Tuesday, 25 June 2013

What A Game of Thrones Can Teach Us About Life: Growing Up, Change, Trauma, and Enemies

What Game of Thrones can teach us about life
Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen in A Game of Thrones.
  Image source.
I thought I'd hate the TV show Game of Thrones. I'd heard it was full of violence and sex, and despite Steph's frequent praise of both book and TV series, I couldn't understand why women would enjoy it.

Fast forward a couple of months, and my boyfriend and I have caught up with all three series of the TV production, and I've finished the first book of the A Song of Ice and Fire series (entitled A Game of Thrones). My views have indeed changed. This post will focus on this first book, although I'll probably make passing references to the screen adaptation.

What A Game of Thrones is About

A Game of Thrones can be compared to The Lord of the Rings trilogy alongside other fantasy novels. It has knights, castles, war, barbarians, strange gods, made-up languages, and even dragons. However, it also has much more human aspects: love, arranged marriages, and divided families, for instance. I have to warn you too about the murder, conspiracy, incest, and rape that frequently feature.

It's not a novel of enchantment and chivalry, but one of very real fears and worst-case scenarios. We are able to relate to the stories of civil war, the anxieties of debt and infection, and the question of knowing right from wrong. It's realistic, minus the dragons.

Each chapter is dedicated to an individual character's point of view, which allows us to gain a personal insight of the noble houses of Westeros that the series largely focuses on. We also follow several characters beyond "the Wall", set apart from the civilised world, and the life of Daenerys Targaryen across the sea.

What A Game of Thrones Can Teach Us About Life

Does Game of Thrones have life lessons we can relate to?
Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister. Image from the Guardian.
Source: HBO
I enjoyed reading A Game of Thrones primarily because it made me think about my own situation and direction in life. I'm due to start working for a start-up company in Barcelona from September, and this will undoubtedly strike me as a major change. I feel that I will be ready for it, but I could do with some extra courage to help me get there. Reading A Game of Thrones was surprisingly helpful in this respect.

The novel holds a fantastic portrayal of courage, but we can also relate to other elements of the text. Below is a brief outline of ways in which we can relate to A Game of Thrones, although this is my no means extensive.

What A Game of Thrones Can Teach Us About Growing Up

Due to tragic circumstances, Arya and Sansa are made to leave their home at Winterfell and mature at a far greater pace than perhaps expected. Their sources of comfort and support leave them, and they must find ways to protect themselves both mentally and physically. Similarly, Daenerys's childhood is cut short, and with time she must also learn to rule and protect both herself and others. Daenerys does not merely adapt to her changed situation, but she becomes powerful enough to truly succeed. I can't say if this continues beyond the first book of the series, but for now, at least, she is a female of admirable strength.

On Changing Ourselves and Others

Alongside the family suffering that the Starks face, Bran deals with great physical change. At first he feels forlorn, hopeless, and pessimistic towards the future, but he eventually finds courage in understanding that his situation could be worse. He also makes do with what he has rather than what he doesn't have, and as a result finds himself capable of activities he thought confined to the past. His sub-story demonstrates that while staying in bed may keep us relatively save and secure, it prevents us from enjoying and learning from all the outside world has to offer.

Characters Facing Trauma

The younger characters of A Game of Thrones witness greatly unsettling and traumatic events that simply cannot be approached in a calm manner. However, they learn to overcome and, perhaps most importantly, accept what they have seen. In response to her dangerous predicament, Arya learns to defend herself. Bran, in a similar way, develops his knowledge of strategy and ruling in order to reinforce the tested strength of Winterfell.

Knowing Friends From Enemies

A Game of Thrones quickly shows that trust cannot be given out freely. It's a novel in which allegiances change, support can frequently be bought, and friends can quickly become enemies. The characters that succeed (and more fundamentally, survive) are generally those that can distinguish their friends from their enemies. Some trials are fair, others are less so. Such characters are often more reluctant to trust others without sufficient ground, but they provide guaranteed back-up for the few they have faith in. Eddard and Catelyn Stark lean towards fairer trials of allegiance, while House Lannister often prioritises power over morality.

This is a novel that differentiates between wanting to act heroically and not always knowing how to do so. Despite the mythical elements of the series, we are exposed to so many feelings and emotions that we can truly relate to, alongside decisions and directions forward that we can learn from. The multiple points of view prove that all characters, no matter how villainous, have their own conflicts and baggage, but they also indicate that success and power can come from the most traumatic and challenging of experiences.

My Rating: 4 Stars
Recommended for: finding courage and strength, overcoming trauma and hardship

Buy A Game of Thrones on Amazon


Paula said...

Loved this post :)
I was skeptical at first about the books and the tv show but as soon as I got into the story my opinion about them changed completely. It's a well written complex story.
I have only read the first one of the books, but watched the whole 3 seasons, and I love the fact that female characters are becoming more and more stronger and important.

