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Critics of ASOIAF


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#1 thenedstark

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 12:00 AM

Has anyone read good literary criticisms of ASOIAF? I thought this one was interesting, though I do not agree with it entirely: http://matthilliard....rge-r-r-martin/. Especially, the part of his essay about the "pointless" long drawn out stories like in AFFC/ADWD. I actually felt all of the stories so far have a "point", but his exposition on the general idea of fantasy fiction and how ASOIAF follows it to a large extent is valid.

#2 Black Mike Secret

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 12:05 AM

Let’s start with the gritty realism. It’s not Martin’s fault, but here my exposure to later writers has probably completely changed my reaction from what it would have been had I read the series as it came out. Plenty of authors have tried to imitate Tolkien’s archaic yet evocative style, yet no one has come close to equaling it. It was reasonable for me to suppose that Martin’s realistic style would work the same way. Reasonable, but wrong, and obviously so in hindsight. Tolkien’s work hasn’t been matched because he was uniquely suited both in temperament and profession to write the way he did. Throwing out the excesses of epic fantasy in favor of gritty realism is not nearly so challenging. In fact, it’s easier than trying to stay the course. It’s no surprise then that Martin’s work was not the apogee of this trend but just another stop along the way. Compared to Joe Abercrombie, just to pick one name out of probably a dozen, Martin seems like a hopeless romantic. It’s interesting that these days the people impressed with Martin’s grit and realism are the people writing about the HBO series (“It’s like the Sopranos in Middle-earth”), since when it comes to epic fantasy in television and movies Lord of the Rings is still very recent and the natural benchmark.


Stopped reading after this. Up your face, dude.

#3 Don Roberto

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 12:19 AM

Well, I'm not familiar enough with literary criticism, but if it's anything like what passes for professional criticism in cinema, I'd rather stick to forum comments.

Sorry OP, too tired to read this piece right now, but I'll give it a go another time.

#4 SeanF

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 12:32 AM

It's a well-written piece of criticism, but I mostly disagree. The relentless political intrigue around the Iron Throne is, for me, one of the best things about the series.

As for not reaching earlier levels of popularity, I should think that the series has never been more popular.

#5 Winter's Knight

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 12:35 AM

Stopped reading after this. Up your face, dude.


What's wrong with that? Martin is a lot softer than his reputation states he is. There is a subtle optimism,a romance that belies the "gritty, heartbreaking massacre of the good" rep ASoIaF has. It's what allows o believe that Sansa will kill LF, that the Starks will reunite and so on.

#6 SaltpansResident

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 12:36 AM

Unfortunately for Martin, I think the series will only get harder and harder for him to write as he tries to provide some sort of climax and closure that justifies the endless profusion of aimless detail he’s provided so far.


I think this is one of the valid points. I've seen a number of people at this forum alone express concern about how all the loose ends will be tied up.

I'm not worried because A) I think Martin's not overextended and B: as far as I'm concerned the pleasure's in the details so I wouldn't ever call them aimless. But one does quail at the idea of HOW he's going to work his way from here to there.

EDIT: It's like Marianne Moore's real toads in imaginary gardens: he will NOT STOP embroidering with all too real characters. When Jaime's hostage Hoster Tytos showed up, I almost groaned out loud. ANOTHER great character who will have to be dealt with or set aside in some way.

Edited by SaltpansResident, 25 July 2013 - 12:41 AM.


#7 Winter's Knight

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 12:43 AM


The highlight is probably the worldbuilding. Tolkien and his imitators have emphasized the landscapes of their fantasy worlds. Even the Thomas Convenant series, which seemed at first glance like a rejection of everything Tolkien brought to the genre, spent a lot of its time (and won a lot of its fans, I suspect) on landscapes. Although there are some maps to be found of Westeros and its surrounding countries, Martin’s efforts in geographical construction and detail are merely adequate. Instead, more than any author I can recall, he has constructed a social landscape. Looking now at a map of Westeros, the names of cities, rivers, and castles bring to mind the characters who live in or near them. I can’t really tell you anything about what Casterly Rock looks like, for example, but just mentioning it evokes the wealth of detail that Martin has invested in the Lannister family and the twists and turns of their fortunes. The Lannisters are perhaps the series’

most prominent family, but by the end of the fourth book well over a dozen noble families have been sketched out in impressive detail. The variety in personality, character, and history is impressive and gives Martin’s Westeros a different and possibly greater sense of solidity than the traditional naturalistic approach.



This. So this-this is why I'm still reading-most of his characters are so alive!

A lot of his points I've seen on the forums-the point of the politicking, the sidelining of the Others and so on. I think it's a good review and do agree with his points.

He has written a follow-up post here where he's addressed complaints.

#8 binga

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 12:46 AM

What's wrong with that? Martin is a lot softer than his reputation states he is. There is a subtle optimism,a romance that belies the "gritty, heartbreaking massacre of the good" rep ASoIaF has. It's what allows o believe that Sansa will kill LF, that the Starks will reunite and so on.

Soft is the wrong word for it. He is realistic, he is not trying to be extra dark or brutal. He wants real humans in a fantasy world, people commit horrible atrocities but they can also laugh and love and attempt to create a better world.

#9 Night'sQueen

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 12:56 AM

What's wrong with that? Martin is a lot softer than his reputation states he is. There is a subtle optimism,a romance that belies the "gritty, heartbreaking massacre of the good" rep ASoIaF has. It's what allows o believe that Sansa will kill LF, that the Starks will reunite and so on.


I had the same question. GRRM admits to being something of a romantic.

#10 Winter's Knight

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 12:56 AM

Soft is the wrong word for it. He is realistic, he is not trying to be extra dark or brutal. He wants real humans in a fantasy world, people commit horrible atrocities but they can also laugh and love and attempt to create a better world.


