Part of the pleasure of reading any great work is talking about it with your friends, sharing your discoveries, birthing crackpot theories, and shooting them down just as quickly.
Based on that, Marc N. Kleinhenz is having a ball. As editor of the new collection of essays Tower of the Hand: A Flight of Sorrows (Blue Buddha Press), Kleinhenz and his collaborators delve deep into the world of Westeros and draw out some amazing analyses of Martin’s epic series, A Song of Ice and Fire.
A video game journalist and regular contributor to the TowerOfTheHand.com website, Kleinhenz has gathered a set of essays that go far beyond the realm of typical “fan” sites, instead studying the literary aspects of the series thus far. Wisely, with its divergence from the source material, he and his associates only obliquely reference the hit HBO series, choosing rather to go in-depth on the original source material.
And, what great depths they plumb. These aren’t light, easily-read articles designed to create more fans and increase hits. These are meaty, multifaceted analyses that demand a more-than-passing familiarity of the works at hand. More than once, I found myself returning to the Ice and Fire websites, such as TOTH and WinterIsComing.net, to refresh myself on some facet of the story that I had missed, and finding a greater depth to the work than I had originally gleaned.
Stefan Sasse’s “Under A Bleeding Star” examines the use of prophecy and dreams, their interpretations (and misinterpretations), and the impact of them on the characters and land itself. And, Sasse wisely chooses to include aspects of prophecy from the lands across the sea, to show that it affects savage and civilized, regal and common.
“Daggers In The Dark” by Miles Schneiderman addresses the possible end of a character in great detail, from both the aspect of the story, the possibilities of life and death and rebirth, of magic and prophecy, and from the angle of storytelling itself, arguing both for and against the ideas of “plot armor” and false character death. Schneiderman goes into great detail to examine death from both major and minor characters. Yes, major characters die, but they don’t always stay dead.
Alexander Smith’s “The Prince That Illyrio Promised” touches primarily on events in A Dance With Dragons, delving deep into the possible motives of Illyrio Mopatis, a magister of Pentos and the arranger of Danerys’ marriage to a Dothraki khalasar. But, rather than a businessman looking for access to new trade or to curry royal favor, Smith proposes an alternately sinister and patient theory to his motives and goals. Be ready to study your Targaryen history on this compelling piece.
“A Game of Beds” author Amin Javadi studies the double standards of adultery in the series, both marital and extramarital, and their manipulation by the smarter and more often wronged parties in each contract. Javadi doesn’t limit the scope to only the current stories, but also digs deep into the past to show how it is a never-ending cycle that reaps its dark bounty, generation after generation.
John Jasmin’s “Every Case is Different, Ever Case is Alike” might have been subtitled CSI: Westeros by a lesser writer, but in Jasmin’s hands, the investigation of murder takes on a vibrancy that compels you to read on, even though you already know what happens. Focusing primarily on Ned Stark’s investigation of the murder of Jon Arryn, Jasmin also highlights the fact that murder knows no rank, occurring to both high and low born.
Douglas Cohen presents an NFL-style power-ranking of his ten most powerful (still living) characters in his essay “You Win or You Sit on the Bench,” including three up-and-comers to watch.
Kleinhenz also contributes “The Narratives of Winter,” a powerful piece on the structure of storytelling in the Ice and Fire saga. “Narratives” includes a brief recap of Martin’s creation of the saga from its brief opening scene to the originally intended trilogy and growth into the currently projected seven-book cycle. But, Kleinenz also keeps an eye on the original root ideas in his analysis, portraying it as basically a seven-book trilogy, divided nicely into three acts.
And, Mimi Hoshut closes the volume with her thorough study of the stories of Dunk and Egg, a stand-alone trilogy of novellas (The Hedge Knight, The Sworn Sword, and The Mystery Knight), taking place some 90 years before the events of the first book, A Game of Thrones. Hoshut places them in the context of the work we know, showing their potential reverberations in the current books and also provides a greater understanding of the Targaryen dynasty and the events that took place before and lead up to the Ice and Fire saga.
Is this an easy read? No, not to the casual reader of the series. Will it enhance the experience? Oh, god, yes! These are erudite, well-considered pieces of work, written by people with an obvious great love for the series, but also the intelligence to consider more than one side to any question. If you’re looking for someone to share your thoughts about the series before Winds of Winter comes up, look no further. You’ve found your clan here.