The dangers of reading A Song of Ice and Fire

reading a song of ice and fire

There are two types of people who visit a website such as Stranger Views: those who have read A Song of Ice and Fire and those who are going to read it soon. If you are in the former camp I’m sure you will be well aware of the dangers of reading the book, but if you are in the latter it is my duty to offer you this warning.

Even those of you who have seen Game of Thrones will have no idea of just how your life can change once you start reading A Song of Ice and Fire. For, while you may love the TV show, you will obsess about the book. So, if you want to understand how reading a Song of Ice and Fire will change your life, read on.

The wait

George RR Martin is a pretty slow writer. So all of us who have finished reading a Song of Ice and Fire are waiting for a slow writer to finish a couple of books which are epic both in scale and length. This is not an easy wait.

The issue comes down to the cliffhangers. If you are on this site there is a better than even chance you at least aware of Sherlock and the interest over how he survived apparently jumping off the building at the end Season 2. Well, interest is too tame a word, there were theories upon theories and everyone had an opinion and couldn’t wait to see how this mystery was to be resolved. Sadly the resolution was so weak they may have well have said he survived because he has a magic left testicle, but that isn’t the point. The point is when a story we are emotionally invested in ends on a cliffhanger we find ourselves obsessed with how that cliffhanger is going to be resolved.

The last book in A Song of Ice and Fire doesn’t end on a cliffhanger: it ends on multiple cliffhangers. Leaving you waiting for the resolution to multiple character arcs. And so you wait…..

And wait…..

And wait some more. Then perhaps you start casually googling ‘Winds of Winter release date’ when you get a second. Then perhaps you will go on a few fan sites. After that you may find yourself just having the publishers website up all the time, so that you can press refresh now and again in the hope of catching the press release announcing a release date. From this point it is only a matter of time before you a banging on George RR Martin’s door, begging to be allowed to live in his beard so that you can watch as he types it up.

396px-George_R_R_Martin_2011_Shankbone
You wouldn’t be alone. – Picture thanks to Shankbone

The endless theories will take over your life

There is a cat mentioned around five times in all of the A Song of Ice and Fire series. From these five, largely unremarkable, appearances various theories about the true nature of this cat have sprung:

  • The cat is a reincarnation of a character who died before the events in the series began
  • The cat is exacting a slow revenge on those who killed its masters years before
  • The cat is a harbinger of death
  • The cat is being controlled by another character over 1000 miles away.

This is amazing for two reasons. One, it shows that people will obsess so much about A Song of Ice and Fire that they will come up with theories about a cat that barely enters the narrative; and two, George RR Martin is both crazy and genius enough to give said cat an interesting and believable backstory that will get his readers thinking.

This is just one very tiny cat in a vast book full to the brim of interesting characters. So if that cat can inspire five theories imagine what the rest of the characters will do? There are a couple of excellent forums where discussion has been raging on pretty much every issue in a Song of Ice and Fire you could possibly think of. A huge number of these seem to be completely insane until you actually look at them, which is where the trouble starts. Once you start noticing the little things in a Song of Ice and Fire and how well they fit into these theories you can’t stop seeing them. Then, dear reader, you are screwed. Soon the time not taken up with re-reading A Song of Ice and Fire will be spent posting your own theories in the various forums and communities that have sprung up across the internet.

And why is this a bad thing you ask? Because these theories can easily take over your life, that’s why. Writing this article has already taken me two weeks because I keep going onto various forums in the name of ‘research’ and reading about how some character who I barely noticed on the first read is actually the most important character in the whole series. I love A Song of Ice and Fire, but even I think there should be more to life to wondering if Stannis will end up as the Night’s King.

For those of you who who want to read worryingly believable and well thought out theories on the identity of this cat, you can do so on this thread of The Forum of Ice and Fire.

Reading the books can lead to resenting the TV Show

I love the Game of Thrones TV show and as you are reading this there is a good chance you do too. The problem is that in many ways the TV show cannot live up to the novels. This is no slight on the TV show but simply reflects the practicalities of trying to run a show based on a book with so many characters in it: some are bound to be cut. Take this guy:

Patchfaces
For those of you who don’t know that crazy looking guy is Patchface (the picture is by the talented artist Sprrow and you can find more of their work on deviantart). Patchface is the jester that keeps Stannis’ daughter Shireen company while everyone else pretty much ignores her. He’s also creepier than finding out that spiders hold hands and dance up your bum every night, which they do. Although not a central character he has a large enough role that, after reading A Song of Ice and Fire, I was convinced that Patchface was destined to be a major player in final books. He’s been cut from the TV show and when I realised this I was crushed for two reasons:

  • I was looking forward to seeing him and it was a bit gutting when he didn’t show up
  • It suggests he isn’t as important as I wanted him to be.

