A Song of George

Today’s title is not another Beatles reference, or to the Concert for George in regard to the late great George Harrison.

Instead, we celebrate a different tune, A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin.  The power of television may trump the original book series in some ways, as many folks may only understand the story title as A Game of Thrones.

Either way, A Song of Ice and Fire is awesome and is another step along the inspirational path for me.  I realize the fandom nation of the fantasy epic are divided among the patient and the very impatient.   Yes, it is taking a long, long time, and fans are fearful of Mr. Martin’s age and the possibility we will never know the end of the story.  I am going to take the writer’s side on this one.

George Martin is having fun, his life’s work has earned him this moment to take as much time as he needs to finish the story.  Or not finish it, if fate decides otherwise.

Besides, we may not need him to adventure around Westeros.  The world is built, the heavy lifting is done. Martin is easily the greatest world builder since Tolkien. All that and the author has offered enough clues to get us within proximity of closure.

Of course, I’d rather read two more books and get some satisfaction of knowing the intended ending, but I don’t think George truly knows himself.  The rumors are that he has told the end of the story to HBO, in case they need closure to finish something for the hit television series.  However, I would contend he has told them what they needed to hear, some juicy plot reveals and an ending he has imagined.

That said, let us recall this was only going to be a three book series, then four of five and now we’re to seven with some discussion of the series going longer than than all that.  It may not officially conclude.  And it is okay.

We deal with this kind of situation every single day.  I merely need a volunteer from my studio audience.  Alright. You there, and nice shirt by the way, please tell me all about the epic end of Batman’s story.

No?

The famous caped crusader, around since 1930 and we don’t know how his story concludes?  Okay, Wonder Woman then.  Anyone?  We can jump over to Marvel movies and comic then, how about Spider-Man?  How amazing was the ending to his story?

Serial fiction. Comic books, movie series, comic strips, episodic television, soaps, etc. Did we really get an end to Star Trek or James Bond?  Heck, since George Lucas sold his baby to Disney, do we really think Star Wars will ever end?

George R.R. Martin through his fascination with knights, history, and a dash of demons and dragons, has built a self-sustaining universe.  He’s written some prequel adventures just for kicks, and it shows off just how versatile his world truly is.  Anyone who has yet to discover the prequel stories, the compilation hits the stands this fall.  A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, or the adventures of Dunk and Egg occur about one century before A Song of Ice and Fire begins.

Wolves, Dragons or Lions, oh my. The family histories can be discovered any time, any year, in nearly any place.  We all have our favorite corners of Westeros.  My very favorite place, despite the current condition, is Winterfell.  Yes, George hates me, and all of us Starks.  I try to forgive, that’s what fans do.  And I’m fairly certain many will when the next book in the series lands on the stands.

I met George once, as much as one human can meet another at a book signing with a line that went as far back as I could see.  Each person in line was allowed to ask one question, and I worked so hard to generate something original, I think I threw him off just a bit.  All of the castles in A Song of Ice and Fire are so detailed, they may as well be characters themselves.  Thus, I asked Mr. Martin, of all the castles he has built, to choose his favorite one.

He told me I have not seen it yet.  It is true, only he has seen Casterly Rock to this point, but now I’m also looking forward to visiting there. Other artists have painted their versions, utilizing their imagination, which is really the ultimate point.  George has built a world for us to wander, whether we’re reading it, watching it or daydreaming about repairing the guard towers at Winterfell.

I will endure this time of waiting.  It’s a really good song, even if I have make up the ending.  After all, if Batman is forever, so is that know nothing Jon Snow.

I Saw Her Standing There

Not all of the lyrics from that Beatles’ classic apply here, but it works.

In the midst of finishing this first novel sized fiction, a story I started on paper over a decade ago, I had never “seen” my protagonist.  That was until yesterday afternoon when I was looking over art to add to my Pinterest boards.  Yes, Pinterest, but I can explain that later.  The fun part was stumbling upon a physical representation of my warrior female protagonist.  I can share her ‘real’ name later, when I am a bit closer to release.  I would hate to see the character name used a few dozen more times before the book gets out the door.

That aside, I wasn’t looking specifically for her, but it is about time to find an artist and commission a cover for this novel.  The concept of trying to describe a character that has been adventuring around in my brain for ten years plus is a complicated thing.  While her first substantive tale is being transcribed onto the computer, in my imagination, she has vanquished many a foe since then.  I realized that while I can write down a description, the visual perception can be vastly different when I hand off my notes to an artist.

