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Why the Sympathy?


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#1 Kittykatknits

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Posted 11 December 2012 - 10:36 PM

A recent thread about the best written characters in the series led to a side conversation about Martin's decision to write certain characters in a more sympathetic nature than others. Eadaoin, jons nissa, and I began putting together some theories to explain why Martin chose this approach.

The re-read threads for both Tyrion and Arya have pointed out many narrative tricks that Martin has used to cast the characters in a sympathetic light, starting with their introductions early in GOT. Arya is a modern character and is therefore easy for us to identify with. Her values and attitudes are similar to our own. I've often heard Tyrion described as the author's avatar and it's well known that he is Martin's favorite character.

In contrast, Catelyn and Sansa are portrayed negatively, with that approach seeming the strongest in GOT as well. Both characters are very much products of their world. Sansa has been raised as the eldest daughter of one of the most powerful Houses in Westeros and was being groomed for her future role of Lady Wife. She is portrayed as class-conscious and overly naive, sometimes to the point where it strains credulity. Her actions serve to set her apart from the rest of her family, at times leading to a permanent dispike by some fans. Catelyn is also very much a product of her world. She is a woman who thinks of her family's political needs and carries the negative beliefs regarding bastards. From the beginning, she is cast in oppositon to Jon, a character who is presented as "good" almost from the opening lines of the books. These two characters almost appear alien to us, especially when compared to Arya and Tyrion.

Despite the different approaches taken to these four characters, they are still considered some of the best written and most complex characters in the series. Their story arcs engage us and their characters grow through some dramatic changes, whether that is Sansa's loss of innocence, Cat's journey into ever deepening grief, Tyrion's struggle over whether to embrace his inner monster, or Arya's growing rage and thoughts of vengeance.

Martin appears to be playing with reader expectations, breaking from traditional expectations of characters. By doing so, Tyrion's story at the end of Storm and further in to Dance appears more shocking to us readers. For characters such as Sansa and Theon, they seem to be almost different people than where they started the series. The POV structure GRRM uses forces us to constantly reevaluate our understanding of the story and the characters.

Yet, comments from GRRM may point to another reason behind his decisions:

(Chicago, IL; May 6-8)

At the koffeklatche, George said the two favorite characters were Tyrion and Arya. The least favorites were Sansa and Catelyn. (This annoyed me to no end, as Sansa is my personal favorite.)



Amazon.co.uk Interview

[Note: The precise date, beyond July 2000, is unknown.]

(3) Arya was one of the first characters created. Sansa came about as a total opposite b/c too many of the Stark family members were getting along and familes aren't like that. Thus, Sansa was created; he ended by saying they have deep issues to work out.



http://www.amazon.co...1281322-7450821

Amazon.co.uk: You write children well.


Martin:

<snip>

The hardest chapters for me to write are the ones about Bran, just because he is the character most involved in magic, the youngest child and he is so seriously crippled--I have to write in that sense of powerlessness and it has always to convince. Sansa was the least sympathetic of the Starks in the first book; she has become more sympathetic, partly because she comes to accept responsibility for her part in her father's death. Jon Snow is the truest character--I like his sense of realism and the way he copes with his bastardy.



Martin's least favorite characters happen to be Sansa and Catelyn, the same two who he has written in a less sympathetic manner. Is it possible that Martin chose to write his favorites in a more lenient manner, perhaps even unconsciously?

So, in a series filled with complex and rich characters, what has led Martin to choose which characters to portray in a sympathetic manner? Perhaps even more importantly, what did he hope to accomplish? And perhaps most important of all, knowing that Martin does this, what does this mean for us as readers and should it lead us to reconsider our opinions regarding some of the characters?

#2 Éadaoin

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Posted 11 December 2012 - 10:42 PM

Aw yay, I was waiting for this post.

Looking at the way it is worded - could it possible that GRRM is not referring to his least favorite characters here, but to the fanbase's?

I have to go get some work done, but I'll be back.

#3 Kittykatknits

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Posted 11 December 2012 - 10:47 PM

Aw yay, I was waiting for this post.

My usual writer's block when staring at a blank screen kicked in. /smile.png' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':)' />

Looking at the way it is worded - could it possible that GRRM is not referring to his least favorite characters here, but to the fanbase's?

This is a good question and it's hard to know for certain. Unfortunately, it's a relay of Martin's words so may not match what he actually said 100%.

