Sunday, July 31, 2011

Thoughts on "A Dance With Dragons" part 2

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Part 2 of my Thoughts on “A Dance With Dragons” by George R. R. Martin.

Spoilers...

This novel really began to illuminate the rest of the Ice and Fire world. Up until this novel I was convinced that the other places in the world were just kind of there, but not really important as far as the story Martin wanted to tell. They also never seemed real to me. Westeros, its people, and its culture has been examined at such length that it seems real to me. The rest of the world was just a couple of passages here and there and someplace for Daenarys to wreak some havoc. However, so much of “Dance” takes place outside of Westeros that you really start to get a feeling about the bigger picture. There is a whole world out there most of which could care less about Westeros

At the beginning of the novel, Tyrion meets Illyrio Mopatis, the Pentosi merchant who hid Daenarys and her brother. We’ve known since “Game of Thrones” that he’s been working with Varys, but we didn’t know why. Illyrio gives Tyrion several explanations such as gold and power, but I don’t buy those answers. I think Tyrion almost hits on the true answer when he looks at a map of the free cities and says something about how close they are to Westeros yet the Targaryens never moved across the Narrow Seas to conqueror them. Illyrio doesn’t want Daenarys to rule in Westeros for wealth or power, he wants her to rule in Westeros so she stays the hell out of Pentos.

Little People

In “Dance” Martin seems to write the “little people” better than his main characters. I don’t mean dwarfs. I mean the characters that only appear briefly. These throwaway characters had interesting stories that were often times only hinted at, but it was always enough that my imagination took over and filled in the gaps. The characters also had motivations that I readily understood like hatred, revenge, and lust. Characters like:

Lord Manderly- Since White Harbor is the only useful eastern port in the North, the Lannisters and the Freys are interested in currying his favor and yet Lord Manderly’s son Wendel was killed in the Red Wedding. Manderly hates the Freys and Lannisters but is unable to oppose them openly for political reasons. It is fun to see this bit of intrigue play out. And to see how when when he is trapped in Winterfell with the other nobles how hard it is for him to maintain his fa├žade as the days begin to pile on.

Lady Dustin- Who as I mentioned previously, blames Ned Stark for everything that has gone wrong in her life. Events that in her delusion are Ned’s fault include King Aerys II's burning Brandon Stark and others to death, The War of the Usurper and more specifically the death of her husband Lord William Dustin at the Tower of Joy.

House Blackwood and House Bracken- The two neighboring Houses have apparently had an ongoing feud reminiscent of the Hatfields and McCoys since before the recorded history of Westeros. In fact, both Houses believe that they were the “Kings” in the region during the time of the First Men and both House believe the other House betrayed them and usurped their rule. Everything possible has been done to end the feud including intermarriage, but somehow the feud continues. I also love the imagery that at the center of the Blackwood’s castle (Raventree Hill) is this tremendously large and completely dead weirwood tree. It’s been dead for a thousand years (The Blackwoods claim the Brackens poisoned the tree) and yet since weirwood doesn’t rot, the tree remains. Each night it is home to hundreds of ravens, that “cover the tree like black leaves.” Can you imagine what a depressing castle that must be? I think the Blackwoods would feel better about their lives if they moved out of that castle.

Main Characters

These kinds of “little characters” contrasted with some of Martin’s main characters whose motivations and reasonings were so murky that I often felt as if I didn’t understand the character at all despite the fact that the chapters were written from their perspective.

Daenarys Targaryen- I didn’t understand what was going through her head for the entire novel. The image I have of her from the previous novels is decisiveness. She struck me as the only character truly worthy to rule Westeros. In terms of arc, her story always goes from bad to worse and then she wows you at the end of the novel, but I felt like this was the first novel where she was just acting foolish the whole time. Couldn’t she see that she was fighting a losing battle in Meereen? She never had the hearts of the people. The Harpys would never stop and no ruler could ever change a culture in which slavery was so ingrained. She took away their livelihood their self-image and offered them nothing in return. Of course you could argue that Daenarys ends the story in a better position then before since she has mastered a dragon, but I would argue that I’m not sure if she ever learned a lesson about how to rule. I’ll be happy if she at least learned how not to rule.

John Snow- Martin got me again. I was positive that Jon was Martin’s fair-haired boy. Sure he had a bit of a rough time of it at the Wall, but he rose all the way up to Lord Commander in a few short years. I was also convinced like many fans that he was Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark’s child and that Eddard knew Jon would be killed by Robert if that was revealed…but none of that matters now does it?

Snow’s end shouldn’t have surprised me he spent the entire novel pissing off every living creature at the wall. Was he really oblivious to the fact that his men were just waiting for him to slip up so they could mutiny justifiably?

