I just finished reading A Game of Thrones (by George R. R. Martin) for the first time. I’ve been hearing about it ever since the TV series hit the air in 2011. As a fantasy fan, I should have checked it out right away, but I was leery. Some things with masses of devoted fans leave me disappointed or even angry. (Hobbit movies, I’m looking at you.) Nothing is loved by everyone. But A Game of Thrones was a pleasant surprise. Despite the challenge of being engaged by a story that jumps between multiple characters with every chapter, I was quickly pulled in. And now I’m hooked. As soon as I finished Game, I started reading A Clash of Kings. I am probably in it for the long haul.
The most embarrassing thing about enjoying these books isn’t admitting I was snobby enough to think I wouldn’t like them. It’s admitting that I am fascinated by the character of Tyrion Lannister. For those who don’t know, he’s the dwarf brother of a reprehensible queen and member of a family that engages in distasteful practices like poisoning and incest.
Tyrion may be my favorite character, because along with his willingness to manipulate, lie, and otherwise trick his way to where he wants to be, he is also an underdog. He is small, weak, ungainly, and racked with physical pain. In a world where swords and strength decide men’s fates, he is at a huge disadvantage. There is no question if he will be able to fight his way out of a trap — he can’t. What he can do is sweet talk someone else into doing the fighting for him.
The way he thinks and the clever ways he finds to use the people around him to get what he wants makes for fun reading. It does feel a bit like not being able to look away when driving past a car accident. It’s not anything we would want to experience ourselves, but some part of us wants to see the mess.
No one wants to read polite. It puts them to sleep. — Anne Bernays
Tyrion is not polite. He constantly speaks brutal truths, exposing the reality of the situation no matter how insulting to the hearer, or how much danger he will face as a result. When he does speak politely, even kindly, I find myself wondering: Doe he really mean it? I want him to mean it, but I’m not sure he does. There’s no telling when he is playing someone. And that makes for fun reading as well.
There’s a lot more about the Song of Ice and Fire series that is “impolite”: betrayals, slaughters, intrigues, rapes, and murders. Seeing an arrogant and cruel would-be king meet a violent end was one of the most satisfying moments in the first book. There’s no question about it: the car wrecks are riveting. I want to live in a polite world; but when it comes to reading, let everyone misbehave. Please.
What about you? Are you attracted to “impolite” characters and stories?