The Epic Bildungsroman: An Appreciation

It took me five months to finish HBO’s Game of Thrones, but finish it I did last Sunday. I loved the first season and was ambivalent about the second and third, but damn, the fourth season killed it. I was talking to my friends and family about what I loved about the fourth season so much, and I think it comes down to this. The main characters, Jon Snow, Arya, Tyrion, even Bran, their character arcs were slow-building, but when the plot got going it was unstoppable. A Song of Ice and Fire has so much going for it, and part of that is through the books’ structure of multiple storylines and multiple perspectives. You’ve got stories that are bildungsroman featuring characters who were mere children or teens at the beginning of the sage, Daenerys, Jon, Bran, Arya, Sansa, and you get to see them grow and mature. There are moments of sheer brutality when Arya and Sansa witness their dad’s execution, but they absorb the trauma as you would a splinter and grow with it lodged in their body. All of the children see and experience things that should weaken them, but instead they strengthen them. Their stories are about survival, adaptation, and tenacity. They veterans of an unstable childhood, near orphans. The world is a cruel and twisted place, and they have to learn to live with it. Most of the time they don’t reveal their pain and anguish, but instead put a brave face on and keep going. I love it. I just love it. And it’s no surprise to me that Season 4 Episode 10 is called “The Children,” for in that masterpiece of an Emmy-nominated episode we see children each in their own way reckon with the adults in their life: Tyrion, Cersei, Arya, Jon, Bran. One of the great things about epic and epic fantasy is that you get to see how moments of triumph or defiance in later books is the sum of the experiences that character has gone through. So Arya’s refusal to [spoiler alert] kill the Hound is 38 hours of television in the making (and in the books, a helluva lot more pages). Everything ends up happening as it only ever could happen. Pieces of the puzzle of our own epic narrative fit into place that way. We are the sum of moments small and large, experiences that happened twenty years earlier could determine the way we react to things at age 28. Everything fits together.

I started A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire Book 1) last Sunday. I’d been in a reading rut and flitting around from book to book without anything sticking. When I finished “The Children” I thought, fuck, yes, I need more of this right now! So I started reading AGOT and I’ve been hooked ever since. The books are better than the TV series, some say, and there’s some truth to that, but I really think it’s that they complement each other. Maybe the books are better, but I’m still glad I have the TV series to see the stunning scenery and accents (and watch Kit Harrington…). I am so excited that I’ll be watching Game of Thrones season 5 with the rest of the world.

Greetings Fellow Reader!

Welcome to Broke By Books, a blog by Sarah S. Davis, where the guiding mission is to spread a contagious love for reading through helpful, thought provoking, and enjoyable writing about books. Please join me in growing an inspired, engaged, and fearless reading life.

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