Characters in Place

jon snow

Jon Snow from Game of Thrones was invited to a swish New York dinner party. Incongruous? Absolutely.

Watch the video clip of the dinner. It’s hilarious.

I laugh out loud every time I think of it, yet something about it unsettles me. I admit to being in love with Jon Snow and while I hate to see him ridiculed I don’t want to whip out my sword and decapitate Seth Meyers for doing it. It’s not often I’ve had such a good belly laugh.

Why then does it gnaw at me? I think my discomfort has something to do with the disparity between character and place. In Westeros, life’s hard and so is Jon Snow when he needs to be. But he’s ethical, moral and brave, strong and compassionate. Beautiful to look at in that dark rugged way. Excuse me for a minute while I swoon.

Around a New York dining table set with white linen, crystal wine glasses, and guests who are respectful and polite, and excel in small talk, Jon Snow fits in as easily as The Hound in a beauty contest. the hound yes

The problem arises because Jon Snow is inseparable from the world George R R Martin invented. Of course I know this world doesn’t exist, although we Throners talk about it as if it does. By forcing us to watch this character play out in the realistic and familiar world we live in, we are jolted into acknowledging the novel’s illusoriness.

If a world is as richly and deeply imagined as Westeros, and adheres to it’s own set of consistent rules and principles, we readers rarely notice the subconscious agreement we make to suspend disbelief. Only when a novel is particularly clumsy and badly wrought, or when comedians satirize as Meyers has in this sketch, is the artifice bluntly obvious and impossible to ignore. That incongruity can create fabulous humour.

This skit shows me how important it is for us as writers of fiction to make the imagined world our characters inhabit seem real, even if the story takes place in a fantasy world. We must construct a place of meaning out of carefully selected concrete details. And importantly we must convince our reader to believe in this world, regardless of whether it’s a world that resembles the real world we live in or one where dragons fly and men build walls of ice 700 ft tall and 300 miles long.

snow knives2Our characters must be so tied to this place we invent that if they packed their bags and took themselves off somewhere else they would be so out of place as to be ridiculous.

Which gets to the heart of my discomfort. When Jon Snow packed his black crow’s coat and accepted Meyers’ invitation to a dinner party in New York City, he became ridiculous. Hilarious, but ridiculous. It’s not that Jon Snow speaks or acts differently in New York than he does in Westeros. Most of what he says is in the novels. Only the place changes. The way he interacts with New York society is not appropriate, and we’re forced to read him differently. I now suspect he’s suffering from socially-dysfunctional depressive paranoid psychosis.
snow knives 3

George R R Martin created such a convincing world inside the novel I suspended my disbelief. So when Meyers showed me the extent to which this world and the people in it were not only totally unrealistic but ludicrous, I felt a little silly for falling for it.

Of course, in one way every novel is unrealistic. The characters aren’t flesh and blood, the landscapes they inhabit are made of up of words on paper or screen. Every novel demands us to suspend disbelief.

So I know just the thing to help me over this forced rude awakening: a Game of Thrones Marathon.

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8 Responses to Characters in Place

  1. I confess to skimming this post, Karen, as I am only now reading Book Two of Game of Thrones (I know, where HAVE I been?) and I am trying soooo hard to avoid tripping over spoilers! Your post is likely spoiler-free, but I”m not taking any chances ๐Ÿ˜‰ I think I’ve got the gist of it, so I hope that’s acceptable!

    Jon Snow is absolutely tied to the incredible world George R.R. Martin has drawn me into (and I’m not sure my life will ever be the same, now, seriously). So I can understand how his appearance and behaviour at a dinner party in “the real world” must have seemed … bizarre! It just goes to show how totally awesome the stories are.

    Question: J. R. R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin …. perhaps I should add/change my middle names to Rachel Rebecca …. d’you think that’d help my writing? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Oh dear, if you want to avoid spoilers don’t look at the video clip, Joanna. My post is spoiler free so you’re safe there. When you finish the books it’s worth going to the video. It’s hilarious and there are lots of allusions to events that you’d only get if you’d read the novel or seen the HBO series. I agree completely: Martin has created an incredible world.
      Ha ha. Well, it can’t hurt to change your name to Joanna R. R. …

  2. Thanks for the reminder Karen. It is so important to create that world and not do anything to jeopardise it.

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