#4 Sarosh

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Posted 11 December 2012 - 10:48 PM

Like you yourself said, it might be an unconscious thing on Martin's part. To really answer why he writes particular characters more sympathetically than others, or, more pertinently, why characters like Tyrion, who Martin has said he identifies with (though he's also said that Sam is closer to an actual author avatar sort of type), or Arya are his favorites, may not be a question we can solve off of the text or even the higher themes of the story; instead, we would have to know more about the author himself. It could simply be that Martin is not as objective about all of his characters as particular readers would prefer for their own favorites, but it might require really warging into him to figure it all out.

#5 Florina Laufeyson

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Posted 11 December 2012 - 10:50 PM

Catelyn and Sansa are portrayed negatively

I think i may argue this to my grave, but i really dont see the thing with Cat. Sansa? Yeah sure. But Cat? Sure, being in her head was no picnic but really, i fail to see how she isnt sympathetic. Even the shit she pulls with Tyrion (Mr. Sympathy) had me rooting for her. So yeah, i just dont get that one.

But to answer your question, i think it has a lot to do with character development. Arya starts out exceedingly sympathetic. While she still is, it did lead to some readers wondering if she's still a hero character. Catelyn must face a lot of decisions and she attempts to make them, leading to greater character development. Sansa begins as this vapid little girl, but goes through a shit ton of character development that leads many to not just grow fond of her, but to outright root for her. Tyrion begins as Mr. Awesome Guy and over the course of the series, he loses many readers' love along the way. (It is known.)

Theon begins as Douchecanoe and becomes one of the most sympathetic characters in the last book. I think its all a matter of character study and Martin really seeing what he can do with these archetypes.

#6 Castel

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Posted 11 December 2012 - 10:58 PM

The re-read threads for both Tyrion and Arya have pointed out many narrative tricks that Martin has used to cast the characters in a sympathetic light, starting with their introductions early in GOT


I'll finally have to read those threads (sigh, so many pages) to see what you're talking about.

But I will say that for all four of those characters, I think that reader perception plays a huge part. I dunno, I think that a lot of times people take the character's viewpoints for granted and don't think about how those people are basically rationalizing. Now, there can be an imbalance here, like when Tyrion has a bunch of chapters complaining about his marriage to Sansa and Sansa has fewer chapters.

Martin's least favorite characters happen to be Sansa and Catelyn, the same two who he has written in a less sympathetic manner. Is it possible that Martin chose to write his favorites in a more lenient manner, perhaps even unconsciously?

So, in a series filled with complex and rich characters, what has led Martin to choose which characters to portray in a sympathetic manner? Perhaps even more importantly, what did he hope to accomplish? And perhaps most important of all, knowing that Martin does this, what does this mean for us as readers and should it lead us to reconsider our opinions regarding some of the characters?




He might've.On the other hand they may be his least favorite because of where he had to go with them. The problem I have with definitions is that I find it difficult to draw the line. Is Cat unsympathetic because of the things she said to Jon, or is she unsympathetic because of the way the things she said to Jon are written? The former raises a lot of questions, the latter is easier to prove.

I

Edited by Castel, 11 December 2012 - 11:00 PM.


#7 Fire Eater

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Posted 11 December 2012 - 10:59 PM

The only beef most people, including me, have with Catelyn is her treatment of Jon Snow not just the infamous scene when Jon goes to visit Bran, but also later when Robb states that Jon would never harm a son of his, she replies no more than Ned thought Theon would never harm Bran or Rickon; that was uncalled for. GRRM likes to create gray characters, and Cat's attitude towards and treatment of Jon is meant to be an aspect of her that keeps her from being completely white and more gray.

Other than that, Cat is shown in a positive light as she cares for her children deeply, is skilled in politics to a degree and she shows compassion for others.

Sansa is supposed to be annoying at the beginning, but she develops a lot and readers really start to sympathize with her as she is abused by Joffrey, and forced to be isolated without anyone to trust, and then forced to marry Tyrion. She demonstrates intelligence and courage as she goes along.

Edited by Fire Eater, 12 December 2012 - 09:42 AM.


#8 Kittykatknits

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Posted 11 December 2012 - 11:05 PM

I think i may argue this to my grave, but i really dont see the thing with Cat. Sansa? Yeah sure. But Cat? Sure, being in her head was no picnic but really, i fail to see how she isnt sympathetic. Even the shit she pulls with Tyrion (Mr. Sympathy) had me rooting for her. So yeah, i just dont get that one.

