This is my third time reading A Game of Thrones in as many years. My brother was the first in the family to fall in love with it, developing an overnight obsession with Daenerys that led to me considering her an honourary sister-in-law. I had no idea who this dragon chick was, let alone where Vaes Dothrak might be or what on Earth a Khalasar was. And yet I found myself receiving daily updates on her well-being and adventures, either by text or following excited knocks on my door. With that much enthusiasm buoying me on, it was really only a matter of time before I became initiated.
My very first foray into Westeros went badly. I’d taken a leap of faith and purchased a paperback the size of a doorstop – and yet the first chapter was barely comprehensible to me. What was the Watch, who were wildlings, what kind of title was Ser? In the end, I had to have a friend hold my hand through the first few episodes of the TV series before I had enough context to be going on with.
Up until this point, I’d considered fantasy as being very firmly not my genre. I’d read Narnia as a child, of course. I love Harry Potter as religiously as any other uber nerd who grew up with it. Lord of the Rings, His Dark Materials, all the big touchstones I’d devoured eagerly. But most of those were years ago, in the dying days of childhood. As an adult my stable is crime fiction and horror, apocalypses and the grim underside of reality.
There’s plenty of grimness in A Game of Thrones too, of course. But oh, there’s beauty besides.
There’s a famous quote by George R. R. Martin in which he describes fantasy as being “written in the language of dreams. It is alive as dreams are alive, more real than real … for a moment at least … that long magic moment before we wake.”
We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.
Settling down to A Game of Thrones three years ago, I had no idea how true Martin’s words would prove. As chapters and places and characters passed by, as I witnessed tourneys and births, marriages and deaths, magic and murder, something long since dormant awoke inside me. I’m so excited to be a part of this adventure, and none of the joy was lost this time around in Roy Dotrice’s narration.
Even if Tyrion is Welsh.
And Joffrey and Arya sometimes turn into Jeffrey and Anya.
I’ll probably take the rest of the series a little slower this time, slotting in other audiobooks in between. But there’s something very special to be said about a series that feels like coming home.
[Read from 2 October-9 November 2016]