Brian Joseph said...

I have not read the books or seen the television series but I think that I would like this. I have a few friends who are fanatical fans of both. Maybe when I retire I will give it a try!

Good luck with the new job!

tolstoytherapy said...

Thanks, Paula! I felt the same way - I didn't think the plot would be so complex and engaging. I too have only read the first book, but as I have a long university summer holiday I should be able to make time for more! I've also watched all three series, and can't wait for the next one. As you've said, the strong female characters that are central to the plot are a main reason why I enjoy both TV and book series so much.

Thanks again for the comment, I look forward to hearing from you again :)

Best wishes,

tolstoytherapy said...

Thanks for the comment and well-wishes, Brian :) I'd definitely recommend it for retirement, especially as it can be such a time consuming show and book series!

I'd also encourage those who haven't read or watched it to give it a go - you may well enjoy it!

Riv @ Bookish Realm said...

Okay, I really liked this post, partly because usually you don't find more of in-depth analyses on popular fantasy novels, I think :)

I've had a long history with this series, I started the books way back, when there was no knowledge of the TV-series yet, let me check my Estonian books... first one was published in 2006, so probably around that time. I read the last book of the series (so far) in January this year. The thing I am having a problem with is relating to the TV-series, and I am somewhat disappointed, because it seems that everyone and their pets love this series. I've watched 1st season and it was "nice", but nothing else. The fact that I haven't gotten further than that probably shows my excitement :) I tried figuring it out (there are plenty of TV-series out there that I do enjoy, so it's not like I'm a series-hater in general) but the only thing I can come up with is that I am probably spoiled by books. After finishing the 1st season some time ago, the dominating thought that I had was "The world in the TV-series felt so SMALL!" In books, this world felt huge; in series, it seemed to take such a short time to get from location A to B... I realise why it needs to be done, but yeah. That is probably why.

I especially like the characters changing in these books and the fact that not everyone is what they might look like at first (there are many surprises to come, in case you decide to continue :) ) And you are right - aside from the dragons and the fact that this is a fictional world, it *feels* realistic. Which is probably why it is so popular.

tolstoytherapy said...

Thanks, Riv! I'm glad you liked the post. I've heard from a few people who read the books when they were first published - you're so much more ahead of the rest of us!

I watched the TV series before reading the books, which perhaps increases my enjoyment of the former. I imagine if I had read the books first I would have a lot more to criticise about the TV adaptation.

As you've said, the TV world definitely feels smaller! Perhaps the fact that we see so little travelling between realms is a factor, although the stories do seem quite limited geographically within each region too.

I also enjoy how the characters evolve and develop, as well as the continual surprises that Martin depicts. The "Red Wedding" in the third TV series was definitely not expected! I'm glad you think I should continue with the books - I'm sure I will! They're a lot more layered and complex than I expected.

Best wishes,


Stephanie said...

Beautiful post, Lucy! I think you really nailed the differences between GoT and LOTR. George RR Martin said, in an interview, that the "good vs. evil" story that worked for Tolkien has since become cliched, which is one reason his world is much darker and more morally ambiguous. And I loved the personal connections you made to the story, as well as your brilliant discussion of some of the themes. I do think this is a story many young adults (teens through mid-20s) can relate to, though there's plenty of material about other stages of the life cycle. Being older and a parent, I found myself relating to lady Catelyn, though I found her hard to like at first because of her cruelty to Jon Snow. Thanks for the link. :)


tolstoytherapy said...

Thanks, Steph! The interview quote by Martin is really interesting, and to be honest makes a lot of sense. For me it's such a unique - and different - experience to read a novel that is both unpredictable and morally ambiguous.

I'm glad you can relate to Catelyn. She's a character that I often find myself admiring, although at other times I end up questioning her motives and choices. She must be one of my favourite characters from the novel. I agree that there are so many situations and characters to relate to, and therefore so many types of readers can enjoy the series. I'll sure I'll recommend it to many more people!

I'm glad you liked the post! I always enjoy reading your posts on the books/TV series :)

tolstoytherapy said...

Love GoT and this is a great post :D

Chris said...

Love GoT and this is a great post :D

tolstoytherapy said...

Thanks :D And I know you do! Can't wait for the next series.

Lucinda Harrington said...

Is it really that good? I'm going to have to give a try. I think I saw one episode and it was all about incest so I was a bit put off, but I'll try again and see what happens!

tolstoytherapy said...

Yeah that is a common theme, I'm afraid to say...

I tried watching one episode about a year ago, and couldn't get into it at all. I only started enjoying it upon starting right from the very beginning.

Let me know if you start enjoying it ;) It's definitely not for everyone though!