When Fairy-Tales Look the Same

rosenberg_jul09_fairytales_post.jpg

Bantam


On the extremely strong recommendation of my readers at my home base, and in anticipation of the HBO adaptation, I've started reading George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. I'm finished with the first novel, A Game of Thrones, and halfway through the second, A Clash of Kings. Lots more posting to come as I read and re-read, but I have one early thought, and I'd be curious to see if this has struck anyone else as well.

One of my commenters warned me that the characters can seem a little superficial, which I agree is occasionally true. To me, though, some of that flatness comes from the fact that it often seems like Martin, who published the first novel in 1996, has taken Alanna of Trebond, the great heroine of Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness quartet, which began publishing in 1983, and distributed her characteristics across much of the cast.

Girl has to go into the desert and win the loyalty of a fragment of a highly independent and prickly tribe? Alanna does that, and so does Daenerys Targaryen. Gotta go into a highly dangerous, rural Northern territory and fight mysterious creatures? Alanna does that, as does Jon Snow. Want to pass for a dude and learn to be a warrior? Alanna and Arya Stark would have been besties. Magic swords and mysterious killings in close quarters? Thieves and smugglers raised to the nobility? Arrogant noblemen raised away from home with a little too many sowable wild oats to be useful? Both series have 'em.

I'm not accusing Martin of copying Pierce—his world is highly original, and executed in much more detail than hers, if only because it's written at such greater length. It's just that they have some highly similar elements across characters and geography.

Or maybe it's just that if you're going to tell fairy stories, there are elements you have to have, and only so many you can choose from.

Presented by

Alyssa Rosenberg is a culture writer with The Washington Post.

Things Not to Say to a Pregnant Woman

You don't have to tell her how big she is. You don't need to touch her belly.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Things Not to Say to a Pregnant Woman

You don't have to tell her how big she is. You don't need to touch her belly.

Video

Maine's Underground Street Art

"Graffiti is the farthest thing from anarchy."

Video

The Joy of Running in a Beautiful Place

A love letter to California's Marin Headlands

Video

'I Didn't Even Know What I Was Going Through'

A 17-year-old describes his struggles with depression.

Video

Google Street View, Transformed Into a Tiny Planet

A 360-degree tour of our world, made entirely from Google's panoramas

Video

The Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

More in Entertainment

Just In