Opinionista Ben Williams 4 June 2019

Books Column: 13 Ways of Looking at George RR Martin’s post box

The night before [redacted to avoid spoilers for the outcast souls who haven’t yet seen the finale] ascended to the Iron Throne, I walked past the house where Game of Thrones writer George RR Martin lives. Said house has an unusual post box, which led me to put together a few thoughts.

 

  1. All things considered, that is a very modest castle-shaped post box.
  2. Given its owner makes “millions and millions of dollars” with each new Ice and Fire book*, I’m sure his neighbours are thankful that it’s not a scale model of the Red Keep.
  3. Do his neighbours even know who he is? That the name “George RR Martin” is written on the envelopes that are put inside the fairly unobtrusive castle-shaped post box next door? That the man inside the house owned their Sunday nights for eight years? They would – if it was a scale model of the Red Keep.
  4. I’m marginally disappointed that it’s just a grey box with a few turrets on it and not a scale model of the Red Keep.
  5. Still. Dum dum, dum dum DUM dum, dum dum DUM dum, dum dum DUM dum, dum dee dum dum, dum dum dum dum, dum dee dum dum, dum dum dum dum.
  6. One of the best things about Game of Thrones is the White Walkers – known as “the Others” in the novels – a kind of zombie super race in command of armies of wights. In US fantasy and horror, you can draw a direct line between the zombies of modern imaginations, like Martin’s, and the killing fields of the 19th century – by which I mean, of course, those of the Civil War. More than 600,000 people died in that war, and the imagery of those deaths, along with the words of the soldiers who fought – “What makes it strange is that I should have gained twelve pounds living on worms,” wrote Union soldier Joshua Chamberlain – fester in the American subconscious. The Confederates, in particular, were a species of proto-zombie: “They were the dirtiest men I ever saw. A most ragged lean and hungry set of wolves,” said one observer. Couple that with the forbidding idea that the “South will rise again” and you have all the ingredients to conjure terror in the postbellum era, including the present-day. One way of reading the battles against the invaders from north of The Wall in Westeros, then, is as a cathartic re-enactment of the Civil War. Summoning zombies is an incantation against anything like The Late Unpleasantness (as the war was known, and which is also a brilliant title for a zombie story) ever happening again.
  7. Hey, speaking of walls and zombies, if you ever find yourself reading this, Mr RR Martin, you should check out South and North, two dystopian novels by Frank Owen (the pseudonym of South African authors Diane Awerbuck and Alex Latimer), which is set in a USA divided in half by a wall running east-west, and populated with men and women so demented you’d do quite a bit to hop over that wall to get away from them.
  8. Castle Black would have done, if not the Red Keep. How marvellous to see a miniature Castle Black lurking on that nondescript street, in that nondescript suburb. “I’m Jon Snow, Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch,” I probably would have whispered to myself as I walked past.
  9. In the late-90s, a large number of misguided people who probably don’t read a lot of books started referring to JRR Tolkien as the “Author of the Century”. He was, of course, nothing of the sort. (The Author of the Century was Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. Fight me.) He did have four names, though, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, which was pretty neat. (And he was born in South Africa, which is even neater, *party popper emoji*) Would it be correct to call George RR Martin JRR’s protegé, right down to the double-R? I don’t know, but if their eight initials ever come up on the same trivia card, try to remember “George Raymond Richard Martin” along with the original RR’s full name.
  10. They both would have made good pirates.
  11. While it’s true that Martin is the ultimate and final destroyer of Tolkien-esque fantasy, with its processional marches toward the Restoration of Order, that doesn’t mean his fiction escapes the fatal flaw that bedevils much of the genre. Namely: a lot of fantasy gets its narrative power from the way it serves as a vehicle for members of a dominant culture to vicariously – and safely – experience a marginal one. It’s all too often just a place where the mainstream gets its thrills – especially when it comes to othering, misogyny and violence. Chew on that.
  12. Mr RR Martin, if you find yourself reading this, know that I and millions of others hope that, one day, galley proofs for A Dream of Spring arrive in your modest castle of a post box containing an ending to your epic series that sensationally takes zero account of what the TV people wrote.
  13. Still. Dum dum, dum dum DUM dum, dum dum DUM dum, dum dum DUM dum, dum dee dum dum, dum dum dum dum, dum dee dum dum, dum dum dum dum.

* Read more about Martin’s millions, plus his debunking of a theory about the next books in his series, here. ML

Ben Williams is the Publisher of The Johannesburg Review of Books. He was formerly the head of marketing at Exclusive Books and the Books Editor of the Sunday Times.

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