Two random questions about Game of Thrones (possible spoilers)
May 17, 2015 12:31 PM   Subscribe

Two random questions about Game of Thrones (possible spoilers)

1) I find the style where each POV is separated by other POV chapters annoying. I want to read all of Tyrion's, for example, in one uninterrupted flow. What would I lose if I read the books by separating all the POV sections and reading them end to end (e.g. All of Tyrion's, followed by all of Daenerys, etc)?

2) Why does there not seem to be any technological advancement in these societies? When the first book starts, it's been ~300+ years since Aegon's Conquest, and recorded history stretches back hundreds and hundreds of years before that. Yes, there was the Doom of Valyria where technology/magic was lost (e.g. Valyrian steel). But we're still at medieval, Iron Age tech with swords and horses and sails. Where's the gunpowder and steam engines?
posted by Cool Papa Bell to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
1)A single character's POV chapter doesn't pick up where the last one stopped always. Often you learn more about what is going on in the world in other chapters which informs the POV chapter. So, for fake example, Tyrion is hang-gliding towards Dragonstone and you wouldn't feel a sense of dread without having read the Stanis chapter where he sets up lasers to blast any flying things out of the sky. Or, you read a Ned chapter and he is all "I can't wait to go back to Bloodforge and see my cousin Hank" but you know that Bloodforge was just sacked and Hank was transformed into a duck.

2) How different would you say technology was in Europe between 500CE and 1500CE? Check out this wiki and see just how little changed in Europe
posted by munchingzombie at 12:48 PM on May 17, 2015 [8 favorites]

Regarding your first question, you might be able to get a sense to how much this is possible by reading the summary chapters of individuals on this wiki. I've used this a few times to get caught up on the plot-lines if I've taken too much time off of reading, and it's been quite helpful. As in the book, the chapters are labeled based on character names, and you could alternate between reading the summaries of entire character arcs to see what is gained and lost.

Regarding the second question, GRRM (supposedly) addressed this in an email:
Q: There is an aspect of a SOI&F (and all high/medieval fanatasy) which has me puzzled. Why is there so little technological procees? The Starks have been medieval lords and kings for millenia, and it seems that there is very little chance of Westeros ever progessing beyond a medieval society. Is this becuase the existence of magic inhibits or precludes linear technological progress?
A: Oh, I wouldn't go that far. I don't know that "linear technological progress" is necessarily inevitable in a society. In fact, if you look at our real world, it only happened once. Other cultures and societies existed for hundreds and in some cases thousands of years without ever experiencing major technological change. In the specific case of Westeros, the unpredictable nature of the seasonal changes and the harshness of the winters must play a role. I do think that magic perhaps makes development of the scientific method less likely. If men can fly by means of a spell, do you ever get the Wright Brothers? Or even daVinci? An interesting question, and I'm not sure I know the answer.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:04 PM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

There are some hints that the Free City of Braavos has a higher tech level (their Arsenal is said to produce a warship in a day, which implies some serious manufacturing power.)

There are also some theories that the Maesters have conspired somehow to either hold back technology or keep it to themselves.

Plus, like GRRM said in the above quote, the existence of magic changes the equation for tech development -- maybe gunpowder or gasoline is a liability instead of a strength, or maybe people are wary of such things because they seem too much like magic.
posted by Wulfhere at 1:09 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Or, you read a Ned chapter and he is all "I can't wait to go back to Bloodforge and see my cousin Hank" but you know that Bloodforge was just sacked and Hank was transformed into a duck.

The other problem is that you'll be reading about the aftershocks of certain events before you read about the events themselves, so when you get to the scene where Ned goes "Oh no, cousin Hank! I'll get those dastardly Lannisters for giving you webbed feet!" things are going to be more than a little confusing. And then once you figure it out, it'll be another 200 pages before you circle back around to Hank's point of view, at which point the tension over whether or not Joffrey will use the terrible transduckifier will have lost some of its punch.

As for technology, the Iron Age (loosely defined as the era in which iron and steel tools and weapons were the state-of-the art, go-to technology for almost every application over most of the world) lasted almost 3,000 years in our world, and that was lightning fast technological change compared to the era before the iron age. The fact is that technological progress is really hard in an economy completely dominated by subsistence farming, which was the only type of economy there was for the vast majority of human history.
posted by firechicago at 1:26 PM on May 17, 2015

Some people do actually do POV "re-reads" after finishing the whole series. But, for the first read, the story will not make much, if any, sense if you read by POV instead of in the way that GRRM laid them out.
posted by dhens at 1:34 PM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

1) A coherent sense of the linear narrative, because while the timeline actually isn't strictly pegged linearly to the POV progression, it comes fairly close and GRRM uses information revealed in one POV (say, Catelyn) to shine a different perspective on the POV in the following chapster, without that POV's character (say, Arya) ever becoming aware of it themselves.

2) It's one of the weirder things about the books and GRRM hasn't left a lot of hints, so my personal take on it is just sloppy worldbuilding/writing in a way that's entirely par for the course in fantasy; he wrote it that way because he's into deconstructing fantasy tropes or highlighting their flaws, and it's not a problem that's unique to him at all.

There are some hints of Maester/Faith conspiracies throughout the centuries, but it's very vague and mostly focused on getting the Targaryens to kill themselves off. The worldbook he came out with recently gave some hints about both prior magical technologies in the old Valyrian empire and even more sinister civilizations, and also a bunch of previous apocalyptic events that may or may not have been tied to the Long Night. It's basically one giant homage to Lovecraft, Howard, and other early SFF, but it's interesting.