But to answer your question, i think it has a lot to do with character development. Arya starts out exceedingly sympathetic. While she still is, it did lead to some readers wondering if she's still a hero character. Catelyn must face a lot of decisions and she attempts to make them, leading to greater character development. Sansa begins as this vapid little girl, but goes through a shit ton of character development that leads many to not just grow fond of her, but to outright root for her. Tyrion begins as Mr. Awesome Guy and over the course of the series, he loses many readers' love along the way. (It is known.)

Theon begins as Douchecanoe and becomes one of the most sympathetic characters in the last book. I think its all a matter of character study and Martin really seeing what he can do with these archetypes.

Cat was set up in opposition to Jon almost from the beginning and it does seem that many struggle with that. Now, I don't know what the author's intent was with this and I don't want to guess. For me, she was also sympathetic from the beginning. It was clear that her goal has been centered around her family from the beginning, a position that I can understand and identify with.

I'll finally have to read those threads (sigh, so many pages) to see what you're talking about.

But I will say that for all four of those characters, I think that reader perception plays a huge part. I dunno, I think that a lot of times people take the character's viewpoints for granted and don't think about how those people are basically rationalizing. Now, there can be an imbalance here, like when Tyrion has a bunch of chapters complaining about his marriage to Sansa and Sansa has fewer chapters.

I do recomend the re-read threads for both Tyrion and Arya. Some of the analysis has been amazing. Symbolism and foreshadowing that I've never seen brought up before has been pointed out. In the Tyrion threads, there was a recent discussion of the dynamics between Tyrion and Tywin that was, far and away, the best I have ever seen. Lots of pages but worth the effort.

I admit that I had considered whether readers where taking in to account character viewpoints but chose not to include that in the OP. Characters are going to rationalize and present their view of the world. Of course, we know that their thoughts are not necessarily the truth, just their thoughts.

Edited by Kittykatknits, 11 December 2012 - 11:08 PM.


#9 Dolorous Nedd

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Posted 11 December 2012 - 11:12 PM

I have been thinking more about Tyrion and he is a bit more evil than I originally thought. It's amazing how on the first reading the reader can fairly easily forgive his murder of Shae. Out of everything he has done, that is the one that really bothers me.

As for Sansa...On the 2nd reading of AGoT she bothers me even more than she did before. Her character is almost creepy in a way.

With Catelyn I actually feel a little bit better about her character than I originally did.

I will always be an Arya fan no matter what. If she totally goes to the dark side it will be a great tragedy though. The progression of how she ends up getting to the point of joining the FM seems so natural given the horribly violent circumstances she goes through. She learned that killing is the only way out of trouble too many times.

Edited by Dolorous Nedd, 11 December 2012 - 11:14 PM.


#10 danm_999

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Posted 11 December 2012 - 11:16 PM

I definitely think Martin wrote Sansa as giving a mixed first impression for most of AGoT. That's partially because there needs to be a foil for Arya and Ned, and partially because Sansa's arc requires that transformation from someone who is naive, and a tad unlikeable.

ACoK then sets to reverse that portrayal. Sansa's first chapter has a pretty classic "save the cat" moment when she risks herself to stop Joffrey from executing Dontos Hollard, and is followed by her physical and emotional maturation (her flowering and her calming of the women in Maegor's respectively). Sansa looks at the Tyrell cousins in ASoS, and essentially sees herself before the events of AGoT. From then on, Sansa becomes increasingly likeable, culminating in a character at the end of AFFC that is remarkably more perceptive, brave and quite a bit more compassionate.

I also definitely think Martin used similar tricks to get us onside with Tyrion, because he knew he'd have Tyrion do some pretty unlikeable things in subsequent novels. Tyrion's shown as clever, compassionate and funny, all of which endear him to modern readers, and seems to be a victim of circumstance; getting locked in the skycells for something he didn't do, giving Bran the special saddle and befriending Jon Snow.

#11 Castel

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Posted 11 December 2012 - 11:22 PM

I admit that I had considered whether readers where taking in to account character viewpoints but chose not to include that in the OP. Characters are going to rationalize and present their view of the world. Of course, we know that their thoughts are not necessarily the truth, just their thoughts.



