Game of Thrones and the reenchantment of the world

There are three points of view from which a writer can be considered: he may be considered as a storyteller, as a teacher, and as an enchanter. A major writer combines these three – storyteller, teacher, enchanter – but it is the enchanter in him that predominates and makes him a major writer.” Vladimir Nabokov, Lectures on literature

The world stands on the threshold of the (possibly) final revelations of a cluster of stories that since 1996 have, like a magical spell, reenchanted our decadent cultural world – the Song of Fire and Ice, George R Martin’s Game of Thrones series.

I am, like tens of millions around the world, anticipating the screening tomorrow of the first episode in the final season of Game of Thrones. It is an unusual cultural event, and worth reflecting on. Here the world is waiting breathlessly on the storyteller’s final story. How will it end? How will all the threads come together? What in the prophecies was misdirection and what contained truth? How will Fire and Ice at last come together or extinguish each other in their final Song? How remarkable is it that we are still entranced and uncertain about the answers to these questions after 23 years.

It is more remarkable still when we consider the extraordinary way in which these final stories are being revealed to the world. George R Martin, after all, still has not finished writing his books – or at least so we understand. There is some speculation that Winds of Winter is in the can, waiting to cash in on the vastly greater sales generated by the audience of the television drama. Then there is the seventh book, A Dream of Spring, which one can only hope the world will not have to wait for another eight years – the likely interval between Dance of Dragons in 2011 and Winds of Winter maybe in 2019 – before reading how Martin himself in prose ends this Song of Fire and Ice. Three seasons of the HBO series will anticipate the story, certainly under Martin’s guidance, but not through his execution. The storyteller’s staff has been shared between forms and between Martin, Benioff and Weiss. How will the story change when only Martin holds the staff, and he has only his narrative and his prose, not the magic of film, to weave his enchantment?

I only came to the Game of Thrones phenomenon quite late and quite sceptically. It was perhaps after the third season had screened and I finally was persuaded to give it a go. It took more than one episode, two or three maybe, but the stories cast their spell. I then read the books, and listened to the podcasts, and speculated on the development of the story lines. I would not say they are greatest literature or the deepest psychology. The superb acting of the television drama does provide a subtlety of soul and range of emotion that I did not always find in the text. Still, these books took me into a reenchanted world in which glimmer magic, dragons, brothers raised from the dead, khaleesi who is reborn in fire, red priestesses who see into the soul, prophecies of promised princes, astrolabes in citadels of scholarship, and swords that destroy our deepest fears spoke of a deeper experience of perception, culture and imagination.

Game of Thrones has reenchanted the world with its gritty fantasy that is rooted in the darker twists of human history and the disenchanted observation of our prosperous, power-ridden, fragmented, threatened world. We all do see ourselves as powerless pawns, sheltering behind the wall, waiting for the impending winter catastrophe of climate change. We all dream we might be freed from the endless turning wheel that the Stormborn Daenerys would break, and we might find ourselves ruled by a prince in the disguise of a bastard. We all hope to find some magic or some faith with which to redeem our troubled lives. We all still dream of stories that can comfort us after the terrors of our culture’s long dark night of the soul.

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