George R. R. Martin

Game of Thrones and the Problem of Power


[HT to friend Frank Yellin for pointing this out.]

Rolling Stone has a long interview with George R. R. Martin, writer of the Game of Thrones series. I saw him signing books at the World Science Fiction Convention some years back, and he was already a star before HBO turned his series into a mass market hit.

One of the reasons why the series (a riff on the kind of clashes seen between family dynasties in the Middle Ages, set in a kind of fantasy Europe) is popular is its realistic portrayal of both responsible and irresponsible lusts for power, unintended consequences, and the difficulties of governing even for those of noble intentions. Everyone acts out of what they think are their interests, and in keeping with their character, and yet the results are often completely unexpected and tragic.

As Martin comments:

Q: A major concern in A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones is power. Almost everybody – except maybe Daenerys, across the waters with her dragons – wields power badly.

A: Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with. Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it’s not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?

In real life, real-life kings had real-life problems to deal with. Just being a good guy was not the answer. You had to make hard, hard decisions. Sometimes what seemed to be a good decision turned around and bit you in the ass; it was the law of unintended consequences. I’ve tried to get at some of these in my books. My people who are trying to rule don’t have an easy time of it. Just having good intentions doesn’t make you a wise king.

For more on pop culture:

The Lessons of Walter White
“Blue Valentine”
“Mad Men”
The Morality of Glamour
“Mockingjay” Propaganda Posters
“Big Bang Theory” — Aspergers and Emotional/Social Intelligence
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
Reading “50 Shades of Grey” Gives You Anorexia and an Abusive Partner!
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
“Raising Arizona” — Dream of a Family

For more on politics and unintended consequences:

Life Is Unfair! The Militant Red Pill Movement
Madmen, Red Pill, and Social Justice Wars
Unrealistic Expectations: Liberal Arts Woman and Amazon Men
Stable is Boring? “Psychology Today” Article on Bad Boyfriends
Mate-Seeking: The Science of Finding Your Best Partner
The “Fairy Tale” Myth: Both False and Destructive
Why We Are Attracted to Bad Partners (Who Resemble a Parent)
Culture Wars: Peace Through Limited Government
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities Disregarding Facts