Compared to Abercombe though, Martin is hardly that gritty-which is the point the author is making.

#11 Night'sQueen

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 01:01 AM

Has anyone read good literary criticisms of ASOIAF? I thought this one was interesting, though I do not agree with it entirely: http://matthilliard....rge-r-r-martin/. Especially, the part of his essay about the "pointless" long drawn out stories like in AFFC/ADWD. I actually felt all of the stories so far have a "point", but his exposition on the general idea of fantasy fiction and how ASOIAF follows it to a large extent is valid.


Haven't read this piece yet but I will. I haven't seen any other literary criticism of ASOIAF yet, but point of interest: I did read recently that there is a course at a university in Canada (IIRC)analyzing the series.

#12 SeanF

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 01:10 AM

Compared to Abercombe though, Martin is hardly that gritty-which is the point the author is making.


One couldn't call the ending of the First Law Trilogy bittersweet. Absolutely no good deed goes unpunished. I'd find Abercrombie unbearably depressing, were it not for his excellent sense of humour.

#13 Ygrain

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 01:25 AM

Hm. On the whole, I'd say that the reviewer has a problem of overcoming his the bias of expectation what a fantasy novel is supposed to be like.

Plus, one thing: although he has re-read the series, he seems to be missing some points.

The author is certainly very much on Jon’s side. Marsh is portrayed as a bigot too close-minded to see the existential threat posed by the Others even though it’s staring him in the face, unlike the wise Jon Snow (who, incidentally, is only, what, sixteen?). It was only after I finished the novel that I realized there are much better arguments for Marsh’s position than he makes. The Wall wasn’t built to keep out wildlings, Jon says, and in so doing he implies that by defending the Wall against them for Marsh’s lifetime and the thousand years or more before that (Other-free years, by the way) the Night’s Watch was just passing time. Who’s to say that the Others are going to march south? Jon assumes that the dead will rise in ever greater numbers, forming an army that only a perfectly disciplined and prepared Night’s Watch can hold back, but what is his evidence? His best source on this is Melisandre’s apocalypticism, but he doesn’t believe anything she says for much of the book, time he spends desperately preparing. The wildlings, far more knowledgeable about the Others and certainly plenty scared, seem to think that if they can just get far enough south to be able to find something to eat, they’ll be fine. Back when it was thought Mance really did have the Horn of Winter, Jon might have had a good argument that by not using it, Mance proved he knew the Others were coming, but in Dance Tormund says they would have blown it if they could. But no matter what anyone says, as readers we know this is a fantasy story, so Jon is right, and Bowen Marsh is wrong. And until we get closer to the ending, the Bowen Marshes of the story must carry the day.

Apparently, someone wasn't paying attention to Old Nan's stories, and what Mance says about hiding behind the Wall. So, if the Others are going south because that's what they already did until they were stopped, and they are going to be stopped by the Wall and Night's Watch (against whom they have already launched an organized attack), it's not really a stretch to claim that Jon is right trying to prepare the Watch against the upcoming invasion.

#14 binga

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 01:29 AM

Okay so I read some of his reviews. He makes a few interesting observations but overall the review is fairly amateurish. One of the things you should never do in a professional review is try and predict where a narrative is going and work backwards. I am not sure why this review deserves to be highlighted above others, it is kind of flimsy.

Edited by binga, 25 July 2013 - 01:32 AM.


#15 Kienn

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 01:36 AM

I find every individual critique of any content to be useless(movies, books, video games, etc), although they are sometimes at least interesting to read. Aggregates are much more useful(although for video games even these are still useless as game critics seem unable to give a bad review to anything except the absolute worst games). Individual critiques always boil down to the writer's bias, their comparison to some benchmark

Inevitably all fantasy critiques always seem to just come to the point where the critic answers whether he prefers LotR or whatever piece he's comparing it to, and to what degree. As someone who finds LotR pretty boring - fantasy critiques are especially annoying.

At least this guy essentially admits some of what the problem is - he read Tolkien before Tolkien-imitators, and he read Martin-imitators before Martin.

#16 SaltpansResident

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 02:09 AM

I like reading criticism. If it's good, it's a light of insight into the creative work, even if it's negative, or if I don't agree with the overall judgment.

I'm interested in the way he contextualizes GRRM in the fantasy genre. It'll be interesting to see how his legacy pans out in the next couple of decades.

#17 SolFreer

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 02:42 AM

Good critique, obviously I don't agree with him since I'm a huge fan of these books, but it's good to look at it from a critics perspective and you start to realise that although you love it, that doesn't mean the series has no flaws.
I agree with him about how GRRM probably got too carried away with the politics and minor characters and has constantly been forced to push the main story back (Others and dragons). Doesn't mean that I'm angry about it, I definitely enjoy the intrigue and the minor characters especially (I am obsessed with the small details of his world), but I can appreciate that this is a major reason why we have to wait so long between books and that that is a downside.

#18 Randyll Flowers

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 03:09 AM

I like it. The funny thing is I agree with pretty much all the detail of what he says, but disagree with his ultimate conclusion: I like the books a lot :-)

#19 David Selig

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 03:31 AM

Wow, pretty much all of the negatives this analysis listed are main reaosn why I love the series. The Others being sidelined for the political plots, that the plot is unconventionally structured, that it's not as "gritty" as some of its imitators...

And could the author be any more of a LOTR and Tolkien fanboy? He mentions them over and over again even though ASOIF and LOTR have almost nothing in common.

#20 mindchap

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 03:42 AM

There are critics of everything, to each his own I guess. I stay away from critiques, it's my opinion that matters and no one else's.