He’s far from alone. There are a lots of other characters that appear to be shaping up to have an important role in the book who don’t make it to the small screen. There’s even one guy who shows up riding an elk, which would have been so cool to see on TV, but he doesn’t make the cut either. For those coming to the books after watching Game of Thrones it means you will then look back on the show you loved and think ‘how could they leave XXXX out’. If you watch the show after reading A Song of Ice and Fire you will inevitably feel the sadness that comes with realising that one of your favourite characters perhaps isn’t as vital to the storyline as you thought.

You won’t just read A song of Ice and Fire once

reading a song of ice and fire
Look at the size of those books. Each one of those is made from the trunks of a thousand trees. To read them all, and you will read them all, takes a lot of time. And that’s just the first time you read them. As I think I’ve made clear, there is a lot packed into these books and unless you are a genius you will miss a fair bit the first time round. So you will probably read them at least twice. If you think of how long it takes to read these books and how many people have read them it is hard not to come to the conclusion that George RR Martin has written a book so absorbing that he has actually managed to slow down the rate of human achievement more than class A drugs and the medieval church. Think of what humanity could have achieved if so many of us hadn’t spent the last few years obsessing over these books. We could be living on the moon or have taught monkeys to speak by now. Or perhaps Steven Moffat is a fan of the books and with a bit more time on his hands wouldn’t have made the last episode of Doctor Who so god awful.

Battle lines can be drawn over characters

reading a song of ice and fire dany and jon
I think one of the key aspects of Martin’s writing is that his characters are three dimensional and many of their actions are open to interpretation. This is great when you are reading the book and it’s great when you are bored and want to read some discussion on message boards, but it’s not so great when a loved one also reads the book and comes to the opposite conclusion about a character to you.

Take Daenerys Targaryen, she is the main protagonist and very possibly the hero of A Song of Ice and Fire. I can’t stand her. This doesn’t mean I don’t like reading her chapters. I just find her character to be an overly entitled dangerously short sighted moron. My wife, alas, does not. My wife believes Daenerys is clearly the important one, and that the main story is of her development into a ruler to take on the real bad guys in the books. She even thinks that too much attention was given to Jon Snow. Now this should not be the cause of marital discourse, but I guarantee that there are some people reading this who reckon that this argument only ended one of two ways; divorce or me typing this up from a very small room with bars on the windows as a guy called ‘Psycho Ian’ strokes my ears. If that sounds ridiculous then you should realise just how clear it is that Jon Snow is the vastly superior character to Daenerys Targaryen.

My guess is after reading this post you will still plan to read the book, but I hope you now understand the danger you are placing yourself in. If you’ve already read the books and would like to share how the Song of Ice and Fire has affected your life then please feel free to leave a comment below. If enough of us join together perhaps we can start a support group.

If you liked this post then you’re probably in a minority, but you may also be interested in an earlier article on Stranger Views on why Petyr Baelish should get his own spin off show. If you are looking for another fantasy book to read then I’d suggest checking out our reviews of The Copper Promise by Jen Williams and The Whirlwind in the Thorntree by S.A Hunt.

2 Comments

Leave a Reply
  1. What a great article! I am on my third read and spend way too much of my time explaining to my many friends who are fans of the show and have not yet read the book what they are missing. Over 3 years I have convinced only a handful of them to jump on board. The double edged sword of the books skewing your perception of the television show is a difficult one to overcome. The end of this season (4), not including one of the main characters (I won’t mention who for spoilers sake) from the end of the third book, for example, made me stand up on my couch and yell. And your mention of the theories is spot on. I’ve literally spent entire work days researching, say, Bloodraven. lol l’ve written a handful of similar articles I’ll link below, the first is my favorite characters from the books that won’t appear in the show and the second is my favorite theories. Going to go check out your Petyr Baelish article next!

    My Favorite Characters From the Books Who Won’t Appear in the Show:
    http://benfinan.com/2014/11/20/game-of-thrones-trivia-my-favorite-characters-from-the-books-who-wont-appear-in-the-show/

    My Favorite A Song of Ice and Fire Theories
    http://benfinan.com/2014/10/10/my-favorite-a-song-of-ice-and-fire-theories/

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.