A lot of people are convinced that this is just a cliffhanger ending and that Jon Snow will end up being alive. I don’t know, I think it’s clear Jon is dead. Maybe Melisandre’s magic will revive him, but the Jon that returns will not be a brother of the Night’s Watch. Maybe he’ll become a nameless wildling, and he’ll romance Val… Or maybe he’s just dead!

Stannis Baratheon - continues to not impress me. He is a rigid man who does not believe in compromise. He lives in the shadow of a brother whom despite his faults was still a better man than Stannis will ever be. But, Stannis continues to barrel forward despite the fact that he is in over his head at every point. I do not believe he is dead as Ramsey’s letter stated. It was clear from the letter that Ramsey was looking for Theon and the false Arya. They were last seen with Stannis. Therefore it would seem that Ramsey hasn’t found him yet. Notice how there is no mention of Asha. Is it possible that Ramsey merely killed the Umbers that were standing outside Winterfell and banging their drums?

Theon Greyjoy- Reading his chapters was quite disturbing, in a series full of scum and villainy, Ramsey Snow/Bolton really takes the cake. He took Theon to a point through torture where Theon’s will snapped. Theon was no longer human instead he was a sort of sniveling animal thing. I mentioned this to a friend that hasn’t read “Dance” yet and he said that Theon sort of deserves what he got because of how he betrayed Winterfell. And he further commented that it is kind of ironic that I feel sorry for Theon despite his evil actions. And yet, I guess it’s just good writing because I can’t help but feel sorry for Theon. I wouldn’t wish what he went through on my worst enemy.

Tyrion Lannister- His chapters were always a highlight of the novel. They are full of humor and yet were by no means comic relief. Martin does not treat Tyrion with kid gloves, if anything Tyrion is put in extra-tough spots and yet always manages to somehow talk his way out of them. My favorite Tyrion moment is when he goes into a laughing fit because he realizes that Aegon took his bait and is going directly to Westeros and also realizes that despite the fact that he is technically Jorah Mormont’s prisoner, Mormont is taking him exactly where he wanted to go in the first place: to Daenarys. I fully expected Tyrion to meet Daenarys by the end of the novel and/or figured he might use his book-knowledge of Dragons to try and wrangle one of them. Instead his story kind of ends with a whimper and I just kind of went “is that it?”

Here is Part 1 of my review of "A Dance With Dragons"
Ramsey Bolton artwork is from an Italian Game of Thrones site Terra-di-Mezzo

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Thoughts on "A Dance With Dragons" part 1


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Spoilers...

The thing about "A Dance With Dragons" by George R. R. Martin, and the series in general, is the complexity of it. Not only are we expected to recall the events we read about 6 years ago and the books before that, but we are also expected to understand references to hundreds of places around Martin’s world and hundreds of Houses and their family trees. The librarian side of me has always found this aspect of it to be fascinating; Constantly having to put the book down and study the maps in the front of the book, or the appendix in the back.

I’ve also found some great maps online, such as the map above. The full map is a true work of art. Here's the most complete map of Westeros I've seen as well as a world map (Though the Free Cities are a bit off. We were all just guessing about those until Martin put the map of them in "Dance." Thanks Martin!)

I use a website called the Citadel, they have a concordance of the series, but find it quicker for simple things to search the Wiki of Ice and Fire. However, sites like this have started to update so anyone reading “Dance” for the first time will have to use great caution.

I wonder what Martin uses to keep all these characters and locations straight. How does he remember how many children Maege Mormont has or which of Lord Manderly’s kids was killed at the Red Wedding? Does he have a database or pen and paper charts. It never ceases to amaze me that he can keep it all straight.

In “Dance,” we met Lady Dustin. She revealed that she was in love with Brandon Stark and that the feeling was mutual. In the Stark crypt she talks about how she blames Ned Stark for all of her life’s woes. Anyway, I was sure she’d never been mentioned before. I thought I’d finally found an example of Martin thinking of something after the fact, but nope, she was mentioned back in “Game of Thrones.” Martin knew exactly who she was and what her story was even though he waited 5 books to start to tell it. It’s like what they say about Homer’s Illiad, “No one dies nameless.”

The final complexity is that we are expected to understand hundreds of years of Westeros historical and cultural references. Martin has outlines 300 years of Targaryen rulers and centuries of legend before that. In “Dance” that history seems more alive and relevant then ever before.

For Ser Barristan “the Bold” Selmy, many events of almost 50 years ago are just as vivid to him as the events of his present. And it is not only him, the surprise appearances of Jon Connington and Aegon Targaryen made the events of the War of the Usurper seem more influential to Martin’s overall story than the War of 5 Kings.

