"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies...The man who never reads lives only one." - George R.R Martin

23 July 2012

Review: Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, From A Game of Thrones to A Dance with Dragons - James Lowder (editor)

 Go beyond the Wall and across the narrow sea with this collection about George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, from A Game of Thrones to A Dance with Dragons.

The epic game of thrones chronicled in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series has captured the imaginations of millions of readers. In Beyond the Wall, bestselling authors and acclaimed critics offer up thought-provoking essays and compelling insights:

Daniel Abraham reveals the unique challenges of adapting the original books into graphic novels. Westeros.org founders Linda Antonsson and Elio M. García, Jr., explore the series’ complex heroes and villains, and their roots in the Romantic movement. Wild Cards contributor Caroline Spector delves into the books’ controversial depictions of power and gender.

Plus much more, from military science fiction writer Myke Cole on the way Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder shapes many of the leading characters to author and television writer Ned Vizzini on the biases against genre fiction that color critical reactions to the series.

My Review of Beyond the Wall (4/5)

I just couldn’t write this review without some spoilers (so if you haven’t finished the series so far please stop reading right here, right now!).

What a treat this book is for any George R. R. Martin fan who loves to delve deep into the story and engage in discussions regarding the series, explore deep into the characters’ minds, analyse the plot closely and read interesting theories. This rich collection was an absolute pleasure to read, a collection brimming with the most fascinating and compelling essays as each author contributes a detailed analysis of the most captivating subjects. Despite the complexity and intensity of the essays I raced through this book. I mostly enjoyed all of the essays but decided to give the collection 4/5 due to a select few that just didn’t cut it for me such as ‘Same Song in a Different Key: Adapting A Game of Thrones as a Graphic Novel’ and ‘Collecting Ice and Fire in the Age of Nook and Kindle’. They were both interesting reads but didn’t captivate me enough to have me totally invested in what was being discussed. It was interesting though to read about the concerns regarding the graphic novel and discussing the changes needed in regards to the graphic sexual scenes especially with younger individuals.

‘Art Imitates War: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in A Song of Ice and Fire’ by Myke Cole was such an interesting and thought provoking read. It discusses the psychological trauma suffered by numerous characters within the series and likens their situations to that of PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Cole praises Martin for successfully portraying PTSD in his series whilst also portraying the numerous different reactions to trauma, whilst using the Cooper Colour System to categorise the reactions of certain individuals. It focused mainly on the characters Theon and Arya who have both dealt with trauma in different ways; Theon suffering at the monstrous hands of the Bastard and Arya traumatised by all that has occurred in her life so far. He states that Theon, suffering from PTSD has become a weakened, destroyed individual, damaged physically and mentally, an empty shell with suicidal tendencies paralysed by fear. He analyses his inhumane descent into weakness and transformation into Reek, a pitiful character. Arya on the other hand, plucked from an almost innocent and guarded life reacts differently to trauma by fighting back, forging new identities therefore empowering herself. She is not weakened by the events but made stronger, capable of defending herself in dangerous situations. Cole’s essay was thorough, relevant and completely captivating.

In the essay ‘The Palace of Love, The Palace of Sorrow: Romanticism in A Song of Ice and Fire’ Romanticism is discussed in depth, linking the series with the Romantic movement of the 19th century. The idealisation and mythologizing of past events and individuals are analysed close. Take the Night’s Watch for example. The Night’s Watch is viewed by numerous characters in the series as a romanticised institution of the past now degraded made up of thieves, rapists and murderers seen as an honourable calling guarding the realm. The essay also discusses Robert’s rebellion, Lyanna Stark, Rhaegar Targaryen, Jaime Lannister and the Kingsguard.

‘Power and Feminism in Westeros” was possibly my favourite essay out of the bunch. This essay highlights the oppressive patriarchal society evident in Westeros and how it dominates the lives of the female characters of the novel. Cersei, the cold and evil Queen is discussed as being shaped by society, flawed and damaged by society and the roles that are determined for her as a woman. Her sex has inevitably destroyed any chance of true power and her villainous character is attributed to the brutality of patriarchy and its strict and oppressive roles for women. The author discusses the deluded nature of Sansa, a young and influential innocent, captivated by romance, knights, chivalry and Arya, a female character who rebels against her role and her gender. This essay completely captivated me and it has inevitably piqued my interest in feminism in regards to fantasy.

I think one of my favourite essays was ‘Petyr Baelish and the Mask of Sanity’ by Matt Staggs as it brilliantly captured the sneaky, warped mind of one of the series’ most devious men. Littlefinger is undeniably a scheming little man, loyal only to himself and Staggs discusses in depth how he is a psychopath, devoid of feelings and emotions. This essay was so brilliantly compelling and successfully psychoanalysed the manipulative, cold, calculated Littlefinger and analysed his attempt at vying for power and so far succeeding as a cruelly prosperous villain. Such essays as this one really helps me look over the series again from a different perspective and view characters in a different light. Littlefinger’s manipulative and brutal demeanour is so obvious from the first moment we meet him and this essay helped unravel his character layer by layer.