2) How different would you say technology was in Europe between 500CE and 1500CE? Check out this wiki and see just how little changed in Europe

The one problem with using this as an example is that human civiliation in Westeros is well into the tens of thousands of years old. The Andal invasion was only the most recent migration/culture shift, the Targaryens and their extension of the Valyrian Freehold not really quite counting, and that was somewhere between six and two thousand years prior to the start of the books, plus another three hundred years of Targaryen dynasty. The Post-Age-of-Heroes First Men had been settled after their war and pact with the Children of the Forest for probably at least another eight thousand years before the Andals showed up, and we're not really given a clear idea of how long the Dawn Age and the Age of Heroes lasted prior to that. Plus there are some weird hints in later books and the world book about yet a third race/culture of humans in Westeros with a different level of technology from the First Men. Then there's the very weird question of why it took the Andals to spread iron technology, when the Ironborn had it millenia before that and there's clearly plenty of iron itself in Westeros. Not a lot of it adds up or makes much sense.

TL;DR: Basically, it's a looooooooong, pretty much patently ridiculous timeline where there's been very, very little advancement. It's at least a four-thousand-year-old Iron Age, bare minimum, but with zero progress past what seems to be about the late medieval, and way less technological spread within the continent even though there's no sensible reason.

Personally I chalk it up to "lol GRRM".
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 1:42 PM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Another thing that will make reading the books in the way you are proposing is that characters have their own point of view chapters, but between those they show up in other characters' chapters. So in Tyrion's chapters you hear his thoughts directly, but then you see him doing things in the intervening chapters. The books are somewhat of a hot mess already, and reording them this way solves one problem but creates a bunch of others.

The lack of technological advancement is not explained directly within the books -- it is just presented as a fact of life, just like the oddly long seasons or the existence of magic. It's not particularly convincing to me, but then I don't find the dragons terribly convincing either.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:09 PM on May 17, 2015

Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams is about the stone-age paintings in the Chauvet Cave in southern France. 30,000 year-old paintings whose paint appears to have been maintained over a period of 5,000 years. It ends by talking about human cultures that were still in the Stone age in the 20th century. This makes me feel that it's something of a modernist fantasty that human culture is a continuous, steady development from stone to spaceflight. There's room for all sorts of fits and starts and millennia of stagnation -- and decades-long winters seem like a good contributor to stagnation as well.
posted by xueexueg at 2:11 PM on May 17, 2015 [11 favorites]

Answering both questions: you'll lose things that give context to the political and mythic realities of the series, like Sam Tarly going through the Night Watch's records and figuring out that the ten-thousand year timeline most characters take for granted is a "forever and ever, world without end" propaganda being spread by the Maesters and general powers that be, to make the general population think, among other things, that the land wars against the series' magical cultures are so far in the past that they might as well be fairy tales, instead of a current political reality.

Watch out for the grey rats. The truth is out there.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 6:21 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I also find it annoying! I think the books are exquisitely carefully constructed in terms of the ordering of the viewpoint chapters and you will definitely miss things by reading all the same viewpoint, then the next, then the next. OTOH, I think if you're willing to read plot summaries on Wikipedia (or if you have a basic idea where the story goes from the show), you could probably get away with reading each major character in isolation. You'd definitely miss out on some of GRRM's extremely careful construction and exposition of the world in a very specific order, but if you just like the story from the TV show and want to expand your enjoyment via the books (or something like that), I think it'd work out okay. It depends how purist you are about your book-reading experience. If you're okay checking the last page of a thriller to see how it ends, and THEN reading the book, and you're not too worried about losing the "effect" of the author's timeline in telling the story, it'll work well enough. If that thought makes you recoil in horror, it won't.

As for #2, that is just, like, a big fantasy trope. Also very distinct cultures with limited intermarriage. Also military tactics frozen in time for hundreds of years despite massive trade between societies. Also technology that advances along one or two axes that the author is familiar with while COMPLETELY LEAVING OUT other things that would have had to happen to get there. Like, lots and lots of earth plants rely on seasons, and use the length of the day as a signal to set fruit, or require a certain number of hours below freezing in the winter to bloom in the spring -- earth apples in Westeros would give you ONE CROP after winter and then would set no more fruit until after there'd been another winter -- apples can't set fruit without a pretty long, hard freeze. People in Westeros are constantly eating things that are simply impossible because they couldn't grow in an extended summer of 10 years, or would only bloom once after a winter, or only grow in the very early spring, or whatever. His descriptions of meals are incredible, but they also mix seasonal food like his characters are living in a modern greenhouses-and-international-jets world.

I've also seen him say, in interviews, that he invented things like the mold (I think? or moss?) that maesters stuff in people's wounds that is like SUPER-MAGIC ULTRA PENICILLIN because it would be boring if people just kept dying of infected papercuts, so he put in a magic shortcut so he could tell the story he wanted to tell. I think GRRM basically wanted to tell a story about power and politics, not about realistic technological progression, and he's pretty up front that lots of his world wouldn't actually ever work.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:21 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Grrm is wrong in his quote about only one culture doing technological advancement- for example, China kept pace with Europe until about the 17th century.

Basically, this is part of the reactionary aesthetic in fantasy novels- the same reason most fantasies can't comes up with any politics more original than European style feudalism.

Westeros especially bothers Mr, because we have a pseudo-medieval Europe in a world with completely different geography. The political systems should be completely different. I even find myself wondering how a bunch of 12th century English people got transported to Westeros.
posted by happyroach at 8:37 AM on May 18, 2015

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