Books

Martin and the reason for his killing sprees

got jk rowling grr martin georgeHERE BE SPOILERS FOR GAME OF THRONES, BOTH THE SHOW AND THE BOOKS!

The reason to write this post has two origins. First of all, I’ve caught up with the TV show of Game of Thrones, and now I’ve joined the great amount of people who are waiting for the next season. It’s better to be late to a party than to never arrive, right? Second, a comment from the Nerd Maids on my previous post about Game of Thrones has prompted me to share my opinion on the way Martin handles popular characters and death in his works.

First of all, thank you for commenting and sharing your opinion! You have valid points, and I can understand that killing off popular and cool characters seems counterproductive: readers care about them and use them as a way to interact with the written world, and so their deaths are all the more cruel. Plus, why not end the lives of characters nobody cares about, like the Freys in Game of Thrones? You can tell better stories with the “cool cast” still alive than with those…weirdos. I can relate to that opinion, but let me explain why I can’t agree with it.

You see, I’m also a person who really gets into the characters of a book, a show or a movie. If their story is intriguing and well-written, I’m hooked and reeled in like a fat carp. I’m a fan of good versus of evil, of knowing who I should cheer for or having the possibility of choosing a “team”. If both sides of a conflict have interesting characters, the whole conflict gets even more interesting. If you add an epic climax to it then, something that has been built up for multiple books or episodes, you have found a sure way to please me. However, you have also found the easiest way to please me, by serving me a meal I have eaten so many times the flavor has dulled my senses. If you happen to be George R.R. Martin though, you throw a plate in front of me with food that looks familiar, but with a taste that will overwhelm me.

Alright, enough of the weird culinary metaphors. What I’m trying to say is that Martin dares to cross lines other authors don’t, and all of this “trespassing” of his makes his work all the more interesting. Where other writers are afraid to kill their or their reader’s darlings, Martin will rip them out of his stories in a cruel way to propel the entire plot into a new direction. Sure, one might argue that death is the cheapest way to add drama, but it’s also the most efficient way to add emotion and the chaos it causes. Killing someone is final, it presents the reader and the characters in the story with an event they can’t just ignore. Everyone has to take a stance, and these stances will drive the story into an unexpected direction. Sure, the Red Wedding is bloody and cruel, but it turns the entire War of the Five Kings upside down and makes you, the reader and viewer, re-think your opinion about certain individuals. It keeps you engaged in a cruel, yet effective way.

A result of this murderous tendency Martin shows is that no character is ever safe. Fantasy writers tend to save the “heroes” of the story in that last, dramatic moment, just so that they can save the day, free the kingdom and rule with a gentle hand. Martin doesn’t do the “hero”-thing, and he puts everyone and their mother into permanent danger. Every character in his books can be killed, and you should learn that rather sooner than later. This fear of death is a good thing though, since it will make you care even more for the individuals in the story. Why hope that the hero will make it, when you know that the author is using every trope in the universe to make it so? What use is appreciating the depth of a fictional character, when he cannot be taken from you at any moment by some malicious enemy? This fear you feel, and your wish that your “beloved” character will make it actually strengthen your bond with the story, turning the reading of a simple book into a fantastic emotional rollercoaster ride.

I’m not saying that all fantasy authors should be like Martin. We still need the “classic” novels, where good and evil are clearly separated and where the brave hero gets the girl. However, we also need more writers who raise the stakes and add danger to their stories, having their own beloved creations entering the lion’s den multiple times. They might make it out…or they won’t.

No matter the outcome, you are cheering for your favorites, and you will remember their story. You should not weep for the dozens of characters Martin has killed, but the dozens of new plot hooks their deaths have spawned. Where one story ends, a new one begins. Trust Martin to make them good ones, and you will find out that he does not slaughter for fun, but for crafting an epic masterpiece of a story.

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Strange Sunday – Roman steampunk and other genre mash-ups

“WWII roman steampunk” by Robbiekooljive

I’m lucky enough to be running my first game of Dungeon World next week, with two people that have made this hobby such a blast for me. As a preparation for the session, I have asked my two players to share some ideas for the setting and “feel” of the world, and after stating that I would like to see some kind of Industrial Revolution and drunken dwarves, while shunning the conflict of technology versus nature and evil orcs, my players shared with me their ideas. The final result is both wicked and challenging: our game of DW will take place in an industrialised Roman Empire, fighting a war against both the barbarians at the gates and a race of space dragons, coming from fallen stars that have ravaged a great part of the world.

