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Wednesday, 27 April 2011

A fantasy hero called Ned

Not only have I not read Lord of the Rings, I haven't read A Song of Fire and Ice either - nor seen any of the HBO television adaptation, A Game of Thrones. (Maybe it's something to do with writers who have "R. R." in their name.) But whether you are a fan or not, if you have any interest in fantasy storytelling then you must check out this week's review of George R R Martin's epic on Guys Can Read. You don't have to listen to the streaming audio, you can just right-click on the link and download the podcast to listen later. And if you haven't downloaded their podcast chat with me from last week, you can still pick that up here.

Kevin and Luke on Guys Can Read are fantasy fans, of course, and that informs their take on Game of Thrones. For the view from the other side of the mirror, check out this New York Times article: "You will hunger for HBO to get back to the business of languages for which we already have a dictionary." I love that NYT writing!


  1. Sellamat Dave !

    In fact, I only read a few chapters of a "Game of Thrones" on a restricted on-line edition, because I had to do it for a job competition ! The "Language Creation Society" had been encharged by HBO to device the language Dothraki (the one spoken by the nomadic horse-riders). We were 35 linguists in competition, and I ranked among the 4 finalists. One other finalist was Bob Welden who had worked for the "Lord of the Rings". Finally, the movie team chose D.Peterson's proposal as the "true Dothraki".
    I haven't read the rest of the book, because, IMO, it has too much blood and sex ! (not to be compared with the Lord of the Rings, which I have read a several times).


  2. Hi Olivier, I can't really comment on the series at all as I know next to nothing about it. (Jamie, who has read both LotR and Fire & Ice, ought to be the one writing these posts.) It does seem odd to go to all the trouble of inventing a language only to put it in a world where characters are called things like Robert Arryn and Jaime Lannister - names that sound like TV reporters to me. It does have the obligatory apostrophes in the middle of words, and the usual fantasy -kh and -dh, which I suspect are not phonetically defined as in LotR or Tekumel but just left in the text as exoticisms that one uses in adolescent writing. And from the clips I saw of the TV show, the world seems to make no sense culturally or historically. Which wouldn't matter if it were a fairytale world like Gormenghast, but being "modern" (by which I mean contemporary reactionary) fantasy it is packaged far too literally for that.

    All of the above being the reasons why it was never going to find its way onto my must-read list, and I liked the Guys Can Read review particularly because they describe it enough for me to know that I was right in not putting it there.

  3. Actually, the names you quote belong to another ethny than the Dothrakis !
    Of course, GRRM can't be compared to Tolkien; however his world features a number of different cultures, and the Dothrakis rather go in the directiion of the Turko-Mongol tribes of our own world. (For example, their leaders are called "khal"). I suppose my project was chosen with the ones by the other finalists because it was highly respectful of the scanty linguistic background already provided by GRRM (i.e. a few dozens of words and a couple of sentences).
    What I and my "colleagues" did mostly regret was not the world invented by GRRM, which has its own originality (and has the advantage to give work to linguists like us...) but rather the important place given to violence and/or sex scenes.
    You shall however be proud to learn that, when I had to put my Dothraki language proposal to the test, I translated excerpts from your description of Khanat Tribes in DW6 !

  4. Yes, I realize that there's more than one culture there. The names just don't help me to believe in it. Jamie has seen the TV show and he commented:

    "There are two villains in it who are sort of pastiches, as they don't seem to have any motivation or reason for being evil." (Kevin and Luke also criticized it on that basis.)

    Jamie added: "It has a D&D-like view of fantasy as basically medieval England, with Roberts and Neds etc. It's almost as if they don't quite realize that medieval England was actually real rather than a fantasy."

    I don't really read adult fantasy or SF myself (there's the chink in my geek armor; as Guys Can Read point out, we all have one) with the exception of a couple of writers. I prefer kids/YA fantasy because it's more inventive. So my reaction to massive epics like A Song of Fire & Ice remains agnostic and uninterested.