Before I get started on this blog post, I just want to mention that I've never seen the show "Game of Thrones." This post is geared toward the book series that inspired that show (which, by the way, is actually named A Song of Ice And Fire. Game of Thrones is only the name of the first novel in the series. Dammit HBO).
There's obviously a lot of action in A Song of Ice and Fire. From titanic, gory battles to cold-blooded assassinations to wild and raucous sex scenes, the novels (and, from what I've been told, the show) are fast-paced and action-packed. As with all thrill-a-minute forms of entertainment, it's tempting to assume that A Song of Ice and Fire is nothing more than empty, mindless action. However, the novels actually have plenty to teach us. From the dangers of naivety to the importance of breaking the rules every so often, there are quite a few interesting lessons hidden among the war and politics that fill those pages.
Among all the lessons that A Song of Ice and Fire teaches us, though, the most interesting relates to stories and legends. Oftentimes in the books, characters tell stories like those of priest-king Baelor the Blessed, warrior-queen Nymeria, and engineer extraordinaire Brandon the Builder, legends about the history of their home. In all these legends the characters are portrayed as paragons of a single quality: Baelor is pious and just, Nymeria is fierce and independent, and Brandon is kind and brilliant. Quite frequently, the main characters in A Song of Ice And Fire despair that the age of these great heroes and legends is over, that their lives aren't the stuff of songs and epic poems, and that Westeros will never return to the pure and ideal land it was in the time of the legends they love.
At the same time, though, it's clear to the reader that the main characters in A Song Of Ice And Fire will one day become Westerosan legends themselves. Ned Stark will be a symbol of justice, Tyrion Lannister will represent cleverness, and Daenerys Targaryen will be remembered as the perfectly compassionate queen. The complexity of each character, however will be forgotten: no one will remember Ned's infidelity, Tyrion's desperate longing for a family that loves him, or Daenerys's quick temper. These characters, imperfect and ordinary humans that they are, will one day be remembered simply as paragons of a single quality or the catalysts of a single event. It's no leap of logic then to imagine that the legendary figures the characters in A Song Of Ice And Fire revere also flawed, far from perfect representations of the abstract qualities they're remembered as.
This lesson is one that we can apply to our own world, especially one in which recent events and an upcoming presidential election make us think more and more about our own history. History, especially ours, will always be somewhat of an idealized story. Because of our distance from it and our emotional connection to it, we will always struggle to see our history and our heroes as the complex and flawed humans they were instead of the perfect, idealized figures we want them to be. But we must try to remember that our forefathers were far from infallible, that they were just as capable of mistakes and evil as we are today. Otherwise, we risk infatuation with their ideas and determination to hold fast to their opinions and words, to live in their world even as our own world marches onward.
With excitement and optimism,