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Old 08-22-2014, 03:33 PM   #80
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Originally Posted by Nerwen View Post
What puzzles me is why, out of dozens of extremely similar works to come out in the last two or three decades, *this* one has caught fire to the extent of being seen as profound, wildly original etc.
I think this is a point that is worthy of discussion. I have wondered this myself and haven't found a wholly satisfactory answer.

First, I think part of it is that Martin began ASOIAF at the right time. When A Game of Thrones was published in 1996 what else was going on in fantasy? The Wheel of Time was in full swing at that point, but I can't recall much else of note that was coming out at the time.

Second, Martin certainly is a skilled writer. He is a compelling character writer, an adequate world builder, and is gifted when it comes to getting drama out of his prose (well, at least he used to be). I think Martin became a big deal because he hooked people on his characters and then upped the ante because he killed a number of primary characters. In a way this not only adds to the danger but to the intrigue of the story because the reader wants to know who lives to see the end of the story. While he has many imitators in this regard now, he was one of the first to do this on such a scale. Martin, in fact, credits Tolkien to some extend for pioneering this trail with the death of Boromir.

Has Martin been too often to the well with this technique for it to continue to be effective? There is no doubt that the case could be made that he has. There is definitely a progressive diminishing return the more often an author does this. There are two reasons why this is so. The first is, once the reader figures out the style, they know that bad things will happen and there is little point in getting invested in a character because they will die or have other awful things happen. The second reason is, once you kill off all the first generation of characters in the story the author has to rely on second generation characters to carry things on and the reader is almost certain to lose interest to some degree. I think you can see both processes at play in ASOIAF.

However, I should also point out that in spite of appearances and adulation to the contrary, a significant amount of time has passed since Martin has killed off a character of significant reader interest for good. He doesn't really do it as often as people think he does. But he has been making noises lately (this past week in fact) that the killings will resume in the next book and I have no reason to doubt him...which just goes to show that I've figured out the trick and it will not surprise me again going forward (although in my personal case it didn't surprise me the first time because I already knew it would happen).

Aside point of digression:
For the main portion of Martin's fanbase the diminishing returns of character killing doesn't matter because they are already invested enough to see things through to the end.

Back to the main point:
Third, the long gaps in between books I think have, in a way, helped make them into a bigger deal. The gaps have become so long and so publicized that for the outside world the publication of the next book in the series is so rare as to be a noteworthy event. For the fandom obsessing over when the next book will come out is a handy way to keep the fires burning and whip oneself into a frenzy whenever one feels like it.

Fourth, related to the third point, Martin is still alive and producing. Jordan passed away and now The Wheel of Time was finished by Sanderson. Martin is still making ASOIAF which by default adds a level of interest.

Fifth, the TV show. There is no way around the fact that the TV show helped.

I'm curious to see if anyone else has opinions on this issue.
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