I think a lot of it depends on the action. Tyrion can feed a bunch of Antler Men to Joff and get no flak for it because...well, no one cares and it's easy to make utilitarian arguments here . On the other hand, people like Jon, so saying something bad about him can lead people to dislike you more than they would otherwise.Also, I kind of get the sense that there's more of a personal dimension to the way people judge someone telling a small boy he should have died.I think that this is especially true with Cat, I've heard some complaints that basically boil down to:"She's annoying Robb by telling him the truth".

The question is: did Martin do this deliberately? I've heard people say that he's surprised at how much hate Cat has received.I don't know if he could have predicted that it would be as big as it is, considering that it's one transgression followed by long stretches where all she's trying to do is save her family. I think a lot of times the readers just grab hold of it and the author can't make people decide how to see things.

Sansa I think was written to be unlikeable. But I don't know, I can't really jump on an author for a third person limited rationalization, that is as it should be. But at the same time if you eliminate that the main complaint would be the events he writes the characters into. And I'm a bit uncomfortable about claiming that Martin shouldn't have say, put Tyrion in a position where he threatened Illyrio's slave/

Edited by Castel, 11 December 2012 - 11:25 PM.


#12 Lord Damian

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Posted 11 December 2012 - 11:22 PM

Tyrion has been kicked around emotionally and socially all of his life because he did not fit the "ideal" mold of a lordling in his world. Martin may have felt that way about himself in his younger years therefore Tyrion is a character that he and others including myself can sympathize with.

#13 Florina Laufeyson

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Posted 11 December 2012 - 11:24 PM

Cat was set up in opposition to Jon almost from the beginning and it does seem that many struggle with that. Now, I don't know what the author's intent was with this and I don't want to guess.

You dont wonder if that happened to present both characters with a challenge? Jon with the "step-mother" hurdle and Catelyn with the whole "kid from another woman" thing? As i said before in that other thread, its credit to Martin that he can write that type of scenario and people being able to sympathize with both characters. I dont think Cat's detesting Jon is an attempt to make her more "grey" as much as it is to provide the opinion of someone with her type of POV. If people still struggle with that in terms of Cat's character, well....i just dont even. /tongue.png' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':P' />

#14 Éadaoin

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Posted 11 December 2012 - 11:28 PM

Cat was set up in opposition to Jon almost from the beginning and it does seem that many struggle with that. Now, I don't know what the author's intent was with this and I don't want to guess. For me, she was also sympathetic from the beginning. It was clear that her goal has been centered around her family from the beginning, a position that I can understand and identify with.


The way the Cat/Jon relationship is framed is really interesting to me. For one, how we see her snap at him in Jon's POV, not Cat's. I do think Cat is meant to be sympathetic overall but I wonder how much GRRM considered the effects of the Cat/Jon dynamic. I feel that he had to have some idea as to how some people would respond - though I think he's said he is surprised by the amount of sheer vitriol she gets.

I'm not saying it's wrong to have written Cat the way he did; I think she's a brilliant character. I just wonder how much he pondered the effects of the whole Cat/Jon thing.

#15 Dolorous Nedd

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Posted 11 December 2012 - 11:29 PM

The only beef most people, including me, have with Catelyn is her treatment of Jon Snow not just the infamous scene when Jon goes to visit, and later when Robb states that Jon would never harm a son of his, she replies no more than Ned thought Theon would never harm Bran or Rickon; that was uncalled for. GRRM likes to create gray characters, and Cat's attitude towards and treatment of Jon is meant to be an aspect of her that keeps her from being completely white and more gray.

Other than that, Cat is shown in a positive light as she cares for her children deeply, is skilled in politics to a degree and she shows compassion for others.

Sansa is supposed to be annoying at the beginning, but she develops a lot and readers really start to sympathize with her as she is abused by Joffrey, and forced to be isolated without anyone to trust, and is then forced to marry Tyrion. She demonstrates intelligence and courage as she goes along.


It bothers me a little bit how she ends up placing more importance on so many things before getting back to Bran and Rickon. Those two needed her more than anyone and she failed them. Not totally her fault, but she could have chosen differently. The root of it was that she condemned Tyrion with only one piece of evidence. I will never feel warm and fuzzy about her character.

Edited by Dolorous Nedd, 11 December 2012 - 11:29 PM.


