This started back when he was still small, probably six or seven. He could read, but I was still in the habit of reading to him each night. We had already finished as many Harry Potters as had been published by then, (which I loved; the dry humor always reminded me of Roald Dahl of my own childhood.) But Graham was now ready for The Hobbit, a natural boyish progression in the land of Fantasy fiction.
My own brother had tried to work me through all those plots too, when I was a child. He loved Tolkien, along with futuristic books like Dune, and anything by Ursula Le Guin. We were both children of the library. Being the hero-worshipping younger sister, I tried my hardest to fall in love with The Hobbit, but I didn’t get very far. It did inspire me to try writing my own inner Earth fantasy with talking bugs and moles and elves, complete with colored drawings. I didn’t worry too much about it. After all, even The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe series sort of bored me. I was more of a Jane Eyre, Little Women, April Morning sort of girl.
But then came my son. . .and a copy of The Hobbit.
This is honestly the only time I have fallen asleep while reading. . .and this was reading out loud. I’d get into the rhythm of pronouncing made up lands, made up people and made up vocabulary, and I’d just doze off, the book smacking me in the face. It was like reading to my son in a foreign language; I completely disconnected from my own voice. Oh, I tried. I’d literally prop my own eyelids up with my free finger tips. My poor boy would begin poking me because just before the book would nosedive, I’d start to ramble and mumble.
“Mommy. . .MOMmy! READ!” He was so hurt. Sadly, he finally took over and just read The Hobbit to himself. This might have been both my greatest failure and my finest success as a Mom.
Later came the Lord of the Ring movies. (I got to skip the books, halleleuah.) I adore movies, and I wanted to love the series to the point of obsession, just like everyone else on the planet. (What could possibly be wrong with any movie with Orlando Bloom, anyway?) Though I was a willing viewer of Part 1, Father and son had to force me to Parts 2 and 3. There is only so much Fight, Flee, Inspirational Speeches, Fight, Flee, Inspirational Speeches plot sequencing a woman can stand. Sure. Sure. We loved calling each other Precious for months, too, but I fell asleep during much of the films. They exhausted me.
When Hollywood finally got around to The Hobbit, my second, much younger son had been indoctrinated. So the whole family along with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law had to go. How could I say no. I literally walked out when the first reverent candle-lighting dwarf sing-a-long cropped up. Was I the only one who wanted to both groan and giggle at the sheer silliness of its pretension? Somber Dwarves, Hobbits, AND Gregorian chants? Too much. My family caught up with me rewatching Jack Reacher in another theater.
SOOOO. . .along comes my oldest son wanting to share his beloved Game of Thrones series of books. Luckily, The Hobbit all those years ago had not fully stopped our readers’ dialogue. He loved my Watership Down, I enjoyed his The Giver. But I knew with maps and zombielike creatures, I was heading into Tolkien-like territory with the GoT collection. Winter was coming, for sure.
I made it through the first two books okay. Admittedly, I ate through them in a week. No small feat at 800 plus pages each. Graham loved it and me for it. He could hint at what plot developments would come next, (where-spoiler alert-everyone must die!) He relished how many times I had to reference his giant Westeros map since my eyes are too old for the teensy ones in the books. . .even with “readers”. He could share my hatred of the same evil characters, but become defensive when I was getting offended by how incestuous every family was. The Lannisters, the Targaryans, the Wildling Craster, even a moment with the Greyjoys. . . what was up with author George R.R. Martin and his sister that this is the titillating plot he leans on so often. . .really? Luckily my son was old enough to discuss my distaste. . .
But by Book 3, I was suffering the Tolkien headache, the issue of a repetitious, never-flipping-resolved plot line. Remember that movie The Neverending Story with its addictive song? Whenever Graham came into my room for a plot discussion update, I just began singing, “It’s the never-ending stooooooreeeeee! eee! eee! eee! eee! eee! eee! eee! eee! eee!”
And as much as I loved connecting with Graham, I was starting to hate Martin. I didn’t want to face anymore dreary, muddy, starving, freezing, blood-drenched scenes where people I liked died. Horrendously. I gave up. I stopped. I found myself for the first time wanting to Wikipedia a damned book just to skip to the end, though I didn’t because, well, like I said: everyone dies. I figured I already knew the end.
A year later, I am home on medical leave, which leaves me time for reading. Out of reader’s desperation, I picked up Book 3 of Song of Ice and Fire (the real name of the series) again, only to find it as my favorite of the four I have read so far. After finding the chapter where I left off (pretty early, like chapter six or so) and after picking through Graham’s memory bank, I jumped back in.
I could not recall why I had gotten so burned out, for I enjoyed every word of the rest of that book (except maybe when he drones on with a bunch of minor characters’ names and histories-I skip those). Maybe it takes Martin a few books to finally find his rhythm? Maybe he stopped focusing on the incestuous and the sodomous? Whatever it is, I began to enjoy his characterizations, his ability to make us both love and hate a character (always a sign of a great writer.). Why in the world can I love the Jaime Chapters? How could Tyrion be my favorite voice? Why did I like the Sansa chapters and Graham hated them?
Graham is now of the age that he can discuss the deeper elements of fiction, the literary critical theories that apply. He was better versed than I at this, in fact; he knew what all the experts were saying about pretty much everything to do with the novels: theories on Martin’s psyche and process, analysis of Martin’s views on females, his use of famed mythology crossed with fictionalized history, and on and on. We have had some very intellectual (and pretentious) conversations, my son and I.
I’ve gotten so fond of the series (I am up to his fifth and final book, and I’m holding off just to savor it) that I take umbrage with the back cover blurb, calling Martin “the modern age Tolkien.” Whaaat? I’ve never hit myself in the face with any of George R.R. Martin’s books.
And let me say, Graham and I agree: Martin’s grasp of the greys of the human spirit, when it comes to the age-old good vs. evil themes, is so far superior to the stark whites and blacks of anything by Tolkien.
I know I was slow to the conversation on the GoT hubbub. But that’s okay. The books washed away my failings as a Hobbit reader and allowed me access back into my now grown son’s “dorky fantasy” world. (Those of us feeling left out use the word “dorky” as a defense mechanism, you know.) He can’t wait till I can bring myself to watch the actual TV series. I don’t relish watching the sex scenes with my “child” in the room. I’ll try to be as mature as Graham and not actively squirm. I’ve already checked out IMd and approved the pics of who plays whom. Wonderfully, one day soon, my youngest son, will be old enough to join the conversation as well. ..
Thanks, George Martin! May mothers everywhere embrace this chance to be on the same page as their sons.