Yeah, let me claim copyright on that idea right there, ’cause even Hollywood couldn’t think of that!

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Strange Sunday – Animals!

“corgi rogue” by reiley

My love for furry, little critters knows no bounds. I grew up with dogs, owned a guinea pig and even a group of adorable rats. If it’s a mammal and has big eyes, odds are high that I want to hug it and hold it close. Not really manly, I know, but that’s just the way it is. I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who things animals are awesome, as their important role in fiction shows. Many authors and game designers go even so far to have four-legged mammals walk on two feet and have them act rather…well, human. Those strange people known as “furries” even go out of their way to make costumes to look like such a anthropomorphized version of a critter. Our love for animals and how we give them a place in our “art” seems strange to many, and that’s why I’m highlighting it in this week’s Strange Sunday, to discuss with you the stranger ways of using “anthros”

Heil Lassie
Alternate history is a popular sub-genre of fantasy, and it’s actually a genre where humanised animals haven’t been spotted all that often. A shame, if you ask me, because replacing humans with furry counterparts is a way of teaching people about history in an interesting way. As a kid, I rarely watched Alfred J. Kwak, a children’s cartoon that I absolutely didn’t care for back then. Years later, when I was in high school, I stumbled upon a few episodes and checked them out. And what do you know: there’s a crow in that show who turns out to be the feathered version of Adolf Hitler. It’s an interesting approach to show children such a villlain, and most adults will recognise him immediately.

Why not take this a step further? How about a Victorian era setting, in which the British Empire is run by two-legged collies, who struggle with the rebellions of the Persian cats? Or a game about a planet of highly advanced monkeys who...oh wait. Anyway, combining alternative paths of history with furry protagonists might turn out rather interesting.

My furry friend
Animals don’t have to be the main characters, of course, and their intelligent versions could just co-exist with humans. This is something that is explored in Exalted, where tribes of intelligent animals live besides or wage war with their two-legged neighbours. It’s also a core theme of the Ghibli highlight Mononoke Hime, where gigantic wolves and boars fight for the survival of their forest, while humans encroach on it.

Imagine a game where animals work together or against humans, and you’ll imagine a game with additional possibilities. Themes of racism and cross-species friendship become interesting plot hooks, and trying to place the intelligent animals in the setting becomes a writing challenge of its own. See if you can find out where a tribe of telepathic and magical mantis-people fit in…

That’s it for this weeks Strange Sunday. Now, if you excuse me, I have to look up that write-up to play a Corgi in a D&D campaign…

Our thing for evil

“The Joker” by jossielara

Humans are bizarre creatures. Through the ages, we have established a set of rules regarding “good” and “bad”. No matter how abstractthose ideas are, we have done our best to come to an agreement of what is okay, and what just doesn’t fly. Love is great, but loving someone so much that you follow them everywhere they go is considered rather creepy. Being ambitious is also something our society considers good, but once you go over corpses it’s a completely different story. We do our best to enforce these ideas on every member of our society, and yet the people from fiction who defy these ideas are the ones that fascinate us the most.

Take exhibit A, Heath Ledger’s potrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight Rises. Actually, just take any portrayal of the Joker. One of Batman’s most famous enemies is everything we as a society despise: he is chaos incarnate, and a sociopath to boot. He blows up hospitals just because he wants to lure out a single caped crusader, and burns mountains of money just to “send a message”. He even treats his greatest fan like shit, caring nothing for her emotions. The Joker does steps and spits on our moral and ethic codes, and then sets them on fire. And still, we deem him to be one of the greatest fictional characters ever.

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How Jaime Lannister got on my good side

Before you read any further: spoiler alert. This text contains massive spoilers about the A Song of Ice and Fire books, and especially the events in A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords. If you still want to enjoy those books, better read something else on this blog. Please, stay on this blog. It will be worth your time.

With that out of the way, let me tell you something about Jaime Lannister. Ah, what hasn’t been said about this smug-faced sisterlover already. With his good looks and his charming ways, he conquers many Westerosi hearts, but his own only beats for his twin sister. While being the father of a bunch of incest children, he still does his best to be the awesome member of the Kingsguard everybody thinks he is, despite the fact that he already killed a King he had sworn to protect. He has so much to hate, and many viewers of the HBO show and readers of the first two books really hate this arrogant tool. Until a few days ago, I was one of them.