#16 Dolorous Nedd

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Posted 11 December 2012 - 11:32 PM

The way the Cat/Jon relationship is framed is really interesting to me. For one, how we see her snap at him in Jon's POV, not Cat's. I do think Cat is meant to be sympathetic overall but I wonder how much GRRM considered the effects of the Cat/Jon dynamic. I feel that he had to have some idea as to how some people would respond - though I think he's said he is surprised by the amount of sheer vitriol she gets.

I'm not saying it's wrong to have written Cat the way he did; I think she's a brilliant character. I just wonder how much he pondered the effects of the whole Cat/Jon thing.


In the modern world bastards are viewed so differently. Her behavior toward Jon is outrageous by our standards.

#17 Castel

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Posted 11 December 2012 - 11:34 PM

In the modern world bastards are viewed so differently. Her behavior toward Jon is outrageous by our standards.


I would think that for most people not living in a polygamous society (or one with a focus on romantic love) people would understand someone being forced to raise someone else's child on top of being put into an arranged marriage.

#18 Winter's Knight

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Posted 12 December 2012 - 04:14 AM

I think the reason Tyrion is so sympathetic is because he tells us to be. He's the unappreciated smart guy whose family never understands him, whose got a beautiful, strong, famous older brother he can never live up to. He doesn't look good so the ladies hate him. Through no fault of his own, he is hated by everyone.

That's the first impression and we accept it because everyone at some point has felt like the unappreciated outsider that no one appreciates. So later, when we see that he isn't as unloved as we thought-Tommen, Mycella and Gerion all seem to love him-, or that he breaks a singer's fingers and possibly reduce him to begging, when he callously mocks the corpse of a helpless innkeeper his father slaughtered, it doesn't register because he's had such a hard life you guys!

You know that awful guy you had a crush on in high school? The one that told you how he was so misunderstood and it wasn't his fault that everyone hated him?And you told all your friends how He's not so bad, he just needs to be loved? Tyrion is that guy.

#19 Daphne23

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Posted 12 December 2012 - 04:46 AM

The re-read threads for both Tyrion and Arya have pointed out many narrative tricks that Martin has used to cast the characters in a sympathetic light, starting with their introductions early in GOT...In contrast, Catelyn and Sansa are portrayed negatively, with that approach seeming the strongest in GOT as well.


I'm not sure this is going to be a very popular view, but in terms of writing style and literary quality, I've long maintained (in my own head rather than in any well-thought out posts!) that Game is the weakest book of the series (I would say Dance is the weakest in terms of structure and storytelling). I enjoyed reading it enormously, and it is not a bad book by any stretch of the imagination, but in hindsight it feels 'thinner' to me than the rest of the series. To jump into theorising, I'm not very familiar with GRRM's earlier work, but in beginning A Song of Ice and Fire, he was clearly embarking on a much larger project than he had tackled in the past, novels-wise, anyway, and I think some of that nervousness shows. (In contrast, his stand-alone Fevre Dream is less daring but also better-structured and more internally consistent than Game.)

This may explain why he tries so hard to make Tyrion, Arya and Jon sympathetic. Ironically, GRRM would have had the future trajectories of the characters very clearly in his head, and we know that Tyrion and Arya both take very dark paths - and it's possible that Jon's arc may turn darker in the future. He needs to garner reader sympathy for these characters before it's too late, and I think he goes over-the-top in doing so:
  • As the Arya re-read has shown, Arya's likeability is constantly displayed to the reader. I personally feel that GRRM should have trusted enough to Arya's innate appeal not to thrust how brilliant she is in the reader's face all the time. (Because I'm contrary, this put me off her and it's taken me five books to start liking her again!)
  • I think the infamous 'It should have been you' scene between Cat and Jon is more about the presentation of Jon as a character than Cat. Cat's attitude to Jon was wrong, but I think if this scene was intended primarily to showcase this it would be much more low-key and more representative of their interactions on a day-to-day basis. Instead, we have little idea of how Jon and Cat normally interacted, and one violent incident that GRRM has said himself was unprecedented. I think GRRM manoeuvred a grieving Cat into this scene not to show that she's a horrible person, but to demonstrate Jon's isolation and, again, to get the reader on side for his journey. (I must say, this worked for me when I first read Game!)
  • Tyrion is not directly opposed to Cat or Sansa until later in the novels, when Cat arrests him, but as noted, by then he has the full weight of reader sympathy as a 'misfit', whereas Cat clearly fits - or has made herself fit - better into Westerosi society. Ironically again, Cat's natural impulsiveness, strength of emotion, and sense of justice (much like Arya's) are not a good fit for the role she plays, although she has learnt to subsume these traits, and if GRRM had made more of her youthful struggle to adapt to being a great lady, I imagine she'd have more sympathy... but I'm glad he didn't. I like Cat the way she is.
In contrast, as has already been discussed, I think Sansa is intended to be unsympathetic in Game, although as I noted in the previous thread, GRRM makes her a bit too selfish and naive to make her complete turnaround at the end of the book and in Clash entirely believable. Some of Sansa's reactions in Game - e.g. after Jory and the others are killed, and she seems fairly uninterested - just couldn't be credited to the character we see as early as Clash. As for Cat, I don't think GRRM ever considered that she would be so unpopular, and I believe he's expressed surprise at how much she is disliked by fans. I share his puzzlement, as I would never have predicted Cat's unpopularity myself. Unfortunately, as she is pitted against favourites like Jon and Tyrion, I think he underestimated how popular these characters would be.

