course, is how do you seek forgiveness without repentance? And how can you repent without an objective moral standard that clearly states: with this act you have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God?

Man cannot find redemption without God, which is why some crazy and godless men make maps of meaning filled with bizarre and imaginary creatures and warnings of nonexistent dragons, while others, less crazy, but still godless, write meandering rapefests addressing the hard questions of tax policy and population demographics.
A major concern in A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones is power. Almost everybody – except maybe Daenerys, across the waters with her dragons – wields power badly.

Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with. Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it's not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn't ask the question: What was Aragorn's tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren't gone – they're in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?

In real life, real-life kings had real-life problems to deal with. Just being a good guy was not the answer. You had to make hard, hard decisions. Sometimes what seemed to be a good decision turned around and bit you in the ass; it was the law of unintended consequences. I've tried to get at some of these in my books. My people who are trying to rule don't have an easy time of it. Just having good intentions doesn't make you a wise king.
Some readers have been kind enough to say that my own AODAL falls in between ASOIAF and LOTR in terms of literary quality. But one could, not unreasonably, say that is true of our literary approaches as well.

And yes, I am working on the final edition of A Sea of Skulls. And yes, I expect it will be out, in around 900 pages of print, in time for Christmas. The 40-hour audiobook version of A Throne of Bones should also be available by then. I just finished re-reading it to refresh my memory preparatory to the final push on ASOS.

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40 Comments:

Blogger Avalanche May 04, 2018 8:06 AM  

"Roman Polanski, Paula Deen"

Good GOD! He equates Polanski, who drugged, raped, and sodomized a girl (12,was she?), with Paula Deen -- who twenty years after a negro robber held a gun to her head -- carelessly/casually used the word nigger?! Somehow those two "offenses against humanity" are of the same grade?!

I haven't read or seen Martin's stuff (and won't bother, thanks for clearing that up!), but he's clearly unable to differentiate actual brutality from unremarkable speech. I'm beyond flabbergasted!

Blogger Ben Cohen May 04, 2018 8:10 AM  

What are the chances Martin is arrested for pedophilia?

Blogger VD May 04, 2018 8:14 AM  

Pretty close to zero. Martin yearns for attractive adult women. My read on him is that he'd be far more likely to roofie an adult woman he had previously befriended than sexually abuse a child. He couldn't even bear to kill Brand, after all.

Blogger Mr. Deficient May 04, 2018 8:35 AM  

Just curious, what's it like for you reading a book you've written (well after the initial writing and release)?

Blogger Sam Spade May 04, 2018 8:36 AM  

I hope a new generation of Christian talented writers florish soon.

I have read too much nihilist fiction for many years.

Blogger Rick May 04, 2018 8:36 AM  

I’ve only watched 2 or so episodes of the tv version. I stopped because the writing was immature. He writes like a person in his moms basement who imagines what real adult relationships and adulthood is like rather than from genuine experience.
A similar thing was wrong about The Shape of Water.
And this style of “doing a shocking thing early in the story” is cheap and tiresome.
Like movie posters these days. If one of the people is holding a gun it’s a shoot ‘em movie. Probably a vigilante.
Outlander (the tv series) is better in all ways.

Blogger tuberman May 04, 2018 8:39 AM  

What Rape-Rape seems to constantly say is, "Good, bad, it's all relative, and doesn't make any difference, 'cause it's all power." He goes further than that when suggesting the good people are stupider politically and get killed by being duped.

He can get away with "good" being stupid today, as the SJWs think of themselves as angels saving the world in this inverted reality. But Rape-Rape creates people who seem to be actual decent people in power, who totally lack Machiavellian understanding, and that seldom happens in real life.

This was all planned as the absurd conflicts of being evil one moment, while doing the correct thing shortly after is interpreted as deep insight into complex personalities rather than the conflicting lies that it actually represents.

Blogger Rick May 04, 2018 8:42 AM  

I’ll say this about Hemingway. The writer absolutely refused to write about things he knew nothing about (by his standards).
He said he’d love to write about air warfare and flying like Faulkner but said he (Hemingway) shouldn’t because he did not know enough about it from experience. This was in a private letter to another writer.
And he thought it was bad luck to talk about writing (such as in interviews or articles) and worst of all to explain your own work.