The essay ‘Men and Monsters’ discusses the use of rape and violence in the series and acts as an argument against the criticism the book has endured for its graphic scenes. The author does a good job of voicing his opinion on the issue; rape and violence is used to identify the corrupt and archaic societies, crumbling due to chaos. Examples of this are the Iron Islands, backwards in its attitudes towards women and sex. The monstrous acts committed in King’s Landing such as the rape of Lolly’s Stokeworth, depicts Lannister rule disintegrating in a fragmented and damaged society. Rape and violence is also discussed as being catalysts for war, acts that are so deeply frowned upon it starts wars evident in the case of Robert Baratheon’s rebellion beginning because of the rape of Lyanna Stark. The fact that rape is associated with monstrous deeds and individuals such as Gregor Clegane and Ramsay Bolton is also emphasised in the essay. I believe that this essay does a great job of giving a thorough opinion on the use of rape and violence in the series and shows that it isn’t used as plot filler but as an effective plot device.

‘Back To The Egg: The Prequels to A Song of Ice and Fire’ by Gary Westfahl was an interesting read which first discussed short stories in general before moving on to discussing Martin’s Dunk and Egg short stories. This essay was a fun one to read and it definitely piqued my interest in Martin’s other literature and short stories.

Susan Vaught’s fascinating essay ‘The Brutal Cost of Redemption in Westeros Or, What Moral Ambiguity?’ discussed the morally ambiguous characters within the novel. Simply by reading the novels we are instantly made aware that most of the characters are not the archetypal goodies or baddies, but are more layered and complex fitting into more of a “grey” moral category. A portion of the essay analyses such characters as Sansa, Davos and Jaime as they attempt to redeem themselves of their past actions. What I thought was more interesting than that was the discussion of the fate of certain characters; Robb, Catelyn and Joffrey. The author analyses how emotions cloud the moral judgements of certain individuals therefore making them flawed and in regards to their morally good/bad actions, eventually seals their fates. Robb breaks an oath; a completely dishonourable act that the author argues undermines the values of society and therefore is unforgivable and punishable by death. By marrying Jeyne Westerling, Robb also seals his fate; an excruciating and humiliating death. Catelyn is depicted as being a woman, a mother, a wife disillusioned by her emotions. Vaught argues that her lifelong contempt of Jon Snow, her hunger for revenge and her dishonourable and distrustful actions eventually leads to her fate and her ironic reincarnation as Lady Stoneheart; a cold hearted, brutal being. This essay was just so intriguing and shed light on the morality (or lack of) of the characters and discussed some interesting thought provoking points.

‘A Different Kind of Other: The Role of Freaks and Outcasts in A Song of Ice and Fire’ discusses in detail the underdogs of the series, the individuals looked down upon and ridiculed by society. There are countless “freaks and outcasts” in the series; Tyrion, the ‘Imp’; Bran, the cripple; Jon Snow, the bastard; Brienne, the masculine woman; Varys, the eunuch etc. Each and every underdog exists in complete disregard to the so called “norms” of society; they do not conform to such norms and are therefore labelled as “freaks”.

There are many other essays within this rich collection such as one discussing the complexity of history and timekeeping within the series, the use of religion, omens and their meanings and the dangers of magic to the world of Westeros and its inhabitants. The final essay is an interesting one as it analyses the effect of Martin’s series on the fantasy genre in general and discusses the success of a series in a genre looked down upon by literary buffs.

I would highly recommend this book of excellent essays to lovers of the series who wants to delve into the world of Westeros long after they’ve finished the series. The essays are excellently articulated and contains the most intriguing and captivating discussions in regards to Martin’s masterpiece. In addition to the essays the foreword by R. A. Salvatore just completes this collection and makes it a must read for fans of the series and fans of epic fantasy in general.


  1. I've not read your review cause I've only read 1 and 2 so far buuuut I was wondering whe you picked this book up? :) thinking I might do something within this genre for my big dissertation this year coming :) xx

  2. I had it off netgalley but its out soon on amazon. I think I'm definitely going to do feminism within this genre or gender stereotypes and this book of essays is so good! :)

  3. Oooooh! I might try my luck with NetGalley! Fingers crossed haha. Yeah you definitely should :) it will make it so much more enjoyable than sticking to the usual generic stuff with literature. Amazon has some amazing looking fantasy/sci-fi critic books as well for not too bad a price! x


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