So, it was pretty cool to be going through a number of renditions of women in battle armor — some armor was barely there, some was a bit fanciful, but the very practical looking battle gear was what I was looking for, when she appeared among   the screens I was flipping through.  While her hair as a shade darker than I imagined, the shadow could account for that, and she was five years older than she is in this story, it was her, The Last Duchess of Soahren.

It is an amazing thing to see my hero become real.

Now I have something I can send off to a cover artist as a full on starting point, minus the years and hair, plus the unique stylings of each artist will still evolve the original reference point, but it sure is a fun start.

I had to admit, until I found that tangible evidence, I still had some doubts about going with this as my first story to share with the planet.  Of the four other projects I have going or had already written, all of them included male protagonists.  And, I think some of them are more unique than my Duchess’ heroes journey, but the world has a pretty good pile of dude warrior stories on the shelf.

Again, this was something I started a long time ago, before cool animated features like Brave.  Xena on television did a great job as well, but we still can’t seem to get Wonder Woman back on the small screen or the big screen.  Apparently, she will show up with all the other guys in the next Superman/Batman/Justice League film, just not on her own terms.

And I don’t have daughters who need to be inspired by any of my fictional machinations, although I do have a bunch of nieces, all who have the potential to be badass lead characters of their own lives.  Maybe they will see something they enjoy in this adventure.

Ultimately, I just don’t see enough cool women kicking down doors.

The world is getting closer, and I’m willing to help.  This story isn’t political in that way, I’m merely writing the type of medieval fantasy style story I didn’t see growing up.  Inspired in part by all the strong women who were and are positive influences in my life.  Chief among them, my mom, my grandmother, my aunt, and of course, my wife, who all kick in doors as required.

One more strong, fictional woman may not change the world, but it is a lot of fun to watch her change her world.  Now that I saw her standing there, I can barely wait for other people meet her too.

One Tolkien To Rule Them All

I think anytime the total number of books sold wanders within range of holy books, the work speaks for itself.  While it is always dangerous to equate quality with popularity, connecting with over 150 million readers is a pretty big deal.

But I’m very biased in this case.

J.R.R. Tolkien not only built a world of fantasy and philosophy, filled with various races, monsters, languages and lands — his combination of poetry, riddles, song, epic battles and the good hearted conquering impossible evil odds helped to build and shape my world as well.

When I looked up some information on the website Tolkien Books, I was surprised to discover the series had sold only 171,000 copies in the first decade of publication.  I found it interesting the series gained substantial ground in subsequent decades, before finding a place in everyday culture with mega blockbuster movies and all.

Interesting, yet unsurprising since it was so not cool to admit you were reading fantasy novels in the early 1980’s.  Or worse, to play the fantasy games inspired by Tolkien at that time either.  Oh sure, nerds rule the world now, it just took a while.

Admittedly, fantasy can still be considered an intellectual stepchild when contrasted with other fiction genres, but the impact of the The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings on the modern world cannot be ignored.  When jokes about hobbits and precious power rings make it to late night talk show monologues, even the most ardent critics have little room to marginalize Tolkien’s epic.

Whether read as an analog to industry and technology sweeping nature aside, or a unique way to show the effects of racism among peoples, or the need to unite against a great threat are all reasons to love the work beyond the Elvish riddles written above doorways.   If you enjoy it because it was a classic hero’s journey, or a story of redemption for the grandson of a failed king, there many paths to take in this massive adventure through Middle Earth.

I think Tolkien saw a lot of what I see in the world.  I believe his writing connects because anyone alone in a forest, with any kind of imagination can begin to see the trees move on their own. If we stay too long in those woods we can almost see shadowy creatures stirring beneath piles of pine needles or hear unmistakably supernatural sounds in the dark, as the sun fades away.

I love that Tolkien loved Beowulf and Le Morte d’Arthur, which were two amazing stories I later discovered and read because of the influence of Lord of the Rings.  I later found Robert E. Howard, Anne McCaffery, Stephen R. Donaldson, Raymond Feist, George R.R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss due to my first adventures with swords like Sting, that would glow when evil orcs and goblins drew too near.

Fantasy and myth have always been more than escapism to me, they reflect the human spirit as “realistically” as any kind of storytelling.  As the wise Neil Gaiman once said, “Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

One of my dragons is thinking it may not be possible to write anything closely resembling a saga the likes of Tolkien.  But knowing his work kicked open the proverbial Elven door, allowing my imagination to produce some unique adventures as well, then I shall take little hobbit steps forward on my own.

After all, while Tolkien dreamed up everything from maps of new worlds to giant spiders, I doubt he imagined his words would be purchased 150 million times and counting.