Blogger Jeshurun May 04, 2018 8:48 AM  

Beware if your work becomes too successful people will only want to talk about your book and complain endlessly about how much you post on your blog instead of writing :). I have your first book, interested in it, yet holding back reading it for now as I'm unsure of your commitment to finishing it. You can thank George for that :).

Blogger Fifty Seven May 04, 2018 8:53 AM  

"But Tolkien doesn't ask the question: What was Aragorn's tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine?"

That's what high fantasy has been missing-- FEMA, the IRS and DoD procurement subplots.

'The Elf Lord slowly turned, placing his hand on the hilt of his sword.

'"Thaquill!" He barked. "I said I wanted those revised bids on my desk this morning!"

'Thaquill's dark eyes flashed with anger. "My Lord Deputy Secretary, you said no such thing!"

'"Do you call me a liar, minion? Must I contact Elven Resources?"

'"No, my Lord! I shall complete the spreadsheet immediately!"'

Blogger LibertyPortraits May 04, 2018 8:57 AM  

As a middlewit I enjoyed the interview and the questions he raised. The thing he brings up about king aragorn reminds me of henry james descriptions of isabel in portrait of a lady. He is always mentioning how smart and independent she is but she never really does or says anything smart and her actions and motives are undecipherable. Im quite disappointed with james and I get the feeling he is writing about something he doesnt know a lot about. It would have been far better had his masterpiece been about a young man. I guess I will have to read a biography of him for more information but I can appreciate when an author at least attempts to ask and play around with questions like rapa-the-rape-a is doing here.

Blogger LibertyPortraits May 04, 2018 8:59 AM  

That would be a great parody fantasy novel!

Blogger Othello May 04, 2018 9:42 AM  

"Man cannot find redemption without God, which is why some crazy and godless men make maps of meaning"

Hahahaha. Not tired of # winning

Blogger Johnny May 04, 2018 9:47 AM  

"But Tolkien doesn't ask the question: What was Aragorn's tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine?"

Weird and supericial criticism. If Tolkien got involved in the details of a "good King's" leadership, it would be implicitly pushing those things as policy. Thus political, which is what the critic implicitly wants, no doubt it would be agreeable to him.

As for the whole good king concept, that is absolutely the choice that most people had until modern times. Hardly a criticism that Tolkien adapts the way things really were. Too little of that in modern fiction.

OpenID crapulux May 04, 2018 9:56 AM  

That's what high fantasy has been missing-- FEMA, the IRS and DoD procurement subplots.

Didn't Terry Goodkind write many thick tomes about these matters already? Please, no more.

Blogger Josh (the sexiest thing here) May 04, 2018 9:58 AM  

And yes, I expect it will be out, in around 900 pages of print, in time for Christmas.

Of this year?

OpenID widlast May 04, 2018 10:21 AM  

All to often those who criticize the Medieval world and the thinking of that time do not have a very good understanding of that time or the very real daily concerns that people had then.
I some ways George RR Martin is a bit of an idiot.

Blogger horsewithnonick May 04, 2018 10:27 AM  

This from the interviewer made me laugh:

A major concern in A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones is power. Almost everybody – except maybe Daenerys, across the waters with her dragons – wields power badly.

Daenerys was comically inept at governing anything, including her own passions, and ruined cities everywhere she went.

Blogger Dire Badger May 04, 2018 10:29 AM  

Funnily enough, after years of reading "Wildcards", it was when I picked up the first Game of Thrones book and Bran got pushed out of the window that I put it down and decided I would never, ever, read anything written by martin ever again.

He's a fucking jerk.

Blogger Jack Ward May 04, 2018 10:38 AM  

Final push on ASOS. Good. Was wondering what happens with major fiction after ASOS is put to press? Would not blame you for taking a few years or decades off what with seems an endless list of other projects.

Blogger cmbaileytstc May 04, 2018 10:54 AM  

Martin writes the line “You win or you die”, then turns around and loathes every White man who takes that principle to heart.

Blogger Nym Coy May 04, 2018 11:04 AM  

"I want there to be a possibility of redemption for us, because we all do terrible things." he says after talking about rape and concentration camp guards and pushing children out of windows. Just what is Mr. Martin confessing here?

Blogger wreckage May 04, 2018 11:24 AM  

For a ruler to love his people is the first and greatest necessity for success.

