February 3, 2016
Right now I am simultaneously reading Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings. There is quite a contrast in style, and there is also quite a contrast in tone. There is also a difference of opinion in what is considered to be moral conduct, morality, and good and evil.
In Middle Earth, good and evil are well-defined. Evil knows it is evil, and is quite unrepentant. Evil is determined to ride that torpedo all the way to the end, knowing full well it is responsible for corruption and destruction. Even the characters who outwardly pretend to be good know that they are evil. For example, the Master of Laketown. He has such a thinly-veiled persona that you can tell that even he doesn’t believe his own crap.
And good is good is freaking GOOD. Again, it is clear. Characters are humble. Characters are brave. Characters overcome fears. They say they are sorry. They drop age-old prejudices. Good is good is freaking GOOD.
Then, there’s Westeros. In Book One, all you want is to see Tyrion take a dive through the moon door and have somebody chop off Jamie’s smug head. You sympathize with the oafish, drunken king, because he is surrounded by conspirators and were it not for such rampant ambition, he might be left alone to be an ineffectual king in a post-war era of peace, the likes of which history will ultimately speak kindly. However, by Book Three your eyes turn misty as Jamie tells the troop to turn around and go fetch Brienne, you are hoping dearly that Tyrion knows of a way to knock his demon-spawn nephew off of his pedestal, and you curse the idiots who elevated Robert Baratheon to his ill-fated position.
Because life isn’t that simple, Matthew. I love The Lord of the Rings, because all loose ends are ultimately tied. I’m not quite finished with the series, but the author cleans up neatly after himself as he goes along. There are no loose threads, simply a good-old-fashioned linear story line with a clear-cut conflict and almost painfully apparent sides.
Meanwhile, in Westeros, you find yourself oddly sympathetic of Theon Greyjoy. After all, no man deserves such humiliation. The systematic emasculation, however, of certain characters seems more the style of Martin. He doesn’t just let a bad guy die. He makes them suffer. He gives them such a bruising that you are left to pity them. You want to pick them up and brush them off. They’ve been taken down more pegs than a normal human can even be taken down. They’ve suffered in ways that you wouldn’t even wish upon your enemies.
And let’s call it what it is: regardless of what happened to them, Jamie and Theon are bad guys. My thoughts on the line between sympathy and pity are unflinchingly rigid: sympathy is reserved for victims, while pity is designated for those who have dug their own grave. Perhaps Jamie and Theon were merely pawns in this colossal game, but I don’t like going too far down that road of thought, simply because I know that the author is daring me to do so, and Tolkien is insisting that I ignore that impulse.
I’ve alluded to wanting my own story to end like Lord of the Rings (informed by the film and not yet by the completion of the novels, just so we are clear). However, the farther I go down this road, the more I realize the duality of man. As much as I want to fight it, even my own duality is shining through so brightly that it leaves me more than just a little shocked. Some days my trail song is “Road Goes Ever On,” and some days only “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” will suffice.
I must admit, though, that coming to terms with my own duality certainly has done well to curtail the anger I’ve felt for some time towards the people at this job. I think most of them are barely hanging on, and I also think that they see their own duality as well, but are either too powerless or too far down that road to change. There are days where I feel like Petyr Baelish and just want to step on their heads to get to the top, while other days I feel like the High Sparrow and I just want to save them from themselves. However, there are also days where the quiet life of a ranger seems most suitable.
And please don’t get me started on how much I envy those happy-go-lucky hobbits. If only life were that simple, Matthew…
Because life is Game of Thrones. We can strive for a Lord of the Rings ending, so long as we realize that our best laid plans are absolutely flawless until our threads become intertwined. I think that is the whole point of Game of Thrones. Threads don’t always come together to form a nice, pretty rope. They get tangled, they get frayed, they snap, and they even get discarded when it seems they are no longer serviceable.
Who am I in the grand scheme of things? Why, I’m just a bastard. I’m just a baseborn son with no name to elevate me. I’m more a Game of Thrones character than one from Lord of the Rings, and I make no bones about who and what I am. However, if Game of Thrones has taught me one thing, nobody is nobody unless they choose to be.