Jon Snow lives! A reversal of fortunes, and expectations, in Westeros

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few years you must have heard of the HBO T.V series A Game of Thrones, based on George Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels. The T.V adaption of the books has left both book and show in a peculiar position as now the show has actually caught up the books, which are still being written. Now some stories we’ll be watching on screen, like Jon Snow’s death, haven’t actually played out in the books yet. Thanks to the show we don’t have to wait till the next book comes out to find out if Jon will somehow come back to life. Last night we got our answer in the final moments of the show’s episode.

Well, he’s back folks! Jon Snow lives!

This shouldn’t really come as a shock. Jon is a main character in the story, we should have this coming a mile off, and yet we still harboured doubts about whether we would actually see Jon live again. People have been debating over whether Jon would rise from the dead for a whole year now, taking all kinds of thing into account- even analysing the actor’s haircut! Eagle eyes fans thought they spotted actor Kit Harrington lurking in the background of a photo taken at the game of thrones filming wrap party. The speculation has literally been nonstop while actors and producers of the show have patiently and persistently told us Jon Snow is dead. Well, I suppose they weren’t lying, kind of.

But now that the fan’s beloved Jon is back doesn’t it seem obvious that this would happen? How did the resurrection of Jon Snow in the episode’s final scene have viewers on tenterhooks and leave them jumping with joy when Jon finally opened his eyes again in the episode’s final few seconds? Surely it was painfully obvious what would happen all along, right? Not quite- and that’s due to the clever writing of George Martin…

It all comes down to the readers expectations. Most readers believe that the protagonists of a novel with survive till the end of the story and eventually save the day. That’s what we all believed when we started reading a game of thrones and met the character of Ned Stark. Ned was a main character. He was a good guy. George Martin was clearly setting him up as the hero of the novel and, along with that archetype, there comes certain expectations with it. When Ned Stark began to discover that the king’s children were in fact the product of an incestuous love affair between the queen and her brother we thought that our heroic Ned was on his way to saving the day. He would defeat the evil Lannisters and all would be well. Even when things looked at the worst, and Ned was injured and locked up in a dark dungeon, the faithful reader still held out hope. The hero always manages to win just after things get about as bad as they can, right? And besides Ned’s daughter, Sansa, was begging the Lannisters to let her father live if he confessed to his ‘crimes.’ All Ned Stark had to do was retract his claims of incest against the queen and he would live to fight another day. That’s what we all expected would happen, one way or another.

It came as quite a surprise, then, when Ned Stark got his head chopped off.

And thus the readers was welcomed to expectations being blown into smithereens. The hero killed? But- but- that’s not how it’s supposed to happen! But poor old Ned was hardly the only example of this kind of literary cruelty in the first novel. Remember Khal Drogo, the might horse lord Daenerys Targaryen was sold to? Daenerys was forced into a marriage with Drogo, whether she liked it or not. Thankfully for her she ended up liking it, even after Drogo killed her brother, Viserys, who was kind of a douchebag anyway. But after Daenerys brother was killed she decided she wanted to take back her kingdom, Westeros (where all the other characters were milling about) and avenge her dead family by destroying all those who once took part in house Targaryen’s downfall. There was only one problem, Khal Drogo didn’t want to go anywhere near Westeros and without him Daenerys couldn’t hope to conquer her dreams of putting her family’s name back on the map after all those terrible years in exile. The conflict in her story was clear: exiled princess wants her throne back, husband is blocking her from achieving her goals. Things changed, however, after a failed attempt to poison Daenerys. Khal Drogo had a change of heart. To pay back those conniving lords who tried to murder his wife he vowed he would sail to Westeros and conquer the whole kingdom, take back his wife’s throne leaving us readers ready to pity the fools who would dare stand in his way. Exiled princesses always gets their throne back, right? And Khal Drogo was Daenerys hero, he was obviously going to… wait a minute. Nope he didn’t manage to do anything we expected of him. Instead he ended up dead. Another reader’s expectations dashed away from us just when we thought we had the plot sussed out.

Things didn’t get any easier in the following novels. The reader made some adjustments. Perhaps Ned was never supposed to be the hero? That was just a trick to catch us off guard, perhaps? Maybe the real hero that would emerge would be Ned’s oldest son and heir, Robb. Robb Stark went to war with the Lannisters and managed to win every battle he fought in. Yes, this was more like it! No one could hope to ever beat Robb. No one had a hope in hell of beating Robb in battle so he had to win, surely? Well… not quite. Robb was pretty much invincible on the battle field, but he met his end after being killed at a wedding feast, caught off guard. His mother, Catelyn, a hugely central character, also met her untimely demise at that wedding too. Even the most dim witted of readers could sense a certain pattern emerging. The heroes don’t always win in Westeros. And being a central character isn’t the get out of jail card it seems either.

Even the villains weren’t safe. Two of the story’s most vile creations, Joffery Baratheon and Tywin Lannister were murdered in the third book. The message was clear. No one is safe. That is what the readers expectations became.

At the end of the last book Jon Snow is murdered by the brothers of the Nights Watch. By now we have become so used to the central characters being brutally killed off that it’s our expectation that he won’t be coming back from the dead. This is Westeros after all. Heroes get murdered around here. But then it happens. Jon Snow opens his eyes, a total reversal of the expectations we have been trained to believe will happen so far. And that is how Jon Snow’s return kept everyone on the edge of their seats. On paper it should have been woefully predicable but thanks to the clever reversals of expectations in George Martin’s storytelling we were suitably shocked, and not to mention relieved, at the return of everyone’s favourite moody bastard.