Finally, I think both Sansa and Catelyn suffer because they don't fit into defined fantasy archetypes, as fiekie recently summarised brilliantly in the From Pawn to Player thread re. Sansa. This of course is why I like the characters and think they are two of the best-written in the series, but it can be a difficulty to overcome when gaining sympathy from the reader. I wonder if GRRM should have considered more closely the difficulties he would face with placing a mother centre-stage - and a mother who is not traditionally 'motherly' in the modern sense - but on the whole I can't blame him for not anticipating what I think is a pretty prejudiced reaction. A little more scene-setting as regards medieval norms might have helped, though. WRT Sansa, I would like her intelligence and growing political astuteness to be as evident now as her earlier self-centredness, and I feel the balance is still a little off, largely due to her caricatured presentation in her first chapters in Game.

#20 KittensRuleBeetsDrool

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Posted 12 December 2012 - 08:50 AM

I'm not sure this is going to be a very popular view, but in terms of writing style and literary quality, I've long maintained (in my own head rather than in any well-thought out posts!) that Game is the weakest book of the series (I would say Dance is the weakest in terms of structure and storytelling). I enjoyed reading it enormously, and it is not a bad book by any stretch of the imagination, but in hindsight it feels 'thinner' to me than the rest of the series. To jump into theorising, I'm not very familiar with GRRM's earlier work, but in beginning A Song of Ice and Fire, he was clearly embarking on a much larger project than he had tackled in the past, novels-wise, anyway, and I think some of that nervousness shows. (In contrast, his stand-alone Fevre Dream is less daring but also better-structured and more internally consistent than Game.)

This may explain why he tries so hard to make Tyrion, Arya and Jon sympathetic. Ironically, GRRM would have had the future trajectories of the characters very clearly in his head, and we know that Tyrion and Arya both take very dark paths - and it's possible that Jon's arc may turn darker in the future. He needs to garner reader sympathy for these characters before it's too late, and I think he goes over-the-top in doing so:

  • As the Arya re-read has shown, Arya's likeability is constantly displayed to the reader. I personally feel that GRRM should have trusted enough to Arya's innate appeal not to thrust how brilliant she is in the reader's face all the time. (Because I'm contrary, this put me off her and it's taken me five books to start liking her again!)
  • I think the infamous 'It should have been you' scene between Cat and Jon is more about the presentation of Jon as a character than Cat. Cat's attitude to Jon was wrong, but I think if this scene was intended primarily to showcase this it would be much more low-key and more representative of their interactions on a day-to-day basis. Instead, we have little idea of how Jon and Cat normally interacted, and one violent incident that GRRM has said himself was unprecedented. I think GRRM manoeuvred a grieving Cat into this scene not to show that she's a horrible person, but to demonstrate Jon's isolation and, again, to get the reader on side for his journey. (I must say, this worked for me when I first read Game!)
  • Tyrion is not directly opposed to Cat or Sansa until later in the novels, when Cat arrests him, but as noted, by then he has the full weight of reader sympathy as a 'misfit', whereas Cat clearly fits - or has made herself fit - better into Westerosi society. Ironically again, Cat's natural impulsiveness, strength of emotion, and sense of justice (much like Arya's) are not a good fit for the role she plays, although she has learnt to subsume these traits, and if GRRM had made more of her youthful struggle to adapt to being a great lady, I imagine she'd have more sympathy... but I'm glad he didn't. I like Cat the way she is.
In contrast, as has already been discussed, I think Sansa is intended to be unsympathetic in Game, although as I noted in the previous thread, GRRM makes her a bit too selfish and naive to make her complete turnaround at the end of the book and in Clash entirely believable. Some of Sansa's reactions in Game - e.g. after Jory and the others are killed, and she seems fairly uninterested - just couldn't be credited to the character we see as early as Clash. As for Cat, I don't think GRRM ever considered that she would be so unpopular, and I believe he's expressed surprise at how much she is disliked by fans. I share his puzzlement, as I would never have predicted Cat's unpopularity myself. Unfortunately, as she is pitted against favourites like Jon and Tyrion, I think he underestimated how popular these characters would be.

