GRRM & HBO’s big ‘fuck-you’ to readers

George.R.R.Martin(GRRM) was born with one less R in his name. That factoid is irrelevant. I found that out when I was trying to figure out when his next book in the series ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ (ASOIAF) arrives.

In GRRM’s own words:

‘I grew unhappy with some of the choices I’d made and began to revise and suddenly it was October, and then November… and as the suspicion grew that I would not make it after all, a gloom set in, and I found myself struggling even more.

‘The fewer the days, the greater the stress, and the slower the pace of my writing became.’

‘Write at my own pace and deliver when I’m done. That’s really how I am most comfortable, even now,’

That’s about as much a writer could cry for help publicly. Winds of Winter would continue to trundle towards the finish line with no end in sight. If only I could see past the glint of all the money and the ugly sneer of HBO standing in the background, I may have even sympathized.

A gun to the head is the worst thing you can do to a creator. The might of HBO and millions of clamoring fans around the world is a ICBM trained at your head. But GRRM pretty much put the gun to his own head by falling in bed with HBO to make the TV series when the series was only half-written.

2016 is the age of the moving pixels. The path to making money is lined with good frame-rates and high resolution and not static words on paper. I get that.

Even a successful author, like GRRM, cannot come close to the riches that the seductive world of TV or movies would bring by purely writing. Plus, he is old, writes like a turtle and let’s face it, obese enough to worry about playing in extra time already. I get that he is going to say yes.

But in the process he gave all his readers a plump finger and a big “fuck-you”.

The readers are like the shoddy children of a previous marriage that have gotten abandoned when GRRM found his new supermodel wife.

First there is the output problem

Even before his global infamy, GRRM’s plotting and writing competed closely with continental drifts. But we’ve got to respect that. After all, he isn’t typing out medical prescriptions into a computer. It’s a creative process and he has his own way of developing it, you know, between rounds of mind-altering substances and occasional schizophrenic bouts (I am purely speculating here, of course).

But, between writing for the HBO show, showing up at Comic-Cons and working on all the other spawns of his original work, I wonder if there is enough creative zone and bandwidth left to work on ASOIAF.

The needle on his output may well have moved from continental-drift speed to an evolutionary speed.

HBO killed a million worlds

Writers of fantasy and fiction are indulging in creating a shared dream with their readers. Bad authors cannot create a dream lucid enough for the readers to lose themselves into, but great authors do. They paint a picture so beautiful that readers buy-into this world and live it; with its dwarfs, psychopathic bastards, et al. They speak its language and yearn to find out how the journey pans out for the people who inhabit these worlds. GRRM gave more character to the “undead” than many do to the living.

Then, the other undead (HBO) came along.

When a book gets turned into a TV show or a movie, it kills a million fantasy worlds. The moment when the reader goes, “Oh, but I had imagined this differently”, is when this murder happens. TV and movie wields a heavy paint brush and creates a common picture for everyone. It’s no longer your world.

The Vale which was a grand wonder in your head is now just an underwhelming court room. The Iron Island no longer conjures the image of an improbably immense castle that is perched on top of monstrous crags surrounded by the raging, dark sea.

Can you imagine Tyrion being anyone other Peter Dinklage anymore? (An instance where HBO and Peter Dinklage outdid imaginations, I think)

By letting a TV show paint this picture even when the story was not fully told, GRRM decided to prune the imaginations of a million readers. By doing so, he has deprived readers of one of the fundamental joys in fiction — the power of imagining the worlds.

What story does the author believe in now?

Creators believe in their worlds and often become just messengers of a story that is destined to exist. Too often, we hear writers say “The story writes itself once you set up the right environment, characters and motivations”. They shape plots and stories like a pot from clay. Throw in the right raw materials and wait patiently for the art to emerge from it.

The same goes for the readers. Writers create a fragile bubble of disbelief-suspension in which they carry their readers. This is generated by the ability of the author to shape the world and his own belief in it. We partake in the journey, throwing away cynicism and lose ourselves in the world.

Now imagine the story being told two different ways across mediums.

It was all a mirage, you see? The author could have gone any number of ways because it’s just something, someone cooked up. This world, this story and these characters are no longer destined to move in a certain way. You don’t believe it is destiny any more that the story moved in one way. You question why things went a certain direction. The fragile bubble is broken.

Breaking this fundamental trust that an author establishes with his readers has been HBO and GRRM’s biggest “fuck-you” to his readers.

HBO

When HBO got a whiff of the fantasy series growing in popularity, they saw a train ride heading for Blockbusterville. An incomplete series was inconsequential. After all, they’d made hundreds of TV series without a complete book to go before it. In SOIAF, they saw a popular series, a set of interesting characters and a playground to put them in. They had the ability and expertise to make it up from there on.

That the TV series would move faster than the books could not have been unexpected, too. Only, it didn’t matter. The readers, a tiny segment, did not enter the columns of their revenue projections. Most of the world would watch it only on TV and HBO would own the series in all popular sense.

The stupendous success of the TV show means that it will now extend into more seasons that require GRRM to continue crafting a parallel narrative that, in all probability, he’d never intended to write originally. The books will have to wait, of course.

The only losers in this game of riches are the readers but they are a dying breed anyway.

On behalf of them all, I have to say this at least once: Fuck-you, HBO