Thursday, May 29, 2014

"It's Complicated" As Myth

The Queen and The Soldier - Suzanne Vega (mp3)

The First Thought...

Rolling Stone just published a mesmerizing and lengthy interview with George R. R. Martin, the man responsible for the biggest fantasy intrusion into popular culture since the last guy with two middle R’s in his name brought us Middle Earth and hobbitses.

I recently finished A Feast for Crows, the fourth book in the A Song of Fire and Ice series. That’s roughly 3,500 pages. That’s slightly less than The Bible twice over. The fifth book adds another 1,100 pages, and two more are coming out after that.

Only time will tell just where this series falls in the pantheon of fantasy fiction, of literature. I only know that it took less than 80 pages to be taken prisoner by this tale and that I am one of legion who fell prey to the same fate.

In the interview, Martin expresses indirectly but almost perfectly -- which is to say at length -- the many reasons why I cannot pull away from his work, emotionally or intellectually. Martin has, in a way no one did before him (to my knowledge) mythologized imperfection. Imperfect design, not always intelligent. Imperfect rulers, imperfect servants, imperfect plots, imperfect justice. Nothing about A Song of Fire and Ice is about tying up loose ends, or moving chess pieces in patterns on a board. It is about a chaotic world playing out in ways a chaotic world can’t help but play out, which is to say chaotically, which is to say in a way that drives spoiled readers like me crazy.

One friend lamented to me that he couldn’t read it because Martin didn’t believe in God. That’s unfortunate, because Martin’s writing has given me more reason to think deeply and spiritually about my faith and its application to our chaotic world than anything I’ve read in a long time.

There are indeed more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in my philosophy, and Martin’s calling, it seems to me, is to do everything in his power to remind us of this, to remind us that the world cannot be managed or fully grasped. Too many moving parts moving in ways that mere mortal human hands could not have put into place.

...Leading to the Second Thought

The first Suzanne Vega song I fell in love with was “The Queen and the Soldier.” (Follow along with the lyrics here. Or watch on YouTube.)

I was 14. It should come as no surprise, wimpy cowardly scrawny being though I may have been, that I fancied myself the Soldier in the tale. To me the song was about a noble veteran of war, a man who fought bravely and loyally but had finally seen enough bloodshed. Rather than run, he chose to go directly to authority, tender his resignation and offer his reasoning.

At 14, the soldier was everything great about being a man. He fought. He stood up to authority when necessary. He yearned for the opportunity to live beyond the battlefield, to fall in love and be with someone. His death, I thought, was a sorrowful tragedy and the focal point of the song.

At 41, in no small part due to plowing through the cold comfort of Martin’s magnum opus (and maturation, and the raising of two daughters, and living with four females), the song’s true intent and meaning seems obvious, and my testosterone-centric interpretation from youth laughable.

Vega’s tale is one of chivalrous men who can’t stand taking orders from a “bossy”* woman. From the minute he charges into her world and announces his resignation, to the moment she politely sends him away and has him killed, he treats her like an undeserving leader better-suited to be subjected to his dominance.

(* -- Or “pushy,” or any of those other loaded words that tend to mean men just can’t stand it when women with power behave anything like men with power.)

One could argue that, in his heart, the soldier's intentions are good. He wishes to understand her, to love her. Fine and good. But he does not wish to obey her, or respect her, or fathom the burden of duty and responsibility she must bear as a queen. In no moment of the song could you envision a soldier treating a king like this and surviving the encounter.

At the heart of “The Queen and the Soldier” is a similar frustration and sorrow that’s at the heart of #YesAllWomen.

Men like me, and especially like my younger self, are so busy being defensive about how Not Evil we are, about how our awesomeness for the female species is so tragically outshined by the rotten male apples amongst us, that we can’t quite put the shoe on the other foot and walk a mile in it.

1 comment:

Robert Berman said...

Talk about an attention-getting beginning: "The soldier came knocking upon the queen's door/ He said, "I am not fighting for you anymore." If that doesn't make you want to see what happens next, I don't know what would. She's written some great lyrics over the years, but this early effort is among her best.

As for Martin, I started reading way back in 2000 when "A Storm of Swords" was about to come out, and of course I was taken in. But having been strung along in a similar fashion by Robert Jordan, I also recognized that unlike JRRT, GRRM didn't really know how to get to where he wanted to go, so I resolved not to read any more of the series until he was done. Fourteen years later: Still waiting.