A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire)
George R. R. Martin
1040 pp., 35.00
The Return of the Dragons
It is part of Martin's appeal to say out loud, without apology, that our world is pain and death and unfulfilled desire; this gives his books the affection of honesty. Though I despise them for the same reason. They reflect my worst, unspoken impulses more than they inspire my noble ones. They tell a kind of truth, but it has no love. These books tell the truth of the devil's power and the corruption of the human spirit. They tell the truth of Holy Saturday without Easter Sunday, of Good Friday without resurrection.
Pope Benedict, in Caritas in Veritate, demurs. Truth without love, without hope and resurrection, is not cold truth. It is not the facts. It is not realism. It's a lie. Truth is always full of love, always driving us to worship and gratitude: "Truth, and the love which it reveals, cannot be produced: it can only be received as a gift." G. K. Chesterton would agree. Fairy tales, he says, don't tell children dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.
Very far from Martin's chilling realism.
The paradox which haunts the unfinished series is whether it will get caritas; whether Martin will find, at the end of his lapsed Catholic pilgrimage, reason to hope. He has announced the titles for the proposed sixth and seventh books, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, to bring the series to a close. That last title is tantalizing. Will spring come unexpectedly in Martin's world, in a stroke of bold idealism that scatters the proud, puts down the mighty and fills the hungry?
Despite the promise of spring, I'm not sure Martin will get there. How can one stroke of spring make right a world in which there is no foreshadowing, no foretaste of goodness, beauty, and joy?
Martin captures the existential strain at the heart of quarter-lifers. His brutality is almost refreshingly unapologetic, for those who've waged wars to end poverty, or end sex trafficking or nuclear weaponry. That work has robbed what innocence, if not idealism, once persisted. The question this series asks is: Can idealism live, co-exist, in a broken, brutal world? And Martin's answer mirrors, so far, that of Plato's Thrasymachus: there is no right, there is no honor, there is only the advantage of the strong. I, for one, hope Martin gets beyond this Machiavellian cynicism, but I doubt he will.
The question is whether we have the cultural resources to fund the enormous courage of idealism in an age of fear and anxiety. Martin's world lacks it, but ours should not.
Robert Joustra is editor of Cardus Policy in Public, senior editor at Comment, and editor, with Jonathan Chaplin, of God and Global Order: The Power of Religion in American Foreign Policy (Baylor Univ. Press, 2010). He lectures in international relations and foreign policy at Redeemer University College.
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