HBO is turning author George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire medieval fantasy novels into a TV series . . .

It is the ideal choice for HBO. After all, the series of novels, which kicks off with A Game of Thrones, have more in common with The Sopranos than Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter when one thinks about it. Standard magical fantasy elements such as magic, elves and cutesy hobbits are kept to a minimum. Plus the novels have a reputation for “grittiness” – both in their copious amounts of violence and sex, but also in their realistic and lucid descriptions of a tough and hardened medieval society.

So it would come as no surprise really that HBO bought the rights to Martin’s novels beginning of 2007 and is planning to film the series in New Zealand where Peter Jackson filmed his Lord of the Rings movies (where else?). Prince Caspian star Peter Dinklage has been signed on to star in the pilot as the diminutive Tyroin Lannister and Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent) is set to direct. David Benioff (Troy) and novelist D.B. Weiss are on scripting duties.

Martin’s various thick novels are better suited for a TV series than any other medium such as let’s say a full-length motion picture. After all, the 1996 novel A Game of Thrones, which weighs in at a hefty 807 pages, is only the first book in the series – and it often only feels like a brief prologue to an even longer, epic storyline. “My books are bigger and more complicated [than Lord of the Rings], and would require 18 movies,” the 59-year-old author observed.

A Game of Thrones is followed by A Clash of Kings (768 pages), A Storm of Swords (1 216 pages) and A Feast for Crows (784 pages). An oft-delayed new book titled A Dance of Dragons is set for release in October 2009. It will clock in at 1 008 pages! Considering that these five doorstoppers all deal with more or less with the same set of characters in the same mystical kingdom, then HBO should have no difficulty in stretching the series out over five or six seasons should the series be a hit – one book per season!

And it should be a hit, a huge one – if the material is handled correctly. A Game of Thrones is a compelling page-turner of a read, with the author always managing to steer the storyline into unexpected directions that never compromise characterization in the process. His descriptions of frozen landscapes and everyday medieval existence are quite vivid.

With literally a cast of thousands, A Game of Thrones follows the travails of several disparate characters in your typical feudal setup that is so beloved of fantasy novels. The book basically chronicles the power struggles that ensue when the king of a mythical kingdom dies and several factions compete and vie for power. The “heroes” (flawed they may be) are the Stark clan led by Lord Eddard Stark, warden of the North. The Starks are aptly named: they inhabit the icy cold, stark Northern region of the Kingdom where harsh snow-filled winters last 10 years at a time. Eddard Stark has a very developed sense of what is right and what is honorable. He prefers to stay above court politics and petty squabbles, but finds himself drawn into the ensuing power struggle despite his best efforts.

"Underhanded plotting and backstabbing – it all feels like a day at the office!"

Then there are the power-hungry and decadent Lannisters. If the Starks are motivated by some outdated medieval sense of chivalry and honor, the Lannisters are the future. They all seem to have read Machiavelli and as the British Guardian newspaper remarks, they are so venomous that they could eat the Borgias for breakfast! Most of the characters followed in the book belong to the Stark clan, with one notable exception, namely the dwarf Tyrion Lannister. Tyrion turns out to be one of the more interesting characters in the book as he is clearly a likeable character despite being on the “wrong” side and having a strong streak of self-preservation. Tyrion’s character prevents A Game of Thrones from being a simplistic “good clan vs. bad clan” tale.

Civil war is looming, but there are also threats from outside the Kingdom. Dark and ominous forces are lurking in the barren forests to the North while in a distant kingdom a pretender to the kingdom’s throne marries a Genghis Khan wannabe. Trouble is brewing as Gary Larson would say. The book is filled to the brim with underhanded plotting, backstabbing, betrayals, unexpected allegiances and the like – it all feels like a day at the office!

A problem for modern TV audiences might be the fact that many of the characters in A Game of Thrones are actually children. Martin does a good job at stressing that this is a society in which children are never really allowed any time to actually be children. Instead they must grow up quickly as they are seen as adults from a very early age. Historically this is accurate – the idea of children coming of age at only 18 or 21 is largely an invention of mid-20th century affluent Western society. (Consider that Juliet in Shakespeare’s play is only 13 for instance!) Any TV producers might however consider making some of the characters older than they are in the books; otherwise it would all seem a bit too “kiddies” and Chronicles of Narnia for many viewers. All the sex and violence in the series will also provide for a serious disconnect for sensitive viewers (not that they would be watching HBO, but still) . . .

If handled correctly, then a Song of Ice and Fire TV series might be the sort of show that would make for addictive viewing. I hungrily devoured most of A Game of Thrones over the space of a few days. The problem is however that exhaustion set in by page 700 or so in which it became quite apparent that A Game of Thrones is merely a set up for the next book, and the book after that and the book after that, and . . .

However, much in the same way that the new Battlestar Galactica is sci-fi for people who don’t like sci-fi, then A Song of Ice and Fire could wind up being fantasy for people who don’t actually like fantasy . . .


A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1) (Paperback)
by George R.R. Martin (Author)

Paperback: 704 pages
Publisher: Voyager; New edition edition (5 Jan 1998)
Language English
ISBN-10: 000647988X
ISBN-13: 978-0006479888




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