Classic Book Review: The lion, the witch and the wardobe

Today I’m finding it a little hard to work up the motivation to write. I’m not sure why. I don’t think anyone ever know why they can’t seem to write, some days you can, some days you can’t. But if there was ever a cure for this I think it would be me writing about my favourite books of all time (along with reading them of course.) What better way to ignite those flighty fires of inspiration? I’ll begin with my all time favourite book of all time, a story that’s starts with something as unremarkable as a simple wardrobe…

The lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is a glittering example of everything a children’s book should include; children drawn into a magical land to defeat evil, a wicked witch opposing the land’s inhabitants and collection of mythological creatures and talking animals to populate a fantastical realm.

The key to Narnia’s charm often lies in Lewis’s ability to merge myth and magic with whimsical touch. Mr Tumnus may be a creature straight out of Greek legend but he hops around carrying an umbrella and parcels right underneath a Victorian Lamppost. It’s this little sprinkling of charm, perhaps invoked by the likes of Lewis Carroll and Beatrix Potter, that distinguishes Narnia from Middle Earth. In the shire Hobbits there may be, but Tolkien certainly wouldn’t dream of them popping letters or parcels into British postboxes as Lewis might of had his characters do. And while Middle Earth and Narnia are similar, and owe a lot to each other, Tolkien (Lewis’s close friend) made his distaste at Narnia clear. He particularly disliked the appearance of Father Christmas, another quaint touch of whimsy from Lewis.

But despite Tolkien’s doubts the mixture of myth and charm made Narnia a success. It has all the settings of a classic fairytale, settings which enhance whatever happens to be going on in the plot at the time and change accordingly. At first the snow covered landscapes help give the story that fairytale book feel along with the arrival of Mr Tumnus. Later the snow melts away to lush green forests and the action is centred around the Stone Table, Narnia’s answer to Stonehenge, a suitably mystical location where Aslan sacrifices himself at the hands of the White Witch. And finally the happy ending takes place at Cair Paravel, a seaside castle.

The six sequels introduce new characters and lands, ensuring that Narnia never gets dull or repetitive. Each book takes place in a different time period too, sometimes the time between each book can span hundreds of years and the adventures you read about in the previous book are now apart of Narnian legend. This all amplifies the fact there is one star of the Narnia series- Narnia itself. The only character to appear in all seven of the books is Aslan, though in many of the stories he pops up only as a guide, only really getting his hands (or perhaps paws) dirty in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, thanks to having to intervene to save Edmund’s life from that wicked witch who causes so much trouble in Narnia’s early history.

Sadly, when Hollywood came calling a decade ago they totally missed the point with these stories. While The lion, the witch and the wardrobe turned out to be a fairly decent film, the producers really messed it up with the sequels. Why? They were trying to pigeon hole the series into a Harry Potter-esque franchise making the stories similar to Harry Potter, failing to realise that Narnia is the inspiration for Harry Potter and doesn’t need to be squished into a formula it’s superior to.

That’s right I said it, Narnia is superior to Harry Potter. Well, in my opinion at least. Fans of Harry Potter read that series because they are invested in what happens to Harry. It takes a writer of tremendous skill to chop and change his main characters throughout a series and have the reader still invested in what happens in the novels. Likewise with Rowling’s Voldemort, he is the leading villain throughout all seven of her volumes. In Narnia there is no leading villain, each book has a different antagonist to overthrow, whether it be an evil queen, a vulture headed demon or wicked ape (yes, you read that correctly.) Narnia is ever changing and ever evolving, the reader gets a panoramic view of it’s entire history.

Lastly, a word about the reading order of the series, a subject of much debate. I’ll try and make this quick and simple. The order the books were published in are as follows:

1. The lion, the witch and the wardrobe

2. Prince Caspian

3. The voyage of the Dawn Treader

4. The silver chair

5. The horse and his boy

6. The magician’s nephew

7. The last battle

However the chronological order is:

1. The magician’s nephew

2. The lion, the witch and the wardrobe

3. The horse and his boy

4. Prince Caspain

5. The voyage of the Dawn Treader

6. The silver chair

7. The last battle.

The argument for reading the series chronically is simple; it’s less confusing to read them that way and apparently Lewis approved of this reading method. However these novels were not preplanned like Harry Potter. Lewis made the stories up as he went along and therefor it often makes more sense to read the series as it evolved. Also it’s hardly confusing reading them in published order, the first four books chronically follow each other anyway, and then we jump back in time to two ‘prequels’ if you like, before returning to the last battle which ends the series in both orders. But the main reason I believe the published order is superior is because all the mystery and intrigue with the early Narnia novels are destroyed if you read them chronically. When you read the lion, the witch and the wardrobe you’ll already know why the wardrobe transports you to Narnia, why there is lamppost in the middle of a wood and why the White Witch is such a tough old broad. There is much more joy in discovering these answers later in the series when you’ll have an ‘aha! That explains it’ moment. But read either way these novels are like the land of Narnia itself, endlessly magical.

Phew! That turned out to be a bit of an essay, but such is my love for the land of talking lions and umbrella owning fauns. Next time I’ll be gushing over another classic Watership Down, a great novel about cute little bunnies- but beware- it’s not for the faint hearted…