But Martin is missing the fact that in roughly feudal, roughly medieval times, there is no fucking policy. There's a tax rate, and there's the law, and that's it. The state is largely impotent beyond about a day's ride*, so what matters is the obligations and duties in a hereditary hierarchical structure centered on families and common culture.

Talk about being blinded by your assumptions.

*spitballing, but there's serious writing out there on the reach of the polity in a medieval society.

Blogger A rebel without a General May 04, 2018 11:28 AM  

Hey Vox, your paperback versions of AODAL do they have any more content than in the kindle versions. I wouldn't think so.

Blogger VD May 04, 2018 11:43 AM  

Hey Vox, your paperback versions of AODAL do they have any more content than in the kindle versions.

No.

Was wondering what happens with major fiction after ASOS is put to press?

Write Book Three.

Blogger The Kurgan May 04, 2018 12:07 PM  

Some have noted that the Dark Lord wisely does not mention Christmas of which year....

Blogger Lovekraft May 04, 2018 1:09 PM  

VD, can u bring me up to speed? So are you writing a trilogy, the third part being Sea of Skulls, and the first two already published?

If so, will you package all three into a group for sale?

Blogger Dave May 04, 2018 1:51 PM  

If so, will you package all three into a group for sale?

I believe Castalia House has plans to release an omnibus, but truthfully, any savings will probably be eaten up by shipping costs.

Blogger Dr. J May 04, 2018 1:54 PM  

And yes, I expect it will be out, in around 900 pages of print, in time for Christmas.

Christmas? - pfft, low energy.

Blogger Nathan May 04, 2018 2:54 PM  

"Is it a case where the end justifies the means? I don't know."

So rather than examine any of these questions he doesn't know the answer to, he just kills the characters off. He's admitting to stringing the reader along here.

Blogger Dave May 04, 2018 3:36 PM  

The 40-hour audiobook version of A Throne of Bones should also be available by then.

The times, they’ve a-changed, remember this re ATOB?

VD wrote:Vox will there be an Audio book version of it?

Not unless someone wants to spend a really long time reading it aloud. I certainly don't.

Blogger peppermint May 04, 2018 3:38 PM  

The point at which the dude who was incestuously cucking the king killed the kid was the point at which I remarked "how randumb" and changed the channel. I'm pretty sure millennials like GoT for the porn and because their friends also claim to like it.

Blogger Snidely Whiplash May 04, 2018 3:54 PM  

Dave wrote:Not unless someone wants to spend a really long time reading it aloud.
It's amazing what people are willing to do if you can afford to pay them.

Blogger Don't Call Me Len May 04, 2018 4:31 PM  

Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?

Do orcs reproduce sexually? I don't recall a single mention of female orcs, much less little baby orcs, in cradles or out.

Blogger tublecane May 04, 2018 4:47 PM  

When will everyone get off Baby Hitler's back?

Blogger tublecane May 04, 2018 5:04 PM  

@8- "Write what you know" can be taken too literally. One of the reasons modern literature is boring is because of its navel-gazing. If I find a person somewhat interesting, like Scott Fitzgerald, I might be willing to read book after book of the same character doing the same things. But it was a breath of fresh air to the unfinished Love of the Last Tycoon and meet a protagonist who wasn't Scott Fitzgerald.

If other novelists can write about medieval times, Roman times, or make up entire worlds of their own Hemingway could write about planes.

Or maybe he simply couldn't.

Blogger Were-Puppy May 04, 2018 6:41 PM  

Only a libtard would enjoy a story about orcs endlessly demanding Aragorns tax returns. And crying about how he had an affair with Elfy Daniels decade ago.

Blogger CoolHand May 04, 2018 7:57 PM  

Don't Call Me Len wrote:Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?

Do orcs reproduce sexually? I don't recall a single mention of female orcs, much less little baby orcs, in cradles or out.


Haven't read A Throne of Bones or A Sea of Skulls, have you?

As the saying goes, inquire within.

Blogger idprism May 04, 2018 8:11 PM  

Flyby ASoS appreciation comment. :D

Blogger Resident Moron™ May 05, 2018 5:38 AM  

In spite of Rape Rape’s self-serving criticism of Tolkein, I don’t recall much plot in GoT that even mentions tax policy, let alone centres on it.

Mostly it’s rape the peasants and steal the purses from their corpses.

So basically the fool just criticized himself.

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