Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lumpy and runneled and cracked

They say a picture's worth a thousand words. I supposed it depends on the words, depends on the picture.

The stink of the Lannister host reached Arya well before she could make out the devices on the banners that sprouted along the lakeshore, atop the pavilions of the westermen. From the smell, Arya could tell that Lord Tywin had been here some time. The latrines that ringed the encampment were overflowing and swarming with flies, and she saw faint greenish fuzz on many of the sharpened stakes that protected the perimeters.

Harrenhal's gatehouse, itself as large as Winterfell's Great Keep, was as scarred as it was massive, its stones fissured and discolored. From outside, only the tops of five immense towers could be seen beyond the walls. The shortest of them was half again as tall as the highest tower in Winterfell, but they did not soar the way a proper tower did. Arya thought they looked like some old man's gnarled, knuckly fingers groping after a passing cloud. She remembered Nan telling how the stone had melted and flowed like candlewax down the steps and in the windows, glowing a sullen searing red as it sought out Harren where he hid. Arya could believe every word, each tower was more grotesque and misshapen than the last, lumpy and runneled and cracked.

"I don't want to go there," Hot Pie squeaked as Harrenhal opened its gates to them. "There's ghosts in there."

Chiswyck heard him, but for once he only smiled. "Baker boy, here's your choice. Come join the ghosts, or be one."

— from A Clash of Kings, by George R.R. Martin.

I can't keep away from these books it seems, even though I tell myself I have other things to do, other books to read first, save these for later. But this series — A Song of Fire and Ice — is addictive.

Frankly, I'm hard-pressed to explain why. And I'm incapable of summarizing the story. Not much happens at all at a page-by-page level, yet so much happens. It's somehow magical, that there should be life on the page.

I'm halfway through book two (even while trying to finish Martin Chuzzlewit and keep up with a couple other reading "commitments") and there's but one mention so far of the walking dead that closed out book one.

Anyway, I'm solidly committed now to seeing how far this series will take me. I have given up on the televization for good. It strikes me as remarkably faithful, and on-screen that can be quite boring (the same fault the Harry Potter books suffered, in my view.) Filmically, so many things might be better cut, or altered, or resequenced. But in this case, with legions of fans, it seems more important to be faithful.

Then there are descriptions such as the above, sure to be shortcutted in a few-second glimpse of an extraordinary set — that's what pictures can do, what film is for — but lost is the... I dunno, the immersion, the feeling of scurrying away to read a wholly different world, a whole other world. Not sure how I can justify the assertion that worlds like this are meant to be read (and imagined), not seen. But there you have it.

"Lumpy and runneled and cracked" — those words so much richer than a picture.

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