You see, if you make it to the third book of the A Song of Ice and Fire saga, you will discover an entirely new side of Jaime. While trying to make his way to King’s Landing with Brienne, the two get caught by the rather brutish and primitive Brave Companions, and in a sadistic turn of events, Jaime Lannister loses his sword-hand. That’s right: this great knight loses what makes him so feared and famous, and he sure has a serious internal crisis about it. However, instead of turning into a wimpy idiot who just complains about how cruel the world is, Jaime makes up plans to get the most out of the situation, and even starts to appreciate the companionship and bravery of the female knight Brienne. When he gets a safe escort back to King’s Landing without Brienne, he decides that he can’t just leave her behind, rides back to Harrenhal and saves her from a bear, which she had to fight with a blunt tournament sword. Of course, he keeps his cool through all of this, almost never complaining about his lost hand, while risking his life and safety for a woman he could just as easily hate.

Ladies and gentleman, Jaime Lannister is, officially, my new favourite character of the entire saga.

Seriously, it’s impressive how Jaime goes from charming jerk to handicapped good guy in just a few chapters. Even better, the entire transformation feels plausible and is well-written. It’s great to see a tough, badass character like Jaime developing soft spots, and that almost makes you forget that he is the father of several incestuous children and the member of the family responsible for Eddard Stark’s death (though you could write that one up to Joffrey’s sheer madness). It also makes him believable, and that was just the thing he needed after being my favourite character to hate (next to Joffrey. God, I hate that brat).

So, next time you meet a fictional character that seems to be a prick, don’t judge him too fast. Snape turned out okay, and Jaime Lannister seems to be a semi-good guy as well. Hate and despise them while you can, but respect them as soon as they find redemption for their douchery.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I got books to read.

Why I hate Elves

Unlike many nitpicky party poopers out there, I really love Peter Jackson’s big-screen rendition of The Hobbit. It’s fun, action-packed and just great to see, even though it doesn’t stick entirely to the source and is spread out across three movies. However, just a few minutes into the movie, we meet Legolas’ daddy, the king of the wood-dwelling pointy ears: Thranduil. When he came riding in on his elk-moose thingy, I was reminded of one of my favourite aversions: Elves.

From the day I fell in love with fantasy fiction and role-playing games, I have always despised Elves. Something about them just really, really irritates me. Over the years, I have found out what it is about these often immortal, fair beings of the mystical places, and it saddens me every time an author or game designer portrays the pointy-ears in a way that incorporates those features. Wanna know what they are? Well, I have the urge to share my hate with you, so read on and bask in my animosity!

First of all, Elves are perfect. Everything you can do, an Elf can do better. Think you’re the greatest archer in the world? Sorry, but that Elf over there just shot a penny from a distance of five miles while fighting off a group of Orcs. Thought you were the greatest wizard to ever roam these lands? Think again, because that smug-faced treehugger over there has been channeling cosmic powers since first grade! I just can’t stand this perfection most Elvish races in the fantasy genre have, because it makes all other races in a setting look kinda dumb. Yeah yeah, Dwarves have their blacksmithing and humans are somehow always the heroes, but that’s probably just because the Elves are too busy being utterly majestic.

Second, Elves are always pretty. Legolas is pretty, his father pretends to be pretty (he would be without that dumb crown), Drizzt would never say he’s pretty, but according to the fan girls he is, and the list goes on! Beauty is nice and well, but it’s just lame that all Elves are handsome. I’ll give a digital high-five to the person who writes a book with a really, really, really ugly Elf as the main protagonist. I’ll buy that book the moment it hits stores, no matter how retarded the plot is.

Finally, Elves always have some mystical power. They are either immortal, naturally magical or both at the same time. In the German tabletop RPG Das Schwarze Auge, Elves are so damn magical they sometimes craft items and enchant them without noticing. How stupid is that? Could you imagine an Elf making a beautiful necklace for her husband, but it turns out she wove a barkskin spell into it, turning her hubby into some kind of treant? That would at least explain why a large part of the Elvish population lives in forests, and why they care so much about their damn trees.

Really, the only setting that has made Elves interesting for me is Dragon Age. In the world described and shown in the BioWare games, Elves are a kind of gypsy-like race, who have to live in ghettos and who are almost extinct. They have to face persecution and hate every day, but they don’t surrender. They fight for their place in the world, and ally themselves with the forces of nature. They are an interesting race with many problems, but also with enormous reserves of hope and positivity. They’re not perfect, they’re not always magical and surely not always pretty. I salute BioWare, for showing the world how Elves should be.

Now, please excuse me, I have to get that image of Thranduil out of my head. Damn goldilocks with his pathetic crown…