Welcome back, faithful read-listeners, to the official blog for the Page of Thrones podcast, where we read George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones page by page. Jeremy here with your weekly roundup. This week we covered pages 174-180, in which Catelyn Stark learns that the assassin who came after Bran used Tyrion Lannister’s dagger, and Jon Snow learns that the Brotherhood of the Night’s Watch is not all it was cracked up to be.
A Song Of Ice And Fire is about many things, but one of the things it’s about is outcasts and outsiders – and another thing it’s about is upsetting or reworking the tropes of epic fantasy. This second theme is something the TV adaptation doesn’t really do effectively – maybe because the TV audience isn’t as familiar with the tropes. But both themes are hard at work on these pages.
Jon and Tyrion, two of the pivotal POV characters are both outsiders. Jon by virtue of being a bastard, and Tyrion by virtue of being a dwarf. Both characters are born and raised in incredible privilege, but they don’t have the same access to it that their siblings do, simply by an accident of their birth.
Tyrion is forever treated as a monster, a sinister schemer and a lecherous fiend – an impression he leans into in order to make sure it can’t hurt him. Because we see things from Tyrion’s POV, we are sympathetic to him – we understand he’s not actually a monster – he’s a decent man whose great downfall is that he’s desperate for the approval of a father who will simply never be able to give it. (The irony being that Tyrion is actually the most like Tywin of the Lannister heirs – clever and practical, ruthless when necessary, dedicated to their family, a lover whose loss/betrayal forever scarred them.) Tyrion plays against our expectations of what a dwarf (not the Tolkien kind) must be in fantasy.
Jon is mocked and derided for being a bastard – even while he takes out his resentments on his fellow recruits at the Night’s Watch. He takes out his frustrations on his fellow recruits, beating the crap out of them in the training square. But his resentments go deeper than their mockery – at this point in the book Jon feels betrayed by all his adult role models (Eddard and Benjen) because they didn’t adequately prepare him for what the Night’s Watch is. In fact, his fellow outcast (and his family’s enemy) Tyrion Lannister is the only one who’s straight with him. Jon is in many ways the most traditional “fantasy hero” out of all the characters in ASOIAF, but even he isn’t perfectly moral. It takes Donal Noye and Tyrion slapping some sense into his sulky teenaged self before he realizes that he could make his life a whole lot easier by befriending his fellow recruits.
In a more traditional fantasy novel, the Night’s Watch would be what Jon expects it to be – what we expect it to be – a noble order of stalwart, honourable men who take their duty seriously and perform heroic, honorable deeds on behalf of the realm. GRRM instead shows us an order in decline, a pale shadow of what it might once have been, full of rapists and criminals and cruel, venal men made bitter by their lot in life. It might seem like old hat now, but when this book first came out in 1996, this kind of revisionist/deconstructionist approach to epic fantasy was entirely without precedent.
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