I think, two mysteries in particular are integral to Martin’s story: Who was the knight of the laughing tree at the tournament in the year of the false spring and what happened at the Tower of Joy? Barristan revealed some more clues, and I’ve had my own theories, but I’m sure we won’t get definite answers until the last novel.

I was fascinated with Barristan recalling the events of the Defiance of Duskendale and how in a way he is responsible for the events that followed since Aerys II lost his mind during his imprisonment. I liked the dichotomy that the Defiance was a high point in Barristan’s career since he single-handedly rescued the king, but he personally considers it a low point when he considers all the awful things the Mad King did and the war that stemmed from those actions.

Ser Barristan Selmy artwork is from an Italian Game of Thrones site Terra-di-Mezzo

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Jim Shooter's 1979 Dazzler Cartoon Treatment

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Jim Shooter quietly released a bombshell on his blog this week. [I’ve got to hand it to Shooter, most comicbook writers, and artists have thus far been giving their personal papers to Universities where they unfortunately will probably only even be seen by a few people a year. Stan Lee’s papers are at the University of Wyoming, hardly a heavily visited area. Or worse, their papers are slowly mildewing in their garages or attics. I’ve long envisioned all of their papers in one Archive, run by me of course, but that’s just a personal fantasy.] Anyway, Shooter is sharing his stories and his archives through his blog. You should check it out!

A recent post told the story of his treatment for a Dazzler animated television Special and included the treatment as a pdf. It is well known that the Disco Dazzler (as she was originally called when disco was still “cool” in the late 70’s) was created with the intention of piggy-backing the character with a real life singer who would have a recording career as the Dazzler. Anyway, this treatment that fortunately never saw the light of day was chock full of celebrity voices: Cher, Donna Summers, KISS, The Village People, Rodney Dangerfield, Robin Williams, and Lenny and Squiggy.

The Dazzler was going to be voiced by Bo Derek. If you look at the issue of People magazine Shooter put on his blog you can see Derek's boyfriend is holding a stack of Marvel comics. Derek was studying up.

However, someone else would have done the singing, so why not just cast the singer as the voice too? Hollywood is so baffling; didn’t this cartoon already have enough marquee names?

The Dazzler is performing at a concert at the beginning of the cartoon, but other than that there are no musical numbers in Shooter’s treatment. But, considering it was meant to launch the Dazzler’s real life counterpart’s music career and was full of popular musical artist’s voices, I’m sure the first draft of the script would have been full of musical interludes.

Shooter didn’t write any jokes for Williams, Dangerfield or Lenny and Squiggy, but he did point out that Lenny and Squiggy’s jokes would not be funny until the end of the cartoon when the two characters would meet for the first time. Just what every special needs, characters who are constantly unfunny on purpose!

The cartoon was going to feature Marvel characters so people would know the Dazzler was from the Marvel Universe. The characters were Spider-man and a collection of random Avengers (Iron Man, Beast, Scarlet Witch, the Wasp and the Falcon).

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The descriptions for the Avengers Shooter wrote into the treatment were written for someone who’d never seen a Marvel comic and were hilarious. Spider-man didn’t need to be introduced.

Iron Man- Secretly inventor Anthony Stark, who clad in solar-powered circuitized armor of his own design, is an invincible modern knight.

The Falcon- Whose rocket-powered wings give him the power of independent flight. He is actually Sam Wilson, a black teacher from Harlem.

The Scarlet Witch- Born Wanda Frank, she is a mutant, who with a gesture can cause disasters to occur. She is Eastern European, and has a rather formal bearing.

The Beast- Also a mutant, Hank McCoy is furry and bestial in powers and appearance, but extremely intelligent and erudite. He’s crazy.

The Wasp- Jan Van Dyne Pym was given a serum by her scientist-husband that enables her to shrink to insect size and sprout wings. She is an heiress, and very much a lovable scatterbrain.

Did I mention that nearly every character from Cher to Donna Summer, to KISS and The Village People were all going to have super powers of their own?

I don’t blame Casablanca Records for saying this treatment read more like a feature animated film because it was really ambitious, but in Shooter's defense he was only trying to use all the celebrity voice actors he’d been told to use. Given the enormous number of characters he was told to include in a half-hour show, I thought he did a decent job. But I am still very happy that soon after Shooter wrote this things changed at Casablanca Records and the Dazzler project died.

And the world had no idea the bullet it dodged until now. Mr. Shooter I don’t know if I want to thank you for releasing this or whether I wish you’d burned it. If you released it as a way of asking for forgiveness for this sin, I want you to know that I absolve and forgive you.

[The Spiderman and Dazzler drawing is by Tom Beland.]