Finally, I think both Sansa and Catelyn suffer because they don't fit into defined fantasy archetypes, as fiekie recently summarised brilliantly in the From Pawn to Player thread re. Sansa. This of course is why I like the characters and think they are two of the best-written in the series, but it can be a difficulty to overcome when gaining sympathy from the reader. I wonder if GRRM should have considered more closely the difficulties he would face with placing a mother centre-stage - and a mother who is not traditionally 'motherly' in the modern sense - but on the whole I can't blame him for not anticipating what I think is a pretty prejudiced reaction. A little more scene-setting as regards medieval norms might have helped, though. WRT Sansa, I would like her intelligence and growing political astuteness to be as evident now as her earlier self-centredness, and I feel the balance is still a little off, largely due to her caricatured presentation in her first chapters in Game.


This is maybe not a popular view, but I agree with you to some extent. (I also agree that ADWD is the weakest in terms of structure and storytelling, but I think is the weakest in terms of characterization as well - oh Dany, what happened to you?) It is more tightly written than Dance, and better at storytelling, but I agree that there is a certain "This is new to me and I'm not quite sure where I'm taking this" aura about it. I wonder if part of it was that GRRM wasn't sure what the reception would be (I bet he didn't have a clue as to just how popular the ASOIAF series would become!) and also wasn't sure how long he wanted the series to be (I recall it was originally a trilogy). Maybe it was meant to be a bit more of a stand-alone in case things didn't work out.

I agree that Tyrion and Arya, especially, are shown in a much more sympathetic light - it's as if we the readers are supposed to like them, dammit! And agreed that Catelyn and especially Sansa don't fit into conventional female fantasy tropes. I also think that modern readers want and expect the female characters to be spunky tomboy types (like Arya) or plucky underdogs (like Jon and Tyrion) and a classic beautiful princess type (like Sansa) or super-mom (Catelyn) are less popular these days.

I also want to point to Julia Serano's Femiphobia as a great read on why there is so much dislike for the Sansa and Catelyn characters in books in general - it's all about dislike for characters with traditionally feminine attributes. Femininity is given a low status in our society and I think that dislike rubs off on Sansa and Catelyn.

Also agreed that some more world-building in AGOT wrt to what Catelyn faced in an arranged marriage might have helped. I have always felt for her - she loves her husband, and he loves her, BUT there is this reminder of his "infidelity" in her face every day, most noblewomen aren't expected to help raise their husband's bastards, Ned shuts her down when she tries to inquire about Jon's origins, and in general she must wonder why her otherwise loving husband insists on having his bastard in her household. (Never mind that I am pretty convinced that R + L = J, but Catelyn died still convinced that Jon was Ned's bastard.)

Finally, I am going to surmise that perhaps the inverse of Arya and Tyrion is set up with Sansa - and Jaime - in the first book. Jaime is an honest-to-God douchebag who pushed a kid out the window but by AFFC he's undergone tremendous character development and has become a reader favorite. I wonder if this is deliberate wrt Sansa as well - we are supposed to love Arya, Tyrion and Jon at first, but then the tables will turn (and we see it with Arya and Tyrion as of ADWD at least, and I recall GRRM stated that Jon will become grayer too as the story goes on) and by the final book in the series the characters' sympathetic quotient will have completely reversed and there will be a LOT of Sansa and Jaime fans (and there are plenty already).

As for Theon - sure there was character development but I think the torture porn went way, way over the top in ADWD. It was like watching a slow-motion snuff film. It was unnecessary and gross, IMO.