The differences between any novel, or series of novels, and its subsequent adaptation as a film or television series are often unpredictable. The results vary widely from such loosely-based versions that the final product is barely recognizable as an episode from that franchise, to those that are truly the visualization of the author’s written word. That being said, begin this “very light review/analysis” of the first two novels in the wildly popular high fantasy series by author/screenwriter George R. R. Martin, “A Song of Ice and Fire”, and its pretty much equally awesome HBO pay television series adaptation.
The HBO series falls into that previously mentioned latter category, for the most part, as especially the first season and, to a lesser extent, the second one closely follow the plot and the characterizations from the novels. As I’ve only read the first two in the series, please take this again, “very light review/analysis,” with a grain of salt. I have no idea what happens in the series beyond the end of the second season/second novel end marker. And I’ll try to avoid spoilers, for those of you who haven’t either seen the show or read the books.
The book series, provocatively titled “A Song of Ice and Fire”, is part of a literary genre which is commonly known as “high fantasy”. Basically, the main difference between it and another closely related type of prose, known as “low fantasy”, is that high fantasy has no purported basis in our own Earthly reality, whilst stuff like Stephen King’s The Dark Tower cycle, or maybe C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series feature sequences that take place on Earth. Heck, even the Harry Potter novels technically take place here. However, authors such as Martin and say, J.R.R. Tolkien cast all modern influence aside and create a kind of “parallel universe” ideation that they can tailor explicitly to their needs. For instance, magic exists in his created world. Dragons too.
Also, Martin uses a title for his knights, but instead of “sir”, it’s the slightly different “ser”, which is pronounced “sair”. Little differences. Also, instead of undergarments or underwear, the characters in Martin’s “Seven Kingdoms” wear “smallclothes”. All kinds of little changes like that add up to some serious creativity.
Another notable example is the presence of the “aurochs”. I had to look that one up. It’s an ancestor of modern cattle, extinct in our real world since 1627 but alive and well in Martin’s Westeros. There, they are hunted for sport. Cool, huh? I think so. But perhaps the biggest difference between our world and theirs is the size of the planet. The Seven Kingdoms and its related continents are on a bigger planet than Earth, where the seasons can last 10-15 years rather than months. Therefore, if House Stark’s motto is “Winter is Coming”, they really mean it in a serious tone.
On another note, the most obvious difference between the novels and the HBO series is a quite common one: the level of detail. Sometimes characters will be introduced in the show and they won’t be named, whereas every character is strongly delineated in the novels. Author Martin has pulled a total Tolkien and worked out long genealogies for virtually every “house”, or clan, of characters (as well as “sigils” or crests, for each one as well). These complicated lists of families often go back several generations and even list non-characters, such as people who died quite young, and people who were killed outside the time window of the novels. They’re very comprehensive, and appear in a sort of glossary form at the back of each book.
The novels are written in a very rich, dense and descriptive manner, and the perspective is that of the third person limited; that is, only describing the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of one character at a time, almost like a role-playing game. Martin states his case openly with the name of each one at the beginning of each chapter, as if to proclaim “Now THIS is a character driven story!”. You slowly get to know each character, maybe even look forward to their next chapter, and more, due to this novel system of organization. Just another cool thing he does.
One notable criticism the series has garnered over these first two seasons of the show has to do with a little something that has been dubbed “sexposition”; that is, the practice of providing background information about persons and events via the conversation between characters engaging in intercourse, often depicted in a softcore pornographic manner. Before reading the novels, I had assumed that some high level of sexualization was occurring and that the books played it more straight; however, now that I have read two of them, I have found that a certain level of sensuality exists in them as well, and that the creators of the show really aren’t really “reaching” too far from the source material. The sex scenes do exist in the books, only a couple were written specifically for the show, and those are about created characters (usually also specifically written for the show). For instance, while bordellos feature prominently in the novels, the theme is expanded in the show with an actual prostitute character, Ros.
Oddly enough, the plot line for the first novel is almost completely preserved in the show, yet some serious deviations occur in the second season, based on the second book. I won’t give anything away, but the plot lines based on characters, Daenerys Targaryen, and Arya Stark (two of the coolest ones in my opinion) are altered; also, the ending is very different from the book’s. But other than that, the show sticks to the source material closely, and if you’ve watched it, then you’ll definitely see why the actors were cast for their roles when you read the book. The casting is spot on, and it actually helps a bit to know the characters before reading it, for visualization purposes.
I hope I have given you valid reasons to read these amazing books. The show starts back up again on March 31st, 2013, but I think I will certainly read the book, A Storm of Swords, before viewing the show this time around. I just got it from my “secret Santa”! I really want to see how I visualize it having not seen its TV counterpart. And that’s the best thing of all about “A Song of Ice and Fire”: George R. R. Martin does what only the best writers can… trick the mind’s eye of the reader into believing that he’s describing a place and characters that actually exist somewhere, not just creating them. It’s “A Storm of Creativity”.