Friday, May 29, 2015

Is Game of Thrones an Elemental Fantasy?

For about two years, I have been playing with a story idea revolving around elemental magic. After reading Limyaael's Rant on Elemental Magic, I began to doubt myself.

Yeah, yeah, I know she is just a person, and the things she says are just her ideas. She is clearly well-versed in reading fantasy, however, and I take her opinions as representations of how other well-read fantasy fans feel about the topic. Besides, I don't exactly have a writing community with which to share my doubts and concerns, so her article left me with a lot of unanswered questions about my own writing.

  1. Are the four Western elements (fire, air, earth, water) too cliche?
  2. Is my idea of adding a fifth element (similar to "heart," I guess, but not really at all...) trite or even ridiculous?
  3. If I have any interplay between fire and water magic, will my readers think "Been there, done that" and be bored?
  4. I have a religious/cultural system already in mind for two of the elements, but are my systems too blatantly obvious in relation to those elements?
Not to mention my almost tangible fear of writing my characters with elemental magic in cliche ways.

But then I got to thinking about it...

George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire is an elemental fantasy that is highly successful with fantasy readers.

The Great Other, still from HBO's Game of Thrones.

This notion came out of left field for me because Martin spends so little time establishing the idea of a battle between water and fire, but that is exactly what ASOIAF is all about: you have your Others, or "white walkers," beyond the Wall; you have your Lord of Light, R'hllor; and, finally, you have Melisandre, the "red witch" who is warning everyone about R'hllor's eternal struggle with the Great Other, the "father of the Others."

All of the books seem to be leading up to the moment when the Great Other and R'hllor have their final battle.

Sure, we have human concerns and foibles that unfold throughout the books -- the death of Ned Stark, Arya's journey to seek revenge, the Red Wedding, the birth of dragons and Daenerys's rise to power, the war for the Iron Throne -- and, true, perhaps the battle between R'hllor and the Great Other ("good" and "evil," respectively) is simply meant to be an extended metaphor for the very human struggles the characters face in the book.

The point is this: at its very core, A Song of Ice and Fire is a very successful elemental story about the "cliche" struggle between fire and water. Though Martin utilizes this "overused" trope, he does so in such a way that the story feels fresh and new.

Maybe there is hope for elemental fantasy after all.

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