FROM CYBORG TO CENTAUR (updated)
I don’t think I would have read this if I hadn’t seen the HBO TV series, but I’m glad I did. The series is excellent and is an attractive way to enter the world that G.R.R. Martin has built. The world-building is excellent, and the world built is not just some disguised variant of Tolkien’s world. So I think the biggest effort the reader must make is in the first part of the book, as the world is slowly set up from within.
The success of the books, and now of the TV series, is a good example of what Ted Friedman talks about in his notion of the passage from cyborg to centaur as guiding image of recent changes in subjectivity. He thinks that there is a significant turn in the collective psyche from science-fiction to fantasy as ways of dealing with the imaginative and affective aspects of our relation to the world (cf here: http://tedfriedman.com/2014/01/21/the-politics-of-magic/). The return to a pre-enlightenment world like the progress on to a post-enlightenment world (the singularity, or Clarke’s Third Law: “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”).
Rationalism is not enough, to speak to our contemporary pluralist unconscious more is needed. Christian moralism is not enough either. GAME OF THRONES is not set in a world of monotheistic values, and the narrative voice and structure are not Christian, in the sense that literalised fundamentalist interpretations have given to this word. Polytheism of different sorts constitutes the religious context, and is an important part of the personalities and outlooks in the book. The characters in GAME OF THRONES are not demarcated out into good and evil, with room for only a tiny amount of ambiguity. They are combinations of light and shadow, though the proportions do vary.
The “game of thrones” itself is not one of establishing the rightful hereditary and noble king on the throne after vanquishing the Dark Lord, it is a game of ambitious and ruthless power strategies and of cynical Realpolitik, with no final legitimacy. So I would argue that as well as illustrating and reinforcing the shift in our culture from a science fiction metaphorics to a fantasy one, GAME OF THRONES is an example of the shift from a “Christian” monotheistic perception with its dualistic vision to a polytheistic perception with multiple points of view each, having a certain degree of validity, and where dark and light are not separate and opposing instances (there is no axis of Evil in the human realm), but are distributed throughout the opposing sides. (The overwhelmingly evil Others exist, but their background presence does not transform the human realm by contrast into the site of cristallisation of good).