Warning: this may contain spoilers.
George R. R. Martin’s series entered my life at what felt like an eerily appropriate time. The Harry Potter franchise was officially grown up and over–until they remake the movies in five years, that is. I had reread them all in preparation for the final film, seen it at midnight like a dutiful fan, and not cried as much as I thought I was going to, or at least not at the parts I was intending to. I didn’t cry when any of my favorite characters died, after all it was expected, and as an adult who has watched several wars unfold in the twenty-four hour news cycle, the scenes in a PG-13 film could never match my impressions of how a war should look. Instead, I cried about the fact that Maggie Smith is aging, and I cried a tiny bit about the fact that one area of my childhood that had always been a Thing to Look Forward To had officially ended.
Additionally, I had a thankless front desk job with no internet access for which I needed a steady supply of books, the longer the better, to feed my boredom. Enter Game of Thrones.
I have always been a fast reader, and, appropriately I suppose, my measure of my reading speed against that of my family members had always been how quickly I managed to finish the latest Harry Potter book. I would always get the book first on the night that it came out, as it was acknowledged that despite my parents’ explicit instructions not to, I would be staying up to finish it overnight no matter what. After that, the rest of the family would be free to trade off until everyone had finished. As such, I completely devoured Game of Thrones within one weekend of shifts at my thankless desk job.
I had heard from long-time A Song of Ice and Fire fans and new watchers of the Game of Thrones series alike to be prepared for cruel and random death, and my expectations were not disappointed by the death-by-mysterious-creatures deaths, and the subsequent execution that occurs in the first few pages. However, as I think is probably the case with most readers, I suppose I did not really receive the message of What Kind of Series This is Going to Be until the execution of Lady, a pet wolf, in the first half of the book. It seemed to me that just as Hedwig’s death heralded the beginning of the end of Harry Potter, Lady’s death heralded the end of the beginning of Game of Thrones.
I do not mean to continue making comparisons between the two series as if they are even close to the same thing. I don’t believe that is the case, and I do not wish to start an argument about it with fans of either series. However, I do not think it is a coincidence that Game of Thrones and the Song of Ice and Fire series found a ready audience at the cultural moment at which the Harry Potter fandom officially graduated to adulthood. People like me who grew up in the comparatively well-ordered, sensible, and black-and-white fantasy world of Harry Potter have been thrust into an adulthood of constant crisis, upheaval, and shades of grey.
Perhaps every generation of fandoms makes this transition. I wouldn’t know, having only been a member of this one. Regardless, it makes sense that collectively we would be ready, even hungry for a fantasy world that functions as both a retreat and a lens through which we can attempt to puzzle out our own value structure in a world where no one in a white beard and a pointy hat is going to come and explain things to us at the end of the day, in which many companions are not loyal and trustworthy, and in which the only mystery or greater purpose is often figuring out how one is going to make it until the end of this week and the next.
Currently, I am working through A Storm of Swords, and, having thoroughly spoiled myself on the Internet as usual, I am fairly certain that this is the book in which many of my favorite characters die cruel and pointless deaths. But, any fan would ask, what else is new? Pets and people die. Trust is broken. We lose the things we love. Maybe there isn’t a point to any of it. Maybe the man in the white beard will die before he gets to explain any of it, if he intends to at all.
I hope to some day make my way back to Harry Potter, maybe with my kids, or at least my friends’ kids. I would love to read the series again with a child I care about, and I would love for that child to feel the way that I felt about the lessons contained therein. However, I do hope that when that child grows up, it also discovers A Song of Ice and Fire, or something else that speaks to the choices that people make when all choices are equally murky, or even despicable. I hope that this hypothetical future person gets the same opportunity to explore the continued process of becoming an adult through books, even when those books, and said adulthood, become harder to digest.
In the mean time, I am happily allowing A Song of Ice and Fire to make me completely fucking miserable. And if you haven’t had the pleasure, I strongly recommend it.