Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Red Comet

Make Believe - Deer Tick (mp3)
Far Far - Yael Naim (mp3)

What does the Red Comet mean?

The strange and mutative side effect of reading an immersive otherworldly series of books is that my mind, shifting between this world and that, is constantly seeking connection. I’m like this with all books of fiction, truth be told. I constantly find myself comparing and contrasting, finding the similarities, the common threads running through the fabric of lives invented and into our own, as we meander and waltz through our days, foolishly believing them unscripted.

Are you like this? Is this common, or proof I have deeper issues?

I’m 80% into the second book of The Song of Ice And Fire, otherwise known as The Fantasy Series Everyone Keeps Talking About, otherwise known as Game of Thrones on HBO or A Clash of Kings in book form.

For four months, the only fiction I’ve read has warped me into the world of Westeros.

Early into A Clash of Kings -- NO SPOILERS YET -- the entire kingdom seems distracted by a red comet sailing through the sky. Obviously the comet is a sign. The dragon lady believes it signals her return to power. The current king and his minions see it as affirmation of their right to power. Another suitor believes it justifies his cause. Others believe it is a sign of plague. Still others, a sign of destruction on the entire realm, a plague on all their houses.

Martin writes this so brilliantly because only from our omniscient distance can the reader see the futile humor of thinking a comet has jack shit to do with what happens on our planet. This isn’t a story of One True Religion where there’s one right answer and hundreds of wrong ones. All of the varying wisdom, faith, culture and perspective, all of them are guesses; if one prediction comes true, it’s pure luck. Hell, once you’ve got 20 vague predictions, a few are bound to come true.

One of the many gulp-inducing shockers of the first book -- SPOILER ALERT -- is when Danerys, last of her people and pregnant with her barbarian king’s child, is told her son will be “The Stallion Who Mounts The World.” We, the readers, can’t help but believe this son will rise and wreak havoc on the civilized lands of his ancestors, because that shit has been foretold, yo!

Damn if the kid doesn’t even make it out of the womb. He is delivered stillborn. So much for that prediction.

-- END SPOILER ALERT -- Time after time, this series takes everything we’ve learned about plot, about protagonists, about what authors are allowed to do, and flushes them. Martin is popular because he frequently gives the reader a swirly, and he enjoys it, and for some damn reason we enjoy it. It’s his world, dammit. He’s the god. Don’t go thinking he’s gonna do anything the way you, foolish stupid ignorant reader, might predict. He has the power. We're just permitted to observe his universe.

We know no more of where his books are going than we know what that damn Red Comet means.

What endears me to the books, depressing and ghastly as they can be, is that Martin is not mocking or damning magic. He’s not mocking our need to explain the inexplicable with religion or fortune-telling. Martin makes it very clear that magic and the supernatural exist in Westeros and beyond; just not always where people expect it, and certainly not in ways the reader expects it.

Gods, magic, fortunes. They’re out there, and once in a blue moon maybe they’re even real. Those who accept too easily are fools; those who reject it all are sad fools. The rest of us, who believe in some and reject others, are wrong as often as right, and that’s the best we can hope to do.

What does the Red Comet mean?

That answer isn’t Martin’s point so much as the question itself. Even when we can’t find an answer, we’ll make one up, we’ll pretend to see threads that don’t exist, we’ll wing it, we’ll bullshit it. Because to be human is to seek connection and find it or imagine it.

And here I am, in Tennessee circa 2012 AD, doing just that, reading these damn books and seeking out the threads and connections that make my domesticated life somehow intertwined with a fictional land of dragons and queens, of conniving eunuchs and onion knights. A foolish endeavor, yet one I pursue doggedly, like a crippled child dreaming inside the eyes of a direwolf.

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