Thursday, May 24, 2012

Beyond the Wall edited by James Lowder

BenBella/Smart Pop Books
240 pages
Published June 26, 2012
Buy here.

This is an excellent collection of fourteen essays of literary analysis that covers a variety of topics relating to George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series.  There are three different types of essays in this book, the first one being straightforward interpretations of the texts through close readings of Martin's words alone.  One of my favorites in this grouping is "Men and Monsters" by Alyssa Rosenberg, who argues that Martin does not use sex and sexual violence gratuitously in his books (as he is frequently criticized of doing), but rather as an indication of serious character and societal flaws.  "The Brutal Cost of Redemption in Westeros" by Susan Vaught is another excellent piece, and in it Vaught argues that there are no obvious boundaries between "good" and "evil" characters, but that the coming winter is the one true "evil" force of the story.  "Evil" characters, then, are the ones who act only in their best interests and tear at the fabric of Westerosi society, making unified preparation for the coming winter difficult.  Other essays that fall into this category are "An Unreliable World" by Adam Whitehead, in which Whitehead discusses the problems of time-keeping in Westeros (both in terms of the history of the land and the histories of specific characters), "Of Direwolves and Gods," in which Andrew Zimmerman Jones discusses the various religions of Westeros and surrounding lands, and "A Sword Without a Hilt" by Jesse Scoble, which explores magic in Westeros and beyond.

The second type of essays in this collection are those that view and interpret Martin's series through some sort of specific lens.  Myke Cole applies the Cooper Color Code to explore the different ways in which Arya Stark and Theon Greyjoy show evidence of suffering from PTSD in "Art Imitates War." Linda Antonsson and Elio M. Garcia Jr., in "The Palace of Love, the Palace of Sorrow," explore the elements of 19th-century Romanticism that Martin employs in his series, primarily through characters' nostalgic views of their own world and other characters.  In addition, "Petyr Baelish and the Mask of Sanity" by Matt Staggs explains how Baelish is a psychopath, in the clinical rather than popular sense of the term.

Finally, the third variety of essay deals with issues a little outside of but connected to Martin's texts.  In "Same Song In a Different Key," Daniel Abraham highlights the challenges inherent in adapting stories in general and Game of Thrones specifically into a graphic novel, while John Jos. Miller discusses the collectibility of various versions of the books in the series in "Collecting Ice and Fire In the Age of Nook and Kindle."

These essays are well written and well supported, and this collection makes an excellent companion piece to the Song of Ice and Fire series.  Events and characters from all five of the current books are explored and referenced, and although the HBO series is alluded to, the books are really the focus of analysis, and a good grasp of the show's textual foundations is necessary for understanding and appreciating these essays.  For the more-than-casual fan, though, the essays provide great insight into the world and characters that George R. R. Martin has created.

Rating: 5/5

1 comment:

  1. I enjoy reading books with essays on a particular series I like. And like you, I'm new to the series. Sadly, though, I have yet to get through the series. While I enjoy the first book I'm going to have to read it this summer. I just can't get through it during the school year it seems. Once I do read it, though, I'll have to check out this collection of essays. The one about collecting the book sounds particularly of interest to me, being a nerdy book collector. :)